Media Statement by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong,
Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Friday, July 2, 1999:

Call on Hamid Albar to respect human rights and make public the National
Human Rights Commission Bill to allow civil society at least two weeks to give
feedback before debate and approval in Parliament

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The Foreign Minister, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar had promised that the Human Rights Commission Bill would be tabled in the July meeting of Parliament, but it is most regrettable that the Bill had not yet been made public although the Dewan Rakyat would be meeting in ten days' time beginning on July 12.

I call on Hamid Albar to respect human rights and make public the National Human Rights Commission Bill to allow the civil society at least two weeks to give feedback before debate and passage of the bill in Parliament.

In Parliament last December, I had asked why the Malaysian government had opted out of the United Nations human rights mechanism to review progress made in implementing the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights 1993 on its fifth anniversary, as Malaysia was one of the countries which had failed to respond to the United Nations request to submit contributions to the review process.

The then Foreign Minister, Datuk Abdullah Badawi expressed surprise at my query, as he did not seem to know about the matter, though he promised to look into it. The establishment of a National Human Rights Commission should be a major step in promoting and protecting human rights in Malaysia, and not be a part of "cosmetic" diplomacy to legitimise human rights
violations as is the case in many other countries. An important test as to whether the Human Rights Commission would be a major advance for human rights is whether the government would fully involve the civil society in the formulation and operation of the Commission, in particular whether the National Human Rights Commission would be set up in accordance with the Paris Principles on the status of national human rights institutions approved by the General Assembly in 1993 to ensure that it is not an "alibi" institution to legitimise human rights violations.
 

The United Nations General Assembly resolution 48/134 of 20 December 1993, entitled "National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights", reaffirmed the importance of developing, in accordance with national legislation, effective national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights and of ensuring the pluralism of their membership and their independence.

In this resolution, the General Assembly adopted the principles on the status of national human rights institutions developed at the first International Workshop on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights held in Paris in October 1991, to avoid the danger of the establishment of "alibi" national institutions. Whether these national institutions are consultative or jurisdictional, they must be based on the highest possible legal standard, which assured their legitimacy, so that they would be able to ensure the synergy between the State and civil society. In addition, national institutions must be forums for constructive dialogue and mediation, limiting controversy and confrontation, without thereby concealing possible substantive disagreements.

Under the Paris Principles, the mandate of a national institution must be as broad as possible and must be established by the Constitution or by a legislative instrument. It must have the power to carry out investigations, on its own initiative or at the request of the authorities, into all human rights violations committed in the country concerned and to receive and hear individual complaints lodged in this respect. It must have the responsibility for promoting human rights and must be free to meet on a regular basis and as often as necessary and to circulate and publish its conclusions and recommendations.

The Malaysian government would be negating the Paris Principles in refusing to make public the National Human Rights Commission Bill and involve the civil society in its enactment - which will be a very bad start for the Malaysian National Human Rights Commission.

- Lim Kit Siang -