KUALA LUMPUR, July 4 – More than 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have criticised the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) new line-up of commissioners that they say lack competence in upholding human rights.
The CSO Platform for Reform – which is a coalition of 102 civil society organisations (CSOs) working across multiple areas of reform, including corruption, health, education, freedom of expression, and human rights, among others – said the majority of the eight newly appointed Suhakam commissioners do not “inspire confidence” among civil society in upholding universal human rights for everyone in Malaysia.
The CSO Platform for Reform specifically took issue with the appointments of Suhakam chairman Rahmat Mohamad, who is a law professor; former Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) director-general Mohamad Nordin Ibrahim; Umno politicians and lawyers Hasnal Rezua Merican Habib Merican and Nazira Abdul Rahim; and former Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) member Dr John Chew Chee Meng, whose appointment represented Sarawak.
“A quick check on Dr Chew Chee Meng (Sarawak) shows that he is a consultant anaesthetist, with no known background on human rights work in the Malaysian society context, apart from his work as a medical practitioner,” the CSO Platform for Reform’s steering committee said in a statement yesterday.
“This is a far cry from the past Commissioner, Dr Madeline Berma, who has represented Sarawak and Suhakam excellently, and is a familiar and well respected name among academics, state and federal government, and the civil society alike,” it added.
According to Suhakam’s profile on Berma, the economist with a PhD has published extensive research on economic development, focusing on rural development, poverty, indigenous communities, and women. Berma was also part of research teams conducting policy-impact studies on poverty in Sarawak.
Among the 102 members of the CSO Platform for Reform are several organisations working on health issues, such as Third World Network, Health Equity Initiatives, the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, and the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control.
The CSO Platform for Reform pointed out that newly appointed Suhakam chairman Rahmat previously co-authored a paper that objected to Malaysia’s ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
Due to public outrage, the Pakatan Harapan administration withdrew Malaysia from the Rome Statute shortly after ratifying the international treaty that empowers the ICC to act against “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community”, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
On Mohamad Nordin, the CSO Platform for Reform accused the former Jakim DG, who served between 2018 and 2019, of denying the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community by cancelling a gender and sexuality conference in Kuala Lumpur.
The coalition of NGOs also said Hasnal Rezua Merican and Nazira, who are currently the Umno Selayang division deputy chief and Umno Wanita’s Kulim-Bandar Baharu division chief respectively, cannot serve as independent Suhakam commissioners, due to their active participation in a political party.
Only three of the eight newly appointed Suhakam commissioners were not specifically criticised: UKM law lecturer Noor Aziah Mohd Awal (who was reappointed), former Malaysian Bar president Ragunath Kesavan, and former Sabah state attorney-general Mary @ Mariati Robert,
“As the process is not transparent, it is time to have an independent mechanism for the appointment of Suhakam commissioners that includes Parliaments and/or independent individuals who will inspire confidence rather than quiet secrecy that is suspicious from its inception, without an iota of information provided,” said the CSO Platform for Reform.
“The last Commissioners defended the accreditation of Suhakam status well, and we fear that will now be sullied by a team of weak commissioners at play. Please do not regress and please do not add any shame to our difficult record of human rights in Malaysia and globally.”