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Friday, 13 December 2013

University must foster space for intellectual discussion

Proham calls on all Vice Chancellors of Universities and the Ministry of Education officials to foster a creative and conducive environment for public discussions in institutions of higher learning.

The university is a centre for learning, students and academic faculty must be given the democratic freedom to host discussions and have an opportunity for intellectual discussions on any area of public, community, national or academic interest.
Proham expresses concerns over recent incidents of high handed curtailment of students discussions at both University Malaya and University Putra Malaysia. The experience of a well reputed public intellectual Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the CEO of IDEAS is a matter of great concern. Both these incidents are documented in the social media.

Early this year on Feb 6, 2013 Proham hosted a discussion with University student leaders so as to provide the space for young intellectuals from local universities to article their issues and concerns from a human rights framework. In the discussion we learnt of the restrictive space and undemocratic actions of university officials on student activism.
Proham recognises that dialogue is important and that formal spaces must be provided especially to foster young critical minds. We note that the young have an important role and contribution to make for nation building. The space for public reasoning is very important for this process.

Furthermore Universities should democratise the intellectual environment and not to restrict and curtail rational discussions.  They should however reason out with young thinkers via rational, open discussions to win the public opinion through well thought out thoughts. High-hand ways of blocking building, switching off lights, sending security personal is not the way for institutions of learning to conduct discussions.
It is the responsibility for academic institutions to fostering a conducive environment of learning to nurture creative minds as young people are the future of this land

Therefore Proham calls on the UPM, University Malaya officials and the Ministry of Education authorities to provide a formal public explanation on these two incidents and ensure similar incidents do not reoccur again.

Issued on behalf of Proham by
Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Proham Secretary General

Dec 14, 2013

Please refer to Proham press release on this event -

Remembering Nelson Mandela

In advance of Nelson Mandela’s funeral service on Sunday in Qunu, South Africa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reverend Mpho Tutu, the first female Irish president, Mary Robinson, and Sir Richard Branson came together for a digital eulogy using Google+ Hangouts.

The conversation was hosted by Peace Jam and The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, and moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Share your thoughts with #MandelaTribute, and watch the full hangout here to celebrate the life of an individual who changed the world.


Proham – GMM Discussions

The passing away of Nelson Mandela is a sad event for the world but his legacy is with us. He is a voice for reconciliation and love not revenge or hate. Since the demise of apartheid system we are still confronted by racism in our contemporary world
The words of Mandela have relevance for all of us  for us today. In the Long Walk to Freedom he says

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin,

or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and

if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love,

for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Proham and the Global Movement of Moderates host a discussion to reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela and his apartheid struggle in building a race free and equitable South Africa and a better world based on the principles of human rights, reasonableness and moderation.

Date:                Jan 20, 2014 (Mon)

Time:                7pm to 10pm     (High tea from 7pm. Discussions begin at 8pm.

Prayer room available for Muslims)

Venue:              Global Movement of Moderates
                          5th Floor, Menara Manulife,  No. 6, Jalan Gelenggang,
                         Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur,

Reflections from South Africa Perspective
               E Mr T D Mseleku, South African High Commissioner

Reflections & Relevance of the Mandela’s message for Malaysia
              Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Proham Chairman

Prof KS Nathan (Institute of Ethnic Studies), UKM
             Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (GMM, CEO)

Panel moderated by Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria

For registration and details please contact :
Rama Ramanathan (Proham) email: mobile: 012 2887147

Thursday, 12 December 2013

UN Global Compact Launches Business Guide on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

(New York, 2 December 2013)The UN Global Compact released A Business Reference Guide to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as part of the second annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva. The Guide aims to help business understand the rights of indigenous peoples and recommends practical actions to respect and support these rights.

The Business Reference Guide grew out of dialogue among a group of Global Compact LEAD companies and is the product of an 18-month collaborative process. As part of a public consultation period, thousands of stakeholders from around  the world – including indigenous peoples, companies, business and industry associations, academia, international organizations, NGOs and other experts – were invited to provide input to the development of the Guide.

The new Guide follows the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The Declaration elaborates internationally recognized human rights of indigenous peoples, both individually and collectively.  Valmaine Toki, Member of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Senior Lecturer at the University of Waikato Te Piringa Law School said, “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a key international document articulating fundamental human rights for indigenous peoples.

I am pleased that the objective of this Business Reference Guide is to promote respect for, and recognition of, these rights, in particular, as they relate to business activities. This Guide will be instrumental to facilitate meaningful interaction with indigenous peoples."

Since the landmark endorsement by business of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, business has increasingly acknowledged the relevance of respecting and supporting internationally recognized human rights.

In order to highlight the steps business is already taking to respect and support indigenous peoples’ rights internationally, a Practical Supplement to the Guide was also released with examples of business practices.

