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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

UPR & Malaysia :Suhakam Submissions

Rafidah, Datuk Saifuddin, Denison & Tan Sri Simon at the Proham RTD
By Puan Rafidah Yahya, Head of International Coordination Division

The UPR is important work. Since its introduction in 2006, Suhakam has been supportive.  The commission sees the review as supportive to what CSOs and Suhakam has been doing and to be brought to international levels for support from the UN and international organisations. 
Suhakam has observer status, but it has taken upon itself to be involved, by making submissions.  One goes to the UN and another to the government, so they know the commission was monitoring them. Suhakam made its first submission to the UN and the government in 2008, before the first UPR.  These were compiled through Suhakam's observation of the human rights situation in Malaysia, along with consultations with the media and NGOs.  By March 2014, Suhakam may have three minutes floor time.  For this year's UPR Suhakam had again submitted reports to the UN and government, based on the consultations done.

Accession to human rights treaties
The government is committed to look into feasibility of state parties to the nine human rights conventions. In April 2012, Malaysia acceded two optional protocols for the UN's Convention  on the Rights of the Child, involving armed conflict and exploitation.  But Malaysia has certain reservations, involving the discrimination of women. The government has established a technical sub-committee and they are doing feasibility studies on how to become party to international conventions like the UN Convention Against Torture and the International  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of  Racial Discrimination.

Suhakam follows up with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in one of the meetings, Suhakam has been told that they would be ready to accede the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by the end of 2013. This would be monitored.
On the other treaties, the government has said they want to be prepared before they accede the conventions, meaning that the laws must be in line with the conventions before they can be acceded to avoid contravention of provisions.  For this point, Suhakam informed them, through its submissions, this should not be seen as impediment.  It could be a foundation for gradual changes to the Malaysian laws. 
The recommendation on the National Human Rights Plan, based on Suhakam's meetings with the legal dept of the PM's department, they said they are developing an action plan.  They have appointed several universities to do baseline studies so it will take a bit of time as they are trying to study all parts of the legislation.  Suhakam has been told that there will be a steering committee meeting in November 2013 and its contents were vague.
The process has been very slow, from Suhakam's first recommendation, it's been more than 10 years.  From then, Suhakam has been regularly following up with this legal department. Suhakam has raised the issue of meaningful consultation, because it seems that the government is working quietly.  Suhakam is urging them to make sure they consult relevant stakeholders.
On the Parliamentary Select Committee on Human Rights, as announced by Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz, it was uncertain about the outcome as there was a cabinet reshuffle. The human rights portfolio has been split and now three people were responsible for it.  Suhakam feels that since the government has taken up this recommendation, the commission would continue to push and see this as a good channel to get the Suhakam's annual report to be debated through this Parliamentary Select Committee.

Amendments to Human Rights Commission Of Malaysia (Suhakam) Act 1999
This was pertaining to the term commissioners and how commissioners are selected. Suhakam is going to push for further amendments, among them, include the need for surprise visits to detention centres, performing a mediation role to resolve complaints, strengthening roles in human rights cases and to push for the debate of the commission's annual report in the Parliament. Most are old recommendations, but Suhakam continues to push for them. As far as visits to prisons, Suhakam is not allowed to make surprise visits, but informs prison authorities of their visit.

Suhakam has highlighted and studied current recommendations pertaining to vulnerable groups and preventive detention.  When the commission sent its UPR submissions, it was at a stage when the Internal Security Act was abolished, but after that the PCA was drafted which was a step back.  Suhakam made known its position that it is against IA, where innocents are innocent until proven guilty.   Suhakam is now putting more pressure in meetings with the government.
Businesses and human rights

Companies must ensure human rights for its workers and other rights affected by operations.  Operations by companies like logging companies affect indigenous rights, land rights, Suhakam has urged the government to curb this.  Suhakam encouraged businesses to look at the guiding principles of the UN when running operations to protect human rights.

Rights of Indigenous peoples (IP), women and children
At the conclusion of the national inquiry, some of the areas covered include the recognition of IP concept of native land. Currently, the law doesn't take into account what IP consider as the definition of native land.  What the law is saying is what the government wants to be native land and not what IP have followed through generations. There are other concerns, such as their land being included in protected areas, being included in development areas, compensation issues and the prior and informed consent. Usually land is taken away and being developed without their consent.

Suhakam urge the government to ensure commitment to increasing women's role in decision-making processes, curbing sexual abuse in marriages and at the workplace.  The commission also urged the government to ensure economic, social, and cultural rights for the disabled children and refugee children.  Migrant workers must also be protected, especially in allowing them the right to unionise and preventing their passports from being taken.  This makes it easy for a migrant worker to become a trafficking victim.  Suhakam has not seen the progress of any recognition of refugees and asylum-seekers.
UPR process

On the UPR process and  follow up by the government, meaningful consultation does not happen. When Suhakam carries out consultations with agencies, CSO and the media, those at grassroots levels particularly the state government agencies do not know what UPR was and do not know what the government had committed to.  Only in Putrajaya people know what UPR is. For them to have meaningful conversations, people at grassroots levels should know what UPR is.  Suhakam consults both MP camps in Parliament. 
Suhakam will continue to step up effort to raise awareness of human rights and the implementation of recommendations.
Summary of verbal presentation is written by Ms Susan Tan for Proham. The thoughts were shared by Puan Rafidah Yayah at the Proham discussion on the URP and Malaysia on Oct 22, 2013

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