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Sunday, 31 March 2013

A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO -CPPS New Publication - Malaysian Issues & Concerns

By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria

At a recent book launch Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the Deputy Minister for Higher Education said that the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) new book entitled ‘Malaysian Issues & Concerns, Some Policy Responses’ is “a people’s manifesto or a third GE 13 manifesto but this time from the ground and the views of civil society”
He went on to acknowledge “the recording of the voices of the people” is an important dimension of policy formulation especially in a political climate post 2008 where there is a new governance framework and expansion of the public space. Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah had participated in a number of the twelve roundtable discussions hosted by CPPS-ASLI in 2012 under the leadership of Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam and Tan Sri Michael Yeoh of ASLI.

Datuk Saifuddin is the rare one among Barisan National Members of Parliament who is willing to engage in open dialogue sessions organised by think tanks and civil society. This aspect of a lack of engagement is one of the major weaknesses of the Barisan National politicians who seem very dynamic in their own sponsored meetings but unwilling to enter the public space to articulate and win the public debate through public reasoning. This dimension of ideological based discussions will increase in the post GE 13 political arena, where there will be a need for greater by-partisan engagement and cooperation among political parties to advance the interest of the grassroots and the general public.
This will be the new political reality where no one party or grouping of political parties control two- thirds majority in parliament and therefore need to seek support of the other for the common good. The politics of “all is bad in government” and “all is good in the opposition” or the reverse will be the politics of the past. Members of Parliament elected by the people must be respect by all and they must play their rightful and constructive role in nation building. A more matured politics must emerge where the will of the people through the ballot box is supreme. It must move away from the majority-minority syndrome or “winner takes it all notions” but it must recognise the diverse voices and seek to accommodate them in the bigger picture of democracy, human rights and good governance.

The methodology adopted in hosting twelve roundtable discussions centred on the idea of hearing diverse voice and then drawing some consensus positions. While the discussions started from an interest group positions whether ethnic, religious, regional or class, ultimately fifteen cross cutting national concerns were identified which is inclusive of all the community concerns.
The fifteen common concerns can be divided into three main parts. These are comprehensive and inclusive of all the ethnic and religious communities in Malaysia. It is building on national concerns and strengthening the socio-economic development but at the same time ensures good governance sets the firm foundation for its realisation through effective delivery and implementation. 

The first part is Nation Building Concerns.
         Ensuring equality of citizenship (holding article 8 and 153 in balance)

         Enhancing democracy and human rights
         Instilling a deeper sense of patriotism and respect for King & nation, thereby enhancing the role

of Monarchy in public life

         Increasing inter- religious understanding and ensuring a shift from tolerance to appreciation

       Strengthening national unity and integration agenda with a deeper sense of celebrating diversity

of cultures & languages of all Malaysian groups without diluting the importance of the national language

The second part is Socio-Economic Development Concerns

         Addressing poverty and inequality with a focus on the bottom 40% and intra ethnic concerns
         Empowering through education and skills training

         Enlarging employment opportunities
         Enlarging business and economic opportunities

         Addressing crime and ensuring public safety and security

The third part is on Governance Related Concerns

          Recognizing youth potential and creating new measures for engagement

         Tapping the full potential of civil society and grassroots organisations as partners in


          Ensuring effective decentralization of local government

         Fostering greater autonomy for States especially in Sabah and Sarawak
         Ensuring effective governance and implementation

Every Malaysian is important to national development
Prof Norma Mansor, the former secretary to the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC) which produced the New Economic Model (NEM) and who spoke at the discussion after the launch recognised that many of the fifteen community concerns have been identified in the NEM and will be the focus of attention of both the Tenth & Eleventh Malaysia Plans.

She affirmed that the way forward was moving away from the ethnic labels towards enabling Malaysia to rise above the current income levels. In order to do this every Malaysian is important and must be utilised. Our current Malaysian dilemma is that about 70% of our workforce is at the SPM level and if we want to move the nation upwards towards a high income status, then human capital development of every Malaysian is most critical. In so doing we will be able to compete in the global markets.
Recognising historical and political realities

Tan Sri Kamal Salih who also made comments at the book launch indicated that while these fifteen are good and comprehensive, one must understand the historical and political realities- that the ethnic articulation especially on specific areas such as equity ownership will continue to dominate political discussions. He went on to say that public policy formulation has been about communities and political leaders making compromises in the best interest of nation building and the Tun Abdul Razak’s model of inclusivism is most significant.

In what could be called as policy maker’s confession time, Tan Sri Kamal recognised four negative outcomes of the post NEP period which requires intellectual honesty in analysis but the political will to move ahead as a nation to ensure that we truly realise vision 2020. The first is the emergence of a culture of dependency, the second the culture of corruption, third, the culture of racial envy and fourth the politics of polarization. These have impacted all sections of society including the private sector dependence on public sector licenses and contracts.
Nation Building through Inclusive Agenda

In order to ensure effective follow up and implementation, it is proposed that the Prime Minister establishes a special National Social Inclusion Advisory Panel with representatives from a cross section of Malaysian society and a Social Inclusion Secretariat with professional, academic and technical personal to monitor effective implementation.

