The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) may lose its ‘A' status from a key regulator, thus potentially barring it from attending sessions of the UN Human Rights Council.
This is following an accreditation review exercise by the International Coordination Committee (ICC) of the National Human Rights Institution. Suhakam was told by the ICC to provide, in writing, within one year of such notice, evidence to establish its continued conformity with the Paris Principles.
"This (possibility of a downgrading) will reflect poorly on Malaysia's human rights record at the international level because it shows a lack of political will to protect and promote human rights, let alone enforce it," said Honey Tan of women's rights group Empower.
Tan was speaking at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today held with four other rights groups to bring ICC's recommendation to public attention. A statement issued by 44 groups, comprising NGOs and rights groups calling for changes in the country's human rights record was also highlighted.
The Paris Principles - adopted by the United Nations in 1991 - is the international benchmark on the establishment of national human rights institutions.
The ICC stated that among the reasons for the possible re-categorisation of Suhakam's status is the need for the "independence of the commission to be strengthened by the provision of a clear and transparent appointment and dismissal process" in the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999.
The ICC also noted the short term of office (two years) by which members of the commission are currently appointed.
There is also a lack of provisions in the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 to ensure genuine "pluralism" in the make up of Suhakam's commissioners, said the ICC.
The ICC noted further the importance of Suhakam engaging with bodies like the UN Human Rights Council and other human rights bodies.
‘ A' for now
Suhakam will hold on to an ‘A' status till 2009, when it might be downgraded to a ‘B' for either failing to fully comply with the Paris Principles or for providing insufficient information to make such a determination.
‘C' is reserved for countries that do not comply with the Paris Principles.
In addition to being barred from sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, it will also be stripped of full membership and voting power in the ICC's Asia Pacific Forum (APF) on National Human Rights Institutions.
Suaram coordinator John Liu said Malaysia's hosting of APF's four-day long thirteenth annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur starting on Monday "will put Suhakam in the spotlight in the international level".
Campaign coordinator for Amnesty International's Malaysian chapter, K Shan, said the government's announcements regarding reforms, to the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) and the judiciary, for example, accords an opportunity for the government to address weaknesses in the protection and promotion of human rights locally.
Suaram's executive director Yap Swee Seng, likewise, said it is "an excellent opportunity for the Malaysian government to show that it does have the political will to protect and promote human rights in the country".