Rome Statute opponent to chair Suhakam

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Legal expert Rahmat Mohamad, who co-authored a paper which convinced the Conference of Rulers in rejecting the Rome Statute, is the new chairperson of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).

Seven other members of the commission are UKM law lecturer Noor Aziah Mohd Awal (reappointed), former Islamic Development Department head Mohamad Nordin Ibrahim, Dr Chew Chee Ming, former Sabah attorney-general Mary @ Mariaty Robert, lawyer Hasnal Rezua Merican Habib Merican, lawyer Nazira Abdul Rahim, and former Bar Council president K Ragunath.

Their appointments were effective June 22.

Nordin was formerly the director-general of the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim) between 2018 and 2019.

Dr Chew was the former president of the Malaysian Medical Association, and Mary was formerly a deputy public prosecutor — from Sarawak and Sabah respectively.

Hasnal and Nazira are both law practitioners, while Ragunath Kesavan is the former Malaysian Bar president.

Rahmat is a professor of law at UiTM. He was one of four academics who authored a document to the Conference of Rulers in April 2019, advising against Malaysia ratifying the Rome Statute.

The treaty – otherwise known as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – has been ratified by 123 states.

This treaty created the International Criminal Court (ICC) which focuses on genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.

The ICC can only investigate and prosecute such crimes in situations where states are unable or unwilling to do so themselves.

Its jurisdiction is limited only to territories of signatory countries unless otherwise authorised by the United Nations Security Council.

All three out of five permanent members of the UN security council with veto powers – the United States, Russia, and China – are not party to the Rome Statute.

The paper co-authored by Rahmat argued that ratifying the Rome State would expose the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as the head of the military, to the jurisdiction of the ICC.

The authors also argued that since some of the most populous countries in the world – Iran, the United States, Russia, China, India, and Indonesia – have refused to ratify the ICC, the spirit of the Rome Statute would be lost.

Separately, Rahmat had in 2018 written an open letter stating that Malaysia should legislate international human rights instruments into domestic law first before ratifying international human rights laws.

The tenure of the previous nine Suhakam commissioners ended on April 26.

Of the nine, five had completed their two terms. They are Mah Weng Kwai, Jerald Joseph, Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh, Lok Yim Pheng and Godfrey Gregory Joitol.

The remaining commissioners who have completed their first term are Othman Hashim, Dr Madeline Berma Mohd Hishamuddin Md Yunus and Noor Aziah Mohd Awal (Children Commissioner). Othman and Madeline were not reappointed.

On Wednesday, Mah urged Putrajaya to appoint the new Suhakam commissioners promptly or Malaysia would risk losing its seat on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council.

It was the third time that Suhakam was left without commissioners, which Mah warned would affect the commission’s advocacy work.

The retired Court of Appeal judge had questioned why it was taking the government so long to make the appointments, saying Suhakam could not function without its commissioners.

In May, eight NGOs issued a statement urging Putrajaya to appoint new commissioners to Suhakam immediately.

They asked for the right people to be appointed to ensure the commission remained vocal and not “pro-government”, in order to uphold human rights in Malaysia.

In 2016, under Najib Razak’s administration, Suhakam was also left without commissioners for almost two months. The same thing happened three years later under the Pakatan Harapan government.

Opposition MPs meanwhile said Ismail’s delay in appointing new commissioners showed his lack of interest in human rights issues.

They said it is unacceptable for Putrajaya to drag its feet in filling up the vacant positions.