The role of this secretariat is only to undertake policy analysis, monitor implementation, and undertake impact assessment studies. It does not get involved with the role of respective agencies and departments in the delivery of services. The National Key Result Areas (NKRA) and the coordinating agencies with Pemandu will continue to ensure this.

The Social Inclusion Advisory Panel and Social Inclusion Secretariat will play the role as an independent watchdog within the Federal government mechanism but will work in close partnership, communication and collaboration with the grassroots through a social dialogue process, a range of town hall dialogues and Roundtable discussions.

The common Malaysian struggle for nation building must take these historical and political realities seriously but must be able through political foresight and leadership through a process of compromises ensure that justice and fairness is possible for all the peoples of Malaysia.

As we cast our vote at GE 13 we need to review these developments and usher in Members of Parliament who will move beyond the ethnic or religious group and see Malaysia as First for the common good of all the people of Malaysia. Every vote is important and this is both our constitutional right and responsibility.

Source: The Malay Mail April1, 2013 page 13

Thursday, 21 March 2013

HUMAN RIGHTS & MALAYSIA, A UN PERSPECTIVE - “unfinished human rights agenda in Malaysia”

by Dr LinMui Kiang (UN Coordination Specialist, Malaysia),
Delivered at Proham book launch on March 18, 2013

I would like to thank PROHAM for having me. The UN truly appreciates the work and contribution that PROHAM is making in the area of human rights in the country despite its lack of resources. We appreciate your dedication and hard work.

Malaysia & Human Rights Commitments

As you know, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, highlights both the “inherent dignity” and the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”.

The UDHR recognizes two sets of human rights; the civil and political rights as well as the economic, social and cultural rights. It established the foundation for a world free from fear, want and intolerance, and provided a universal framework to ensure accountability of the powerful and the protection of the vulnerable.  International human rights standards embody universal values of respect for human dignity and human well-being. They lay the foundation for a just, humane and progressive society, and provide a framework for the formulation of national and international policies and strategies for human development.

Apart from adopting the UDHR, Malaysia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and has pledged to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. In 2006, Malaysia’s Aide Memoire in support of its election to the Human Rights Council stated in part that “the increasing threat posed by terrorism worldwide has highlighted the importance of balancing security concerns with the preservation of individual liberties.” It went on to say that drawing on prior experience, “Malaysia believes it has achieved this balance.”

 The Aide Memoire also suggested that Malaysia’s “experience managing a plural society would bring an important dimension to the work of the new Human Rights Council.” Internationally, Malaysia wanted to demonstrate its continuing commitment to being part of the global human rights community when she strived hard to be a member in the UN Human Rights Council for a second term

 Malaysia also signed the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration on 18 November 2012 which states that every person is entitled to certain rights regardless of race, gender, age, language, religion and political opinions, among others. It is a first step forward in fostering a human rights culture within the region and.

Ratification of core human rights conventions

However, if it is to lead by example, Malaysia will now need to take urgent action to ratify the remaining six core human rights conventions which it is yet to sign or ratify because currently most ASEAN member states have done better. Malaysia has signed only three compared to countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam which have all signed or ratified 7 or more core UN human rights conventions. On a global basis, 80% of all UN Member States have ratified four or more of the nine core human rights conventions, reflecting their acceptance of the legal obligations explicit in them.
Malaysia ranks 187th among the 193 member states
in terms of the number of conventions signed.
For ICERD, it is one of the 16 countries that have not ratified.
Malaysia & UPR

Moreover, the first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Malaysia held in February 2009 found that Malaysia had fallen short of many of its commitments to the UN Human Rights Council that were pledged when it applied to become a member in 2006. As a member of the Human Rights Council, Malaysia should follow through on its promises and implement changes that have a real impact on the protection of human rights in the country.

Of the close to 150 recommendations, Malaysia adopted 80, rejected 36 and reserved comments on 31 recommendations. They included recommendations made for the protection of women and children, eliminating poverty, strengthening education, providing health services, fighting human trafficking, protecting the rights of indigenous and minority groups, providing training on human rights, in addition to actions to pursue national strategies and plans aimed at consolidating human rights in the country.

The Government also promised to examine other international human rights treaties and take steps to accede to the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Clearly, there is a significant unfinished human rights agenda in Malaysia as the government itself acknowledged through its acceptance of many of the recommendations in the report which came out of the 2009 UPR.

The UN Secretary General has repeatedly emphasized the critical role that Governments must play in enabling and protecting the role of human rights defenders. This is also intended to inspire a new generation of defenders to speak up and take action to end discrimination in all of its forms, whenever and wherever it is manifested.  

Human Rights & Civil Society in UPR Process

The second round of the UPR for Malaysia will take place in October 2013, although reports from the Government, CSOs and UN bodies had to be submitted by 11 March 2013. 

The UN acknowledges and appreciates that many Malaysian civil society and national human rights organisations came together in 2008 and 2013 to analyse the human rights situation in the country and recommended actions that the Government should take in order to improve its human rights record.

The role of civil society in assisting as well as monitoring the implementation of UPR recommendations by the government is an important added value contribution to the whole UPR process, and should be viewed and welcomed by the Government as complementary to its role.

In this context, an inclusive approach should be adopted together with active participation on the part of SUHAKAM, and civil society actors as all have a vital role to play as human rights defenders and that they should engage in constructive dialogue with the Government to enable and advance effective implementation.

The United Nations Country Team in Malaysia remains committed to work with the Government, SUHAKAM, the Bar Council and our civil society partners in providing support for the human rights and development aspirations of Malaysians.  We appreciate your dedication and sacrifice for the cause.

Finally, I would like to conclude by congratulating PROHAM on the launch of this book titled “Proham and Human Rights Concern in Malaysia” which is a culmination of their love of labour over the past two years.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013



By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham Secretary General)
Every year the United Nations sets aside March 21 as the day to celebrate inter-racial and ethnic diversity and to combat racism. It is a day to make a stand for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination in our society and the world we live in.

In many parts of world ethnic tensions and conflicts continue to exist. In all societies there is some element of prejudice and indifference among the different peoples of the world.

However we cannot be complacent about these but must address these based on fundamental values of the goodness of humanity – that all human beings, irrespective of the colour of their skin or religion or place of origin have human dignity and human rights which are universal.

Our foundations could be based on our religious or cultural values but fundamental is the ‘inherent dignity, equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’ which is documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR), the Cairo Declaration and the Asean Declaration of Human Rights
At the global level we have had and continue to have incidents where the instrument of the state have supported and nurtured racial superiority and instituted mechanisms for discrimination, exploitation, cruelty and abuse including murder and genocide.

In our global history we have had majorities victimising minorities or minorities victimising the majorities. We have witnessed the oppression of slavery in the West and the suffering of the Afro-Caribbean communities, the brutal abuse of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the genocide by Hitler & the Nazis, the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnians, Rwandans, Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge and the plight of the Palestinians & Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The UN Convention (ICERD)
The global body formulated a global commitment to fight racism through a UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (ICERD) in 1965. Majority of the countries of the world have ratified ICERD including a majority of ASEAN and Muslim majority countries of OIC. However there are only 16 countries which have not.

Malaysia is one of them. Others are Anglo, Myanmar, Singapore and North Korea who have not ratified ICERD. For Malaysian not doing this comes as a surprise as we have always highlighted the richness of our cultural, linguist and ethnic diversity. Malaysia has also been promoting moderation at the global levels. Therefore there is an urgent need for Malaysia to ratify ICERD and stand talk among the nations of the world
ICERD seeks “to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.

Malaysian reluctance to ratify

So the question remains why is Malaysia not among the majority nations of the world? Why is Malaysia resisting the ratification when it has already ratified other UN Conventions and Malaysia plays an active global role not just in peace keeping force but also in the promotion of the movement of moderates and its role both at Asean and the human rights commission
In a number of roundtables discussions on .ICERD and ratification’ there are number of common concerns that are frequently highlighted especially by civil servants and politicians from the Federal government. These concerns have been well documented in the UKM Ethnic Studies paper series 21 (Oct 2012).

First, is pertaining to the idea that UDHR and UN declarations and conventions are anti-Islam or not compatible with Islamic teaching. The document heighted in contrast is the OIC–Cairo Declaration on Human Rights as the standard bench mark. This kind of thinking is not well informed as a majority of OIC countries have ratified a majority of UN conventions and Cairo Declaration is consistent with ICERD and moves beyond by recognising God as the creator God of all human beings and therefore there can be no discrimination. In some areas especially family law, sexuality and religious freedom some countries have reservations but as these Muslim majority countries are part of the UN system they subscribe to the UN standards have ratified them.
The second frequent concern and at times objection is based on the Federal Constitution article 153 on the special position of the Malays and natives. This objection is also not well placed as the ICERD makes provision for affirmative action or positive discrimination with a special article 4 on ‘special measures’. In addition there is another provision entitled General Recommendation No 32 entitled ‘The meaning and scope of special measures in ICERD’

However there are some guidelines in the implementation of special measuresimplying that there is no provision for interpreting this provision as special rights or even from a stand point of view as racial superiority. It is seen as a short term measure to address historical socio-economic disadvantage but once the disadvantage has been addressed the provision must be terminated and equally accessible to all communities. 
This position of ICERD is consistent with the thrust of the Federal constitution of Malaysia where it states in Article 8 “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”. Article 153 on the ‘special position of the Malays and natives’ must be read not as racial superiority, but addressing a disadvantage situation. This must be in balance with the ‘legitimate rights of other communities’ which is another dimension of article 153 which has not received sufficient attention in legal interpretations and administrative delivery of services.

There is a possibility that some politicians and civil servants have a difficulty with this aspect that in the long term all affirmative action and positive discrimination aspects need to cease if the position of disadvantage has been addressed.
There could be another factor that with the ratification there must also be a full public disclosure of all affirmative action assistance provided such as scholarships, business license & permits, positions in the civil service etc. This aspect of full disclosure and transparency is in fact very good for good governance in order to ensure that the special measure really reaches the actual target group and not abused by the elites.

Thirdly often during round table discussions some official’s float a number of objections and concerns. These are, the old argument of Asian values and the irrelevance of UDHR. Others raise issues that Malaysia is not ready or issues pertaining to the interference of the global body on Malaysia’s domestic affairs. Some indicate that it is better for us to correct some our internal problems so that when we ratify we can be able to fulfil them. There are some other local issues which need to be address pertaining to land matters and the 20 agreement during the formation of Malaysia especially by Sabah and Sarawak and the Federation.
Malaysia’s future response

Any kind of reason or excuse seems futile in the current global climate of globalisation and the pro-democracy position of a majority of countries of the world. Malaysia cannot afford to be among the minority nations that are resisting the benchmarking of our ethnic relations with the UN global community instrument of ICERD
Therefore as we approach GE 13 we must reflect on political parties and candidates that say ‘NO’ to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. We must elected candidates who have a track record of fighting racial discrimination and who will after GE 13 play an advocacy role in Parliament for its ratification by the Federal government.

We must read the election manifestos to discern if the political parties and the leaders will be change agents to truly establish a society where there is transformational shift from tolerance to appreciation to acceptance of inter-ethnic and religious differences. Let us truly build a united, peaceful, happy and prosperous Malaysia for all Malaysians.
Article was first published in Malay Mail (March 18, 2013).

The link :-

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


On behalf of the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM) I am honoured and delighted to welcome each and every one of you to the launching of PROHAM book entitled ‘ PROHAM and Human Rights Concerns in Malaysia.’ Your presence makes the occasion more meaningful and will give PROHAM added encouragement in our collective efforts towards the creation and promotion of respect for human rights culture in this country.

With greater awareness of human rights, this country will become a better place to live in. The relationship between the government and the people and among the people themselves will greatly improve, generating more goodwill and reducing, if not eliminating, mistrust and misunderstanding. This is even more important in a plural society like Malaysia.
PROHAM has just concluded its 3rd AGM. The launching of the book has been planned to coincide with the AGM. I am sure PROHAM members will agree with me when I say that this book would not have become a reality had it not been for the unyielding effort and hard work of Datuk Dr. Denison, PROHAM Secretary-General, who compiled and edited the book despite the fact that he has a full time job. It incorporates record of PROHAM’s main activities for the years 2011 and 2012.

PROHAM is not pro-government, not pro-opposition, not pro-anybody, only pro-human rights and pro-good governance. The government is duty bound to practice and observe good governance, namely it should be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follow the rule of law.

It is expected that the 13th general elections will be called at any time. All past predictions as to when the general elections are going to be held have been proven wrong. In this connection PROHAM reiterates its earlier call for the electoral rolls, allegedly tainted, to be truly cleaned up and for the government and the Election Commission to ensure a clean, fair and free election. PROHAM also calls for freedom of the press, equal access to the media and a more level playing field.  These are among the important universal democratic values. A government that observes and practices good governance will subscribe to such ideals. Democracy and human rights are opposite sides of the same coin. The higher and greater observance of democratic principles the fewer number of incidents of human rights violations.

Speaking of general elections I am reminded of what took place in Sabah in the early hours of 22nd April, 1985 at about 5.00 am when the late Tun Datu Mustapha was sworn in as Chief Minister despite the fact that his party did not win the election. I call this democracy Sabah style based on a ‘first come first served’ basis rather than first past the post. Whoever reached the Istana first formed the government. This incident indicates that democracy cannot survive under any condition.

Political leaders as well as the general population must be aware that there are rules of the game that need to be complied with. The voters need to have a certain level of literacy standard and the existence of a sizeable middle class. The people should be aware of their human and democratic rights and the role and responsibilities of the government as well as the opposition. The government of today could be the opposition of tomorrow and vice-versa. It is the function of the government to govern.  The opposition keeps the government on its toes by providing constructive criticisms as well as to capture power through democratic means.

 The government acts as the trustees of the people to take care and not abuse public fund and assets, amongst others. This is why there are so many rules and regulations involved in the administration and management of public fund. They are meant to minimize, if not eliminate irregularities.  It is the duty of the government to bring development to all constituencies including those represented by the opposition.

Unfortunately, I hear very often government political leaders telling people that there is no use electing the opposition because it cannot bring development to their areas. Many people do not realize that as opposition it has no access to public fund. Only the government has such access. It is therefore outside the scope of the opposition to undertake development projects.

Sabah is again very much in the news and as usual, more often than not, all for the wrong reason. Government tells the people not to speculate. However one cannot blame them because the authorities themselves send confusing and conflicting information. It was reported that a group of armed Filipinos landed at Kg. Tanduo, Lahad Datu on 9th February, this year (2013).

The Minister of Home Affairs was reported to have said that they were between 80 and 100 of them and they were not terrorists or militants despite the fact that they carried arms. Subsequently the numbers quoted ranged from 100 to 1,500. But no one appears to know the exact figure. On 13th February the Sabah Commissioner of Police was reported to have said that they would all be deported within a week. Then some political leaders from the government side explained that the government needed to handle the situation through negotiation to avoid bloodshed because they were Muslims. If the intruders were non-Muslims would they have been all shot and killed immediately without mercy or sentiment?

If my memory does not fail me, I think this was the position taken by the government in respect of the Vietnamese refugees in the early 70s. Those who managed to land in Malaysia were confined to pulau Bidong and within 2 years they were all gone, unlike those in Sabah who were mostly from the separatist Muslim southern Philippines.  
I thought when a country is invaded religious issue does not arise. Invaders are invaders, full stop. Yes, they may be Muslims but that did not prevent them from killing and mutilating the bodies of Malaysian police personnel who were all Muslims except one, based on newspaper reports.

Condolences to the bereaved families
 In this connection and on behalf of PROHAM I offer my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones and bread winners. They have sacrificed their lives for the security and defense of the country. What higher and bigger sacrifice can one offers for one’s country than one’s own life? May Almighty God grant them eternal rest and peace.

It is PROHAM’s hope that respect for human rights prevails and the authorities allow the UN into the conflict areas to monitor the situation. Actual situation and events on the ground are believed to be different from what have been portrayed by the relevant authorities.

One of the more interesting speculations being talked about is the possibility of using the Sabah stand-off as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and postpone the forthcoming 13th general elections or at least in Sabah, considering the timing of the incident. What makes the situation frightening is the thought that there could very well be more foreigners in the state than citizens. Their rate of population growth is also believed to be a lot higher than the locals. The tendency for the locals to migrate also appears to be on the rise because they do not see a bright future especially for the younger generations. The unusually large migrant population who are already in Sabah could trigger some kind of civil war in sympathy for their countrymen.
For more than 40 years, the Philippines government and the separatist south have been fighting against one another and peace in the region is very elusive. Fighting and killing human beings there appears to be   part of daily life. According to newspaper reports, our security personnel saw white flags being raised by the intruders at Kg. Tanduo. The white flags were used as bait and 2 members of the Malaysian security force were shot and killed. The Malaysian side appeared to be too trusting. It must be remembered that this clash is not between 2 armies but between the Malaysian security force and the armed intruders.

 Sabah is fondly known as the ‘land below the wind.’ Now it can easily qualify as the ‘land of illegal immigrants’ who have changed the economic, social, cultural and political landscape of the state I could never imagined before it became part of Malaysia. The problems associated with the illegal immigrants are popularly referred to as the mother of all problems. Their role in determining the outcome of past and future general elections in the state cannot be under-estimated. Sabah has not been referred to by the BN as its fixed deposit for nothing. Several years ago I commented that the reverse take-over has long started in Sabah. Now the existing scenario indicates its reality.
I have no intention of blaming the illegal immigrants for being in Sabah. As human beings they are just looking for a better life and opportunities. They have equal human rights, no more, no less than any Malaysian. Their human rights must be respected. Human rights have no borders. However, the question often asked by Sabahans is why are they allowed into the state by the federal government without proper travel documents and move around with impunity?

It is alleged that hundreds of thousands of them have obtained citizenship status and voting rights provided they vote for the BN government. In the past, such allegations have been denied by government leaders but are now muted in view of hard evidence given by witnesses called so far to testify before the on-going RCI.
Incidentally, the RCI hearing has been postponed to a later date due to the stand-off. Such a move does not give the people confidence to feel that there is nothing to worry about. After all the RCI hearing is held at the High Court building in KK. I have a hunch that Malaysians from the Peninsula have now better understanding and appreciation of what Sabah has been going through since the late 60s. I will not be surprised if many of these people have since moved to the Peninsula becoming fixed deposit there.

What has been happening in Sabah all these years is beginning to take place in the peninsula. Indications are that all these are part of the federal government agenda originally for Sabah. In short, the government has made its bed, so now it has to lie on it. The government appears to be so uncaring to citizens living in Sabah by giving priority to non-citizens over genuine Sabahans.


The election results of the 12th general elections in March 2008 represent the dawn of a new and more promising political development in the country. There is hopeful sign of a 2-party system beginning to appear. The political culture has been dominated by racial and religious sentiments for far too long and it is not taking the country in the right direction. This direction now appears to be changing for the better. We are beginning to see more multi-racialism in political party’s membership compared to the past. The internet literacy, the availability of other modern means of communications and the rising literacy rate help to empower the population like never before especially in the peninsula. Sabah and Sarawak are also slowly catching up. This being the case it is getting more and more difficult for the government to hide the truth from the general public. A government which fails to adjust and respond appropriately to such changing situation will eventually collapse.  

Finally, let me share with you some thoughts on the state of human rights in the country. Based on Suhakam annual reports, Suaram assessment, the US Department of State report and information available from the media and other sources, the state of human rights in the country does not appear to be improving especially in respect of civil and political rights.

According to Suaram, the human rights situation in 2011 was worse than in 2010. 27 people were detained without trial in 2011. The number was 25 in 2010. There were 25 cases of custodial deaths in 2011 compared to 18 in 2010. Overcrowding in prisons and places of detention continue to persist. In 2010 the country’s 31 prisons held about 38,387 prisoners designed to hold about 32,600.
In August 2010, the secretary-general of the Ministry of Home Affairs acknowledged deficiencies in detention centres as well as failure to meet international standards. By August 2011 it is reliably believed that RELA membership reached about 2.7 million. It is alleged that they are not suitably experienced and trained for the job leading to human rights violation of the people they are supposed to protect.

