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Asian NGOs express concern over failure of governments to appoint members of NHRIs

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(10 June 2010) The Asian NGOs Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) expresses grave concern over the failure of certain governments in Asia to appoint members of their national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in accordance with the Paris Principles.

The ANNI believes that this illustrates the lack of political will by these governments to strengthen their NHRIs so that these institutions can effectively discharge their mandates of promoting and protecting human rights in their countries.

To date, there are at least two (2) NHRIs in Asia that still do not have commissioners: the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and the Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission. While these NHRIs carry on without commissioners at the helm, human rights violations continue to take place in these countries. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) was without commissioners for more than one month.

In¬†Sri Lanka, 4 commissioners of Human Rights¬†Commission (HRC) ended their terms in May 2009, while the commission’s¬†chairman¬†also ended his term in December 2009. Since then, no commissioners and¬†chairperson have been appointed. Meanwhile, more and more journalists,¬†activists, and trade union leaders face tremendous challenges as undue¬†restrictions are placed on their right to freedom of _expression, in the¬†context¬†of an ongoing state of emergency and the draconian Prevention of¬†Terrorism Act.¬†Criticism of the state’s human rights record by journalists, activists¬†and¬†trade unionists continue to be interpreted as supporting terrorist¬†activities.¬†As a result, violations of freedom of _expression especially by¬†imprisonment and¬†threats to media have continued till today.

In Bangladesh, the¬†chairperson and two commissioners¬†of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) were appointed in¬†December 2008.¬†However, on 9 July 2009 the parliament passed a new law entitled the¬†‘National¬†Human Rights Commission Act 2009’, which was approved by the President¬†on 13¬†July 2009. Under the new law, the commission should have 1 full time and¬†6¬†part-time commissioners. However, before the new law came into force,¬†the two¬†commissioners that had already been appointed, resigned and the¬†chairperson is¬†now left alone sitting in the commission. New commissioners have yet to¬†be¬†appointed by the government.¬† Like in¬†Sri Lanka, media freedom is also unduly limited in Bangladesh. In 2 June¬†2010,¬†for instance, Mr. Mahmudur Rahman, the acting editor of the Bengali¬†Daily¬†Amardesh, was arrested and the publication of his newspaper has been¬†stopped. Before this, on 28 May 2010, the government shut down¬†Channel 1, a private television channel, on grounds of alleged breach of¬†terms.¬†The Bangladesh government also blocked the social networking site,¬†Facebook, on¬†30 May 2010, after it was discovered that satiric images of some¬†politicians,¬†including the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition, have been¬†uploaded on the website.

Finally, in Malaysia, it was only after more than one month that the Malaysian government sought to resolve the issue of absence of commissioners in SUHAKAM with the belated appointment of new commissioners on 7 June 2010. The previous batch of commissioners of SUHAKAM had ended their terms on 23 April 2010 and since then, the commission has received more than 136 complaints of allegations of human rights violations. There has been no investigation or further action thus far because of the absence of commissioners. Not only have the appointments been long delayed, Malaysian civil society organisations have also pointed out that the selection process has been flawed since the beginning, with little or no regard paid to the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness.

Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia have been reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and all three states have been recommended to strengthen their NHRIs and ensure that their NHRIs are able to operate independently and effectively for the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with the Paris Principles.

It is clear therefore that the governments of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have the obligation to strengthen their NHRIs by appointing commissioners at the soonest possible time through constitutional or statutory procedure that is respectful of the independence and pluralism of the NHRI. It is the responsibility of these states to continue their efforts in developing the work of NHRIs as an effective national human rights institution.

Moreover, that the Malaysian government left SUHAKAM without any commissioners for more than a month demonstrates its lack of commitment towards human rights despite being recently elected into the UN Human Rights Council and having unambiguously pledged commitment towards strengthening SUHAKAM during its candidature to the Council.

The ANNI strongly urges the governments of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to fulfil their responsibilities in supporting the work of their NHRIs by appointing commissioners at the soonest possible time. The newly-appointed SUHAKAM commissioners, on the other hand, must immediately look into all pending complaints of human rights violations which were filed with SUHAKAM when commissioners were absent and respond proactively to all current human rights issues in the country. The NHRIs in these countries should be able to immediately start to function fully to deal with the human rights issues in these countries and promote and protect human rights effectively.

To read the complete statement, please click here.