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Please give the tiger at least some "false teeth" to enable it to chew small fish and "claw" in order remain in the rank of "tiger". Release it from the hold of PM to that of Parliament.

Suhakam: Give the toothless tiger teeth to bite

by Karen Arukesamy

KUALA LUMPUR (July 29, 2008) : Faced with the threat of being downgraded by an international body, Malaysia's Human Rights Commission (suhakam) today asked the government for "teeth" so that the "toothless tiger" can bite.

Its commissioner Datuk Siva Subramaniam said they are not surprised that the threat has been made by the world body as even cabinet ministers have called them a "toothless tiger".

"Provide the teeth, then Suhakam can ensure that human rights are protected," he said, when approached by reporters at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of the National Human Rights Institutions today.

"Because you (the government) do not have trust in Suhakam. You yourself have said something that shows that Suhakam is weak," Siva said.

Asked about the threat of downgrading by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) if nothing is done within a year, Siva said: "The downgrading (threat) is because of government's regulations."

He said the Human Rights Commission Act 1999, under which Suhakam was formed, has limitations and needs to be amended. One of the limitations is that the commissioner's tenure of service is just two years while in many other countries it is five years.

He said many people feel that if the commissioner "speaks his mind out, there he goes".

Siva said Suhakam has done an excellent job in the past nine years and still believes it is on the right track.

"But Suhakam does not have enforcement powers. We make many discoveries during our visits (Suhakam's monitoring activities) but our suggestions are mostly recommendations and sometimes these recommendations are treated as nothing," he said.

He said in some countries, the Human Rights Commission has its own court and implements its powers and can give its own directives.

"It will be useless if we just make recommendations and they are not implemented," he said.

Siva said many wants a broader selection of commissioners culled from NGOs, civil societies and people who have a broader concept and understanding of human rights.

"Of course, some of these arguments are valid. The ball is at the government's feet. Suhakam had provided the advice (on providing the enforcement power) to the government," he said.

Suhakam had proposed this to the government in several meetings but there has not been any positive response.

On Suhakam's role, Siva said besides protecting human rights, Suhakam also meets the public regularly under its 'Meet the People' programme nationwide.

Suhakam had also visited local schools to promote human rights and their next visits would be to the prisons.

Siva said given that Suhakam is doing its best under the circumstances, it is inappropriate for ICC to demote it from Grade A to B, which means it loses its member right to participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions.

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