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Monday, 29 December 2014

Myanmar must grant citizenship to Rohingya Muslims: UN

The United Nations (UN) has called on Myanmar to provide “full citizenship” to its Rohingya Muslim minority and grant it the same rights as those of other people in the country.

The UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a non-binding resolution on Monday urging Myanmar to grant the Muslim minority citizenship rights.

The resolution expressed the 193-member body’s “serious concern” about the Myanmar government’s treatment of the Rohingyas, saying the international community is united in seeking change in Naypyidaw’s attitude toward minorities.

The General Assembly urged Myanmar to ensure that the Rohingya Muslims have equal access to services, including health and education, and to address the main causes of violence and discrimination against them.

It also called on the government to ensure that Rohingyas are allowed to safely return to their communities, “and to promote peaceful coexistence.”

It said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should open an office in Myanmar “without delay.”

The UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee had adopted a non-binding resolution on November 21 to pressure the Southeast Asian country to change its approach toward the Rohingya Muslims.

Under Myanmar’s national law, 1.3 million Rohingyas are denied citizenship and are considered stateless. Myanmar officials want to categorize them as Bengalis, implying they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Those who reject the identity would likely be detained or deported.

Reports say hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas in Myanmar are suffering from a severe shortage of food and drinking water. Humanitarian aid deliveries have slowed down in Rakhine State, where many Rohingyas live, due to an escalation of violence against them.

The UN recognizes Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims as one of the world’s most persecuted communities. They have faced torture, neglect, and repression since Myanmar’s independence in 1948.

Source: SF/HJL -

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


We, a group of Malaysian NGOs fully support  the recent open letter from a group of 25 personalities  that identified themselves as “a group of concerned citizens of Malaysia” to urge the government to hold a public discourse on Islamic law vis a vis the Federal Constitution.  The 25 individuals, who identified  themselves as “moderate Muslims”, comprised of, among others, retired civil servants, judges and ambassadors.

We applaud the courageous action of these towering figures to stand up and publicly address sensitive yet critical issues plaguing our nation. Too often in the history of nations, the extremists have triumphed not because they enjoyed majority support, but because the majority were silent and idle. Like similar minded NGOs working for the love of our nation, these 25 senior citizens chose not to be passive and have voiced their dismay and abhorrence at the current state of the nation. 

We share their sentiment that “there is a real need for a consultative process that will bring together experts in various fields, including Islamic and Constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways”. We would further add that a similar process of consulting  relevant experts and stakeholders, be applied to matters related to the process of legislation of other laws too. These should be undertaken in an ambience of transparency, best practises , mutual respect and permeative consultation. 

The letter raises the alarm that “the use of the Sedition Act hangs as a constant threat to silence anyone with a contrary opinion”. We couldn’t agree more with this statement. The Prime Minister has reneged on his promise to repeal the Act and announced that the Act would be further emboldened with two additional provisions. We are deeply concerned with this development.

Individuals in the group of 25 that had held high public offices previously should be proud that they have discharged their official duties justly and honourably.

These personalities in the group of 25 are exemplary citizens of Malaysia. We support them and urge other Malaysians to do the same. 

We abhor all forms of extremism, hate speech and violence. In the spirit of peace, muhibbah and nation building we invite all Malaysians to engage in a healthy, rational and civil discourse on pressing national issues and silence the voices of hate and extremism in our beloved nation.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF)

Dr Lin together with Ms Maria Chin ( Bersih), & Ms Debbie(ALTASEAN)
By Dr Lin Mui Lian (Proham Hon member)

The Second Regional Meeting of the ACSC/APF was held on 12-13 December 2014 in Petaling Jaya to prepare its programmes for the ASEAN Summit Meeting in April 2015 when Malaysia will take over the Chair of ASEAN. It was attended by 110 members from the region. The ACSC/APF 2015 will mark the 10th anniversary since the first gathering of civil society organizations in Malaysia 10 years ago. However, despite the submission of extensive and constructive recommendations to ASEAN member states since 2005, they have not been implemented or adopted in any meaningful way.