Ursula Wynhoven, General Counsel at the UN Global Compact said, “We hope that this Business Guide will help to fill a critical void: namely, to assist businesses around the world to better understand indigenous peoples' rights, and how to respect and support those rights.”  


Ursula Wynhoven
General Counsel
UN Global Compact

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


On Human Rights Day (Dec 10, 2013)

Proham and the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) hosted a discussion entitled Human Rights Priorities for Malaysia yesterday on Dec 9, 2013. About 50 people participated including Tan Sri Razali Ismail (GMM Chair), civil society leaders, academics, diplomats and media personal.

The discussion focused on ‘now that the Universal Periodical Review (UPR) is over, what then are the key priorities for Malaysia in 2014 and beyond?’ ‘What are the major critical areas for Malaysia to focus on and what priorities must we address? What is our time frame so that we can have a better standing at the 3rd UPR in 2018?

The discussion was moderated by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the GMM CEO and four speakers shared their views before the open discussion. The five speakers in the panel were:-

·         Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria the Proham Secretary General spoke on the theme of the UPR Review and the implications for the Malaysian human rights agenda

·         Dr Lin Mui Kiang, the former UN Coordination Specialist highlighted the global position on ratification of Human Rights conventions and the position Malaysia was in.

·         Prof Dr Shad Faruqi, the UITM Law professor and academic focused on Islam and human rights with a special emphasis on the Cairo Declaration

·         Assoc. Prof Dr Raihanah Abdullah, the Malaysian rep in the OIC Human Rights Commission and Director of UM Civilization dialogue centre spoke on the role of OIC in promoting Human Rights from a Islamic tradition consistent with UDHR

·         Tan Sri Michael Yeoh, CEO of Asli and Proham founder member focused on Malaysia’s role in Asean and international roles for Malaysia

Malaysia has done well in some aspects of human rights
We recognised that Malaysia has done well in a number of areas especially in socio and economic dimensions as reflected in the achievements noted in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), poverty eradiation through development planning and effective delivery through Government Transformation Program (GTP) and Economic Transformation Program (ETP).

We also recognised that Malaysia has been active in the global levels through the promotions of Global Movement of Moderates, peace keep forces, mediating settlements among the Rohingyas in Myanmar, Muslim Thais in Southern Thailand and the conflict situations in Mindano, Philippines including placing an active role in the the Geneva based Human Rights Council and the Asean Human rights Inter-governmental commission  

Gaps and areas for human rights improvements
However we recognise that there are major gaps and room for improvement. The Universal Periodic Review held on Oct 24, 2013 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva provides a good assessment on the human rights standing of Malaysia based on the global human rights benchmarks and instruments.

104 countries spoke and there are 249 comments and recommendations. Contrary to what was highlighted by some individuals and groups that the UN session on Human Rights sought to discredit Islam and promote sexual freedom is not reflected in the detail analysis of the 249 recommendations.
Of these recommendations 16 were recommended by Asean countries, 40 by G20 countries, 75 by OIC countries and the remaining 118 by other UN member states.

The themes could be divided into nine main categories namely International agreements (80 recommendations), related to Police, courts and punishment (31 recommendations), special groups (70 recommendations), health care (15 recommendations), freedom of expression (13 recommendations), respect and tolerance (13 recommendations) education (9 recommendations), income inequality and poverty (8 recommendations) and general (10 recommendations) 
On matters pertaining to LGBT there are only 7 recommendations out of 248 which is only 2.8% of the total. These were highlighted by Germany, France, Canada, Netherlands, Argentina, Croatia & Chile

On religious freedom in the context of Islam there were only 6 recommendations coming from 5 countries namely Italy, Canada, Austrai, Sudan Iran. It was Iran who raised the matter of discrimination of religious minorities in Malaysia. Only 2.4% of the recommendations focus on it.

Therefore, it is important for all of us to review the UN documentation of the comments made by the 104 countries with 249 specific recommendations in totality. We must be honest, rational and sincere in the way we review the data. We should not distort and confuse the public through untruthful reporting of the discussions. We must seek to resolve what is important for the good of Malaysia especially as we envision ourselves to be a developed country for the year 2020 (within the 7 years).

Malaysian Human Rights Priorities for 2014 and beyond
We recognise that Malaysia has undergone two UPR reviews. The first was in 2009 and the second in 2013. Our third review will be coming up in 2018. Therefore it is imperative for us to draw out the major priorities and establish specific KPIs for its realisation over the next 3 to 4 years.

In the course of the Proham-GMM Human Rights Day Discussion we identified 10 major priority areas in Human Rights for Malaysia.
First, Develop a Malaysian Human Rights Action Plan.
Malaysia has very good development planning policy documents like the 10th Malaysia Plan and other plans like GTP and ETP. We have a blueprint for education and recently the Prime Minister appointed the National Unity Consultative Council to formulate the National Unity Blue print within 6 months (by June 2014).