PROHAM notes with disappointment the following human rights issues:
·         To date none of Suhakam’s Annual Reports has ever been debated in Parliament. Suhakam has been preparing annual reports since the year 2000. It is suggested that the Suhakam Act be amended to make it mandatory for Parliament to debate its annual reports. It could also be amended for commissioners to be appointed only once but on a 7-year term to make the national human rights institution truly independent.

·          It is believed that to date most, if not all, the recommendations of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission remain as recommendations.

·         Land rights of the indigenous peoples remain largely unresolved despite repeated recommendations submitted to the government by Suhakam and other human rights bodies. PROHAM hopes that the recommendations contained in a report of the National Land Inquiry of indigenous peoples conducted recently by Suhakam will receive better and more sympathetic attention from the government. It is understood that Suhakam is now in the process of finalizing the report.  

·         To date, Malaysia has not signed and ratified the core international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

·         Initial enthusiasm concerning the proposed National Human Rights Action Plan appears to have died down. Soon after its inception in April 2000, Suhakam recommended in 2001 that the government should develop and formulate a National Human Rights Action Plan. After more than 10 years, finally the government agreed. Such a plan will assist to improve and strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights by placing human rights in their proper context of public policy. PROHAM hopes the necessary follow-up actions would be taken without further delay.

With these remarks, ladies and gentlemen, I have much pleasure in launching PROHAM’s book entitled “ PROHAM and Human Rights Concerns in Malaysia.” I wish all of you an interesting, pleasant and enjoyable evening and fellowship and thank you for your kind attention. Thank you very much.       

Text of speech by Tan Sri Simon Sipaun (Proham Chair) at the Proham book launch held on March 18, 2013 at Petaling Jaya

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Rights and governance in Malaysia: between tragic idleness and persistent urgent action by Teo Lee Ken (NUS Phd candidate)

A Book Review: “PROHAM & Human Rights Concerns in Malaysia, edited by Denison Jayasooria”

 Saya telah mencuba menggunakannya (bahasa) untuk menyuarakan hati nurani saya yang saya percaya adalah juga hati nurani masyarakat, maka dalam penyuaraan itu saya tidak membatasi golongan kaum, bangsa, kepercayaan dan warna kulit. Telah berulang-ulang saya nyatakan bahawa teriakan seorang anak penjual kuetiau di Petaling Street tidak ada bezanya dengan teriakan seorang anak penjual nasi lemak di Kawasan Melayu Petaling Jaya atau di Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, yang tidak juga berbeza daripada suara seorang anak penjual tose di Jalan Brickfields.” -Usman Awang, Malaysian National Laureate-

I find myself suddenly in the world and I recognize that I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other.”
                                      -Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks-

Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria is no stranger to the field of public advocacy. He is at his best when it comes to bringing together prominent former and current government leaders, key figures of institutions and think-tanks, leading personalities of civil society, as well as grassroots and community-based leaders for public engagement sessions at all levels. The publication by PROHAM or the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights of this latest book compiled and edited by him with the assistance of Jacqueline Ann Surin and Deborah Loh, who themselves are seasoned writers and well-known in their field, affirms this point.

The overall structure of this compilation is comprehensive in its scope. Its careful arrangement of the points, comments and conversations obtained through the Roundtable Discussions makes it convenient to read, and they are documented and reproduced in the book to each and every detail. Comprehensive and detailed documentation has always been Datuk Dr. Denison’s major strength and remains the hallmark of all his works and papers. The book comprises 5 parts, with the first four focusing on the themes of electoral reforms, civil and socio-economic rights, religion and institutional frameworks. The last part consists of press statements issued by PROHAM and three papers written by its Chairman, Tan Sri Simon Sipaun.   

 It is not the intent of this review to explain or summarize the contents. Rather it will attempt to highlight the key themes or salient features of the book. It is worth noting that the book begins in the first part with the discussions on electoral reform. By doing so it captures accurately the immediate necessity for a condition of equality in Malaysia. For a nation to be free and democratic all groups and individuals have to be entitled to a level-playing field. In the case of elections, this entails the requirement that all competing parties and stakeholders are given equal rights and access by the law and all public policies where decision-making is not carried out arbitrarily and in secrecy, but transparently and impartially. A society that is equal and democratic allows the electorate to make informed decisions. The condition of equality as a basis and the necessity for electoral reform to ensure and maintain this condition is therefore vital. Without these prerequisites, popular sovereignty and public legitimacy cannot be obtained, thereby eroding the very foundation of a nation.

 Another key theme is the nature of the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights in terms of the inseparability of civil-political and socio-economic rights. This is referred to in Chapters 4 and 5 focusing on Millennium Development Goals and Orang Asli Land. The call and recommendation for more ‘participatory, community-based involvement’, ‘stronger social inclusion’ and ‘stronger political will’ together with the tackling of social issues such as poverty and access to quality education, and a relation of ‘equal partnership’ in the recognition of the Orang Asli and their lands expresses exactly its impossible separation. That Part II is titled ‘Human Rights & Socio-economic Rights’ although socio-economic rights is already implied in and an internal constituent of human rights itself appears to make the distinction of civil-political rights as a different, but nevertheless indispensable component therein.

On the third and final theme, no discussion of human rights is complete if mention of the significance and role of institutional mechanisms is absent. While human rights as an approach encompasses theory, practice, advocacy and organization among others, State and international institutions as well as national, regional and global mechanisms form an essential mainstay of the idea of human rights. If a condition of equality is to be maintained and enforced, and if civil-political and socio-economic rights are to move in unison, independent institutions and transparent mechanisms are necessary. As such the discussion and review of institutional mechanisms that is presented and allocated a specific section in the book, could not be more apt.

 As a whole, this book is an important publication and should be recommended to anyone who is interested in attaining a broad yet detailed understanding of the nature and scope of human rights in Malaysia. This is due firstly to its support and affirmation of the importance and need for human rights, and the constructive perspective that it lends for an evaluation of the Malaysian socio-political and economic landscape. Secondly, it believes in the need for a human rights approach to public policy and governance. The book attempts to bridge the ideals of human rights with policy-making and institutional governance. And lastly, what the book and its discussion of human rights contribute, at the very least, is to provide a framework for the identifying of problems, and new ways of looking at old problems. And further, to define new problems and challenges that may later be encountered by society.

This last point is particularly crucial and cannot be emphasized more because to this day the discourse of human rights has always been challenged and disputed on many fronts. None has acquired more prominence and argued more forcefully than the ideas of Asian values and Islamic values and traditions. These contentions are however misplaced, inherently problematic and dangerous. For there has never been a binary demarcation of values belonging to Asia and the West, or Islam and the West. Such binary approach is a recent invention, and undeniably an extension of the binary ‘us’ and ‘the other’ categorization first introduced by the colonial powers in propagating the ideology of colonial racism.

The only reservation that one might sense in this book is the part on human rights and religious tolerance. Moderation and tolerance is admirable and should be practiced whenever possible. However there should also be an awareness for in determining practices and rituals of even those related to religion, one should not tolerate bad or unfair practices, or choose to stand in the middle, tolerating and accepting neither the good nor the bad. More so within the parameters of institutions and public policy where the rule of law is positioned because they function with strict and formal categories. It can only be one of the two: good or bad, fair or unfair, truth or untruth. Thus terms and beliefs such as ‘moderation’ and ‘tolerance’ may appear beneficial and neutral, but can also be hollow and not useful.

Still, this book is a reminder of the many issues that persist and how so much more effort and work has to be put in and undertaken to address them. Not only in terms of scholarly and policy papers, but also in implementation and action. Reading through the book, one is consumed by a feeling of tragedy and injustice as many issues that should have been addressed and resolved decades before still continue to affect the layperson. Change and action no longer becomes a choice, but is now an obligation.

The publication of this book, and its attempt to reposition the discourse of human rights in mainstream and national conversations and policy-making, only points us to this direction. It is above all a persuasion to revive the moral foundation and conscience of Malaysian society. To answer the critics of human rights again, rather than a euphemism for ‘Western decadent culture’, the idea of human rights at its most fundamental expresses only the moral conscience and universal solidarity of all beings. With the 13th General Elections looming the call and journey into the future, and the leaving behind of whatever has happened in the past, can ill-afford to ignore this moral basis.

It is because of all these reasons that this book necessarily merits complete attention. On the basis of theory nothing much can be said of this book. However it would be clearly wrong to approach it this way, because it is not intended to provide a theoretical analysis or perspective. Rather it presents a canvas and analyses the implementation of human rights at the institutional and practical level. Viewed from this vantage point and terms of usage, this book stands out and has a deserving place in the conversations on human rights in Malaysian society.

This book is also testament of the hard work, commitment and determination that PROHAM, and Datuk Dr Denison, has invested from its formation until today. Its willingness to and commitment of publicly taking a position that upholds, faith in humanity, and the value of human dignity, is not something that can be commonly found, especially in the corridors of power, today.
Teo Lee Ken, PhD Candidate, Department of Malay Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore 16 March - 2013

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


From the Introduction in the new Proham publication,
edited by Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria
Proham has effectively utilised the public space in both hosting
Roundtable Discussions (RTDs) and in the issuing of press statements
on critical public concerns affecting human rights situation in Malaysia
and overseas. We firmly believe that, making a public declaration of
our position is an important dimension of advocacy and exercise of
democratic freedom.

As a small newly established society with limited resources, we
have directed our energies towards articulating clear pro human rights
public policies both at the domestic level and Malaysia’s international
position at the Asean, OIC and global levels.

Over the period of 22 months since our establishment on March
10, 2011 to Dec 2012, Proham has hosted 18 RTDs and issued 65 press
statements. 14 of the RTD reports and all the press statements have been
included in this book entitled, Proham & Human Rights Concerns in

The book is divided into five parts. Part 1 is entitled, Human
Rights & Electoral reform. There have been major public outcryon this
matter and people’s demonstrations were organised. Proham hosted
three RTDs which is the focus of chapters 1 to 3. We managed to host a
public discussion on the election reform agenda with both the Election

Commission represented by the Deputy Commissioner and Bersih by
Dato Ambiga Sreenevasan. 