The ASEAN Charter 2008 commits member states to “the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Yet the peoples of ASEAN continue to suffer from undemocratic processes, poor governance, lack of fundamental freedoms and inequality, development injustice, increased militarization, unlawful foreign interferences, and the inability to participate fully in and to influence ASEAN and national level processes.

ASEAN has failed to address the persistent human rights violations, including against the Rohingya (by Myanmar and asylum states in the region) and other ethnic, minority and independent religious communities, indigenous peoples, peasants, grassroots, human rights defenders, and migrant workers. This demonstrate complicity and lack of commitment in addressing human rights violations in the region that allows states to act with impunity.

After extensive consultation and in consideration of the previous 10 years of engagement, the ACSC/APF reiterates its previous recommendations and will highlight the continuing priority areas of concern for the region. These will include recommendations to improve democratic processes, governance and fundamental rights and freedoms, discrimination and inequality, as well as development justice.

Dr Lin represented Proham at this regional meeting.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

We are glad we are on the UN Security Council. Let’s build on this.

By Rama Ramanathan (Proham Secretariat)

On Tuesday evening, about two hundred people, ranging from retired distinguished civil servants to first year students, gathered to listen and respond to four distinguished experts discuss Malaysia’s appointment to the Security Council of the United Nations.

The meeting, one of several events organized or co-organized by Proham during Human Rights week 2014, began at 8.30 pm on Tuesday 09 December, 2014, in Brickfields Asia College, Petaling Jaya campus. It was moderated by Proham Secretary General Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, was.

Here are some highlights of the meeting.

DATUK KUTHUBUL ZAMAN, the Chairman of Proham, said the UN was created in order to prevent recurrence of the atrocities of World War II, and that the strategy adopted from its birth was to establish a new standard of individual protection under international law.

He used the words of Professor Louis Bruno Sohn to convey the magnitude of what happened at the birth of the UN in 1945:

“Just as the French revolution ended the divine rights of kings, the human rights revolution which began at the San Francisco conference of the United Nations has deprived sovereign states of the lordly privilege of being the sole possessor of rights under international law. States have had to concede . . . that individuals are no longer mere objects, mere pawns in the hands of the states.”

MICHELLE GYLES-MCDONNOUGH, the UN Resident Coordinator in Malaysia, said the Security Council will have to monitor and address over 400 ongoing conflicts, of which twenty are called wars and over forty are categorized as highly violent.

She said that subsequent to the outstanding global development results achieved through the processes around the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, the UN is developing a new set of goals. Inputs from over five million people worldwide have resulted in the following prioritized list of areas in which to set goals: education; healthcare; jobs; honest government; reduction of violent crime; food; water and sanitation; gender equality; care for those who can’t work, and freedom from discrimination.

DATUK SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH, CEO of Malaysia’s Global Movement of Moderates Foundation drew the attention to the challenges of the conflicts faced by humans around the world, and to the challenges of working with other nations.

He said Malaysia, as it did during its past membership of the UN Security Council, must navigate carefully in order to make a useful contribution. He also drew attention to the challenge of entrenched inequality in the Security Council, for it includes five permanent members with veto rights.

He added that Malaysia has many ‘international’ subjects on its own agenda. These include claims over the Spratleys islands, Rohingya seeking asylum in Malaysia, advocacy for Palestinian rights, etc. He said the moderation Malaysia wishes to model in the UN must also be exhibited domestically in matters as diverse as constituency delineation, countering corruption, addressing with security threats such as those springing from supporters of ISIL/ISIS and engaging Civil Society Organizations.

DATUK AMBIGA SREENIVASAN, co-chair of Negara-ku read three extracts from UN documents describing why Malaysia recommended itself for a seat on the Security Council and for the Human Rights Council (2006).

1. “Malaysia stresses the importance of human security and thematic issues on the Council’s agenda such as women, peace, security, children, armed conflict, working methods and peace keeping. It highlights the relevance of the concept of moderation . . . as a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious country, Malaysia showcases the benefits of the practice of moderation in maintaining peace, stability and unity. And as a country where moderate Islam is the largest practiced religion, Malaysia believes it has a role to play in contributing to the Council’s thinking on how to tackle radicalization in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.”

2. “The respect that the Malaysian government has for each individual’s rights is clearly manifested in the fact that free, fair and peaceful general elections have been held consistently without fail since independence for the people to elect their representatives to the various branches of government within the nation’s democratic system. Another manifestation of the importance that the government attaches to the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms is the promotion of a free media including in cyberspace as well as the encouragement of vibrant and active civil societies.”

3. “As a nation with a multi-ethnic and multi religious society, Malaysia is confident that its experience in managing a plural society would bring an important dimension to the work of the new Human Rights Council. Malaysia recognizes that the stability of any multi-ethnic society depends on a spirit of mutual tolerance and respect for diversity which is based on an inclusive and responsive political and legal system which balances civil and political rights such as the freedom of expression and opinion and the wider needs of such society.”

She listed several recent events in Malaysia which make much of above untrue; she urged all present to hold the government to the expressed ideals and to provide feedback to elected representatives that if they don’t hold to the ideals, they will lose votes. She added that she was very proud of the role Malaysia has gained in the UN, and of our exemplary contribution to international peace-keeping.

She credited Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for pushing through the Peaceful Assembly Act, though many agitated against it. She noted that now peaceful protests are even facilitated by the police, and that the Prime Minister’s decision has been vindicated.

Due to many questions from the floor, the meeting did not end till 11.10 pm – though and many stayed behind for photo opportunities.

The meeting ended on a high note thanks to an impromptu speech by MR RAJASINGHAM, Founder/President of Brickfields Asia College and sponsor of the event.

He said six of the ten action areas Ms McDonnough listed were on his personal list of goals. He emotively urged students to care for their neighbours, to ‘get along’, and to recognize that each person can set limits on how much power is exerted over him or her.

Overall, THREE KEY MESSAGES emerged.

Firstly, we must model at home what we want to model for the world.

Secondly, if we want to participate actively in the international arena, we must have a positive attitude towards criticism.

Thirdly, we should focus on becoming better, not on how similar or different we are than other nations.

Opening Address @ The Official Launch Of Human Rights Week 2014.

A joint commemoration of the 2014 International Human Rights Day by the United Nations Country Team of Malaysia and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, PROHAM and the Malaysian Bar Council.



Distinguished Guests, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure for me to be here today and to officiate the launch of Human Rights Week in conjunction with the celebration of the 2014 Human Rights Day. At the onset, let me congratulate the United Nations Country Team of Malaysia (UNCT), the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), PROHAM, as well as the Bar Council on the organisation of this meaningful programme. This is the first time I am officiating a Human Rights Day programme as the Minister in charge of Governance, Integrity and Human Rights, and I am delighted to join all of you in this commemoration.

I learnt that these activities resonate with this year’s theme for Human Rights Day namely “Human Rights 365” as promoted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). “Human Rights 365” signifies the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. This is to celebrate the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, and that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. It is an attitude each of us must have so that we give due respect to each other and promote peace and harmony.

I am pleased to see in your activity calendar that this year’s Human Rights Day is not just a one-day celebration.Instead, a number of events are being carried out throughout the week with the aim of enhancing awareness and understanding on human rights in Malaysia. They include, photo and art exhibitions, video competition, public forum, debate, as well as today’s Interfaith Panel Discussion which explores harmony in diversity from a human rights based approach.

Having said that, let us not forget the significance of 10th December, the date on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948,affirming its principles as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations”.

Malaysia, by virtue of being a member of the United Nations since 1957, has subscribed and is committed to uphold the human rights norms and standards enshrined in this Declaration. This can be observed in Part II of the Federal Constitution relating to the fundamental liberties of citizens, as well as other provisions which form the basis for the promotion and protection of human rights in Malaysia.

In addition to that, being a State Party to three core human rights treaties namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Malaysia has undertaken steps to implement its treaty obligations towards ensuring better the country’s compliance with the international human rights standards and norms.

