KUALA LUMPUR, July 3 — Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) expressed dismay today over the appointment of an academic opposed to Malaysia’s ratification of the Rome Statute as the head of the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy also stated his group’s concern over the simultaneous appointment of two Umno politicians to the statutory body, saying this undermined Suhakam’s independence.
Sevan said both Suhakam’s chairman and commissioners should be politically neutral to ensure it remained free of political influence, enabling to discharge its duties without fear or favour.
“We are of the view that these appointments made by the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri) Ismail Sabri (Yaakob) do not reflect the independence and core values of Suhakam as the national human rights institution (NHRI) of Malaysia.
“The academic views of Prof Datuk Rahmat Mohamad on the Rome Statute might adversely affect Suhakam’s mandate because one of the main functions of Suhakam is to make recommendations to the government with regard to the subscription or accession of treaties and other international human rights instruments.
“By appointing two commissioners with substantial political influence, Suaram is worried that the power given to Suhakam to inquire into human rights complaints and assisting the government in human rights legislation would be severely compromised,” Sevan said in a statement here.
On Friday, former Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) deputy vice-chancellor and Faculty of Law dean Datuk Rahmat Mohamad was appointed Suhakam’s chairman for the term between 2022 and 2025.
Rahmat was among those who had explained the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to the Conference of Rulers in April 2019, being one of the four academics who were said to have prepared a paper for the Malay rulers.
According to Suaram, Rahmat’s paper had been instrumental in forcing the Pakatan Harapan government to pull out from ratifying the Rome Statute which undermined Malaysia’s commitment in the global peacekeeping mission.
As for the Umno-linked commissioner, Suaram said both Datuk Hasnal Rezua Merican Habib Merican and Nazira Abdul Rahim held the post of divisional head in Selayang and Kulim Bandar Baharu, respectively.
“If the Umno government is allegedly involved in human rights violations, questions would be rightly asked on Suhakam’s ability to hold an inquiry independently and whether the findings would be credible in the eyes of the public and civil society,” Sevan added.
Moreover, Suaram also disagrees with the appointment of former Islamic Development Department (Jakim) director-general Mohamad Nordin Ibrahim to the commission.
Suaram also took issue with the lack of transparency and parliamentary oversight on the entire selection process of Suhakam commissioners, with public and civil societies left in the dark.
Citing the Suhakam Act, Sevan said Section 11A(1)(c) stipulated that a committee to be formed must be consulted with regards to the appointment of commissioner and three members of the committee which must come from civil society who have knowledge of or practical experience in human rights matters.
“However, civil society is mostly unaware of the formation and composition of the committee and what are the selection criteria and meritocratic basis in appointing these new batch of commissioners.
“Therefore, it is only until the appointment process has been announced publicly where the identity of the chairperson and commissioners were finally revealed and the decision is presented as a fait accompli.
“It is indeed a sad day for human rights and Suhakam that the principles of public accountability and transparency is not practiced upon during the recent selection and appointment process which in turn produces commissioners that may not be equipped to fulfil the mandates of Suhakam,” he said.