Leaderless Suhakam ‘a sign of flagging PH commitment’

PETALING JAYA: The federal government has been accused of slowing down its commitment towards better human rights by allowing the human rights commission, Suhakam, to go leaderless for two months.

The accusation came from Denison Jayasooria, a Suhakam commissioner from 2006-2010, who said the Pakatan Harapan administration must explain why new commissioners and a chairman have not been appointed to take charge of Suhakam for two months.

Suhakam’s previous chairman, Razali Ismail, resigned two weeks before the end of his term, following an inquiry by the commission into a pastor and two religious activists. Suhakam accused the police of being involved in their abductions.

On April 25, seven commissioners ended their three-year term of office. Lok Yim Pheng, Mah Weng Kwai, Aishah Bidin, Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh, Francis Johen, Godfrey Gregory Joitol and Jerald Joseph have either served one term or a maximum two terms as commissioners.

Those who have served only one term may be reappointed for a second term.

Jayasooria, who is also a human rights activist and academician, said: “Term periods are fixed and the government must have known the time needed for renewals. There should not be gaps.”

“For institutional reforms (to take place), these commissions must not be without their leaders,” he told FMT, noting that a gap in service had also happened with the Election Commission earlier this year.

In 2016, prior to Razali taking over as chairman, Suhakam was left without a chairman and any commissioners for 58 days.

“I understand it is about selecting the right chairman,” another former commissioner told FMT. “Normally the chair serves for two terms for a total of six years (but) with (the) sudden resignation of the past chairman, the process has become stuck.”

Jayasooria urged the Parliamentary Select Committee for Rights and Gender Equality to look into the matter.

Jayasooria said the annual Suhakam report had yet to be debated in Parliament, despite it being an election promise by Pakatan Harapan in 2018. “This must be a priority for the coming Parliament meeting in July,” he said.

Suhakam sources told FMT last week that the closing date for applications for appointment as a commissioner was in November last year, and a selection committee had met earlier this year.

Under the Suhakam Act, the committee is headed by the Chief Secretary to the government, the former Suhakam chairman and three other independent persons. The committee submits a list of candidates for the Prime Minister to recommend to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

FMT has contacted the office of Chief Secretary to the Government Ismail Bakar and is waiting for a response.

Suhakam is empowered to advise the government and relevant authorities of complaints against them and to recommend appropriate measures, and verify human rights infringements. It is also empowered to visit places of detention and make necessary recommendations.