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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

What did G20 nations tell Malaysia at the UN Periodic Review?

By Rama Ramanathan
Most Malaysians don’t know about the G20, so I will begin by introducing this grouping of nations.

Sadly for those who like simple generalizations, the nations which belong to the G20 economic grouping are not ‘Western’ or “Christian,’ or ‘developed.’

Two of the G20 nations are Muslim dominated, and very different from each other. Saudi Arabia allows only Wahhabi expressions of Islam. Turkey is home of Rumi (Mevlana) and, with typical Sufi generosity, allows many expressions of Islam – though it is arguable whether the same generosity extends to other faiths.

Another of the G20 nations, South Africa, home of Desmond Tutu, that international icon of human rights, has unemployment exceeding 30 %.

So, if you hear someone make generalizations about G20 nations, recognize a fool and act accordingly. That said, let me tell you why the G20 are important.

G20 members account for about 85 per cent of the world economy, 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. They have the world’s largest economies: if their economies catch a cold, people around the world sneeze.

Voters in G20 member nations with less of a gap between rich and poor, and with true democracies (i.e. where the ruling party is voted out every now and then) expect the same human rights to apply worldwide. They reject the idea of different rules for different folks, e.g. Muslims in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, or refugees or LGBT.

Voters in G20 member nations expect their leaders to work actively to make the world a better place for all. That’s the reason why diplomats from countries like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA are less likely to beat around the bush when they speak to nations like Malaysia about human rights.

19 nations (not counting the EU) are members of the G20. During the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva last month, 16 of them provided Malaysia with a total of 47 recommendations.

The recommendations are their advice on what actions we should prioritize, what actions we should abandon and what actions we should initiate in order to ensure that all persons in Malaysia have world class human rights.

In the following list of the G20 member nations I have included the number of recommendations provided by each nation.

Argentina (2), Australia (4), Brazil (2), Canada (5), China (2), France (4), Germany (4), Indonesia (2), India (0), Italy (3), Japan (2), Republic of Korea (0), Mexico (3), Russia (3), Saudi Arabia (2), South Africa (0), Turkey (4), United Kingdom (2), United States (3).

3 of the sixteen G20 nations who gave us recommendations – Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – are also members of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which I have discussed elsewhere.

In my first article I gave an overview of the 79 recommendations given to us by 35 OIC nations. In that article I included 8 recommendations from Indonesia, S. Arabia and Turkey in my count of ‘OIC recommendations.’ Therefore I will deduct them from my count for ‘G20 recommendations.’

For convenience, I will use the acronym ‘OG20’ (‘O’ for ‘Other’) to designate the group comprising the G20 minus the OIC nations (Indonesia, S. Arabia and Turkey).

The thirteen OG20 members gave us 39 recommendations, i.e. 50 % less than the number given to us by 35 OIC members. Much of what the OG20 members recommended is the same as what the OIC members recommended.

In my earlier analysis, I identified 5 major categories in the ‘OIC recommendations’: gender discrimination, treatment of foreigners, freedom of expression, trafficking in persons, international agreements (sub-divided into Suhakam and UN conventions).

Now I will lay out the major categories in the ‘OG20 recommendations.’ For ease of comparison, I present the first 5 in the same order as in my earlier analysis:

1. Gender discrimination (6) [also OIC].
Argentina draws our attention to discrimination against migrant women; Argentina, Canada, France and Germany urge us to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation (LGBTI), prohibit violence against LGBTI and to repeal laws which criminalize same-sex relations. Canada urges us to criminalize marital rape.

2. Treatment of foreigners (3) [also OIC].
Canada urges us not to return persecuted persons to the nation which persecuted them; Germany – a country which once had many Turkish foreign workers – urges us to give the full protection of law to all foreign workers; Mexico urges us to allow foreigners to register the children born in Malaysia.

3. Freedom of expression (4) [also OIC].
Canada urges us to amend the Peaceful Assembly Act (which I have previously argued is more accurately labelled “Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly”); Russia appears to urge us to continue with current restrictions; the USA urges us to repeal the Sedition Act (also UK) and the Printing Presses and Publications Act in addition to removing restrictions on freedom of association and assembly.

4. Trafficking in persons (1) [also OIC].
This, from the USA, is not only brief, self-explanatory and significant, but also actionable: “Cease the practice of detaining trafficking victims, and allow them to travel, work and reside outside government facilities.”

5. International Agreements (10) [also OIC].
Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and the USA urge us to sign the covenants, and implement them. We are also urged to pay more than lip service to Suhakam and to welcome visits by UN Rapporteurs (investigator/reporters). The agreements include covenants applicable to indigenous peoples.

6. Children’s rights (2).
Australia urges us to promptly register all new-born children, while Italy urges us to discourage the practice of early and forced marriages.

7. Persons with Disabilities (1).
Surprisingly only China has a recommendation in this category.

8. Police, courts, punishment (8).
Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico and the UK’s recommendations touch on (1) the death penalty, (2) detention conditions (3) independent investigations of allegations of police misconduct, (4) detainees rights to fair trial, (5) curbs on use of excessive force by the police, (6) discretionary sentencing for drug-related offences.

9. Respect and Tolerance (4).
Canada, China, Russia and the USA provided recommendations which I have placed in this category. Suffice to say our G20 friends recognize we have opportunities to improve inter-ethnic relations and religious tolerance. Chinese diplomacy is exemplified by this: “In accordance with national circumstances, continue to strengthen mutual respect and tolerance and different cultures among religions and maintain social plurality while maintaining improved family harmony and respect for women.” How actionable is that?

Note: Turkey urges us to conclude the investigations related to conduct of elections by the Elections Commission.

I do not know how significant it is that the OIC countries express little concern about children, persons with disabilities, police, courts, punishment, respect and tolerance. The root cause may be the predominance of (OG20 supported!) dictatorships in OIC nations. It is also possible that OIC members remained silent about these issues because they ‘knew’ the OG20 would speak on the other issues. Turkey is a notable exception!

In my second article on the Universal Periodic Review, I reviewed the 16 recommendations given by the ASEAN nations. In that article I sifted through the recommendations and concluded that the regional politicians have concluded their vote banks don’t care about human rights in other countries. Nevertheless, the data did indicate they think we should prioritize guest workers, trafficked persons and refugees.

After sifting through the data and writing 3 articles, it is abundantly clear to me that the international community has formed a clear assessment of Malaysia.
When the diplomatic clothing is removed, the message to Malaysia is clear: We’re tired of your hypocrisy. You’re insane if you think we’re going to pretend everything is ok.

I am drawn to meditate on what Ray Bradbury said about insanity: “Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.” Would you care to name the cages?

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