Annual Report 2019


The year 2019 was a milestone, with SUHAKAM charting the 20th year of its founding and establishment.The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has come a long way since Parliament gazetted the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597) on 9 September 1999.

A notable highlight of the year, and a timely 20th anniversary gift for SUHAKAM, was the parliamentary debate of the 2018 SUHAKAM Annual Report for the first time, on 5 December 2019. Parliamentarians, as representatives of their constituents, bear a responsibility to recognise and acknowledge human rights issues that exist, and to use the power of their office to seek effective and permanent solutions.

SUHAKAM welcomed the ninth batch of Commissioners midway through the year, with Tan Sri Othman bin Hashim as the incoming Chairman for the period 2019 – 2022. Not long after, a Children’s Commissioner (CC) joined the eight core members on 23 August 2019.

Prof Dato’ Noor Aziah Mohd Awal’s work as CC focuses on the promotion and protection of children’s rights. These rights include the rights of indigenous children, those who are migrants, refugees, undocumented, stateless and children with disabilities, which are all underpinned by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Recognising that education is the most effective way to nurture future generations who understand, and therefore will promote and protect human rights as a matter of principle, SUHAKAM worked to strengthen its cooperation with the Ministry of Education. SUHAKAM focused on developing the Civic Education Module and providing input in the review of the National Education Policy. SUHAKAM recommends that the National Education Policy should include human rights education as a means to achieve the aspirations of the policy. At the same time, the Human Rights Best Practices in Schools Programme expanded from an initial 222 schools with the addition of another 246 schools from throughout Malaysia in 2019. SUHAKAM initiated talks with the Institutes of Teacher Education Malaysia to incorporate human rights knowledge in the syllabus for teachers from the year 2020.

SUHAKAM hosted a Regional Dialogue on The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) in July. The project was funded by a European Union (EU) grant. The dialogue aimed at facilitating the sharing of best practices and lessons learnt from its implementation among relevant ASEAN and OIC member states, presented by regional and international experts. SUHAKAM will continue to facilitate and pave the way forward, in anticipation of the eventual accession of UNCAT by Malaysia.

Several Ministries consulted and invited SUHAKAM to serve as members of various committees to draft and make recommendations on new bills or laws to be amended. They include sexual harassment, gender equality, employment laws, and a study on alternatives to the death penalty. SUHAKAM consistently made recommendations for law reforms in accordance with international human rights standards. In the second half of 2019, SUHAKAM participated in several consultations convened by the Minister in Prime Minister’s Department (Law), YB Datuk Liew Vui Keong, andsubmitted recommendations on a draft Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) Bill. SUHAKAM also engaged with rule of law institutions, including the judiciary, government agencies and civil society organisations (CSOs) to partake and exchange views on law reform and human rights.

SUHAKAM welcomes the appointment of the new Chief Justice of Malaysia, The Right Honourable Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, who expressed her support for continuous engagement with judgesand judicial officers on human rights issues. SUHAKAM would like more working engagements in terms of reviewing and drafting laws, especially those concerning human rights, and ideally from the early stages of any legislative process.

Since 2016, SUHAKAM has advocated for the establishment of a Custodial Medical Unit (CMU), which will operate as a mobile clinic and manned by trained medical staff on site. As a result of positive engagement with the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), the CMU programme is expected to beestablished at five centralised lockups in early 2020. In addition, SUHAKAM also collaborated with the Prisons Policy Division to undertake a thorough review and reform of the prison management system, policies and practices, including compliance with minimum standards of detention following international standards such as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

SUHAKAM completed its Public Inquiry (PI) into the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat, in December 2018. Following the announcement and release of the PI report, the Ministry of Home Affairs proceeded to form a Special Task Force to Investigate the disappearance of both individuals.

On 14 March 2019, Malaysia’s Working Group Report for the Third UPR was considered and adopted at the 40th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. Of the 268 recommendations, Malaysia fully accepted 147 recommendations, partially accepted 37 and noted the remaining 84 recommendations. Having accepted all of the 11 UPR recommendations on People with Disabilities, the community anticipates these shall be translated into reality soon, especially on access to education, healthcare and more disabled-friendly facilities.