In the same way Malaysia urgently needs a human rights blueprint with an action plan. Suhakam proposed this in 2001. Our proposal is for Suhakam to take the lead with relevant Federal government agencies and civil society to undertake this task urgently and quickly. A document should be prepared within the next six months of 2014.
Second, ratify the core human rights conventions

Malaysia has so far ratified only 3 of the core human rights conventions. In terms of comparison with other countries of the world we are at bottom of the global performance index. We are at the last few internationally. Even with OIC and Asean countries we are at the bottom of the table. Unfortunately we are long side Myanmar and North Koreah in this regard.
Malaysia who has been two terms on the Human Rights Council and now seeking a seat at the UN Security council must do more in benchmarking our human rights along with UN international human rights standards.

Therefore the ratification of the Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural rights; the Convention of the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination; and the Convention against Torture must be on top of our national agenda. These are achievable as Malaysia has done a lot in the economic, social and cultural dimensions. The other major conventions related to civil and political rights along with that on refuges must also be ratified in due time within the next 2 years but definitely before the next UPR in 2018.
We feel the frequent Malaysian excuses that we are not ready is embarrassing. It reveals that we lack the political will and leadership to take Malaysia into the next level of human rights. Ratification does not mean we are perfect and all is in place.

Ratification means we share the global UN vision and aspiration for a better world where discrimination, torture and abuse are eliminated from society and that the Government of the day is giving a clear commitment that they are politically committed to executive this agenda based on global standards. In addition we are making a statement that we are prepared for global review of our performance and execution based on universal principles.
Over some period Malaysia will have to compile with the requirements through legislative and institutional changes. This is similar to our current reservations on a number of the UN requirements the case of women and children where Malaysia has some reservations. Initially we had more but over time we are ready to accept more of the conditions and guidelines. This is a progressive venture but the most important is to indicate that we share in the vision of building a society free from discrimination, torture and abuse of power.

Furthermore in Malaysia, ratification of UN conventions does not need any parliamentary decision and therefore this is achievable with a Cabinet decision on this matter. There is a high expectation from society for the Federal government to play a more dynamic role in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Third, Strengthen Suhakam through amendments to the Suhakam act

It is proposed that the Suhakam Act we amendment to increase its investigative and enforcement powers for the protection of human rights in Malaysian society. Currently Suhakam is purely an advisory body and therefore a majority of its recommendations are not seriously taken by government agencies and those in public office.
There is therefore a need to strengthen compliance to human rights standards and by strengthening the powers of Suhakam to enforce its findings it will be able to play a more effective role as compared to the current role

In this context it is also strongly felt that Parliament must allocate at least 2 days to debate the Suhakam Annual Report annually. This is most basic and over the past 12 years this has not been done. This act of providing time for debate does not need any legislative changes and this is achievable. All it needs is the political will for time allocated.
In addition there must be a permanent Parliamentary Select Committee on Human Rights like the Accounts committee that monitors the implementation of Suhakam recommendations and human rights compliance by public institutions and agencies.

If this is not done by the Government of the day by way of administrative action, there is therefore a need for legislative amendments of Suhakam Act to mandate these provisions so as to give human rights compliance a greater weight in our society.

Fourth, establish a Human Rights Court
It is proposed that Malaysia should establish a human rights court to give specific attention to human rights cases and violations. Suhakam recently proposed the establishment of an Indigenous Land Tribunal or Commission. An independent mediation mechanism like Ombudsman could also be useful to resolve many of the unresolved issues.

Others have said they face discrimination in the private sector especially in pay and promotions. Others have indicated that they are discriminated in the public sector. A human rights approach in line with an Equal Opportunities Commission might enhance the human rights culture and strengthen compliance both in public and private sector to human rights standards for justice, fairness and equality.
There is a need to review this and strengthen the provision for grievance remedies similar to the labour court or small-claims court which enable the ordinary person especially the poor and low income seek legal remedies for their grievances based on human rights for all.

Fifth, that a Law Reforms committee or commission be establish
There had been much discussion in this area previously. Therefore there is need to review this discussion and provide a mechanism for review and analysis with a view of establishing greater legislative compliance to human rights standards in the context of our Federal Constitution.

Sixth, urgent need for Policy reform in line with human rights and people centred development
There is a need for Malaysian development polices to draw a fair balance between economic and social rights (education, health care, poverty eradiation, and housing) along with civil and political rights. Development is not just one of these but need greater holistic application.

Civil and political rights also mean consultation and participation of all the stakeholders in the development process including the poor. It also means ensuring accountability and transparency in governance. It must be people centred and a people empowerment approach is friendly to human rights.

Seven, there is need for an effective public education and awareness program on human rights
Human rights education is very important as there is a distortion of the human rights agenda in Malaysia society as being anti-Islam, anti-nation and a western agenda. An accurate understanding of Islam and human rights including duties is necessary. The OIC position on human rights must also guide the Malaysian discussion.