Among the steps taken include, enactment of specific laws such as Child Act 2001 and Persons with Disabilities Act 2008,as well as review of domestic legislation, including the amendment to Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution in 2001 to ensure that there is no discrimination in any law against citizens on the grounds of gender. This amendment is consistent with Malaysia’s obligations under the CEDAW.

As the minister for human rights, I note the relative slow pace in which we have taken the lead, both in ASEAN and regionally, in adopting a higher standard by becoming a signatory to more human rights instruments. We have taken to the world stage by taking a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council and will chair ASEAN next year. To be leaders,we need to address this.

Malaysia’s commitment to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms of all people was also demonstrated through its follow-up steps to the recommendations underlined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (“Vienna Declaration”), a significant human rights document solemnly adopted by all UN Member States at the World Conference on Human Rights on 25th June 1993 in Vienna, Austria.

The government also recognises the important role of NGOs in the promotion and protection of human rights and supports a more inclusive policy of closer engagement with the NGOs as partners with the government. In many cases NGOs, with their special competence, can work with the government to resolve issues concerning violation of human rights and to implement sustainable solutions.

One of the major steps taken was the establishment of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) in 1999, an independent National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) mandated to promote and protect human rights of people in Malaysia. The Government recognises the vital role of SUHAKAM, and will continue to support the Commission to discharge its mandate and functions as a Paris Principles-compliant NHRI effectively.

As the minister for human rights, I encourage government agencies to directly and actively seek the views and inputs from SUHAKAM. SUHAKAM is not a NGO but a statutory body, established by Parliament to advocate and promote human rights in Malaysia for all Malaysians.They are not a puppet of the government nor are they in opposition to the government. They stand for human rights.

The second major step was the Government’s decision made in 2010 to develop Malaysia’s first National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), one of the key recommendations outlined in the Vienna Declaration for States to improve the promotion and protection of human rights through public policy. This important task is currently placed under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department in which the Legal Affairs Division of the PM’s Department (BHEUU) and my office are directly involved in.

I take note of the concern raised by some of you on the progress at which the NHRAP is being developed. Let me assure you that the Government treats the drafting of this Plan as a matter of priority and will continue to ensure meaningful participation of all stakeholders at all stages of the drafting process.

The Government is also committed to take a holistic and inclusive approach to human rights in the development of the Plan through the inclusion of sustainable policies related to economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights of all people within the country.

A key stakeholder to realise human rights is the police force and other enforcement agencies. Accordingly, we are working with them to empower their officers with the knowledge, skills and state-of-the-art equipment so that they may complete the transformation into a modern-day police force with modern-day values which necessarily includes human rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I conclude, allow me to turn to the theme for today’s Interfaith Panel Discussion:

“Harmony in Diversity: A Human Rights Approach”.

As a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-ethnic country, Malaysia takes full cognizance of the religious, social and cultural diversities of its communities. Together with the State, each of us should strive to ensure that the respect for social harmony is fully observed and protected. If I may quote Article 1 of the UDHR for a moment, “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”.

Recognition and appreciation of the religious, social and cultural diversities of the various communities in Malaysia would promote greater tolerance, respect and observance for human rights. It is incumbent on us to be guided by these principles in preserving social unity and harmony between different communities, groups, and faiths in our country.

Not only as a federal minister but as a father, and now grandfather to 2 and as a Malaysian, I read with dismay that there are those in our country who teach and propagate extreme beliefs and hatred against others who believe differently, and who encourage others to become irresponsible and choose the path of violence and the loss of personal dignity.

Whilst we may be tempted to cower in fear or react in anger, we must resist this. I believe that our country is great enough to withstand these extremists. I urge you all to join together as Malaysians to promote and preserve the dignity of one another, the liberty of one another, the equality of one another and the brotherhood of one another.