The main issues in Sabah relate to land matters, citizenship, and identification and/or personal legal documents. SUHAKAM has made recommendations to the authorities and sought to identify best possible solutions for various complaints received, as well as advocating for policy improvements generally. As part of SUHAKAM’s effort to find permanent solutions on statelessness, SUHAKAM signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Komnas HAM (Indonesian National Human Rights Institution) in April, which will enable the two NHRIs to assist each other across national borders.

Owing to many years of active advocacy and constant engagement with the Sabah Government, specifically the Land and Survey Department, there seemed to be notable improvements in terms of Native Customary Rights and land issues. SUHAKAM looks forward to seeing more positive changes on this front shortly.

Citizenship issues formed the majority of complaints received by the Sarawak office. They mainly relate to children’s citizenship, late registration of births or identification cards for residents in ruralareas, as well as children whose mothers are foreigners. SUHAKAM welcomed the amendment of the Land Code in 2019. It is vital to have fairer land laws to obviate the injustice suffered by natives who lack access to knowhow and the law but are forced into litigation to claim their rights. This will pave the way for Sarawak natives to proceed with more clarity and confidence in claiming their NCR rights, instead of undergoing the test of a judicial examination.

Recurrent issues faced by the Orang Asli community include the lack of access to clean water, the opening of plantations surrounding their settlements and land encroachment, and difficulty in accessing health and education services for children. SUHAKAM continued to engage with the Government, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (National Unity and National Wellbeing) YB Senator Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy and JAKOA to seek permanent solutions to issues that affect the Indigenous Peoples (IP), especially in light of several tragic events, including the deaths of some indigenous people. SUHAKAM would also like to highlight that villagers often raise issues of access to clean water during the SUHAKAM Bersama Masyarakat events held at various rural areas throughout Malaysia.

SUHAKAM carried out a number of visits to immigration detention centres and observed that these sites were unsuitable and lacked facilities to cater for children’s needs. SUHAKAM and CSOs advocated the need to identify and implement alternatives to detention of children. SUHAKAM recommended that SOPs which relate to the detention of children should be improved, and to pilot a project whereby these children are placed within community care and civil society-run shelters.

There were several reports of incidents related to tahfiz schools throughout the year, including the death of students in a fire and allegations of physical and sexual abuse. SUHAKAM visited some tahfizschools to understand their problems. SUHAKAM also approached the state religious department to organise human rights workshops for tahfiz schools administrators. SUHAKAM also raised issues relating to tahfiz schools during meetings with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religion), YB Datuk Seri Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa, JAKIM and state religious authorities.

Child marriage is still an alarming issue in Malaysia. Aside from the call for the Government to raise the minimum statutory age of marriage for both men and women to 18 years, SUHAKAM also urged the Government to tackle the root causes of the issue, including increasing children’s awareness and education of their rights. There is also a need to conduct effective awareness programmes on sexual and reproductive health for the wider public.

SUHAKAM embarked on a study on discrimination against transgender persons based in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. The findings were published in March 2019. It is SUHAKAM’s view that the rights and dignity of the transgender community is no different from members of all other communities. They should be respected and protected from discrimination, harm and violence, regardless of their sexual orientation.

SUHAKAM collaborated with Fortify Rights to publish the report, ‘Sold Like Fish’. The report focuses on crimes perpetrated by human traffickers against Rohingya refugees in the sea and human trafficking camps in both Malaysia and Thailand. Survivors of these atrocities in Malaysia deserve protection under Malaysian law as survivors of human trafficking. It remains to be seen whether the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Wang Kelian, established by the Ministry of Home Affairs, will be able to identify the perpetrators and justice will be served accordingly.

