Under the Bill, the Human Rights Commission set up "for the protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia", has four functions and six powers.
Its functions are:
(a) to promote awareness of and provide education in relation
to human rights;
(b) to advise and assist the Government in formulating legislation and administrative directives and procedures and recommend the necessary measures to be taken;
(c) to recommend to the Government with regard to the subscription or accession of treaties and other international instruments in the field of human rights; and
(d) to inquire into complaints regarding the infringements of human rights.
Its powers are:
(a) to promote awareness of human rights and to undertake
research by conducting programmes, seminars and workshops and to disseminate
and distribute the results of such research;
(b) to advise the Government and/or the relevant authorities of complaints against such authorities and recommend to the Government and/or such authorities appropriate measures to be taken;
(c) to study and verify any infringement of human rights in accordance with the provisions of this Act;
(d) to visit places of detention in accordance with procedures as prescribed by the laws relating to the places of detention and to make necessary recommendations;
(e) to issue public statements on human rights as and when necessary; and
(f) to undertake any other appropriate activities as are necessary in accordance with written laws in force, in any, in relation to such activities.
The Bill provides that the Commission shall consist of not more than 20 members, who shall be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
The Bill provides that members of the Commission "shall be appointed from amongst prominent personalities including those from various religious and racial backgrounds". Every member shall hold office for a period of two years and is eligible for reappointment.
Malaysians do not want the Human Rights Commission to be an "alibi" body to legitimate violations of human rights, but one with "teeth" and real powers to promote and protect human rights, without fear or favour especially of the government of the day.
This is why the Bill should be more specific with regard to the credentials of the commissioners, who should be Malaysians of proven integrity and competence and have been involved in human rights protection and promotion activities.
Vague formulas like "prominent personalities including those from various religious and racial backgrounds" are meaningless and highly susceptible to abuse, as best illustrated in the appointment of Senators under Article 45(2) of the Malaysianm Constitution, which provides that Senators to be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong "shall be persons who in his opinion have rendered distinguished service or have achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service" .
Since Independence in 1957, hundreds of Senators have been appointed under this Article, but how many of them can stand out as really having "rendered distinguished service or have achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service"? Apart from a pitiful handful, the overwhelming majority of the Senators were and are mere party hacks or political has-beens which runs contrary to the very purpose and rationale for the setting up of a second legislative chamber in the country.
This is why the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Bill should be more specific as well as provide a mechanism to ensure that it does not end up like the Senate, providing sinecures for political hacks and has-beens, as in the establishment of a non-government selection committee comprising MPs from both opposition and ruling parties as well as NGOs to vet all nominations for the Human Rights Commission.