This human rights education must be directed towards politicians and elected/nomination public officials and civil servants especially enforcement officers. There is a need for INTAN to incorporate a strong human rights module in the training program and likewise in teacher training courses so as to nurture a human rights culture in schools.
Suhakam has done lots of work in this area with the Ministry of Education and even the Police. All these could be updated and strengthened.

Eight, enlist the partnership of private sector and business community in the promotion and protection of human rights
While the focus of the human rights discourse is on securing the State to play the role, no one can deny the need for private sector and the business community to likewise compile with human rights standards and benchmarks. The private sector in Malaysia is the largest employer of workers and many issues related to workers and use of natural resources impacts human rights

The UN Guiding principle on business and human rights must be adopted and popularised so that Malaysian SMI and SME will adopt a friendly human rights approach to doing business in Malaysia. More needs to be done with the business associations and Chambers of commerce so as to push the agenda beyond the tradition CSR approach to corporate social responsibility.

Nine, it is essential for the Federal Government to establish a permanent mechanism for stakeholder consultation and engagement in human rights.
The UPR mechanism has shown that the UN is very consultative and transparent in this process and therefore civil societies have access to this international platform. The officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well the Attorney General office must adopt a far great engagement approach especially with human rights based civil society organisations.

A formal mechanism and periodical engagement is important and fostering a partnership will enhance the human rights position of Malaysia globally.
Tenth, it is necessary to be open, rational and reasonable in our approach in human rights development

It is important that there are many diverse views in the human rights discussion and it is important to be tolerant to views that are different. Any attempt to criminalise, demonise and distort human rights concerns is not helpful and does great injustice to national building. We must have respect for the democratic process and fair and reasonable discussions must be the format.
The UN instruments will be the best benchmark for global standard setting. Regional instruments like the Cairo Declaration for Human Rights from an Islamic dimension and the Asean Human Rights Declaration are also useful instrument to enhance our rational and objective discussion in strengthening human rights compliance in Malaysia society.

Released jointly by:-
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, CEO, GMM and
Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Secretary-General, Proham
Dec 10, 2013


By Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Prof essorof Law at UiTM.
ALONG with Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest political leaders, human rights advocate and peace activist of the last century. On 5th December he left the surly bonds of the earth to touch the face of God. All humanity is diminished by his demise.

The light that shone in South Africa was, however, no ordinary light. Its radiance will last many generations and can illuminate other parts of the globe.

Wherever there is hatred, discord and division, his message of forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation provides a beacon of hope. His conviction that no conflict is intractable and no hatred is too difficult to overcome is of relevance to all divided societies. His life and legacy and his footprints on the sands of time can provide direction to all people, far and near.

I am reminded of Shakespeare in Julius Caesar: “His life was gentle and the elements so mix’t in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world: “This was  a man”.

UDHR:  On another note, 10th December was the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)1948. The Declaration’s first Article should strike a responsive chord in all of us. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.  

Sixty-five years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one can say with satisfaction that it is no longer an issue whether human rights are worthy of support. It is now generally recognised that state sovereignty is a shield against external aggresssion. It cannot be used as a sword against one’s own nationals.

Human right issues transcend time and territory. Abuses anywhere deserve world-wide condemnation. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Almost all world Constitutions give due recognition to the need to limit state powers and to secure basic liberties of citizens. Besides the UDHR and its derivative Covenants, many regional declarations of human rights have appeared on the firmament.

Africa has the Banjul Charter. Europe has its European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Islamic countries have several formulations, among them the Universal Islamic Declaration 1980 (London); the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights 1981 (Paris); and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam 1990.

Islam & human rights: At a PROHAM Conference in KL on December 9, it was my privilege to address the isssue of human rights in Islam. At the very outset I stated that the belief that human beings are the subject and object of inherent rights, dignity and duties has an important place in Islamic theology, philosophy and politics.

The Holy Qur’an declares in surah 17:70: “Surely we have accorded dignity to the sons of Adam”. On justice and equality it states “And if you judge between mankind, judge justly” (4:58).

The Farewell Sermon of Prophet Muhammad at Arafat is one of the world’s greatest human rights documents. In it he proclaimed: “Your lives, your properties and your honour are as sacred as this day (of the Haj)”.

On class distinctions he said: “The aristocracy of yore is trampled under my feet.The Arab has no superiority over the non Arab and the non-Arab has no superiority over the Arab. All are children of Adam and Adam was made of earth. Nor is the fair skinned superior to the dark skinned nor the dark skinned superior to the fair skinned: superiority comes from piety and the noblest among you is the most pious”. This was pronounced 1435 years ago!

The denial of state sovereignty is a cardinal principle in Islam long before the writings of Locke and Rousseau. The government is a trustee of the people. Its duty is to rule by consultation. (Surah 3:159).

