Global embarrassment for Malaysia if Suhakam loses ‘Grade A’ status, chief warns

Hasmy said that if Suhakam loses its ‘Grade A’ status, Malaysia would probably not seek a renewal of its membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Hasmy said that if Suhakam loses its ‘Grade A’ status, Malaysia would probably not seek a renewal of its membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 — Malaysia’s reputation on the international stage stands to take a serious beating if the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) loses its “Grade A” status, the agency’s chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam said today.

Ahead of an international review this October on Suhakam’s status as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), Hasmy said a downgrade to “B” would amount to a “loss of stature” for both Malaysia and Suhakam.

“If we are downgraded to ‘B’, does it reflect well on Malaysia as a country, as a nation, as a government? That’s the question,” he told Malay Mail Online when approached after the launch of Suhakam’s 2014 report.

Hasmy said it would be an “embarrassing” situation for Malaysia and that it would then be unlikely for the country to seek a renewal of its membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“It’s very embarrassing. If you downgrade to ‘B’, I don’t think you (will) go back to the Human Rights Council,” he said.

With a downgrade to “B”, Suhakam as an NHRI would be relegated to a mere observer in international meets and would also not be able to join an international peer review on human rights — the Universal Periodic Review, he said.

Hasmy said Suhakam previously earned the “A” status after his predecessor managed to push through two amendments to the Suhakam Act within three months, but said that Putrajaya’s aid in further empowering it through proposed amendments would help Suhakam “tremendously” in retaining its good ranking.

“So we have deficiencies, because of that, just to strengthen our case to be retained at ‘Grade A’, we made these proposals. But we do hope even if these proposals are not acted on, we will not be downgraded, they’ll look at our performance.

“But I hope that they do not penalise us just because the government doesn’t act. It could take some time for the government to act, to study,” Hasmy said, adding that he hopes the international accreditation body would take note of Suhakam’s efforts despite its “inability or lack of authority”.

He pointed out that the government has a “prestige to maintain”, questioning if Putrajaya intends to “muzzle human rights” and allow Suhakam to be downgraded, before saying that it could at least implement the easier legal changes proposed.

Earlier, Hasmy listed the 10 proposed amendments to the Suhakam Act to grant the commission more authority and powers to protect human rights.

This includes getting Parliament to select Suhakam commissioners, implementing a two-tier system of full-time and part-time commissioners, instead of the existing part-time system, as well as increasing their tenure from a three-year term that can be renewed once to a five-year term.

Hasmy also said Suhakam proposed that its role as a mediator be clearly spelt out in the Suhakam Act, with legal requirements for the government to consult the commission before making or amending laws be introduced.

The commission also wants to be given the powers to visit detention centres unannounced, to receive annual funding directly from Parliament, instead of the Prime Minister’s Department, and to be an “amicus curiae” or provide advice in court for cases involving human rights violations.

Suhakam also wants its annual report to be debated in Parliament, instead of the requirement in the current law, which merely says the report should be tabled, he said.

The 10 proposals were submitted to Putrajaya in December 2013 through the minister in charge of human rights, Datuk Paul Low.

Suhakam was last accredited in 2010 and will be reviewed by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC)’s Bureau this October.

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