Stateless problem top complaint to Suhakam in 2018

Suhakam commissioners Lok Yim Pheng, Aishah Bidin, Jerald Joseph, Mah Weng Kwai and Nik Salida Suhaila at the launch of the 2018 Suhakam annual report.

KUALA LUMPUR: The stateless problem was the number one complaint to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) last year, with a total of 413 complaints received.

This accounts for 35% of the total 1,180 complaints the commission received last year.

Most of the complaints about the “right to nationality” — 381 — came from Sabah, with 31 complaints from the peninsula and one from Sarawak.

Acting chairman Jerald Joseph told reporters on the sidelines of the launch of the 2018 Suhakam annual report that the commission has taken up the issue with the National Registration Department.

“A section of this group’s problems can be resolved with passports issued by the Philippines and Indonesia.

“Another segment involves a situation where the father or mother is Malaysian. This can be resolved easily with some policy changes or amendment of the law.

“Of course, some cases are a little bit more complicated.”

Jerald said there was difficulty in discussing these issues as there were “many layers”, with some matters coming under the federal government’s jurisdiction and others coming under state bodies, especially in Sabah.

He said Suhakam had attended a meeting last Monday with Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, who had emphasised the need for a “pragmatic approach” to solve this stateless issue.

Jerald said Suhakam and Shafie agreed to call for a high-level meeting with home affairs ministry and immigration officers to find a solution.

“Allowing people to be undocumented is a waste of resources,” he said.

Jerald said Shafie agreed that giving the individuals proper documents would be good for them, their families and also Sabah, which is in need of more workers.

“The stateless are not going to run away. It’s not like they would come for a year and then they go back. They have already settled in Sabah for many years.”

Previously, Shafie was reported as saying that Sabah will ensure the registration of undocumented children, who have at least one Malaysian parent, and that this exercise would be carried out in a transparent manner.

He added that the state was supportive of the federal government’s commitment to solve the stateless issue.

Suhakam’s annual report recommends that the government accede to international human rights instruments such as the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to solve the problem of stateless persons.

It has also recommended to extend the period of registration of births in Sabah and Sarawak from 14 days to 60 days, in line with the period for birth registration in Peninsular Malaysia. This is to give more time for parents living in remote areas.

Meanwhile, Suhakam has submitted requests for reforms of laws to the Legal Affairs Department and the Attorney-General Chambers.

Jerald said previously, none of Suhakam’s annual reports had been debated in Parliament.

He said it was crucial for MPs to participate in human rights issues in the country.

He said the commission hoped that the 2018 annual report would be debated in the upcoming parliamentary session in July.