In the criminal process there is a presumption of innocence. Evidence of agents provocetueurs cannot be admitted.

Human rights encompass not only civil and political rights but also the “second generation”, socio-economic, positive rights.

Religious tolerance is required and cultural pluralism is permitted. “Unto you, your religion, unto me mine” (109:1-6)

Modern principles of administrative law like natural justice and proportionality have their counterpart in Islamic public law.

Cairo Declaration: This Declaration has 25 Articles. Its first Article is remarkably similar to its counterpart in the UDHR: “All human beings form one family whose members are united by their subordination to Allah and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities”.

The 25 Articles of the Cairo Declaration are broadly divisible into:

·        political and civil rights

·        political and civil duties, 

·        socio-economic rights

·        socio-economic duties

·        protection in times of war and conflict.

There are remarkable similarities between the Cairo Declaration and the UDHR. This confirms that as human beings we all share a common humanity and a common destiny.

Differences: However, the world view of the West and of Islam has some contrasts. In Islam, belief in God and piety are emphasised. The concepts of sin and sacrilage offer brakes to “human rights” demands. Atheism and apostasy are condemned though these are sins not crimes.

Individualism is subordinated to communitarianism. As in other religions, individual autonomy is restrained if that would lead to decline of morality. Muslims are generally troubled by the militancy of secular materialism, obssessive individualism, personal autonomy and licentious views of the West on a whole range of moral issues.

Whether Muslim societies must be condemned for such “backwardness” or praised for resisting the onslaught of a sex laced media culture is a matter of opinion.

The distance between Islam and the West on human rights is, however, not that great if theory is matched with theory and practice with practice. There are vast areas of shared commonalities. We need to discover, emphasise and enforce these commonalities and to concentrate on what unites us rather than harp on what divides us.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Myanmar may score better than Malaysia on human rights, says Suhakam chief

Hasmy says Putrajaya should ratify more of the nine human rights instruments. - The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, December 10, 2013.


Hasmy says Putrajaya should ratify more of the nine human rights instruments. - The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, December 10, 2013.

Myanmar, which until recently was considered a "pariah state", may one day overtake Malaysia in meeting international standards for human rights, according to Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, chairman of Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, or Suhakam.

“I won’t be surprised if they one day overtake us. They have already signed on to three international core instruments on human rights," said Hasmy when met today after the Suhakam Human Rights Award 2013 ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.

Hasmy said ratifying more of the core nine human rights instruments was important if Putrajaya wants to ensure that the rights of all groups and individuals, regardless of race, religion and background, are respected.

“When I met with government officials in Myanmar last year, I challenged them to race with Malaysia in signing more and they took up the challenge,” he added.

Myanmar has in recent months embarked on a series of reforms, including releasing political prisoners, allowing freedom of assembly and lifting media censorship, although the country has been criticised over persecution of its ethnic minorities.

Putrajaya has so far only signed on to three rights since the nine core instruments were gradually introduced over the past 50 years.

Hasmy said Malaysia has a poor record of ratifying human rights conventions as the government is concerned that it will not be able to implement them once they are signed.

International conventions can be used as a reference by the courts to force the government to recognise and observe the rights of groups who have petitioned the government.

“We hope that by 2020 we will be able to sign on to more conventions,” said Hasmy.


The Future of Human Rights in Malaysia BFM Radio

The Future of Human Rights in Malaysia

Datuk Dr. Denison Jayasooria, Secretary-General of PROHAM
10-Dec-13 17:21
Meera and Denison at BFM Radio interview

It’s International Human Rights Day, and three human rights issues currently in the national discourse are the rights of indigenous people, the death penalty and the Universal Periodic Review’s recommendation for Malaysia. We speak to Datuk Dr. Denison Jayasooria, secretary-general of PROHAM (The Association for te Promotion of Human Rights), about the future of human rights in Malaysia. 

'Islam not alien to human rights'

By Jacqueline Png (
Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi at the roundtable discussion organised by Global Movement of Moderates Foundation and Proham
Prof Shad Faruqi
KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 10): "Human rights principles need to accept and tolerate honest differences of religion. Even if they contradict, there are rooms for discussion."

Emeritus Professor of Law at Universiti Teknologi MARA Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, said that while Islam is not alien to human rights, the religion upholds it from a different perspective.

"If you look at the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, it takes values and beliefs into account rather than only individual rights," he said.

Speaking at the roundtable discussion organised by Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF) and Proham, Shad stressed that human rights cannot totally disregard religious sensitivity and adopting religious perspective towards human right helps advocate compliance.

"You have to use whatever arguments available to provide persuasive authority for people to comply, be it economic, religious or social. Human rights cannot be spoken only in the language of religion but it helps to tell people: your religion supports it, so should you," he said.

GMMF chief Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said that Malaysians can no longer accept mediocre excuses for delaying the ratification of core international conventions of human rights.

"We are not in 1957 anymore. People have become more educated and no longer accept answers such as our laws are not ready to ratify. They demand a timeline to see the remaining six out of nine international conventions to be ratifed," said Saifuddin.

Among conventions that Malaysia has yet to ratify include elimination of racial discrimination, protection against torture and protection of migrant workers.

"You don't need to be perfect to sign these conventions as it is a symbolic gesture to show your commitment. We can start by recognising these rights and work on it later on," he said.

He has also called for human rights education to be taught in schools, to politicians and the police force. And identify best practices to be included in their code of ethics.

Former UN coordination specialist, Dr Lin Miu Kiang who was on the panel pointed out that the country's ranking in ratifying international conventions is appalling.

Among UN member states, Malaysia ranks 187 out of 193 countries, at par with Myanmar and North Korea. Even in Organisation of Islamic Conference, the country signed the least convention. Whereas among Asean countries, Malaysia stands at eighth position out of 10, in commonwealth countries, 49 out of 54; and among Non-Aligned Movement, 108 out of 110.

"Our government has lobbied hard to win hearts of international human rights community and calls itself a moderate Muslim state. But domestically, only the legal division of PM's department initiated drafting meeting for the Human Rights Action Plan, but it hasn't moved forward since then.

Meanwhile, Tan Sri Michael Yeoh of Malaysia's Asean and International Human Rights Obligation suggested that since Malaysia is hosting the 2015 Asean summit, it should play a proactive role to push for a formation of Asean human rights court in a five to 10 year plan.

"If we want another term in the UN Security Council, we must show improvements in human rights standard. If we don't bring domestic standard up, we lack the credibility when speaking on international platform," he said.

Read more:

Malaysia Needs To Ratify Six International Conventions On Human Rights - GMM

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 (Bernama) -- Malaysia needs to ratify the remaining six core international conventions on human rights in order to raise its position in the global arena.

Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the failure to do so had resulted in Malaysia being among the bottom 10 among United Nations (UN) member countries in terms of championing human rights issues.

This was among the points agreed at the Human Rights Day discussion here today, based on the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) made by UN on Oct 24, which highlighted that Malaysia had not ratified numerous covenants and conventions dating from 1965.

"We understand some technical committees have been established in the last few years to look at the conventions. We hope to see the result by 2018, if not earlier," Saifuddin told reporters after moderating the half-day discussion jointly-organised by Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia (Proham) and GMM titled 'Human Rights Priorities for Malaysia Beyond 2013 UPR to 2018.'

The panelists comprised Universiti Teknologi Mara legal advisor Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Universiti Malaya Centre for Civilisational Dialogue director Associate Prof Dr Raihanah Abdullah, former UN Coordination Specialist Dr Lin Mui Kiang, Proham Secretary-General Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, and Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) chief executive officer Tan Sri Michael Yeoh.

To date, Malaysia had only ratified three out of nine most important UN Human Rights Conventions, namely Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Saifuddin said he was informed that Malaysia was now at number 187 out of the 195 of UN member countries, since most of them had ratified at least four or more of the human rights conventions.

"Even in the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), we are among the last," he said.

The discussions was held with the aim, among others, to review the UPR comments and recommendations made by UN member states and draw out a priority list for Malaysia's focus, which are to be fulfilled before the third review in 2018.

The non-ratified conventions are the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination adopted in 1965, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984); International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990) and International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (1992).

The three-hour discussion also support the need to strengthen the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) by giving it investigation and enforcement powers, allowing its annual report to be debated in Parliament, forming a parliamentary select committee on human rights and begin the process of forming a national human rights action plan.

It also agreed that Malaysia had done well in addressing human rights issues, including on safety and security, adequate housing, education, health and also economic rights such as overcoming income inequality and eradicating poverty.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Islam definition in constitution sufficient’

By Anisah Shukry (Free Malaysia Today)
December 10, 2013

Former Umno supreme council member, Saifuddin Abdullah, says there is no need to redefine Islam as Sunnah wal Jamaah in the Federal Constitution.
KUALA LUMPUR: The definition of Islam in the Federal Constitution is sufficient without having to specify that it refers only to the Sunni denomination, Umno’s Saifuddin Abdullah said today.
The former Umno supreme council member said there were other, more important issues at hand for the government to focus on besides redefining Islam in the Constitution, such as the demolition of shrines in Lembah Bujang.

“I’m a little concerned when it comes to trying to define Islam in the constitution into very specific things such as ‘Sunni’, instead of being all-encompassing like what we have now,” said Saifuddin, who is chief executive officer of the Global Movements of Moderates Foundation (GMMF).
“On the one hand, we want to redefine Islam in the constitution. On the other hand, we have issues with Hindu shrines in Lembah Bujang, at the same time there is the issue of the kalimah Allah – a host of other issues that need to be made priority.

