(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The
first official statement by the new
Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman after chairing his first Suhakam
meeting yesterday that “it takes more than Suhakam to promote human rights as
everyone, including the authorities, has a role to play”
sounds defeatist and is most disturbing, raising the question whether he
is preparing the ground to defend a weak and compliant Suhakam instead of paving
the way for a dynamic and robust Suhakam which can effectively “protect and
promote” human rights.
independent judiciary, a representative legislature, a responsible and
independent media and a vocal civil society are among the critical factors
necessary for the protection and promotion of human rights in any country, and
this is why Suhakam must also focus on these important questions – but the
central challenge of Suhakam is whether its new Chairman and Commissioners have
the will and commitment turn Suhakam into a dynamic and
effective human rights institution.
Wednesday, when taking over the duties from his predecessor, Tan Sri Musa Hitam,
Abu Talib sought to dispel fears
that he works under the directive of the Government and Prime Minister, Datuk
Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad by declaring: “One thing I must state very clearly
is that I am under nobody’s directive”.
(New Straits Times 25.4.02)
would not be facing a crisis of confidence two years after its establishment if
Abu Talib’s declaration that he had retired from the Government and that he is
“as independent as all of you” could be
accepted at its face value without
demur by all Malaysians and in particular, the NGO human rights community.
dark cloud, however, hangs over the credibility and legitimacy of Suhakam
precisely because of the appointment of Abu Talib as Suhakam chairman, not only
in violation of the Paris Principles without consultation with the NGO human
rights community, but also because of his role as Mahathir’s first
Attorney-General in 12 out of his
13 years as the top legal officer of the government.
this period, Abu Talib played a key role in the government trampling on human
rights whether in prosecutions,
repressive legislations like the amendment to the Official Secrets Act to
provide for a mandatory one-year jail sentence for any conviction however petty
the offence or assaults on the rule of law and an independent judiciary in the
dismissal of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges.
worry about the latest batch of the new appointments of Suhakam commissioners,
four former civil servants and one serving one, is whether these Commissioners
have developed such an ingrained mentality of subservience to the
government-of-the-day that there is no need for any specific directive for them
to continue to do the
is particularly pertinent as
Suhakam seems to be backsliding from its commitments to uphold human rights,
with the first Suhakam being less outspoken
in its second year as compared to its first year, as a result of government
pressures - such as the strictures by the Prime Minister that Suhakam was not
acting in the interest of the nation, being influenced by Western thinking and
not thinking as Malaysians and other onslaughts by the Minister in the Prime
Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim!
Talib has said that Suhakam under
his leadership will remain an advisory body to the government on human rights.
is a serious misreading and misinterpretation of the Human Rights Commission of
Malaysia Act 1999, where Suhakam is vested with powers and functions “for the
protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia” and not just to be an adviser to the Government on
human rights or to be in any manner beholden to the government.
the discharge of its statutory duty to
“protect and promote” human rights, Suhakam may find itself at variance and
even in conflict with the government if it is be true to its parliamentary
such circumstances, is Abu Talib committed
to lead Suhakam to break ranks with the Government on critical human
is why it is important that Abu Talib should spell out his vision of
human rights and whether Suhakam should be a catalyst for fundamental
democratic change in Malaysia or an apologist for government abuses.