In addition, in another discussion reflected in chapter 2, we had three
members of the Parliamentary select committee participated, namely
the chair, Datuk Seri Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, Tan Sri Dr Fong Chan
Onn and Yb Kamalanthan.

In addition, Proham also had formal meetings with the Election
Commission Chairman on three occasions (August 19, 2011, June 1, 2012
& July 19, 2012) where Proham team led by Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
presented the findings of the RTDs to the Election Commission

Part 2 entitled Human Rights & Socio-Economic Rights covers three
RTD’s findings in Chapters 4-6. We recognise that both civil-political
and economic-social rights are important dimensions of human rights.
Chapter 4 focuses on the MDGs and the need to move beyond national
averages to disaggregated analysis so as to identify the marginalised
groups and communities in Malaysian society.
The concerns of the indigenous people and their struggle for their
land are at the heart of poverty and discrimination of the Orang Asli
community is the focus of chapter 4. The findings here were submitted
to the Suhakam national land enquiry panel.

Discrimination and stereotyping of people of African descent is
discussed in chapter 6. This RTD was hosted in conjunction with the
UN International Year of People of African Descent.

Part 3’s focus is on Human Rights and Religious Tolerance. The
theme of the Prime Minster’s call for moderation is the focus of three RTD
discussions. With the rise of religiosity and the politicization of religion,
this theme has been of public interest. An appreciation of a human rights
approach based on justice and fairness will enable all Malaysians to live
in peace one with another.

Chapters 7 to 9 provide an in-depth review of the key issues of
contestation which use a pro human rights approach based on UDHR,
Federal Constitution and the spirit of moderation can find effective
practical solutions. The three Proham RTD reports which form the basis
of these three chapters were presented as three reports to the Prime
Minister on Jan 4, 2012 by Tan Sri Michael Yeoh and Datuk Dr Denison

Subsequently these reports were also presented to the Minister in
the PM Department, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon and the Director-General of
the Department of National Unity and Integration, Dato Azman Amin
bin Hassan for their review and study. Both of them have actively
participated in the Proham discussions.

Human Rights & Institutional Mechanism is the focus of Part 4 with
five different chapters and sub-themes. We recognise that institutional
mechanisms are important. Fostering a human rights culture is
essential. In this context, chapter 10 deals with strengthening evidence
based investigations so as to reduce the abuse of suspects during the
investigation period. The findings of the RTD were presented to the IGP
by Proham members-Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Tan Sri Michael Yeoh,
Ms Ivy Josiah and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria on November 17, 2011
Parliamentary democracy is the focus of chapter 11. We had MPs
representing both sides of the political divide and we were privileged
for having the Speaker of the Upper house and the Deputy Speaker of
the lower house participate in the discussion which was held in the
Parliament house.

Asean Human Rights Declaration is the focus of chapter 12 and our
findings were emailed to the Asean Inter governmental commission as
input to the formulation of the Declaration. While we had the Malaysian
representatives to Asean namely Dato Seri Shafee Abdullah and Datuk
Dr Chiam Heng Keng in our discussions, we were constrained as the
Asean process was not an open process, as the draft Asean Human Rights
Declaration was not circulated openly for comment. Proham emailed
the RTD report reflected in chapter 12 on Sept 11, 2012 to the AICHR
Chair, Dr Om Yentieng.

Part 4 contains two other chapters namely chapter 13 which is our
feedback on the US country report on Malaysia for 2010 and chapter 14
which is based on the theme of equality & human rights.

At the RTD on the US Report, the US Embassy was represented
by Mr Scott Rauland, the Counselor for Public Affairs. Tan Sri Michael
Yeoh and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria presented the RTD findings to
the US Ambassador to Malaysia on August 24, 2011.

The final section of this book is Part 5 and it is entitled Proham
position on contemporary human rights concerns. There are five chapters
(chapters 15 to 20) here and these are based on the 65 press releases made
by Proham in 2011 and 2012. These are the official position of Proham. In
addition Part 5 (chapters 16, 18 & 20) contains three brief papers written
and presented by Proham Chairman.

The internal process Proham undergoes in drafting a statement is, a
draft is first circulated by email and a majority consensus is reached. On
the whole as we have all served together in Suhakam and the Royal Police
commission there is already a major agreement among us on all the core
human rights issues based on the UDHR. This is a participatory process
and if there is a major issue, then there is a discussion among members.

One major area for a face to face discussion was whether Proham
should serve as a member of the domestic election observation team along
with a number of NGOs who were invited by the Election Commission.
The discussion took place on July 16 and the decision to withdraw was
informed personally by Tan Sri Simon Sipaun to the Election Commission
chair on July 19, 2012. A press statement was issued (ref to chapter 17)
after the meeting to highlight the reasons and the role Proham would
play at the macro policy level and not as a micro monitoring team at
the constituency level. This was largely due to resource and capacity

The Proham findings are now documented in this book for further
study and deliberations as our contribution in the on-going struggle
to ensure human rights is at the corner stone of public policy and
governance of the nation.

It is our hope that public discussions will usher in a new political
climate in which public opinion is an important and essential part of
good governance. Hearing differing voices, providing the public space
and establishing openness, tolerance and appreciation is most crucial. It
is imperative that we foster a climate for recognising human rights and
exercising human responsibilities.