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 rightsWe 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 improvementsHowever 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 beyondWe 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 CourtIt 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 establishThere 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 developmentThere 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 rightsHuman 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 rightsWhile 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