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Asian NGOs demand full compliance of the SUHAKAM Amendment Bill with the Paris Principles

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The Asian NGOs Network for National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI)
has called on the Malaysian government to comply fully with the Paris
Principles following the tabling of the Human Rights Commission of
Malaysia (SUHAKAM) (Amendments) Bill 2009. The Bill was read for the
first time in the Malaysian Parliament on 22 June 2009.

The Asian NGOs Network for National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) has called on the Malaysian government to comply fully with the Paris Principles following the tabling of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) (Amendments) Bill 2009. The Bill was read for the first time in the Malaysian Parliament on 22 June 2009.

Failure to comply with the Paris Principles, according to ANNI, may risk SUHAKAM being downgraded from A status to B by the International Coordinating Committee on National Human Rights Institutions (ICC), the international governing body of national human rights institutions. The bill is expected to be tabled for the second reading today, 1 July 2009.

The ANNI warned that if downgraded, SUHAKAM may lose its privilege such as not being able to fully participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and also risk losing its full membership at the Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions (APF).

The Paris Principles sets out the international standards that should be adhered to in order to ensure the independence and effectiveness of national human rights institutions (NHRIs).

Although the ANNI said it recognizes the efforts of the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, for tabling the amendment bill, the proposed amendments are still far too short of the Paris Principles. ANNI believes that the amendments do not address the recommendations of the ICC.

In April 2008, the ICC had given SUHAKAM a one-year notice to improve its compliance with the Paris Principles or risk being downgraded from an "A" to "B" status. It later deferred SUHAKAM's review for another six months in March 2009 after the Parliament hastily passed an amendment bill a day before SUHAKAM was to be reviewed. According to the ICC Sub-Committee on
Accreditation (SCA), many of its concerns raised in April 2008 were still not addressed, particularly on the appointment process.

The ANNI would like to remind the Malaysian government and the Parliament that the ICC SCA has recommended that the selection process should be more transparent "through a requirement for broad based participation in the nomination, review, and selection of Commissioners. The SCA notes that this process may be further strengthen through inclusion and participation of civil society".

The current amendment bill makes only minor and minimal changes to the previous amendments passed in the Lower House of Parliament in March 2009. The only amendments proposed under the current bill are:

  1. that the members of the Commission will now be appointed by the King of Malaysia on the advice of the Prime Minister, who in turn, unlike before, will now consult with a proposed committee under the amendment bill consisting of the Chief Secretary of the Government as the Chairman, the Chairman of the Commission and three other members appointed from amongst civil society by the Prime Minister. 
  2. the omission of the provision in the March 2009 amendments which stated that the opinion, view or recommendation of the committee upon consultation by the Prime Minister will not be binding on the Prime Minister.

The ANNI is concerned that the appointment of civil society representatives in this process will not be truly transparent.

"While acknowledging the inclusion of members of civil society in the advisory committee, we are nevertheless still concerned that there is no provision to ensure civil society's full and transparent participation in the process and that genuine civil society representatives will be appointedinstead of representative of government organized NGOs", said Emerlynne Gil, the coordinator of ANNI.

"Furthermore, the current bill of amendments only addresses one of the several concerns raised by the ICC. Other concerns of the ICC, such as those regarding the transparency of performance indicators for Commissioners as well as SUHAKAM's role in encouraging ratification of international human rights treaties, are ignored in the current bill", added Gil, who is also Programme Manager of the Human Rights Defenders programme in the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) based in Bangkok, Thailand.

It is in this light that the ANNI extends its support for the other amendment proposal submitted today to the Parliamentary Office of the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and the office of the Opposition Leader in Parliament, by ANNI members, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) and the Education and Research Association for Consumer (ERA Consumer).

The ANNI, together with SUARAM and ERA Consumer called for the advisory committee's composition as well as procedures to be changed to guarantee transparency and public participation.

"We urge that the amendment proposal includes consultation with non-governmental organisations, international bodies and individual members of the public with expertise on human rights which shall include a process for a public nomination of candidates and make recommendations to the Parliament", said ANNI in a statement issued today.

The Advisory Committee should consist of the Prime Minister as the Chairman; the Minister in charge of human rights; the Chairman of the Commission; the leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives; and three other members who are appointed by the Parliament from among people with the understanding of human rights. They should not be appointed by the Prime Minister as indicated in the current amendment bill in order to ensure wide and transparent consultations, added ANNI.

Furthermore, ANNI urged the government to also address other longstanding concerns of civil society with regard to the Commission's independence and effectives, such as enabling law of SUHAKAM be amended to ensure that all Commissioners are in office full time as compared to the part time basis now.

ANNI also proposed that the Commission be placed under the Parliament instead of the Prime Minister's office in order for it to be truly independent from the executive.

"As the current bill still does not fully address SUHAKAM's lack of compliance with the Paris Principles, we urge the government to withdraw its bill and seriously consider the proposals made by SUARAM and ERA Consumer. We caution that the amendments under the current bill might not be sufficient to prevent SUHAKAM from being downgraded", stressed ANNI.

ANNI is a coalition of 27 Asian NGOs that monitors the performance of national human rights institutions in Asia.

For further inquiries, please contact:

Emerlynne Gil, Programme Manager, Human Rights Defender Programme,
FORUM-ASIA at +66 (0)2 6532940 or email: [email protected]; or

John Liu, Coordinator, SUARAM at +60377843525 or email: [email protected].