High hopes on Suhakam which has little power


Malaysians have this thing where they hope some mighty champion will sweep down from the mountains and solve their problems for them.

LAST weekend I was at a public forum organised by ERA Consumer. It was held in Johor Baru. I have not been to JB for many years and I found that it has the largest concentration of modified Protons I have ever seen.

That’s not the point of this article though. The forum was held to get feedback from the public regarding ERA Consumer’s report on Suhakam’s 2006 Annual Report.

What I noticed from the comments of the audience was a very strong desire for Suhakam to “do more” in the field of human rights.

Underlying the comments is a sense that Suhakam is a body that the citizens of this country can look to for assistance, and if Suhakam can’t get the attention of the government, then what hope is there for ordinary folks like you and me?

This is an understandable sentiment, but perhaps a little unrealistic. Suhakam does not have any real powers. It is not a body that can start prosecutions, for example. Its role is largely advisory and also educational.

For Suhakam to be able to “do more” would thus require an amendment to the Act which created it. Any dramatic changes are unlikely.

And even today the Suhakam annual report is not given any debate time in Parliament. Be that as it may, perhaps some simple changes could be pushed for.

For example, the appointment of Commissioners could be narrowed down from any old “eminent persons” that the Act specifies, to “eminent persons with a record of human rights work”.

As it stands, the Commission is large and filled with people who are not necessarily experts on human rights.

However, even without a change in the law, Suhakam can make itself more relevant by being more proactive in its endeavours. Education is well and good, but really it should push its power to conduct inquiries.

The Bandar Mahkota Cheras inquiry into the alleged police brutality inflicted on a young man was emphatic in its condemnation of the police and clearly stated that a wrong was committed.

So far (according to its website) Suhakam has only conducted three public inquiries. By focusing on these inquiries, Suhakam would be working on real cases of immediate concern to the citizens. And furthermore, it can start an inquiry on its own volition if it so chooses.

It is of course wonderful if Suhakam were to have real powers and play the hero for us, but another thing I noticed at the public forum in Modified Proton Land, is what I call the “Hang Tuah Complex” raising its little head again.

I have noticed that Malaysians have this thing where they are constantly hoping for some mighty champion to sweep down from the mountains and solve their problems for them. The way I see it, Suhakam is merely one cog in the wheel of human rights activism.

Sure they are pretty powerless but there is nothing to stop civil society from using its findings. Raise the findings, publicise them and demand they be acted upon.

After all, Suhakam is not some loony NGO. It is a legally constituted body created by the Government. Surely what it says must have some kernel of truth.

If the Government does not want to take what Suhakam says seriously, then we have every right to ask why not.

Dr Azmi Sharom is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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