Joint NGO Statement dated 8 September 2009 in Conjunction with SUHAKAM’s 10th Anniversary
42 Malaysian NGOs Boycott SUHAKAM’s Human Rights Day Event, Announce Conditional Engagement with Specific Timeframe for Substantial Reforms
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) tomorrow (9 September 2009), we, the undersigned Malaysian non-governmental organisations, announce that we will boycott the event organised by SUHAKAM to commemorate its 10th year of existence.
Our boycott of SUHAKAM’s event on 9 September 2009 is to register our strongest protest and disapproval towards:
1. The failure of SUHAKAM to proactively protect and promote human rights
The lack of proactive efforts to protect human rights can be seen in its seemingly selective nature of conducting public inquiries. In several instances, SUHAKAM has failed to probe into serious cases of human rights violations. For example, in 2008, in response to a fire incident at the Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre, a Commissioner made a strong statement calling it “one of the worst incidents that have taken place in Malaysia”. However, despite such strong statements SUHAKAM decided to reject civil society’s call for a public inquiry to be held.
When numerous individuals were arrested by the police for exercising their right to assemble on various occasions this year, none of the SUHAKAM Commissioners were present at police stations or lockups to try to secure the releases of those detained or at least to ensure their wellbeing in detention. The Commission also refused to send an official monitoring team to the anti-ISA rally on 1 August 2009 despite requests from civil society to do so, with the reason that the rally was held without a police permit and therefore “illegal”. This is contrary to the positions that the Commission has taken in numerous of its annual reports and reports of public inquiries.
We are also seriously concerned about the performance of SUHAKAM Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman. In 2008, the Chairman only made one press statement out of the 23 released by SUHAKAM throughout the year. The only press statement released by the Chairman was to clarify that a press statement released by three Commissioners on the previous day was not an official statement of SUHAKAM. The press statement on the previous day condemned the ban of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) by the government and called for the government to uphold freedom of association. With only one press statement released throughout the entire year – and even that was to distance SUHAKAM from a human rights-based position – the credibility and suitability of Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman as a public defender of human rights can thus be seriously questioned.
2. The failure of the government to make SUHAKAM a truly independent and effective institution
Numerous memoranda and proposals, calling for SUHAKAM to be made more independent and effective, have been submitted to the government since 1999. However, these proposals to improve SUHAKAM’s independence and effectiveness have thus far been met with a lack of commitment by the government.
SUHAKAM now faces a possible downgrading by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) in November 2009. The recent amendments in March and July 2009 to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 are only minor and superficial and do not fully address all the concerns raised by the ICC in its April 2008 and March 2009 reviews of SUHAKAM.
3. The failure of the government to implement most of SUHAKAM’s substantial recommendations
Most of SUHAKAM’s substantial recommendations to the government, inter alia – to abolish all detention-without-trial laws; to ratify of all remaining core international human rights treaties; and to uphold the fundamental and Constitutionally-enshrined freedoms of speech, assembly and association – have been ignored by the government. None of the reports of SUHAKAM – be they annual reports, thematic reports, or reports of public inquiries – have been debated in Parliament.
“Malaysian Human Rights Day” – Is There a Cause to Celebrate?
Besides these failures, we also reject the recognition of 9 September as a celebration of what SUHAKAM terms as the “Malaysian Human Rights Day”, and instead only recognise 10 December as the international human rights day which has long been accepted and established universally as the day to celebrate human rights. We strongly stress the universality of human rights and therefore caution that an uncritical acceptance of 9 September as Malaysia’s very own human rights day amounts to what seems to be an adulterated human rights culture which distinguishes “human rights ala Malaysia” from “universal human rights”.
Our refusal to recognise 9 September as the human rights day is further strengthened by the fact that this date marks the establishment of SUHAKAM – an institution which has thus far failed in many counts in carrying out its mandate to promote and protect human rights. The failures of SUHAKAM thus far are not a cause for a celebration or marker of any kind.
However, notwithstanding our boycott of SUHAKAM’s Human Rights Day event on 9 September 2009, we will continue to engage with SUHAKAM conditionally, with a specific timeframe for both the government and SUHAKAM to make necessary improvements and reforms.
Firstly, we urge the Commission to be more proactive and bold in its work. The following should be done by the current set of Commissioners before their terms expire in April 2010:
Secondly, the government should before the ICC’s final decision on SUHAKAM’s status in November 2009 further amend the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999:
Thirdly, the government should by April 2010 implement or provide a concrete timeframe and plan of action for the implementations of all recommendations made by SUHAKAM, including:
Failing to make these improvements within the proposed timeframes, we would seriously consider a more permanent boycott of SUHAKAM. Such drastic actions are being considered because of the urgent need for reforms on SUHAKAM and the previous failures of both the government and SUHAKAM to do so.
However, we welcome dialogues and collaborations with both the government and SUHAKAM if these demands for improvements are taken seriously. We are open to assisting both the government and SUHAKAM in drawing up a concrete plan of action for the implementation of these proposals.