Suhakam commissioner selection process a sham

Posted on: March 1, 2010

John Liu
Mar 1, 10

While the ongoing new process of selecting members of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) marks a seemingly relative improvement in the commission’s compliance with international standards, Suaram expresses its concerns and disappointment over the current application of the new process.

Although the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) has given Suhakam an ‘A’ status in November 2009 after considering the amendments made to the enabling law of Suhakam in July 2009, the international body will nonetheless once again review Suhakam’s status in November 2010, in particular to assess whether the new selection process is applied in accordance with international standards.

In relation to this, Suaram regrets that the application of the new selection process has thus far been flawed since the beginning, with little or no regard paid to the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness.

Non-transparent appointment of selection committee members – The new selection process includes a five-member selection committee which will be consulted by the prime minister who will in turn advise the king on the selection of the commissioners.

Three persons from this five-member selection committee are to be representatives of civil society, as stated in the amended enabling law of Suhakam. However, in a letter from the Suhakam chairperson to Suaram dated Feb 4, 2010, it was revealed that the three members of civil society had already been appointed by the prime minister, without the knowledge and consultation of a majority of the civil society organisations working on human rights in Malaysia.

This realised civil society’s initial concerns over the possibility of the prime minister’s full discretion over these appointments when the new process was first introduced by the amendments to the enabling law of Suhakam last year. Until today, the names of the three civil society representatives have not been made public by the government.

Non-Inclusive nomination process – On Feb 12, the Prime Minister’s Department sent out invitations to several civil society organisations, including Suaram, to nominate candidates to be considered in the selection of new Suhakam commissioners for 2010-2013.

The deadline set for the nominations is today, March 1, 2010. Suaram responded to this invitation by urging the Prime Minister’s Department to open up the process to the public, including by putting up the nomination form on its website and making a public announcement of the opening of the nomination process, instead of just a inviting a selected few civil society organisations to nominate. This demand has yet to be met by the Prime Minister’s Department to date.

Suaram will not nominate – Based on the flaws in the current application of the selection process as stated above, Suaram has decided not to nominate any names in the selection process. Suaram is of the view that its involvement in the process under current circumstances would lend its legitimacy to the entire process, which, in reality, has been flawed from the very beginning.

Attempts to deflect criticisms by civil society? – Suaram also questions the sincerity of the government in making the selection process a democratic, inclusive, transparent and open one, as well as in strengthening Suhakam as a whole.

While it is clear that the new selection process is largely to fulfill the requirements for the government to maintain Suhakam as an ‘A’ status national human rights institution under the ICC’s accreditation, there is a possibility that this new process, which includes the participation of a selected number of civil society organisations, could be used to deflect criticisms by civil society towards Suhakam and the government for the failures of the commission. This because some members of the commission would be nominated by civil society.

Our demands – Nevertheless, Suaram remains committed in pushing for a truly open and transparent selection process as well as campaigning for the strengthening of Suhakam. Suaram thus reiterates some of the demands made in a letter by 29 civil society organisations to the government on Feb 24, 2010:

  • to make public the names of all members of the selection committee immediately;
  • to ensure a transparent, participatory and inclusive process, which includes making the names of candidates and their profiles public, as well as holding public interviews.
  • to ensure that the candidates selected are independent, impartial and professional with high integrity and recognised competence in the field of human rights. As it is imperative for Suhakam commissioners to have a solid understanding on human rights matters, the selection committee should select only those who have been involved in the protection and promotion of human rights in the country; and
  • to ensure that membership in the commission reflects a balanced representation of the genders. The candidates selected should represent different sectors, backgrounds, and thoughts of society to ensure pluralist representation.

Finally, Suaram stresses that it will only consider being part of such a process when – and only when – guarantees of inclusiveness, openness and transparency are firmly in place in the selection process.

The writer is coordinator, Suaram.

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