Suhakam will need to take 13 years to resolve its outstanding complaints at end of last year without taking into account new complaints

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday)The  DAP Round Table Conference on Suhakam Report 2001 – “Human Rights or Wrongs” held at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur yesterday decided by consensus to set up a civil society group to exercise continuous “oversight” over Parliament and Suhakam to monitor and assess their role in protecting and promoting human rights.  Hakam President, Ramdas Tikamdas and former Hakam President and former Bar Council Chairman, Raja Aziz Addruse were appointed as joint Chairpersons   to lead this informal human rights “oversight” group. 

Panellists at the  Round Table Conference, chaired by Lim Guan Eng, were:

HAKAM President, Ramdas Tikamdas; former Bar Council Chairman and HAKAM President, Raja Aziz Addruse;  former Bar Council Chairman, Zainur Zakaria; Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) coordinator, Collin Nicholas; SUARAM Executive Director, Cynthia Gabriel;  Concerned Citizen Group Coordinator, Charles Santiago; Malaysiakini Chief Editor, Steven Gan; Suara Warga Pertiwi, Dr Nasir Hashim; MTUC Secretary-General, R Rajasekaran and Bar Council Chairman Mah Weng Kwai.  

The Suhakam Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman and the other Commissioners should take serious note of the deliberations of the Round Table Conference on Suhakam Report 2001 – “Human Rights or Wrongs” and  the two Joint Chair of the new civil society Suhakam “oversight” group, Ramdas Tikamdas and Raja Aziz Addruse, should be invited  to meet with the  full new  Suhakam board to get first-hand report of the Round Table Conference proceedings. 

There is an urgent need for Suhakam to “buck up” and be more efficient, transparent and independent in its operations. 

Suhakam Report 2001 states that last  year 21 complaints were resolved, 101 were for no further action and 197 were  still being processed. Including the 74 unresolved complaints from the year 2000, the total number of unresolved complaints  brought forward to 2002 is 271.  

At the rate of resolving 21 complaints a year, Suhakam will need to take 13 years to resolve its current crop  of 271 outstanding complaints, without taking into account the new complaints for this year – an efficiency and productivity rate which is totally unsatisfactory and antithetical to the protection and promotion of human rights!

The  2001 Suhakam Report states that Suhakam had submitted to the government a report containing recommendations for amendments to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 to overcome the “limitations of the existing law”.  

The proposed amendments to the Suhakam Act should not be a secret communication between Suhakam and the government, but a public process  to allow for public input and debate.  

The next Suhakam full board monthly  meeting should take the policy decision to make public the Suhakam proposals to the government on these  amendments not only for the information of MPs but also for feedback from the NGO human rights community and civil society, in keeping with the Paris Principles – the primary standards applied by the United Nations to ensure effective national human rights institutions – recognizing the “fundamental role”  in “expanding the work” of Suhakam. 

Only then can Suhakam claim to be a model example of transparency, without which there can be no good governance – another fundamental human right! 

Suhakam must also establish its independence.  It is ridiculous for Suhakam to succumb to Foreign Ministry pressure that it could not exercise its statutory responsibility to submit its annual report directly to Parliament, but must act like any other statutory board to submit its annual report via the Ministry responsible for the board.

This is  the most glaring example of the lack of independence of Suhakam, for Parliament never intended Suhakam to be an  ordinary statutory board, but one which stands above all statutory boards as it vested with powers even to castigate the Foreign Minister and Foreign Ministry for violations of human rights – and if so, is  the Foreign Ministry to be allowed to  withhold such annual report from submission to Parliament?  

Another measure of the independence of Suhakam is whether its staff are  independent The Suhakam secretary, Kamaruddin Mohamed Baria, is appointed by the Public Services Department (PSD) raising the question as to whether his first loyalty is to the government or to Suhakam.  Unless all Suhakam staff are independently appointed by Suhakam, whose first and last loyalty is to Suhakam, Suhakam cannot lay claim to independence as laid down in the Paris Principles.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman