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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.

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