Let us be continuously inspired by the“1Malaysia” concept championed by our Honorable Prime Minister in 2009 and do our very best to preserve and enhance harmony in diversity towards building a country of ALL human rights for ALL.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Lastly, I would like to wish all of you a fruitful and successful discussion. Looking at the agenda, I am certain that today’s discussion will enable us to better understand harmony in diversity through the human rights lens. After all, the greatness of a nation is measured by how it treats its minorities.

It is now my pleasure to officially launch the 2014 Human Rights Week.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

2014 new low for PM, says Suaram's report

The year 2014 represents a new low for human rights in Malaysia under Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s administration.

This was stated by the Suaram’s 2014 Human Rights Overview of Malaysia, which was released today in conjunction with the International Human Rights Day today.

“The new low was characterized by the increased repression on freedom of expression, assembly and association, detention without trial back into business as usual, free falling of international rankings on trafficking of persons and worst country for migrant workers and epitomized by the prime minister’s infamous about-turn decision on his public promises to repeal the Sedition Act at the UMNO General Assembly," the report stated.

Worrying six trends

The report also said that there are six major trends developed in 2014 that are worrying and warrant immediate actions from the government and the general public to halt their development.

The six trends includehate speeches, the PM’s giving in to the right wing, detention without trial, non-cooperation of the police, repression of civil rights and abuse of power over migrants.

Focusing on the issues that caused various public uproars, Suaram highlighted the increase of racial and religious hate speeches by right wing groups such as Perkasa and Isma and the non-involvement of the Government to curb such speeches.

“Despite their incitement of hatred and violence, these non-state actors have enjoyed a free reign in threatening and intimidating other racial and religious minorities with almost total impunity under Najib’s administration.

“This is in stark contradiction to the moderation that has been preached by the prime minister at international high profile meetings,” Suaram noted in the report.

Chilling effect of draconian laws

It went on to point out that with Najib's bowing down to the will of the right wing groups, the draconian Sedition Act was arbitrarily invoked to investigate or charge, or convict 44 individuals on various issues this year alone.

“The chilling effects of the Sedition Act have harmed freedom of expression, which is crucial for a functioning democracy,” it said.

The third trend, Suaram said, saw the return of “detention without trial in full force”, replacing the abolished Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 with the Security Offences (Special Preventive Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) and the Prevention of Crime (Amendment) Act 2013 (POCA).

Thus, Suaram pointed out that “more injustice is expected to take place under detention without trial in the coming years”.

The human rights NGO added the fourth trend highlights the fact that the police refused to be transparent.

The report also alleged the police and the government were not keen on the establishment of the Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission.

They elaborated that the “institutional reform of the police force introduced under Najib’s administration has thus far failed to hold the police force accountable for corruption and abuse of power”.

Abuse of migrants

According to the Suaram’s, the fifth trend states the increasedattacks on the right to freedom of association of civil society and opposition parties.

The final trend in the report spoke about the terrible treatment of non-citizens in the country.

Malaysia was demotedto Tier 3 in the US State Department’s Annual “Trafficking in Persons” Report and its poor showing in the “Global Rights Index: The World’s Worst Countries for Workers,” where Malaysia was ranked alongside Laos, Cambodia, Qatar, North Korea, and Zimbabwe.

These six trends must be stopped and reversed, thus, Suaram calls for the government to put in place a National Human Rights Action Plan and carry out nation-wide human rights education program among other things.

Suaram also calls on the silent majority of fellow Malaysians to rise up and speak out against human rights violations.

“The silent majority cannot afford to sit idle anymore while watching the development of our beloved country being held ransom by a small group of extremists,” Suaram said in the report.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Launch of Human Rights Day and Public Discussion of Inter-religious Dialogue

By Rama Ramanathan (Proham Secretariat)

Over two hundred people attended the launch of the Human Rights Week in Malaysia today.

The office of the UN in Malaysia was the main organizer of the event, with Proham as one of four other organizers.

In her opening speech, Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Malaysia, reminded the audience of Malaysia’s membership of the UN and agreement with the fundamental principle that human rights are inherent to all humans, independent of nationality, race or gender.

