Thursday, June 27, 2019


Media Statement – 26/6/2019


-          Human Rights suffers in the absence of functioning National HR Institution(SUHAKAM) in Malaysia

We, the 30 undersigned groups and organizations are appalled that Malaysia still do not have Human Rights Commissioners in SUHAKAM (Malaysian National Human Rights Commission) since the term of office of the last batch of Commissioners came to an end on 27/4/2019, which is about 60 days ago.

The end of the term of office of Commissioners is fixed, and as such the selection should have been done earlier, and the appointment by the King should have happened immediately, so that there will never be a time that SUHAKAM is left without any Human Rights Commissioners.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) was established by Parliament under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Act 597. The first batch of SUHAKAM HR Commissioners started work in April 2000. There have been many different batches of Commissioners to date, and this also makes the failure to appoint the new batch of Commissioners immediately unacceptable.

SUHAKAM Cannot Function Without Human Rights Commissioners

Without Human Rights Commissioners, there is no Human Rights Commission, and that is why we have not seen any media statements or any new public inquiries initiated.

All that remains at SUHAKAM are the staff, who without the Commissioners cannot really do anything. Neither the Prime Minister, Minister nor can Chief Secretary to the government have the power to direct the work of SUHAKAM staff. The Act is clear that SUHAKAM staff are not public servants, but are "member, officer or servant of the Commission’. They are appointed by the Commission and their work is directed by the Commission.

The Act allows the Commission to delegate powers to the staff, but without HR Commissioners, there can be no delegation of powers to the SUHAKAM Staff. On the day, the term of office of past Commissioners expired, delegated powers also expire, which means SUHAKAM employees cannot anymore attend(or call for) meetings, organize talks, trainings, conferences and any other activities until we have new HR Commissioners, hence the Commission,  who can thereafter delegate powers to staff and give needed direction to its staff.

HR Commissioners also have certain special powers, like the ability to make unannounced visits to places of detentions, which is important to ensure strict compliance to human rights standards. A pre-informed visit, may result in detention authorities, cleaning up and/or even hiding the truth. Now, without commissioners, this also cannot happen.

Delay in appointment of Commissioners questions commitment of government to Human Rights

It must be pointed that the immediate past HR Commissioners have all, save for Prof. Dato’ Dr. Aishah Bidin, have  only served their first term of 3 years, and as such, qualify to be re-appointed to serve their second and final 3-year term.

As such, the delay in appointment of SUHAKAM Commissioners raises many questions. Does the new government and Prime Minister want to get a new batch of HR Commissioners, given the fact that the past chairman, Tan Sri Razali Bin Ismail and the 7 other HR Commissioners were seen to be committed to Human Rights and often made statements, even against the government of the day and its positions, when the Malaysian government fails to defend and promote human rights.

The last SUHAKAM public inquiry was about the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo and activist Amri Che Mat, whereby  the Inquiry panel made up of HR Commissioners Dato Mah Weng Kwai, Prof. Dato’ Dr. Aishah Bidin and Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Binti Nik Saleh, did on about 3/4/2019, came to the decision that it was police in particular Special Branch officers who were responsible for the enforced disappearance of both Pastor Koh and Amri. Would such a brave finding against the police be a factor that will not result in their re-appointment as HR Commissioners?

SUHAKAM, if there were Commissioners, would have most likely responded to many issues in the past couple of months, including also possibly the issues concerning Orang Asli and environment pollution affecting health.

Effectiveness of SUHAKAM depend on Commissioners appointed

History has shown us that the effectiveness of SUHAKAM rests on the Chairman and HR Commissioners appointed.

Under the Chairmanship of Tan Sri Hasmy Agam( 2010-2016) and  later, Tan Sri Razali Bin Ismail(2016 – 2019), who also had sufficient number of good HR Commissioners, SUHAKAM’s image as a National Human Rights Commission shone and public confidence increased.

Sadly, in the past, when former Attorney General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman(2002 – 2010) was the Chairman, SUHAKAM performance was lacking, save for maybe the individual actions of a  couple of HR Commissioners.