“So I would like to say that perhaps we don’t really have to do that. I thought the constitution is clear enough by stating very profoundly that Islam is the religion of the federation,” he told a press conference at GMM’s office here yesterday.

Home Minister Zahid Hamidi said last week that his ministry would propose to insert the words “Sunnah wal Jamaah” in Article 3 of the Federal Constitution to specify the definition of Islam as the religion of the federation.

This was to curb the spread of other ideologies, including the much-maligned Syiah branch of Islam, in the country.

But Saifuddin pointed out that even redefining Islam in the constitution would not guarantee an end to the debate regarding Syiah in Islam in Malaysia.

“What is already stated in the constitution is sufficient, we should be doing more engagement, consultation and educating people rather than taking a legalistic approach.”

Saifuddin said this after chairing a roundtable discussion on human rights, organised by human rights watchdog Proham and GMM.

It was revealed in the discussion that Malaysia had yet to ratify six human rights international conventions, and its reluctance to do so, placed the country among the bottom ten among members of the United Nations (UN) in terms of human rights.

Michael Yeoh, chief executive officer of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) also called for the government to provide the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) with powers of investigation and enforcement so that it would no longer be seen as a ‘toothless’ body.

The NGO leaders agreed on a ten-point human rights blueprint which includes establishing a human rights court, setting up a law reform commission, providing human rights education for all stakeholders, and policy reforms.

This is an achievable agenda, many of which can be executed immediately. For instance, debating Suhakam’s annual report in parliament, this can be done without legislation,” said Dr Denison Jayasooria, secretary-general of Proham.

“We expect to achieve all this by 2018. Because by 2020 we are to be a developed country, but in 2018, Malaysia will face its third Universal Periodic Review.”

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was established by the UN General Assembly to assess the human rights records of each member-state of the UN. Malaysia underwent its second UPR on Oct 24 2013.

Malaysia urged to ratify human rights treaties urgently

Denison, Saifuddin & Michael at the Human Rights Day Discussion

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia should ratify the remaining six of nine core international human rights treaties as soon as possible and not be left behind, a discussion heard.

The country has only ratified three of the nine treaties since 1995, namely the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Malaysia underwent the second United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review on Oct 24 where 80 of the 249 recommendations from member countries called for it to ratify the treaties as well as other conventions. Of the 80, 25% were recommendations from OIC states.

Malaysia will undergo its third UPR, a global review by its UN peers, in 2018.

Panellist and Human Rights Movement (Proham) secretary-general Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria said human rights was for the good of all, adding that the argument that the country was not ready or laws needed to be amended should not be used as reasons.

“Ratifying the convention is committing to making those changes. One does not need to be perfect before signing.

“Malaysia has done well in other areas but we cannot go on not ratifying the treaties. It is embarrassing to be behind other countries in Asean and OIC which have ratified more treaties than us,” Dr Denison said at the discussion entitled ‘Human rights priorities for Malaysia beyond 2013 UPR to 2018’ organised by Proham and the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM).

The discussion was held in conjunction with Human Rights Day Tuesday.

Dr Denison suggested implementing a national human rights action plan; strengthening the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), including debating its reports in Parliament; and having firmer dialogue with civil society.

GMM chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, who moderated the session, said the six major conventions, which included against racial discrimination; economic, social and cultural rights and torture, should be ratified by 2018 “if not earlier.”

“It puts us among the bottom 10 if we do not ratify more treaties. We are now ranked 187 out of 195 UN countries.

"Most countries have ratified four or more even in OIC nations,” said Saifuddin, adding that there should be more engagement between the stake holders and the Government.

“We have to take cognisance that not everyone will agree on everything on human rights, even if we do not agree, we should refrain from discriminating or demonising.”

Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Michael Yeoh said Malaysia must play a bigger role in championing human rights on the international stage as well as take cognisance internally.

“We need to enhance human rights, strengthen Suhakam and give it enforcement powers as well as establish a human rights council at the highest level,” he said.

As chairman of Asean in 2015, he said, Malaysia could play an important role in making human rights a more prominent agenda within the nations.


The way forward for Malaysia on Human Rights Concerns

By Rama Ramanathan

On the eve of the 65th anniversary of the United Nations which was created in 1948 as part of a global effort to avoid war, promote the enjoyment of human rights globally and establish peace, we heard from many moderate voices and felt some optimism about a way forward for Malaysia.
At the Proham- GMM Discussion held on Dec 9, 2013, we needed to be told the obvious. An ambassador from a foreign mission to Malaysia told us: our meeting demonstrated the value of the United Nations Periodic Review (UPR).

Concern about the UPR [report card] caused Proham, an NGO formed by former Malaysian Human Rights Commissioners and Global Movement of Moderates (GMM), to organize the discussion we were at.
Concern about the UPR made Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, GMM CEO to suggest, host and moderate the meeting. Concern about the UPR caused 5 distinguished persons to give prepared talks at the meeting, which was attended by representatives of numerous Malaysian NGO’s.