The week was formally “launched” by Senator Datuk Paul Low, Minister for Governance and Integrity, after he delivered the keynote address.

After the event many participants repeated the sentence with which he concluded his address: the greatness of a nation is reflected in how it treats its minorities. Many also noted his stress on consultative government. He said the Cabinet is serious about engaging with Civil Society Organizations, and that we should expect changes in the way government engages with the populace.

The launch was followed by an interfaith panel discussion titled Harmony in Diversity: A Human Rights Based Approach.

Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), moderated the discussion. Members of four religious groups were on the panel. Each panellist was given five minutes to speak on the topic.

Dr Ayang Utriza who teaches at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, spoke for Muslims.

Dr Ayang said the primary purpose of interfaith dialogue is not to convert others, but to enrich others. He said inter faith dialogue is most successful when it builds respect rather than tears others down. He encouraged Malaysia, a country of many religions, to issue a Kuala Lumpur Message, to go beyond the already very laudable Amman Message of 2004 of which Malaysia is a signatory.

Most Revd Julian Leow, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur spoke for Catholics.

Revd Leow reiterated the teaching of Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul, and your neighbour as yourself. He said for Christians, the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas about love underpins interfaith dialogue: love is willing the good of another. He said the Catholic Church’s openness to dialogue should not be viewed with suspicion, since Vatican II’s momentous declaration just 50 years ago that Catholics are free to leave the church, even to reject God. He urged Malaysia to allow freedom of choice of religion.

Sister Barbara Yen Yoke Wah of the Buddhist Maha Vihara spoke for Buddhists.

She said that in interfaith dialogue a Buddhist strives to express respect for the other because of acceptance of this teaching of the Buddha: speaking badly against people is like throwing sand in the wind – it will come back and hurt the speaker. She said interfaith dialogue will be fruitful if it is based on the values of moral shame and moral fear, values which are common to all mankind. She said counting on the moral similarity of humans – and the difference with animals – will assure harmonious dialogue.

Professor Suresh Kumar, President of the Sathya Sai Baba Central Council of Malaysia and himself a Hindu, spoke for the non-religious Sai Baba movement.

He said harmony and mutual respect springs from a right choice of analogies for discussing religious beliefs. He recommended thinking of a garden: the flowers are many, but the garden is one; and thinking of the sky: the stars are many, but the sky is one. He urged people to focus less on discussing glorious truths, and more on celebrating and working together. He said good, kind and honest people should coalesce and even export inter-religious diversity.

There was a vigorous question and answer session. The most obvious question was the one which was least satisfactorily answered: why, in Muslim-majority Malaysia, is it necessary to bring in a speaker from Indonesia to speak for Muslims?

Datuk Saifuddin suggested that the discussion yielded three key thoughts. Firstly, the religious must interpret their religions in a progressive manner. Secondly, those who have religious convictions must strive to do social work together with those who have different religious convictions. Thirdly, we must have a governance framework to deal with those who cross boundaries and generate turmoil and ill-will.

The week will continue with a series of events including a discussion of what we should expect to change in Malaysia now that Malaysia is a member of the UN Security Council and a debate in response to the question “Can Law Safeguard Harmony in Diversity.” You can find out more by viewing the calendar of events for the week.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Human rights not 'western' notion, says Suhakam


Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today reminded the nation that human rights is a universal concept that applies to all, and is not merely a "western" concept.

In its message ahead of Human Rights Day this Wednesday, Suhakam chief Hasmy Agam stressed that every individual deserves the internationally accepted rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) document.

"On this Human Rights Day, the commission also wishes to dispel the notion that human rights  are western driven, and reiterates the universality concept of human rights as enshrined in the  Charter of the United Nations.

"Most importantly, human rights are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual," he said.

Hasmy reiterated that once ratified, the principles in the UDHR is binding on participating countries.

"Therefore the commission takes the view that, once ratified or acceded to, the legality or  applicability of international treaties should no longer be raised as an issue," he said.

Local pressure groups aligned to the ruling government have often raised objections to the application of human rights to marginal groups such as the gay and transgender community (LGBT) and to matters related to Islam.

