Give us more bite, says Suhakam

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Source: The Malaysian Insight

Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph says the government is legally obligated by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 to provide adequate funding for the commission to carry out its work. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, March 16, 2018.

THE Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is pushing for a parliamentary select committee on human rights to allow a legislative mechanism to address a “multitude” of significant issues.

In such a committee, findings and recommendations on human rights breaches can be formally presented to lawmakers in Parliament, which will then possibly followed by debates and possible amendments to the law.

Suhakam, a government body, has not had its annual reports debated in Parliament despite having submitted them since 2002.

“There are certain issues that should be discussed in Parliament,” said Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph.

“A parliamentary select committee on human rights is the proper way to find space (for our) agenda,” he said at a dialogue with civil society groups in Kuala Lumpur today.

Present were Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail and commissioner Mah Weng Kwai, with over a dozen representatives from civil society groups.

There is currently a parliamentary caucus on human rights, led by Tourism Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz. A caucus is a group of parliamentarians from the same party.

In the interim, Suhakam wants the government to “immediately give effect” to the caucus.

It also wants the government to strengthen Suhakam’s mandate and functions by amending its founding act, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Act 597.

“The caucus is not a technical body of Parliament, but a body of parliamentarians. So we’re not even there yet. This is something we need to work on.

“So we’re trying to work with (the caucus) to bring human rights issues into Parliament,” he said.

“The government is legally obligated, according to the act, to provide adequate funding for the commission to carry out its work. The commission is currently allocated RM10 million annually.

“It’s not very much. That’s why we have sweets and water,” Joseph said.

“RM10 million for 85 full-time staff members and eight commissioners who are not full time, as well as three officers – it’s really shocking that they expect us to respond to all the human rights issues in Malaysia with such a small budget. It’s really inadequate.”

At today’s dialogue, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) executive director Sevan Doraisamy spoke of intimidation and unjustifiable arrests of assembly participants that still occurred during certain public assemblies.

“Although there’s no restriction on assembly, there is always constant harassment before and after (these assemblies). The police will summon you before and say you didn’t give the ten-day notice and so forth. And they will harass or summon you after,” he said.

“There’s also the issue of chained remands. It’s a misuse of the remand process,” he added.

The Peaceful Assembly Act prohibits street protests and the organisation of assemblies by people aged below 21 years.

Strict requirements include notifications ten days prior to the assembly, and prohibit certain public places for assembly.

Suhakam also noted “an alarming escalation of arrests and prosecutions” under the Sedition Act and recommended the repealment of act.

The commission called for a review of laws to repeal provisions that provided for detention without trial.

For its universal periodic review, Suhakam noted that the government “has not shown much progress” to accede six major international human rights treaties, despite earlier calls to sign them.

They are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention against Torture; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. – March 16, 2018.