PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today took a swipe at the former Barisan Nasional administration, saying its ministers declined requests for meetings and viewed the body as an “ornament”.
Speaking to reporters at the Human Rights Day celebration at Padang Timur here, Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail said it was difficult working with the former administration as its ministers and even the deputy prime minister never wanted to meet with them.
He said that for three years, he requested help from the deputy prime minister’s office to no avail.
“Hardly any minister was willing to actually talk (to us). It was difficult.
“In this country, anything that happens has to come from the higher-ups. If the minister won’t see us, the chief secretary to the government can take his place.
“(But) how can you represent the aspirations and the need to improve the quality of live for the people when you can’t even see us?
“They used us only as an ornament to put out to the world that we have a human rights commission,” said Razali who became chairman in 2016.
In contrast to the many “protocols” in the past, he said working with the new government was vastly different.
He said Putrajaya is elevating many aspects of living, including education and poverty, and has accepted “civil and political liberties”.
This is despite not ratifying the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), he said.
“This is a one-step-forward-and-half-a-step-backwards, kind of a hiccup.
“This government has a long way (to go), but it is not over yet,” he said, adding Suhakam is fully committed to working with them.
Despite deciding not to ratify ICERD, Malay rights groups together with Umno and PAS mobilised tens of thousands of people on to the streets of Kuala Lumpur yesterday to “thank” the government for its decision.
Suhakam, which was supposed to hold its Human Rights Day event at about the same time yesterday, was forced to postpone it by a day on advice from the police which cited security risks.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was named as a guest of honour for the Suhakam event yesterday, decided to skip today’s gathering on the grounds that his presence would be inappropriate since Suhakam supported ICERD.
Razali said the people must understand the prime minister’s stand on the event today and Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) decision not to ratify the international rights treaty.
He believed Mahathir has “a formula” in store to advance the human rights agenda in the country, and obviously not all international rights treaties would be ratified.
“Suhakam will continue to advise the government on ICERD even though it was rejected,” he said.
Meanwhile, Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said that in the first six months of the new government’s rule, the commission had met with at least eight Cabinet ministers and the new attorney-general.
“Next week, we are meeting other ministers. That’s a record of their openness and willingness to work with us.”