Suaram wants to engage with home minister on human rights, says buck stops with him

Ida Lim
(From left) Suaram programme manager Dobby Chew, Suaram executive director, Sevan Doraisamy and Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur December 9, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
(From left) Suaram programme manager Dobby Chew, Suaram executive director, Sevan Doraisamy and Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur December 9, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — The home minister should meet and engage with civil society groups on human rights as many related problems fall under his ministry, watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) said today.

Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said this year has been a busy one for the 30-year-old organisation as it is now involved in many engagements with the new government to put forward recommendations on human rights issues, unlike in the past when there was not much engagement with the Barisan Nasional administration.

He noted, however, that there has been a lack of engagement by the home ministry under the new government.

“So, this is happening, some areas super slow, some areas there are progress. But the most disappointing part is the engagement with the Home Affairs Ministry and home affairs minister, there seems to be a disconnect in terms of bringing up issues of human rights, civil and political rights.

“There is no proper engagement led by the Home Ministry, a lot of engagements we do with the parliamentary select committees and also some other ministries. But in terms of civil and political rights, a lot of the issues should be highlighted or handled by the Home Ministry.

“We suggest the Home Ministry come forward, have proper engagement with the police, civil society, Suhakam and other important stakeholders to have a proper discussion and plan on how to improve the human rights situation in Malaysia,” he said during the launch of Suaram’s 2019 edition of its annual report on human rights in Malaysia.

Sevan claimed that a coalition of civil societies pushing for institutional reform had managed to meet various different ministers such as those in charge of human resources, multimedia and communications, environment, culture or religious matters, but said the coalition has yet to be able to meet with the home minister for engagement on key civil and political rights issues.

Sevan said matters that would fall within the home minister’s jurisdiction include matters such as torture, laws enabling detention without trial, death in custody issues and also the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong similarly said: “All these things we are looking in Suaram, deaths in custody, LTTE, the Home Minister has to take a stand, the buck stops at his ministry, I’m sorry to say that you cannot just keep passing the buck.”

Suaram programme manager Dobby Chew meanwhile said that Home Ministry officials allegedly appear reluctant to engage, also noting the lack of a “holistic strategy” as agencies under the Home Ministry such as the prison authorities and police may have conflicting views on matters such as reforms on drug laws.

Chew said the prison department has been very progressive in matters such as the need to reform the prisons and change drug laws, while the police would take the stand that death penalty is still required, noting that certain issues sometimes get passed on to the Attorney General’s Chambers.

Chew said the thought when the change of government first happened is that most of Suaram’s engagement would be with the Home Ministry due to issues such as security laws, sedition laws, printing and publication laws falling under that ministry.

“But what I think came as a surprise, the initiative was all taken by the minister of law, even though he technically is not in control of these things, he took up the thing on mandatory death penalty, IPCMC, even right to information became his portfolio.

“It’s good there’s a minister taking the initiative of things, but at the same time also whether it’s the right minister to be handling all these things in the first place. Not to take away from his contribution to the discussion, but he’s not the line minister in charge of the police for example, of IPCMC, all these other departments, so there is obviously this question of how effective is he in implementing these laws,” Chew said, however noting the “experimental phase” that the new government was finding itself in as it pursues reforms.

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