The immediate question that arises is why the third Suhakam report, on its public inquiry into the Kesas Highway Incident last November where it found widespread police violations of human rights, has not been tabled in Parliament although it was publicly released two-and-a-half months ago.
The Speaker of Parliament, Tun Mohamed Zahir Ismail, owes an explanation not only to Parliament but also to the nation on this matter.
Parliament will be failing in its duty if it does not schedule a special debate on the three Suhakam reports issued so far in accordance with its statutory responsibility to “protect and promote human rights”.
Section 21(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 requires Suhakam to submit an annual report to Parliament while sub-section (3) empowers it, “whenever it considers it necessary to do so, submit special reports to Parliament in respect of any particular matter or matters referred to it, and the action taken in respect thereof”.
The purpose of Section 21 is to ensure that Parliament maintains the
closest oversight, supervision and scrutiny of Suhakam’s functions and
powers, which are spelt out in Section 4 of the Act, namely:
“4. (1) In furtherance of the protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia, the functions of the Commission shall be –
(a) to promote the awareness and to 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 infringements of human rights referred to in section 12.
(2) For the purpose of discharging its functions, the Commission may exercise any or all of the following powers:
(a) to promote awareness of human rights and to undertaken 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 lays relating to the places of detention and to make necessary recommendations;
(e) to issue public statement on human rights as and when necessary; and
(f) to undertake any other appropriate activities as are necessary in accordance with the written laws in force, if any, in relation to such activities.
(3) The visit by the Commission to any place of detention under paragraph (2)(d) shall not be refused by the person in charge of such place of detention if the procedures provided in the laws regulating such places of detention are complied with.
(4) For the purpose of this Act, regard shall be had to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 to the extent that it is not inconsistent with the Federal Constitution.”
The purpose of the provision requiring Suhakam to submit annual reports to Parliament and empowering it to submit periodically special reports is to ensure the highest-level of national interest and attention of its important work to “protect and promote human rights” in Malaysia, and implicit in such a provision is that there would be active Parliamentary interest and focus of Suhakam reports by way of a parliamentary debate or examination and not to ignore the Suhakam reports by letting them to collect dust in the parliamentary archives.
In this case, Suhakam has discharged its statutory duty to submit its reports to Parliament, but MPs in the tenth Parliament have failed in their duty to give the Suhakam reports the parliamentary oversight, scrutiny and attention they merit.
The government has also failed in its duty in failing to submit to Parliament an accompanying memorandum to explain its position and response to the findings and recommendations in each Suhakam report, as is the practice with the annual Auditor-General’s Report on the Federal Government Accounts, which is always accompanied by a Treasury memorandum commenting on the strictures of the Auditor-General when tabled in Parliament.
Parliament should be more serious in its responsibilities of oversight, supervision and scrutiny of Suhakam reports in “protecting and promoting human rights” and one immediate step that such be taken is an amendment of the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders to set up a new Standing Committee on Human Rights, whose task will be comparable to that of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which examines the Auditor-General’s Report, but whose jurisdiction will be to examine the Suhakam reports.
The Dewan Rakyat Standing Committee on Human Rights should be headed by an Opposition MP, and should have powers, like the PAC, “to send for persons, papers and records” and it should conduct in proceedings in public whether in summoning witnesses or examining the Suhakam Commissioners about their reports before submitting its findings to Parliament.