KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 — Nine international human rights groups called today for a more transparent selection process of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) after raising concern over the legal cases undertaken by its Malaysian chairman Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

The international organisations urged governments in the Southeast Asian regional body to consult its civil society when selecting representatives of the AICHR, pointing out that it is currently not compulsory under its terms of reference (TOR).

“The AICHR’S lack of functional independence from governments has again been highlighted by the activities of Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Malaysia’s Representative and current Chair of the AICHR,” said the international groups in a joint statement, including the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“In making this statement, the groups are not claiming that every AICHR representative is similarly lacking in independence or that Muhammad Shafee is necessarily alone in this; rather, they are concerned about the deep involvement by the current chair of AICHR in government activities that are blatantly detrimental to the protection and promotion of human rights,” the groups added.

The groups noted that Shafee, a prominent private lawyer, had been engaged by the government to act as prosecutor in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial that ended with the Federal Court sending the opposition leader back to jail.

He was also engaged by the Negri Sembilan government in a high-profile case against several Muslim transgenders.

The human rights groups further noted that Anwar’s Sodomy II trial, in which the Pakatan Rakyat de facto leader was convicted and sentenced to five years’ jail, has been criticised as a politically motivated trial that violated international standards.

“Muhammad Shafee should have recused himself because he was a member of the AICHR and the prosecution was in discordance with human rights standards that Muhammad Shafee was bound to promote and protect,” said the groups.

Malaysian law prohibits anal sex, deeming the act as carnal intercourse “against the order of nature”.

The groups also noted that Shafee is scheduled to appear as prosecutor for the government to appeal against the Court of Appeal ruling that declared Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Shariah enactment, which prohibits Muslims from cross-dressing, as unconstitutional.

“The Court of Appeal had affirmed that the prohibition was in violation of the rights of transgender people to life, liberty of person, equal protection, and the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and movement,” said the groups.

The human rights groups claimed that most Asean countries follow an “opaque” process in appointing AICHR representatives, who are purportedly often individuals selected from within the government or who are closely related to the government.

The groups urged Asean governments to adopt a set of guidelines for the conduct of AICHR that can ensure its representatives’ independence and impartiality.

“In addition to the existing responsibility to act impartially under the current TOR, member states may, for guidance, look to the criteria required for the nomination, selection, and appointment of mandate-holders of UN Special Procedures. These criteria are: ‘(a) expertise; (b) experience in the field of the mandate; (c) independence; (d) impartiality; (e) personal integrity; and (f) objectivity’,” said the groups.

“Therefore in the future, all AICHR representatives would have guidance on the circumstances and grounds in which they would have to recuse or prevent themselves from taking any action which jeopardise these principles,” they added.

Lawyers had sought to censure, at the Malaysian Bar’s recent annual general meeting, Shafee’s conduct after the Federal Court convicted Anwar of sodomy.

The Umno lawyer, however, secured a court injunction prohibiting the professional legal body from discussing his behaviour.

Following Anwar’s conviction last February, Shafee participated in an Umno-organised roadshow and gave media interviews in which he continued to attack the federal opposition leader, including calling him a “closet homosexual” during one public forum.

– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/malaysian-chairmans-legal-record-casts-doubt-over-asean-human-rights-commis#sthash.oitVp0vU.dpuf