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New selection process of members of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam)

Joint statement of civil society on 24th February 2010

With reference to the matter above, we, the undersigned Malaysian civil society organisations, are writing to you in your capacity as the Chairperson of the five-member selection committee, newly set up under Section 11A of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Amended 2009), tasked to advise the Prime Minister on the selection of Suhakam Commissioners.

We firstly welcome the setting up of the selection committee and its role in the new selection process of members of Suhakam. We view this as a very important step towards ensuring an open, transparent and inclusive process in the selection of Suhakam Commissioners as well as the advancement of human rights in the country in general. As a first step, the names of all members of the selection committee should be made public immediately.

Having said that, we would also like to express our concerns with regard to the application of the new selection process and the criteria for appointments of Suhakam Commissioners. We thus urge the selection committee to take up the following recommendations:

  1. Criteria for Office
  2. We believe that the selection of independent, impartial and professional candidates with high integrity and recognised competence in the field of human rights is necessary to ensure the effectiveness and credibility of Suhakam to fulfil its mandate as the national human rights institution of Malaysia.

    Section 5(3) of the enabling law of Suhakam states that “[t]he members of the Commission shall be appointed from amongst men and women of various religious, political, racial backgrounds who have knowledge of, or practical experience in, human rights matters”.

    With regard to Section 5(3) we are particularly concerned that the language used to formulate the criteria for Suhakam Commissioners, i.e. those “who have knowledge of, or practical experience in, human rights matters” may be interpreted in such a manner that individuals who do not necessarily have the experience in the field of human rights may be appointed to the Commission. As it is imperative for Suhakam Commissioners to have a solid understanding on human rights matters, we urge the selection committee to interpret the said provision in a manner which would ensure such by selecting only those who have been involved in the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.

  3. Composition
  4. Membership in the Commission should reflect a balanced representation of the genders. The pool of qualified candidates from which members of the Commission are selected should represent different sectors, backgrounds, and thoughts of society to ensure pluralistic representation.

    Further referring to Section 5(3), we are equally concerned about the inclusion of persons from different political backgrounds in the Commission. While the appointment of Commissioners from various political backgrounds could contribute to pluralism in the Commission, we would like to caution the selection committee that clear affiliations of Commissioners with any political party could compromise the independence of Suhakam.

    As such, we recommend that candidates who have stood in the country’s elections in the last five years – in either the federal or state levels – be disqualified from being considered for appointment as Suhakam Commissioners.

    We also note the public perception that Suhakam’s effectiveness and independence has been undermined by the appointment of former government servants, who have made up a majority of Suhakam Commissioners appointed in previous years.

    We therefore recommend that the selection committee sets a maximum of 20 per cent of those to be shortlisted for appointment to the Commission to be from amongst former government servants. This is vital to ensure that decisions of the Commission are not determined by virtue of the views of Commissioners from similar backgrounds, especially in view of the fact that a two-thirds majority of votes by Commissioners is needed in the decision making of Suhakam when consensus cannot be achieved.

  5. Selection Process
    1. open and meaningful, with the involvement of all social actors to ensure pluralist representation, consideration for gender balance, and the widest participation;
    2. conducted in a transparent and open manner in which the public is fully, accurately and continuously informed of its progress and decisions;
    3. monitored and evaluated by the public at large and by the legislature.
  6. We also believe that a transparent, participatory and inclusive selection process with input from all stakeholders is necessary to ensure the effectiveness and credibility of Suhakam as well as the selection committee. While appreciating that Section 11A(5) provides that the selection committee may determine the conduct of its own proceedings, in our commitment to advocate a selection process which is open, transparent and inclusive, we strongly urge that the selection process be:

     

    In order to do so, members of the Commission shall be selected from a pool of qualified candidates proposed through a transparent, participatory and inclusive process guided by the Paris Principles and international human rights standards.

    To do so, we have written to the Prime Minister’s Department to request that nomination forms be made public through its website and that a public announcement regarding the opening of the nomination process be made. We have also urged the Prime Minister’s Department to make public all candidates’ names and profiles on its website.

    In the same vein, we urge the selection committee to also make public through its own means all names and profiles of candidates received and being considered.

    In selecting candidates, we urge the selection committee to hold public interviews where each candidate’s qualifications, competence and integrity can be thoroughly and adequately reviewed by the selection committee, with the public fully informed of the process, merits of each candidate, as well as the basis of the committee’s decisions.

We respectively request that the selection committee takes our recommendations into serious consideration. If such steps are taken, it will doubtless enhance the credibility of the selection committee and develop public support towards the work of the Suhakam Commissioners selected in this process as well as the work of the Commission as a whole.

Lastly, we thank you for your attention and reaffirm our commitment to the advancement of human rights in the country as well as to making the selection process of Suhakam Commissioners an inclusive, transparent and open one, in accordance with international standards. We look forward to your favorable reply and the opportunity to contribute to your work.

Should you have any questions, please contact the representative of the undersigned civil society organisations, John Liu of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).