Why the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) was downgraded?

Why the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) was downgraded?


Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz today revealed why the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) was recommended fordowngrade – from class A to B – by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC).

The ICC is a body under the United Nations set up to monitor and strengthen human rights institutions in each of its member countries.

Nazri in a written reply to queries by Charles Santiago (DAP-Klang) listed six reasons for the recommendation, among them that the prime minister has discretionary power to re-appoint commissioners.

nazri abdul aziz“(One of the reasons for the recommendation) is because there are no guarantees in holding a position of commissioner given the limited two-year term set by the government.

“In addition, the prime minister has full discretionary power to decide on the reappointment of (any) commissioners he deems fit,” read the reply.

The law governing the appointment of Suhakam commissioners has long been a contentious issue with Pakatan Rakyat politicians and civil rights groups alike.

Many contentious issues 

Suhakam is an organisation under the direct control of the PM’s Department, giving the government full authority in the appointment of its commissioners.

This has raised questions regarding its independence with leading NGOs and Pakatan politicians labelling it as a ‘cosmetic’ outfit.

Other reasons given by Nazri for the recommendation to downgrade Suhakam are as follow:

  • The provisions on the process of appointing and dismissal of commissioners as stated in the National Human Rights Commission Act 1999 are not clear and transparent;


  • Knowledge or experience in the human rights field are not mentioned as the criteria for the appointment of commissioners;


  • No provision in the Act that stipulates public or non-partisan groups participation in the appointment and nomination process of the commissioners;


  • Subsection 12(2) under the Act prohibits Suhakam from investigating any complaints on human rights violations if and when the complaint is being tried in court; and


  • Suhakam not taking active participation in human rights related activities organised by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Nazri in the reply said the government disagrees with the ICC’s observation that the process of appointing commissioners was not transparent.

suhakam protest 191207“We have appointed capable commissioners like Khoo Kay Kim, Dr Michael Yeoh Onn Kheng and S Subramaniam, all with the relevant expertise,” said Nazri.

On the lack of a contractual guarantee given to appointed commissioners, Nazri said the government has, in the past, extended commissioners’ contracts for up to three terms.

“(Therefore) the government is of the opinion that the reasons given by the ICC to recommend the downgrading of Suhakam is not because we have failed to uphold human rights in this country,” said Nazri.

Opposition MP not surprised by downgrade

Commenting on the matter, R Sivarasa (PKR-Subang) said the proposal by the ICC to downgrade Suhakam came as no surprise to him.

“Many appointments of the commissioners are lacking in transparency. One commissioner is only granted a two-year term. This caused no security of tenure.

r sivarasa 220405 lawyer“All of these issues were raised in 2000 when Suhakam was first formed. And we have been raising our concerns (ever since). There’s also lack of consultation regarding the appointments with civil society,” he said.

He then reasoned that the commissioners should be given a four to five years’ contract with full-time appointment.

“But now they have 15 people (commissioners) doing nothing. In the Philippines, they only have five and all of them do their work.

“The government spends RM10 million a year on Suhakam. RM8 million alone is spent on administration, transport, allowance and such,” he said.

Another matter raised by the Subang MP was the lack of seriousness by the government in tackling the human rights issues raised by Suhakam in their reports.

“The government does not take Suhakam reports seriously, while Suhakam, which was formed under the Parliament Act, says that it has powers to advice the government (via) the reports,” he said.


Malaysiakininews by Syed Jaymal Zahiid and Rahmah Ghazali 

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