In particular, the idea of according rights and protection to the margninalised LGBT community is usually blamed as a "western" idea and groups that have lobbied for such rights such as the coalition Comango have been demonised.

Hasmy elaborated, "The commission wishes to remind all concerned that although the UDHR is not a binding  instrument, it has nevertheless branched out to become conventions and legally binding treaties.

"The UDHR was proclaimed as a 'common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", towards which individuals and societies should 'strive by progressive measures,  national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance'.

"It is customary international law that upon ratification, the state is obligated by international  law to implement and comply with all of the provisions of the treaty, unless expressly reserved," he added.

He said this year's theme for the document adopted in 1948 is 'Human Rights 365'.

"This is to emphasise the notion that every day should be a human  rights day, and that human rights are inalienable entitlements of all," he said.

Group of prominent Malays calls for rational dialogue on position of Islam in Malaysia

Deeply concerned over developments regarding race relations, Islam and extremist behaviour in Malaysia, a group of 25 prominent Malays have called for a rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy.

"Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position," said Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, former Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands, in a statement on Sunday issued on behalf of the 25 signatories.
The statement (attached below) was signed by prominent personalities, including former secretaries-general, directors-general, ambassadors and prominent Malay individuals who have contributed much to Malaysian society.
Noor Farida, also former director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Research, Treaties and International Law Department, said she and the others "are deeply concerned about the state of the debate on many issues of conflict on the position and application of Islamic laws in Malaysia".
"It is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out. Extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name.
"Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position and urge for an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in Malaysia.
"Most importantly, we call on the Prime Minister to exercise his leadership and political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to these intractable problems that have been allowed to fester for too long.
"We also urge more moderate Malaysians to speak up and contribute to a better informed and rational public discussion on the place of Islamic laws within a constitutional democracy and the urgency to address the breakdown of federal-state division of powers and finding solutions to the heart-wrenching stories of lives and relationships damaged and put in limbo because of battles over turf and identity," she said.

