Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Time's up, but will Suhakam chief go? (Malaysiakini)

Time's up, but will Suhakam chief go?
Beh Lih Yi | Apr 22, 08 12:33pm
All eyes are on Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairperson Abu Talib Othman, as his tenure - alongside that of 11 commissioners - expires tomorrow.

Indications so far point to the likelihood of the former attorney-general being re-appointed for a fourth term, but there is no official confirmation of this as yet.

It is learnt that some Suhakam officers were told two months ago that Abu Talib would have his contract renewed for another two years, to helm the government-backed commission.

zaid ibrahimMalaysiakini also learnt that de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim (photo) has been asked to recommend fresh faces to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, to fill the posts of those commissioners whose tenure ends tomorrow.

suhakam commissioner expiry 220408A well-placed Suhakam source said Zaid’s office contacted the commission last week to ask for details of the commissioners to be furnished on an urgent basis.

Confirming this, a spokesperson for Zaid’s office said the final decision on the line-up lies with Najib, whose portfolio includes supervision of Suhakam’s operations.

“The names have yet to be given to (Najib) based on what I understand,” the source said.

Najib’s aide Tengku Sarifuddin Tengku Ahmad, when contacted, declined comment apart from saying that an announcement will be made soon.

A check with a number of commissioners revealed that they too are in the dark as to whether their contract will be renewed.

“There might be some changes perhaps,” one commissioner said.

They said they do not know when the announcement will be made, although one commissioner said it could take place next week.

simon sipaun 02denison jayasooriaThose affected include vice-chief Simon Sipaun (left), commissioners Dr Chiam Heng Keng, Dr Mohammad Hirman Ritom Abdullah, Asiah Abu Samah, Dr Raj Abdul Karim, Dr Abdul Monir Yaacob, KC Vohrah, Dr Denison Jayasooria (right), Dr Michael Yeoh, Muhammad Uthman El-Muhammady and Zaitoon Othman.

Commissioner Choo Siew Kioh’s term will expire on April 29, followed by Tunku Nazihah Tunku Mohamed Rus (May 31), Prof Dr Khoo Kay Kim, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and N Siva Subramaniam (all on July 19) and Khalid Ibrahim (Nov 30).

This is not the first time that commissioners have waited on such announcements. In 2006, the new batch of the commissioners was only announced 10 days after their term expired.

abu talib othman from ag to suhakam 230807There is a strong concern over the possible re-appointment of Abu Talib, whose initial appointment in 2002 had been boycotted by 32 NGOs for 100 days.

This was due to his defence of the 1987 mass crackdown dubbed Operasi Lalang and actions during his tenure as AG, when he played an instrumental role in the sacking of Lord President Salleh Abas.

Human rights watchdog Suaram director Dr Kua Kia Soong stressed that only personalities with credibility and human rights credentials should be appointed.

“No, not Abu Talib. He is the person who said during my habeas corpus application that solitary confinement is like (staying) in a hotel room,” Kua said, referring to his legal challenge against his detention under the Internal Security Act during Operasi Lalang.

Frustration of officers

Some Suhakam officers also argue for a pressing need to overhaul the line-up. They would like to see eight commissioners who have held the post for three terms (six years) - in particular, Abu Talib - being dropped.

The eight are Simon, Chiam and Mohammad Hirman - all of whom were appointed at Suhakam’s inception in 1999 - and Abu Talib, Asiah, Raj, Abdul Monir and Vohrah who were appointed in 2002.

“In countries like Australia and New Zealand, the human rights commission makes it clear that a commissioner should not stay for more than five years,” said an officer.

Another high-ranking officer echoed the sentiment, saying it is a common feeling among the 70-odd officers that they want a “complete change”.

“If I had my way, I would not mind seeing all of them replaced, especially those who will soon entering their 10th year at Suhakam. Even Parliament has changed half of faces but we’re still getting old faces here,” she said.

“We really need new blood in Suhakam and I hope the decision-maker knows this is coming from us - the officers.”

kc vohrahFormer Court of Appeal judge Vohrah - who heads Suhakam’s law reform and international treaties working group - has indicated his wish not to be re-appointed, sources said.

Another personality who may be excluded is Denison, who heads the MIC-linked Yayasan Strategik Sosial. This follows the party’s request to Denison to focus on the foundation’s work after the March 8 general election, which saw severe losses for its candidates.

Two officers said they hope to see constitutional expert Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi in the new line-up.

param cumaraswamyraja aziz addruseOther names suggested by them and Kua include former United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Param Cumaraswamy (left), human rights group Hakam ex-president Ramdas Tikamdas and prominent lawyer Raja Aziz Addruse (right).

“It could be a good idea to bring back Prof Hamdan Adnan too,” said a Suhakam officer. The vocal ex-commissioner was dropped in 2006.

According to sources, some ex-politicians have lobbied to be appointed as commissioners.

Suhakam has a chequered history in defending human rights, with NGOs frequently complaining about its ineffectiveness.

Most of the commission’s recommendations over the past nine years have been ignored by the government, while repeated attempts to get the Suhakam annual report to be debated in Parliament have proved futile.

The government has previously stated that it has no intention of giving the commission any ‘teeth’, in terms of enforcement of recommendations. Suhakam only acts as an advisory body to government at present.

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