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Sunday, 7 September 2014

More pressure on Malaysia’s rights record with UN seat

Malaysia has been lobbying extensively for support in its bid for a seat in the UN Security Council, a move which could see its crackdown at home facing some sort of global pressure. – Reuters file pic, September 8, 2014.
– Reuters file pic, September 8, 2014.


 Malaysia has been lobbying extensively for support in its bid for a seat in the UN Security Council, a move which could see its crackdown at home facing some sort of global pressure.

There will be greater international pressure on the Najib administration to respect human rights and end its crackdown on dissidents if Malaysia gets elected to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) next month, rights campaigners say.

However, those being charged under the Sedition Act shouldn’t jump for joy just yet, says one political analyst, because a country’s human rights record does not count for much on the UNSC, whose members also include China and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent members with worse human rights records than Malaysia’s.

But being on the world stage in such an influential body could mean that whatever Malaysia does back home will be under greater scrutiny as the nation “has to walk the talk”, said Bar Council member Andrew Khoo. “There will be even greater scrutiny of Malaysia’s human rights record than ever before,” said Khoo, who is the Bar Council’s human rights committee co-chair. “You can’t just sit on the council and rule on international law and human rights transgressions and at the same time have an appalling record back home,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Malaysia has been lobbying extensively for support in its bid for one of 10 non-permanent Security Council seats, elected for two-year terms by the 193-member UN general assembly. At the same time, international rights groups have criticised the administration of Datuk Seri Najib Razak over the recent spate of prosecutions on opposition politicians and activists under the Sedition Act, which the government claims it wants to repeal.

Groups such as Amnesty International have said the arrests have created a “climate of repression” in Malaysia. The crackdown has fuelled questions as to whether Malaysia’s bid for a seat on the council, which includes the United States, United Kingdom and France, would be affected. Khoo believes that Malaysia had long ago started its campaign for a Security Council seat and the rash of arrests would not be enough to convince UN members states to rethink their backing for Malaysia.

Monash University political scientist Professor James Chin (pic, left) said Malaysia would likely get elected because of political considerations of UN member countries. “Asian members want countries who they believe will speak up on their behalf. Also Malaysia is a country with very few enemies. It never takes a strong stand on anything. It only wants to be moderate.”

 But Datuk Denison Jayasooria of Proham, a rights group made up of former commissioners of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), believes that developed countries might not support Malaysia’s bid. “We have presented ourselves globally as modern and tolerant Islamic state. “Freedom of speech is a fundamental human rights position and what the global community is against is not freedom of speech but violence and hate (speech),” said Jayasooria, who is Proham secretary-general.

 “I think once elected into the UNSC, Malaysia will be obligated to meet global expectations and will be much more on the human rights watch list,” said Jayasooria. “There will be stronger international pressure for what it says and does.” A “credibility gap” between how the country acts and what is says on the world stage would have a negative impact, said Jayasooria.  “(Malaysia) plays a major role in championing the course of Muslim minorities around the world and these kinds of crackdowns contradict the global positions Malaysia takes.”

 An example of how amendable Malaysia is to world pressure, said Khoo, was how Najib had to change his stand on the militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). In June, Najib said Umno members should emulate the group after it defeated the better armed Iraqi army. Najib has since come out with statements criticising the group, while the home ministry announced that it was actively hunting Malaysians who have joined Isis. “I think his recent statements are aimed at an international audience and its shows that there has been pressure from the world community”, said Khoo.

Chin agrees that human rights issues do not figure much in how UNSC operates. “The only time human rights enters into the Security Council is when it wants to censure a country. “Malaysia’s human rights record will not be used against itself,” Chin said. – September 8, 2014.

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