(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): DAP calls for a national conference of political parties and NGOs to endorse the Paris Principles on the status of national human rights institutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1993 as the basis for the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission.
When endorsing the Paris Principles, the General Assembly in its resolution of 20th December 1993 bore in mind the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights 1993 "which reaffirmed the important and constructive role played by national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, in particular in their advisory capacity to the competent authorities, their role in remedying human rights violations, in the dissemination of human rights information and in education in human rights".
The General Assembly also noted "the diverse approaches adopted throughout the world for the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level, emphasizing the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, and emphasizing and recognizing the value of such approaches to promoting universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms".
The Paris Principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights adopted by the General Assembly provide for it to be given as broad a mandate as possible, which shall be clearly set forth in a constitutional or legislative text, specifying its composition and its sphere of competence, to "promote and protect human rights".
In accordance with the Paris Principles, the National Human Rights Commission shall have the responsibility to submit to the Government and Parliament opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports on any matters concerning the promotion and protection of human rights and to publicize them, covering areas, such as:
(i) Any legislative or administrative provisions, as well as provisions relating to judicial organizations, intended to preserve and extend the protection of human rights; in that connection, the national institution shall examine the legislation and administrative provisions in force, as well as bills and proposals, and shall make such recommendations as it deems appropriate in order to ensure that these provisions conform to the fundamental principles of human rights; it shall, if necessary, recommend the adoption of new legislation, the amendment of legislation in force and the adoption or amendment of administrative measures;
(ii) Any situation of violation of human rights which it decides to take up;
(iii) The preparation of reports on the national situation with regard to human rights in general, and on more specific matters;
(iv) Drawing the attention of the Government to situations in any part of the country where human rights are violated and making proposals to it for initiatives to put an end to such situations and, where necessary, expressing an opinion on the positions and reactions of the Government;
The National Human Rights Commission should also have the following powers and responsibilities:
(a) To promote and ensure the harmonization of national legislation regulations and practices with the international human rights instruments to which the State is a party, and their effective implementation;
(b) To encourage ratification of the above-mentioned instruments or accession to those instruments, and to ensure their implementation;
(c) To contribute to the reports which States are required to submit to United Nations bodies and committees, and to regional institutions, pursuant to their treaty obligations and, where necessary, to express an opinion on the subject, with due respect for their independence;
(d) To cooperate with the United Nations and any other organization in the United Nations system, the regional institutions and the national institutions of other countries that are competent in the areas of the promotion and protection of human rights;
(e) To assist in the formulation of programmes for the teaching of, and research into, human rights and to take part in their execution in schools, universities and professional circles;
(f) To publicize human rights and efforts to combat all forms of discrimination, in particular racial discrimination, by increasing public awareness, especially through information and education and by making use of all press organs.
The Paris Principles also laid down the following three guidelines on the "Composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism" for the National Human Rights Commission, as follows:
1. The composition of the national institution and the appointment of its members, whether by means of an election or otherwise, shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the promotion and protection of human rights, particularly by powers which will enable effective cooperation to be established with, or through the presence of, representatives of:
(a) Non-governmental organizations responsible for human rights
and efforts to combat racial discrimination, trade unions, concerned social
and professional organizations, for example, associations of lawyers, doctors,
journalists and eminent scientists;
(b) Trends in philosophical or religious thought;
(c) Universities and qualified experts;
(e) Government departments (if these are included, their representatives should participate in the deliberations only in an advisory capacity).
2. The national institution shall have an infrastructure which is suited to the smooth conduct of its activities, in particular adequate funding. The purpose of this funding should be to enable it to have its own staff and premises, in order to be independent of the Government and not be subject to financial control which might affect its independence.
3. In order to ensure a stable mandate for the members of the national institution, without which there can be no real independence, their appointment shall be effected by an official act which shall establish the specific duration of the mandate. This mandate may be renewable, provided that the pluralism of the institution's membership is ensured.
The Paris Principles also laid down the following principles for the "Methods of operation" of the National Human Rights Commission:
"Within the framework of its operation, the national institution shall:
"(a) Freely consider any questions falling within its competence, whether they are submitted by the Government or taken up by it without referral to a higher authority, on the proposal of its members or of any petitioner;
"(b) Hear any person and obtain any information and any documents necessary for assessing situations falling within its competence;
"(c) Address public opinion directly or through any press organ, particularly in order to publicize its opinions and recommendations;
"(d) Meet on a regular basis and whenever necessary in the presence of all its members after they have been duly convened;
"(e) Establish working groups from among its members as necessary, and set up local or regional sections to assist it in discharging its functions;
"(f) Maintain consultation with the other bodies, whether jurisdictional or otherwise, responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights (in particular ombudsmen, mediators and similar institutions);
"(g) In view of the fundamental role played by the non-governmental organizations in expanding the work of the national institutions, develop relations with the non-governmental organizations devoted to promoting and protecting human rights, to economic and social development, to combating racism, to protecting particularly vulnerable groups (especially children, migrant workers, refugees, physically and mentally disabled persons) or to specialized areas."
The Paris Principles also spelt out "Additional principles concerning the status of commissions with quasi-jurisdictional competence", as follows:
"A national institution may be authorized to hear and consider complaints
and petitions concerning individual situations. Cases may be brought
before it by individuals, their representatives, third parties, non-governmental
organizations, associations of trade unions or any other representative
organizations. In such circumstances, and without prejudice to the principles stated above concerning the other powers of the commissions, the functions entrusted to them may be based on the following principles:
"(a) Seeking an amicable settlement through conciliation or, within the limits prescribed by the law, through binding decisions or, where necessary, on the basis of confidentiality;
"(b) Informing the party who filed the petition of his rights, in particular the remedies available to him, and promoting his access to them;
"(c) Hearing any complaints or petitions or transmitting them to any other competent authority within the limits prescribed by the law;
"(d) Making recommendations to the competent authorities, especially by proposing amendments or reforms of the laws, regulations and administrative practices, especially if they have created the difficulties encountered by the persons filing the petitions in order to assert their rights."
There should be a public debate on the National Commission of Human Rights which is proposed to be set up and the Paris Principles setting out the status of a national human rights institution adopted by the General Assembly if Malaysia is to fulfil our international commitments on human rights with the establishment of a National Commission of Human Rights.