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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Reflections from Proham Discussion on UPR & Malaysia

UPR & Reports

Malaysia's human rights position is reviewed by the global community at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), led done by the Human Rights Council in Geneva on October 24, 2013.  The country was last reviewed in 2009. There are specific reports on Malaysia and its human rights position over the past years, namely the UPR 2013 Malaysian Government report, the UPR 2013 NGO report and the UPR 2013 UN Malaysia report. 

This Proham discussion is aimed at highlighting the UPR process in enhancing human rights compliance and analysing the content of the three reports. The session also discussed the current status of human rights in Malaysia.

Participants at Proham discussion
About 20 people participated at the Proham discussion. The panel speakers at the session were Proham chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, United Nations (UN) Malaysia Special Coordinator Juanita Lourdes Joseph, Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) head of International Coordination division Rafidah Yahya.
The discussion was moderated by Proham secretary-general Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria.  Among the attendees were Proham members Datuk Siva Subramanium and Datuk A. Vaithilingam, Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) secretary-general Mohamad Raimi Ab Rahim, ERA Consumer Malaysia human rights director Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) leader Cynthia Gabriel, representatives from the Australian High Commission and the New Zealand High Commission, and representatives from the Citizens' Network for a Better Malaysia.

VIEW POINTS ON UPR & MALAYSIAN SOCIETY
Participants at the Proham discussion raised their concerns on six key issues.

Awareness about human rights
More needs to be done to create awareness about human rights, about tools like the UPR and other similar mechanisms.  Materials should not only be in English but also in Bahasa Malaysia.  Malay language newspapers other than Utusan Malaysia must take up the initiative to cover human rights and the UPR.  There is a need to create better discussion, rather than to allow Utusan Malaysia to take the lead, and play up anti-Islam issues and gay rights in relation to the UPR. Having human rights materials and booklets in Malay and in simpler terms also encourages more NGOs to easily understand.  The awareness being promoted currently was wrong that human rights was incompatible to Islam.

More NGOs should submit reports and not only rely on COMANGO as it was unable to cover all areas due to limitations set by the process.  More needs to be done to encourage participation of NGOs in this mechanism and promote better understanding of consultation.
The Home Affairs Ministry must be reminded to study the UPR and reports related to the process, as they seem to have forgotten about Malaysia's commitments.  This is reflected in what some MPs articulate in the Parliament which seem to undermine what Malaysia has done.

Cairo declaration or the UDHR
Malaysia is a signatory to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights which is endorsed by 50 OIC countries. It is a complementary declaration to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Cairo Declaration one of principles state that all human beings are created by God and should be treated equally, this Declaration is also against any monopoly of business which will help address the monopoly by government-linked companies in Malaysia.

The Declaration also mentions that no one could be forced into any religion, which could be more acceptable compared to UDHR' discussions about the right to change religions. Muslims groups that object to UDHR and make reference to it as being western could find the Cario Declaration providing a strong human rights commitment based on Islamic principles

International Conventions: complying first or ratifying first
Malaysia needs to ratify or accede first to international conventions, before allowing time for legislation to be meet the changes needed for the international treaty.  Ratification gives the country as deadline to push for all legislation to meet the requirements of global treaties. Ensuring compliance of all legislation before ratification is a long and time consuming process, and delays the responsibility of Malaysia towards fulfilling these human rights obligations. This contributes to the country's poor ranking in world indices, compared to OIC countries and lumping Malaysia in the same category as Communist regimes and Zimbabwe.

Independent judiciary in religious issues
The issues of conversion and jurisdiction of the Syariah courts is not captured in any of the three reports. No mention of Article 121 (1A) in the Federal Constitution and the struggles in the submissions by the government, UN or NGOs.  Also, the Syariah courts must be seen to be fair in investigation of non-Muslim cases as cases have shown. The judiciary (in Syariah and civil courts) must be more independent, absolve themselves from personal feelings. This applies to leadership to remain calm and not panic when certain ultras or right-wing leaders make statements.

Indigenous peoples issues
More attention need to be paid to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly in how indigenous children are treated by teachers and the current school systems.

Existing human rights mechanisms
It is important to look at current mechanisms that exist within government antigenic that were tasked to discuss human rights issues, such as a committee under the government’s Unity Department to promote inter-faith.  Contentious issues such as the Lina Joy and Al-Kitab issues were not discussed in these special committees.  There is need to empower current institutions as avenues to deal with human rights issues and renew commitments to existing agencies. 

KEY CONCLUSIONS
Seven key areas were highlighted by the participants:-

  • There needs to be more awareness about human rights and tools like the UPR and other similar mechanisms. Awareness must not only be at ministries in Putrajaya but also at grassroot levels in NGOs and state government agencies. 
  • More NGOs should take part in the UPR process and more needs to be done to promote better understanding of what is involved in a consultation. 
  • Malaysian Muslims who are having difficulties with the UDHR should recognise that Malaysia has also adopted the principles of the Cairo Declaration.
  • Malaysia must consider ratification first for core treaties to fulfil its human rights responsibilities, then move towards gradual change of its legislation to comply with these conventions. This would also help push up its rankings from the bottom half of most global indices. 
  • The importance of an independent judiciary is stressed, when judging religious issues. 
  • Once again, the rights indigenous people were overlooked and more attention needs to be paid to these communities, particularly of their children in current school systems.
  • Existing human rights mechanisms must be relooked and agencies empowered to discuss important issues involving human rights and religious issues.
-----------------------------------------------------------
Ms Susan Tan documented these thoughts based on the Proham discussions held on Oct 22, 2013

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