(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): In Parliament last December, I had asked why the Malaysian government had opted out of the United Nations human rights mechanism to review progress made in implementing the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights 1993 on its fifth anniversary, as Malaysia was one of the countries which had failed to respond to the United Nations request to submit contributions to the review process.
Following the announcement that the government proposes to establish a National Human Rights Commission and that a Bill for this purpose would be presented in the July meeting of Parliament, I queried in the Dewan Rakyat last month why the proposed National Commission for Human Rights came under the Foreign Ministry and the Foreigh Minister, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar replied that this was to meet Malaysiaís international commitments on human rights.
This is most unsatisfactory. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 made the important statement that the promotion and protection of human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community, whether international organisations, national players or individuals.
In keeping with the international recognition that the promotion and protection of human rights, or its corollary the violation of human rights in any country, is a legitimate concern of the international community, it is only right and proper for the Foreign Ministry to establish a special desk for the promotion and protection of human rights in the international arena, whether it be in Bosnia, Kosovo, Burma, East Timur or even in the United States and Europe.
However, the domestic promotion and protection of human rights cannot be a Foreign Ministry brief, but must be the concern of the Prime Ministerís Department or that of the Home Ministry, for the Foreign Ministry would not have the necessary muscles and sinews to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights inside the country.
Be that as it may, I call on the Syed Hamid Albar, who has been entrusted by the Cabinet to be responsible for the National Human Rights Commission Bill to state whether the proposed National Human Rights Commission would be set up in accordance with the Paris Principles on the status of national human rights institutions approved by the General Assembly in 1993 to ensure that it is not an "alibi" institution to legitimise human rights violations.
The United Nations General Assembly resolution 48/134 of 20 December 1993, entitled "National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights", reaffirmed the importance of developing, in accordance with national legislation, effective national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights and of ensuring the pluralism of their membership and their independence.
In this resolution, the General Assembly adopted the principles on the status of national human rights institutions developed at the first International Workshop on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights held in Paris in October 1991, to avoid the danger of the establishment of "alibi" national institutions. Whether these national institutions are consultative or jurisdictional, they must be based on the highest possible legal standard, which assured their legitimacy, so that they would be able to ensure the synergy between the State and civil society. In addition, national institutions must be forums for constructive dialogue and mediation, limiting controversy and confrontation, without thereby concealing possible substantive disagreements.
Under the Paris Principles, the mandate of a national institution must be as broad as possible and must be established by the Constitution or by a legislative instrument. It must have the power to carry out investigations, on its own initiative or at the request of the authorities, into all human rights violations committed in the country concerned and to receive and hear individual complaints lodged in this respect. It must have the responsibility for promoting human rights and must be free to meet on a regular basis and as often as necessary and to circulate and publish its conclusions and recommendations.
During the Parliamentary debate last month on the Mid-Term Review of the Seventh Malaysia Plan, I had called on the government to fully consult with the civil society on the establishment of the National Commission of Human Rights whether it be on its structure, functions or composition. Failure to fully involve the civil society in the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission would be the first violation of the Paris Principles.
I therefore call on the government to convene a meeting of all political
parties and NGOs to fully invovle the civil society in the establishment
of the National Human Rights Commission so that it could comply with the
minimum international standards on national human rights institutions
and enjoy national and international respect with regards to its legitimacy,
independence and integrity.