SUHAKAM conducted a consultation to obtain views from relevant stakeholders and consequently made a submission to the Ministry of Human Resources, specifically on the issue of protection for jobseekers against discrimination which was being withdrawn from the Employment Act (EA). SUHAKAM issued a press statement, stating that removing the jobseekers protections from the EA amendments would allow for pre- employment discriminatory practices to continue. SUHAKAM recommends that the prohibition on discrimination under Article 8(2) Federal Constitution be upheld.

After Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law) YB Datuk Liew Vui Keong announced that Cabinet had decided that all human rights matters, including the development of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAPBHR), be placed under his ministerial portfolio, SUHAKAM provided advice and input on the initiation and development of a NAPBHR for Malaysia.

SUHAKAM reiterated its position for the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948. SUHAKAM also recommended the reinstatement of the agenda to reform laws and enforcement regulating hate speech and to comply with international human rights standards. This would ensure better respect and protection of the right to free speech as guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

SUHAKAM supports the initiatives undertaken by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs with the introduction of Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin and Maqasid Syariah, both of which stress the same global principles underscored for the promotion and protection of human rights. Nonetheless, SUHAKAM recognises that there is a need for further improvements in policy and administration, to strengthen public comprehension in the positive relationship between Islam and human rights in Malaysia.

SUHAKAM welcomed the government’s decision to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 offences under the Penal Code and the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971. SUHAKAM views this, as a step in the right direction towards the total abolition of the death penalty in this country. SUHAKAM Commissioner Dato’ Mah Weng Kwai was appointed as a member of the special committee to study and make recommendations to the Minister on alternative punishments to the death penalty and transitional measures for current death row prisoners. SUHAKAM conducted a stakeholder consultation in October to obtain views from relevant stakeholders and submitted the findings to the Law Minister.

SUHAKAM receives an annual grant from the government under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999. Financial limitations with regard to staffing and programmes prevent SUHAKAM from undertaking or delving into a broader range of human rights issues. Taking into account the increasing demands in terms of delivering its four mandates, by and with the government, civil society and the public, there is an urgent need for the annual grant to increase in tandem.

In conclusion, SUHAKAM urges the Malaysian Government to commit to accepting more recommendations, particularly those related to the accession of the six remaining core human rights treaties and withdrawal of all reservations to the conventions which it has ratified. SUHAKAM reiterates its call to establish a Permanent Inter-Ministerial Tracking System for effective coordination on human rights issues.

Many quarters including from the Ministries, Parliamentarians and their committees, CSOs, UN agencies and Special Rapporteurs, international organisations, and ASEAN through the AICHR, have increasingly sought to engage with SUHAKAM on many fronts. Considering the broad scope of human rights issues and a growing population, which correlates with increasing human rights violations, SUHAKAM welcomes these collaborations mainly to achieve common objectives.

SUHAKAM urges the government, all politicians and parliamentarians to avoid using ‘human rights’ as a tool for political gains, but rather as an approach to right what is wrong, and as a discourse to strive for a just, respected, equitable and sustainable society where no one is left out of the equation.

Our annual report for 2019 is ready for viewing and download now. Please find the links below to read our Annual Report 2019 now.


Annual Report 2018

The year 2018 was a defining year in the history of Malaysia, as the sun set on a 61-year-old political rule that had been unbroken since Merdeka. The first ever change in government was heralded by many to be the beginnings of a more open, free and transformative democracy, with a manifesto of progressive election promises aimed at addressing various human rights issues that had plagued Malaysian society for many a decade.

Changing 61 years of a historical trajectory is no easy feat, and SUHAKAM recognises the challenge inherent in effecting the many commitments made by the new government. Key among these challenges is perhaps to first transform the civil service, an indispensable arm of the government, to be apolitical and neutral, with a high sense of ethical conduct. This is fundamental to realising the government’s reform plan and SUHAKAM believes that the new government has to seriously consider effective ways to rejuvenate the civil service if it is to spearhead the new Malaysian vision.

Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad himself pledged at the United Nations General Assembly on 28 September that Malaysia would accede to the remaining core United Nations instruments related to the promotion and protection of human rights to uphold principles of truth, justice, fairness, the rule of law and accountability, among others, as per the goal of the new administration.

In October, the government also announced its plan to abolish the death penalty, accompanied by an immediate moratorium on all executions. SUHAKAM was confident that this was an excellent first step in the total abolition of capital punishment in Malaysia. These announcements, along with that of the promised repeal of the Sedition Act 1948, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 and the various incarnations of the Internal Security Act – Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) and Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (POCA) – draconian laws that had long been used as political tools against citizens expressing dissent, uplifted the entire nation. The future looked very bright indeed for Malaysia.

However, as 2018 drew to a close and euphoria settled nationwide, it is becoming increasingly clear that the new government would re-evaluate its promises to the people of Malaysia.

Despite the commitment to make Malaysia’s human rights record respected by the world, the government backpedalled on its keystone election commitments that would remove, for good, mechanisms that have curtailed human rights in Malaysia. The opportunity to accede to the six remaining international human rights treaties could not have come at a better time, but for even the so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’, a consensus could not be reached over the absolute prohibition of torture and the elimination of racial discrimination, for example.

Conditions of detention should not be an added punishment, and I lament the deplorable state of some of our prisons and detention centres that are in breach of a number of United Nations standards. There are still a handful of our prisons that use the bucket system, a degrading toilet system in the 1950s. SUHAKAM finds that our prisons lack the necessary resources for effective rehabilitation to ensure that when detainees are released, they are better equipped to become law-abiding individuals that can contribute to society.

Death in custody is a matter that SUHAKAM takes very seriously, and we continue to monitor prisons and detention centres to the best of our ability. In our view, Malaysia still has inadequate legal safeguards against torture in custodial settings and action by the government to effectively reduce and prevent acts of torture behind custodial walls seems to be minimal. Many of the primary safeguards against ill-treatment and torture of detainees are protected within the framework of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that the government has committed to acceding. Likewise, accession to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) is a long-held hope here in SUHAKAM – one the government has also pledged its commitment to – and in doing so, will bring closure to inhuman treatment in custody and embrace a new regime of rehabilitation.

A blow to both human rights in Malaysia and SUHAKAM came in the form of the government distancing itself from participating in our 2018 Human Rights Day celebration that was misreported as a counter-rally as it bowed to political pressure to reject accession to the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discriminations (ICERD). The groups opposing accession were irrationally claiming that accession would unravel social contracts built on the backs of affirmative action and the special position of Malays in the Federal Constitution. SUHAKAM will persevere in its efforts to convince the government to pursue human rights as a necessity in the social, political and economic development of Malaysia.

For its part, SUHAKAM’s future is looking bright.

SUHAKAM has stepped up engagements with policymakers and ministers in a bid to increase awareness and understanding of human rights from a legislative standpoint and successfully organised its first joint programme for Members of Parliament with the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) on 25 September. Current activities aimed at increasing transparency and independence in the governance of SUHAKAM are underway, with plans to make SUHAKAM accountable to Parliament. SUHAKAM’s independence would be further enhanced under Parliament and would provide us with leverage to operationalise human rights and in time validify the proposition that human rights are central to the country going forward and for Parliamentarians to believe that human rights win votes.

SUHAKAM also recognises the massive effort still needed to change laws, policies, infrastructure and attitudes following Malaysia’s accession to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010. More conversations with the public and various state and non-state actors are required before Kuala Lumpur, let alone Malaysia, can consider itself truly accessible to persons with disabilities.

Advocacy has been an essential part of the work in SUHAKAM, but as we emerge into a new era, our goal is to move beyond advocacy and to make real, measurable changes in the system.

This is but a snapshot, a year in a decades-long journey for the promotion and protection of human rights in Malaysia. We here in SUHAKAM certainly have our work cut out for us. Purposeful though it may be, there is still a long way to go until we are able to make our human rights record something the world can respect.