SUHAKAM needs to be strong, universal in human rights approach to serve all – Kasthuri Patto

MP for Batu Kawan, Kasthuri Patto

KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 – Malaysia needs a strong and independent SUHAKAM as the national human rights institution with the right people in the right job in order for it to uphold and champion human rights domestically using the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan, Kasthuri Patto.

Describing a recent statement by Chairman of SUHAKAM Prof Datuk Dr Rahmat Mohamad a few days after his appointment – that he will ensure human rights in Malaysia will be according to a local ‘mould’ or acuan tempatan’ and free from “political pressure” – as shocking, Kasthuri questioned his understanding of the universality of human rights.

“A disastrous statement coming from the chief, the head of a powerful and influential commission, that was formed not as an NGO or a coalition but through an Act of Parliament that acts as the voice for all – minority and marginalised groups as well as for the vulnerable and weak,” said Kasthuri, who is also DAP Spokesperson for International Affairs and member of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee for International Affairs, in a statement today.

The new line-up of the commissioners in SUHAKAM, announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, has been courting controversy with more than 100 non-governmental organisations casting their doubts on some of the cast, especially those with political associations, and their contribution to human rights activities in the country.

Kasthuri in her statement said: “Malaysia as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (2022-2024) needs a national human rights commission that functions as the cornerstone and is dedicated to uphold and champion human rights domestically using the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, without prejudice, fear or favour as its moral compass.

“Prof Datuk Dr Rahmat Mohamad stands corrected as the principles of human rights, and not just the rights for some but for all, must be, without compromise must be defended and upheld without bias or discrimination according to international standards and values and in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

“Therein also lies the obligation and responsibility that international human rights tenets are localised so as to ensure there is no discrimination, inequality, injustice and unfairness against any person or groups of people.”

Kasthuri also said she had urged the prime minister upon Malaysia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council of the obligations that Malaysia had, to resolve matters involving the infringements on the fundamental rights of Malaysians and every single person on Malaysian soil.

Among the calls, she has made, include the reformation of the criminal justice system and abolishment of the death penalty beginning with the abolition of the mandatory death penalty.

“The Government has made progress by announcing it will abolish the mandatory death penalty,” she said.

She also hoped that the amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorces) 1974 and Shariah provisions to set 18 as the minimum age of marriage for Peninsular Malaysia as well as in Sabah and Sarawak will be tabled this year.

The Minister in Prime Minister’s Department in his Parliament reply this year made clear that the Government would still maintain status quo, allowing children below the age of 18 to marry, she said.

She has also sought for the withdrawal of the appeal of the High Court decision that allows for automatic citizenship of children born overseas to Malaysian mothers as done by Malaysian fathers and to amend the Federal Constitution in line with this, adding that Malaysia remained among 25 countries in the world that have nationality laws that deny women equal rights in conferring citizenship to their children as men do.

Kasthuri said she had also urged for the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to be tabled in the coming Parliament sitting, as well as for Malaysia to sign and ratify international treaties such as the Rome Statute, the Second Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention Against Torture, the 1951 Refugee Convention and conventions that eliminate discrimination and intolerance based on religion and belief, among others and to also immediately set up a Royal Commission on Enforced Disappearances.

The new Chairman and commissioners of SUHAKAM bear the responsibility and obligation to be torch bearers for human rights for all in Malaysia and they must work hard to ensure that they maintain the country’s ‘Grade A’ status, which allows Malaysia to join an international peer review on human rights, especially the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), she said.

A downgrade to ‘Grade B’ will mean Malaysia will lose that privilege and is unlikely to sit in the UNHRC.

There must be regular consultations, interactions and meetings with MPs and Parliamentary Special Select Committees as well as with CSOs, including the Malaysian Bar Council as partners in implementing the human rights agenda, Kasthuri added.