|Denison together with Tan Sri Simon and Datuk Saifuddin|
There is concern in the way some public officials and NGOs have been articulating the place of human rights in Malaysian society. Some indicate that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an optional framework or not really universal in character, others have referred to this as a western notion and some have even given the impression that this is anti or un-Islamic in orientation.There is very little understanding on human rights among these individuals and groups, as their popular discourse seems to be half-truths which is undermining the very heart and core of human rights in Malaysian society.
Proham is very concerned when such viewed are shared by Ministers in the current Federal government or among Members of Parliament from among the back benchers of the BN, and by federal civil servants. There is definitely a failure to understand the place of human rights in the global and national life.As a run up to the UPR Malaysia review process, Proham hosted an evening discussion on Oct 22, 2013 to review the status of human right in Malaysia. A small team of about 20 people participated in a very fruitful discussion. In this discussion a number of key themes and conclusions we identified.
UPR Process & Human Rights compliance
On the UPR process there seems to be some limitations in understanding by certain groups. The UN introduced a peer group review of UN member countries. The Government, the UN country team and civil society have opportunities to make submissions. These have been documented and make available on the UN website.The attacks by certain quarters on the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs for the Universal Periodic Review process (Comango) who are exercising their constitutional rights and who are consistent with the UN guidelines is unacceptable and a violation of human rights. It also revels the ignorance of the UN system as well as UPR process
The Malaysian government’s 2013 report to the UN indicates Malaysia’s commitment “to upholding respect for human rights”. Malaysia accepted 62 of the 103 recommendations made in 2009 and has made a global pledge to fulfil these. Therefore the UPR review on Oct 24, 2013 will provide Malaysia an opportunity to share what it has done and not done for human rights.It is important for Federal public officials to take cognisance of Malaysia’s pledges and commitment and evaluate in an objective manner our track record nothing areas where we have done well but also recognise that in many areas we have not met global standards. This is a very transparent process and the human rights audit will reveal both our strengthens and weakness
Therefore it is important to reiterate that Prime Minister Najib started his office as PM with a very strong commitment for human rights. He took specific measures to provide legislative changes to laws so as to make it more compliant with human rights. Malaysia is currently a member of the Human Rights Council and has a nation we have made financial contributions to the work of the UN.In the first UPR review in 2009, Malaysia made some clear global commitments towards human rights and therefore the articulation by certain individuals and groups is putting Malaysia in very bad light and also undermining the initiatives of the Prime Minister when he took office as PM.
It is important to remind Malaysian Muslims that Malaysia co-signed the Cairo Islamic human rights declaration formulated by OIC member countries. There seems to be very little awareness of this especially when there are so many comparable aspects between UDHR with the Cairo declaration
National Human Rights Action PlanIn his presentation Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, the Proham Chairman noted that as far back as 2001, Suhakam had recommended to the Malaysian government to undertake a National Human Rights Action Plan. We are disappointed that in 2013 this has not been done even after Malaysia made a commitment in 2009 at the UN. The government report indicates that it was only in 2012 that the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department has established a steering committee to coordinate the development of the plan.
It has taken over a decade for the Federal government to take up the recommendation and active of Suhakam. Such slowness in implementation contradicts PM Najib’s effective delivery.
Ratification of UN Human rights conventions
Ratification of core human right conventions is another major area of concern. Malaysia as a nation is embarrassingly behind in our ratification track record. In 2009 Malaysia indicated that it would seriously consider the Convention on economic, social and cultural rights and the convention on the elimination of racial discrimination. However Malaysia has been very slow in undertaking this.In comparison with Asean countries and OIC countries we are on the bottom of the pile in comparison of ratification of the 9 core human right conventions. There is an urgent need for Malaysia to adequately create awareness and understanding in this area.
Detention without trialThe government report documents “the more drastic measures taken by the Government that underscores its serious efforts and commitment to protect human rights in Malaysia is the repeal of the most criticised ISA… which is a preventive law”
However the most recent introduction of the Prevention of Crime Act (2013) with the provision for detention without trial is seen as a regressive step especially as the safeguards of judicial review and access to legal counsel is tremendously restricted.This act by the Najib administration and the justification used by both the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Police is indicative of how low the agenda of human rights compliance is in apprehending suspected criminals and underworld gangs.
Proham has taken the position that the government must be tough on crime but also address the root causes of crime. It can undertake crime prevention and control without compromising human rights
Religious FreedomThere are major issues pertaining to religious freedom of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
The UN country report notes that “the rise in state-led conservative Muslim ideology threatened the ability of Muslims to practice their religion in a form and content than as prescribed by the religious authorities”.
Datuk A Vathilingam notes that while the Malaysian government report highlights the place of Syariah legal system it however does not identify the unresolved issues pertaining to non-Muslims over conversion matters to Islam or out of Islam. These are not mentioned in any of the three reports.
He notes that child custody over divorce when one party is a new convert to Islam and the spouse does not convert; the body for burial issue of verification of un-confessed converts to Islam who die before their conversion is made public knowledge continue to be major areas of concern.
According to him the root cause of this is the amendments to the Federal Constitution Article 121 (1A) on the Civil and Sharia court jurisdiction especially when the civil courts do not want to exercise its Constitutional position in hearing such cases.
On the matter pertaining to the use of the Arabic word Allah by Bahasa Malaysia Christians for God, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam who did not attend the discussion however submitted in writing his views on religious freedom.
He affirms that “there is no violation of human rights as critical as the denial of one’s basic human right to call God by any name one chooses to do so. This is a fundamental and sacred human right that must be protected by the Government and all Malaysia’s, to preserve and promote national unity and the PM’s call for moderation. He also indicated that “we need to also see evidence of Government’s intolerance of extremism and extremists, for all Malaysians to be assured that Government means what it says and says what it means, for no one to hurt anyone’s feelings”
Proham has taken the position that there is an erosion of religious freedom with a rise of intolerance in the way public officials are handing the matters pertaining to non-Islamic religions. There is an urgent need to establish effective community mediation channels to resolve many of these concerns within a multi religious and multi ethnic society
Tan Sri Simon Sipaun recognises that “the ultimate objective of creating a culture of respect for human rights in this country remains a dream. However giving up is not the solution. It is not an option”.
We therefore have a collaborative task with Government and human rights activist though a consultative process as partners and human right defenders so as to build a nation with a very high commitment to human rights, justice and fairness of all human being irrespective of ethnicity, religion gender, location, class and socio-economic potion.
The panel presentations at the Proham Discussion on UPR & Malaysia hosted on Oct 22, 2013 are available at Proham blog. See http://proham.blogspot.com