Constitutional solutions must be at forefront of all human rights concerns, Centhra urges

KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 ― The Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra) has urged the newly appointed members of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) to have due regard for the provisions stipulated in the Federal Constitution in exercising their functions, particularly in the human rights areas concerning freedom of religion and equality, as well as freedom of speech, assembly and association.

Centhra also drew their attention to Section 4(4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597), which states that “they shall have regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) insofar as the same does not contradict the Federal Constitution”.  

“This would mean that efforts to further human rights based on the UDHR in Malaysia cannot go against national principles stipulated by our apex law,” Centhra Chief Executive Azril Mohd Amin said in a statement yesterday.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced the appointment of former diplomat Tan Sri Razali Ismail as Suhakam chairman and Professor Datuk Dr Aishah Bidin, Francis Johen anak Adam, Datuk Mah Weng Kwai, Datuk Godfrey Gregory Joitol, Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Salleh, Jerald Joseph and Datuk Lok Yim Pheng as its new members for the 2016-2019 period.

Azril reminded the new members that freedom of religion was not an absolute right in Malaysia, as Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution restricts the propagation of non-Islamic creeds to Muslims. 

Equality was also subordinate to any discrimination authorised by the Federal Constitution, he said, adding that freedom of speech, assembly and association were also subject to due limitations, taking into account the necessity of public order to ensure that racial and religious harmony prevailed in the country and to create the peaceful conditions necessary to sustain economic growth.

“These limitations of human rights must not be viewed as a handicap, but rather an affirmation that the collective good, a right as any other, trumps individualist views on human rights. Whatever solution to any human rights conundrum we face, therefore, requires solutions that are in conformity with our Federal Constitution,” he said.

Azril also hoped that the commission members would not look at human rights matters primarily through a “Western absolutist sense” but in a way that takes

into account the letter as well as spirit of the Federal Constitution and Malaysia’s status as an Asian as well as Muslim majority nation. 

Expressing Centhra’s concern that previous Suhakam commissioners had neglected certain areas of social, economic and cultural rights, such as consumer protection and employee rights, Azril claimed that they had focused solely on civil and political rights.

“We hope that the present board of commissioners will rectify this lopsidedness and give due emphasis to the neglected areas of human rights,” he said.

He added that Centhra looked forward to working with Suhakam on furthering the cause of rights and freedoms in Malaysia, in conformity with the Federal Constitution. ― Bernama

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