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Thirty-two non-governmental organisations today said they have suspended all engagements with the Malaysian Human Rights Commission or Suhakam for 100 days since April 24 s poor response to Suhakams numerous recommendations thus far.

The NGOs note with deep concern that the government has largely ignored Suhakams maiden report and its freedom of assembly report.

Whereas the Kesas report, submitted after a public inquiry, earned the disdain and wrath of the Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) who summarily dismissed it as a product of `western biased, he said during a press conference at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur.

The Kesas report irked Mahathir after it found the police guilty of using excessive force during a mass anti-government gathering along the Kesas highway on Nov 5, 2000.

The NGOs stressed the government has also failed to respect or recognise Suhakams recommendations and also lamented the decline of human rights in Malaysia.

Ramdas said the governments failure to adhere to the commissions recommendations creates the impression that Suhakam is nothing but a mere public relations tool.

Over the last two years, the state of human rights in Malaysia has deteriorated with increasing numbers of people detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, with blanket police ban on assemblies, with restrictions to the right of free speech and expression and with further restrictive amendments to the election laws, all of which have further denied our democratic space, he added.

The NGOs also noted that the government has yet to show its commitment and respect for universal human rights principles by ratifying the international instruments of human rights, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant Against Torture.

Controversial appointments

Meanwhile, another concern raised was Suhakams independence following the appointment of former attorney-general Abu Talib Othman as its new chairperson and the decision not to renew the appointments of three commissioners, Anuar Zainal Abidin, Prof Mehrun Siraj and Dr Salleh Mohd Nor.

Ramdas said it was perceived that Anuar and Mehrun, instrumental behind the scathing Kesas report, were dropped for performing their duties without fear or favour.

The fact that three commissioners have now been axed is a clear signal to other commissioners that their tenure is dependent on whether or not they have pleased the executive.

This clearly undermines the independence of the Commission and will erode publics confidence on it.

On the other hand, the NGOs said there is nothing in the public records which shows that Abu Talib was committed to protecting civil liberties and advancing human rights.

Claiming that there was nothing personal, the NGOs said their concern was based on his defense of the 1987 Ops Lalang where more than 100 people were detained under the ISA.

They added that Abu Talib, during his tenure as AG, was also instrumental for the impeachment of then Lord President Salleh Abas and five Supreme Court judges in 1988.

The NGOs also expressed concern over the appointment of five new commissioners which has led to Suhakam being made up mostly of retired civil servants.

The new commissioners are retired Treasury deputy secretary-general Ramon Navaratnam, permanent representative to the United Nations Hasmy Agam, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) director-general Dr Abdul Monir Yaacob, retired Education director-general Asiah Abu Samah and retired National Population and Family Development Board director-general Dr Raj Abdul Karim.

Our concern is whether persons used to the role of policy implementors can objectively assess and critique executive policies which impinge on human rights, said Ramdas.

Elaborating further on the boycott, Ramdas said the NGOs will not hold any dialogues, send any memorandums or complaints to Suhakam.

In the meantime, we will monitor the commissioners in the discharge of their statutory duties in respect of the pending complaints and inquires, he said.

We will also note to what extent Suhakam will monitor the governments compliance with previous recommendations on various human rights issues contained in its maiden report to the Parliament as well as its other reports, he added.

Ramdas said Suhakams performance will be judged not on the number of statements issued or reports produced but on the improvement of human rights in Malaysia.

When the bill (Suhakam Act ) was tabled in the parliament, our Foreign Affairs Minister (Syed Hamid Albar) promised that this would be a positive development in protecting and promoting human rights in Malaysia.

We are now looking at Suhakam as an institution to fulfill this promise, he stressed.

According to Ramdas the NGOs will meet again after the 100-day period to review their position.

Apart from Hakam, other notable NGOs involved in the boycott are the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), Suaram, Amesty Internationals Malaysian chapter, Jamaah Islah Malaysia (Jim) and Sisters in Islam (SIS).

Boycott unfair

In a related development, Suhakam commissioner Prof Hamdan Adnan told malaysiakini that he was disappointed with the boycott which he described as unfair.

Instead of resorting to such measures, the commissioner said the NGOs should work with Suhakam for the advancement of human rights in this country.

He added the boycott could create the impression that the NGOs were acting out of self interest and are not honest about championing human rights.

This action shows that the NGOs themselves do not acknowledge Suhakam and do not want to work with us, said Hamdan.