Lin, Shad & Raihanah
Datuk Saifuddin revealed Malaysia’s best kept secret: A Malaysian woman is one of the first 18 Human Rights Commissioners in the Independent, Permanent Human Rights Commission of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) formed in June 2011!
Associate Professor Dr Raihanah Abdullah, a specialist in Islamic Law, is the Director of the UM Centre for Civilizational Dialogue.

Professor Raihanah: Human Rights and the OIC. Professor Dr Raihanah pointed out the OIC’s keen awareness of the negative view “the West” has of Islam with respect to Human Rights. She spoke of the importance the OIC places on Human Rights, the current focus being: human rights failures in Israel, Syria, Mali and Myanmar; women and children; Islamophobia.
Professor Shad Faruqi: Human Rights and ignorance of Islam. Professor Faruqi of UITM, probably Malaysia’s best known constitutional expert, said that he himself was 35 years old when he became aware of what he considers the greatest human rights speech ever made. He revealed the second secret: the speech was made by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Professor Faruqi was referring to the Prophet’s farewell speech made about 1435 years ago in Arafat. He pointed out the deep concerns expressed there and laid out as principles of conduct: equality of all mankind, regardless of race or colour; the right of every foetus, and mother; a profound disavowal of monopoly; the right of refuge and asylum – and a host of other principles.
Professor Faruqi added that while Islam places a high value on human rights, Islam places a similarly high value on human obligations. He cautioned us not to forget that any discussion of human rights within an Islamic framework must also include discussion of sin and sacrilege. He proposed that education in Islamic aspects of human rights is important for moving forward.

Dr Lin Min Kiang: Ratification of Human Rights Treaties. Dr Lin, until recently the UN Coordination Specialist in Malaysia, spoke about Malaysia’s status in ratifying core human rights conventions. Dr Lin pointed out the third secret: in this round of the UPR, only China received more recommendations than Malaysia.
Dr Lin also noted that if we take the number of core conventions signed by any nation as an indicator of Human Rights within the nation, we fall in the bottom five percent worldwide in every grouping – whether NAM (Non Aligned Movements), OIC, the Commonwealth or the UN.

Tan Sri Michael Yeoh: Protect, respect, remedy. Tan Sri Michael, CEO of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) and Vice Chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies, said Malaysia has done well in Asean: “we have punched above our weight;” but, not in the area of human rights.
Tan Sri Michael suggested we need to challenge or redefine Asean’s policy of non-interference and the requirement to reach consensus before doing anything. He proposed that we could put this on the agenda in 2015 when we will again chair Asean. He stressed the importance of applying 3 key words to every aspect of human rights: Protect. Respect. Remedy.

Denison, Saifuddin & Michael
Datuk Denison Jayasooria: Actionable Agenda. Datuk Denison, Proham Secretary General, was upbeat about the future of human rights in Malaysia. He is encouraged by the keen interest shown by GMMF, and by the fact that the UPR report leads to a simple, actionable agenda.  He proposed 5 key elements in the agenda:
·         Ratify the Core Human Rights Treaties.

·         Strengthen Suhakam legislation and processes, including debate of Suhakam’s Annual Report and appointing a Parliamentary Select Committee on Human Rights.

·         Develop a Human Rights Action Plan.

·         Establish a permanent, ongoing dialogue between government and civil society in Malaysia: government and NGO’s should meet frequently in Malaysia, not every 5 years in Geneva.

·         Improve human rights education of (a) politicians, (2) civil servants and (3) enforcement officers.

There are still many unasked and unanswered questions, the most obvious being: Who will take the lead on the government side? How will current issues, e.g. those pertaining to land acquisition in Sabah and Sarawk, be resolved? Developing the answers, appointing people to and empowering them to accomplish the goals will take time. This is just the beginnings of dialogue, with some Key Opinion Leaders at the table.
At the end of the meeting, it was clear that if moderates don’t speak up, if moderates don’t act, if moderates don’t act in concert, the field will be left to extremists. And that is not what the vast majority of Malaysians want.

Is this a sign that a Malaysian movement of moderates has awakened?
Tan Sri Razali Ismail, a (now retired) senior Malaysian diplomat who negotiated Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest in 2002, and is now Chairman of GMMF, offered a brief comment. He said “we cannot continue as we are, it’s getting embarrassing.”

Tan Sri Razali said we have to accept that we’re different – we’re multi-ethnic, multi-religious, etc. – therefore our path will have to be different. But, that doesn’t mean we must sit still; no, we must progress. We don’t have to do everything immediately, but we must do something. We must agree what we have to do, and who has to do it. Then we have to do it, and we have to hold people accountable.
There is hope. The message is getting through. We must keep up the momentum! Happy Human Rights Day!

Rama is a Proham volunteer and blogger