As such, the choice of the Chairman and other HR Commissioners is of primary importance. We need people who are committed to the defence and promotion of human rights, who will act without fear or favour even if it means taking a stand against government positions and actions. They will act without fear or favour, despite knowing that the Prime Minister has the power to re-appoint them for a 2nd term of 3 years or not.

The power of choosing HR Commissioners effectively lies with the Prime Minister alone, who is duty bound to consult (but not follow) the recommendation of the selection committee. The King appoints on the advice of the Prime Minister. One future reform could be an independent Selection Committee or process, who selects Commissioners and the King appoints.

Delay In Appointing Commissioners Prejudicial To Human Rights

The former Barisan National government also delayed the appointment of SUHAKAM Commissioners, whereby the appointment of the immediate past team of HR Commissioners was delayed by about 58 days, and before that there was a delay of 38 days. Now, the delay by the new Pakatan Harapan government is already 60 days.

Even if the appointment is backdated, it still will not be able to extinguish the effect of not having HR Commissioners for the past few weeks/months.

SUHAKAM’s response must be contemporaneous and timely, as and when the issues of violations or otherwise concerning human rights happens or is highlighted. HR Commissioners also usually make general comments when people hand over complaints/memorandums concerning human rights issues – something that is important that cannot happen if there are no HR Commissioners to receive such complaints.

Human Rights Commissioners are paid a monthly remuneration, and as such HR Commissioners, entitled to be re-appointed who may be waiting, are also prejudiced by the current uncertainty and may end up taking  up other income generating positions in the meantime. This is also unfair.


SUHAKAM Commissioners should preferably be full-time HR Commissioners, and as such their monthly remuneration should be increased to maybe match the monthly salary of sitting Members of Parliament being RM16,000. Unlike Members of Parliament, their constituency or responsibility is the entire country and all persons (citizens and non-citizens), and they must be willing to go down to the people to investigate various human rights violations.

The law obligates SUHAKAM to submit its annual report and other special report to Parliament, but unfortunately under the previous regime and even now current government, none of these reports seems to have been tabled and discussed by Parliament. This must change.

THEREFORE, we the undersigned groups and organizations

     Calls that SUHAKAM HR Commissioners are immediately appointed by the King without any further delay,

-          Calls that independent persons, who will act without fear or favour to uphold Human Rights, be appointed as the Chairman and Commissioners of SUHAKAM;

-          Call on the Prime Minister and the government to explain the delay in the appointment of HR Commissioners’

-          Call on the government to immediately table all past SUHAKAM annual reports and special reports in Parliament to be discussed and debated;

-          Call on the government to reform the SUHAKAM Act to ensure a more independent selection process, increased tenure and remuneration for HR Commissioners and other reforms to make SUHAKAM an independent more efficient and effective National Human Rights Institution;

Charles Hector

Ng Geok Chee

For and on behalf of the 30 organisations and groups listed below


All Arakan Students' and Youths' Congress (AASYC)

Association of Human Rights Defender and Promoters-HRDP in Myanmar

Bangladesh Group Netherlands

Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), India

Burmese Worker's Circle, Fort Wayne, Indiana. USA

Clean Clothes Campaign International Office

KRYSS (Knowledge and Rights With Young People Through Safer Spaces) Network

MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)

Marvi Rural Development Organization- MRDO

MASH (Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists)

National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE)

Oriental Hearts & Mind Study Institute – OHMSI

NUFAM (National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia)

Odhikar, Bangladesh

Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (Pacti), India

Peoples Service Organisation(PSO)

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)

Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor dan Perak (PRIHATIN)

Proham (Society for the Promotion of Human Rights)

Sarawak Dayak IBAN Association

Sahabat Rakyat 人民之友 மக்கள் தோழர்கள்

Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign

Teoh Beng Hock Trust For Democracy

Workers Assistance Center, Inc., Philippines

WH4C(Workers Hub For Change)

Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association

North South Initiative

National Union of Transport Equipment & Allied Industries Workers


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