SUHAKAM was established under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Act 597. Section 2 of this Act defines “human rights” as referring to the “fundamental liberties as enshrined in Part II of the Federal Constitution”.
The functions of SUHAKAM as set out in Section 4(1) are:
- to promote awareness of and provide education relating to human rights;
- to advise and assist Government in formulating legislation and procedures and recommend the necessary measures to be taken;
- to recommend to the Government with regard to subscription or accession of treaties and other international instruments in the field of human rights;
- to inquire into complaints regarding infringements of human rights.
Furthermore, section 4(4) of the Act provides that regard shall be had to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR) to the extent that is not inconsistent with the Federal Constitution. This means that whatever rights and liberties not mentioned in Part II but referred to in the UDHR must be considered provided that there is no conflict with the Constitution.
The function of inquiring into complaints about human rights infringements is subject to the conditions imposed by section 12 of the Act. Section 12 empowers SUHAKAM to act on its own motion to inquire into allegations of infringement of human rights, in addition to acting on complaints submitted to it. SUHAKAM, however, may not investigate complaints which are the subject matter of proceedings pending in a court of law or which have been finally decided by any court. Such investigations have to cease if the matter being investigated is brought before the courts.
The Act provides SUHAKAM with powers to enable it to discharge its functions effectively. Under section 4(2), the Commission is empowered to do the following:
to undertake research by conducting programs, seminars and workshops and to
- disseminate and distribute the results of such research;
- to advise the Government and/or relevant authorities of complaints against them and to recommend appropriate measures to be taken;
- to study and verify any infringement of human rights;
- to visit places of detention in accordance with procedures as prescribed by laws relating to the places of detention and to make necessary recommendations;
- to issue public statements on human rights as and when necessary
- to undertake appropriate activities as are necessary.