Letter to the people of Malaysia: Champion open debate and discourse on Islamic law
We, a group of concerned citizens of Malaysia, would like to express how disturbed and deeply dismayed we are over the continuing unresolved disputes on the position and application of Islamic laws in this country. The on-going debate over these matters display a lack of clarity and understanding on the place of Islam within our Constitutional democracy. Moreover, they reflect a serious breakdown of federal-state division of powers, both in the areas of civil and criminal jurisdictions.
We refer specifically to the current situation where religious bodies seem to be asserting authority beyond their jurisdiction; where issuance of various fatwaviolate the Federal Constitution and breach the democratic and consultative process of shura; where the rise of supremacist NGOs accusing dissenting voices of being anti-Islam, anti-monarchy and anti-Malay has made attempts at rational discussion and conflict resolution difficult; and most importantly, where the use of the Sedition Act hangs as a constant threat to silence anyone with a contrary opinion.
These developments undermine Malaysia's commitment to democratic principles and rule of law, breed intolerance and bigotry, and have heightened anxieties over national peace and stability.
As moderate Muslims, we are particularly concerned with the statement issued by Minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, in response to the recent Court of Appeal judgement on the right of transgendered women to dress according to their identity. He viewed the right of the transgender community and Sisters in Islam (SIS) to seek legal redress as a "new wave of assault on Islam" and as an attempt to lead Muslims astray from their faith, and put religious institutions on trial in a secular court.
Such an inflammatory statement from a Federal Minister (and not for the first time) sends a public message that the Prime Minister's commitment to the path of moderation need not be taken seriously when a Cabinet minister can persistently undermine it.
These issues of concern we raise are of course difficult matters to address given the extreme politicisation of race and religion in this country. But we believe there is a real need for a consultative process that will bring together experts in various fields, including Islamic and Constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways.
We also believe the Prime Minister is best placed with the resources and authority to lead this consultative process. It is urgent that all Malaysians are invested in finding solutions to these long-standing areas of conflict that have led to the deterioration of race relations, eroded citizens' sense of safety and protection under the rule of law, and undermined stability.
There are many pressing issues affecting all of us that need the urgent leadership and vision of the Prime Minister, the support of his Cabinet and all moderate Malaysians. They include:
1) A plural legal system that has led to many areas of conflict and overlap between civil and syariah laws. In particular there is an urgent need to review the Syariah Criminal Offences (SCO) laws of Malaysia.
These laws, which turn all manner of "sins" into crimes against the state have led to confusion and dispute in both substance and implementation. They are in conflict with Islamic legal principles and constitute a violation of fundamental liberties and state intrusion into the private lives of citizens.
In 1999, the Cabinet directed the Attorney-General's Chambers to review the SCO laws. But to this day, they continue to be enforced with more injustices perpetrated. The public outrage, debates over issues of jurisdiction, judicial challenge, accusations of abuses committed, gender discrimination, and deaths and injuries caused in moral policing raids have eroded the credibility of the SCO laws, the law-making process, and public confidence that Islamic law could indeed bring about justice.
2) The lack of public awareness, even among top political leaders, on the legal jurisdiction and substantive limits of the powers of the religious authorities and administration of Islamic laws in Malaysia.
The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law enacted, including Islamic laws, cannot violate the Constitution, in particular the provisions on fundamental liberties, federal-state division of powers and legislative procedures.
All Acts, Enactments and subsidiary legislation, including fatwa, are bound by constitutional limits and are open to judicial review.
3) The need to ensure the right of citizens to debate the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in this country. The Islamic laws of Malaysia are drafted by the executive arm of government and enacted in the legislative bodies by human beings. Their source may be divine, but the enacted laws are not divine. They are human-made and therefore fallible, open to debate and challenge to ensure that justice is upheld.
4) The need to promote awareness of the rich diversity of interpretive texts and juristic opinions in the Islamic tradition. This includes conceptual legal tools that exist in the tradition that enable reform to take place and the principles of equality and justice to be upheld, in particular in response to the changing demands, role and status of women in the family and community.
5) The need for the Prime Minister to assert his personal leadership as well as appoint key leaders who will, in all fairness, champion open and coherent debate and discourse on the administration of Islamic laws in this country to ensure that justice is done. We especially urge that the leadership sends a clear signal that rational and informed debate on Islamic laws in Malaysia and how they are codified and implemented are not regarded as an insult to Islam or to the religious authorities.
These issues may seem complex to many, but at the end of the day, it really boils down to this - as Muslims, we want Islamic law, even more than civil law, to meet the highest standards of justice precisely because it claims to reflect divine justice. Therefore, those who act in the name of Islam through the administration of Islamic law must bear the responsibility of demonstrating that justice is done and is seen to be done.
When Islam was revealed to our Prophet (SAW) in 7th century Arabia, it was astoundingly revolutionary and progressive. Over the centuries, the religion has guided believers through harsh and challenging times. It is our fervent belief that for Islam to continue to be relevant and universal in our times, the understanding, codification and implementation of the teachings of our faith must continue to evolve. Only with this, can justice, as enjoined by Allah SWT, prevail.
1. Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Rahim Haji Din, former Secretary-General, Home Affairs Ministry
2. Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, former Secretary-General, Foreign Affairs Ministry
3. Tan Sri Dr Aris Othman, former Secretary-General, Finance Ministry
4. Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican; former Director-General, Health Ministry
5. Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, former Secretary-General, Finance Ministry
6. Tan Sri Dr Mustaffa Babjee, former Director-General, Veterinary Services Department
7. Tan Sri Nuraizah Abdul Hamid, former Secretary-General, Energy, Communications and Multimedia Ministry
8. Tan Sri Dr Yahya Awang, cardiothoracic surgeon and core founder, National Heart Institute
9. Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail, former Court of Appeal Judge
10. Datuk' Abdul Kadir Mohd Deen, former Ambassador
11. Datuk Anwar Fazal, former senior regional advisor, United Nations Development Programme
12. Datuk Dali Mahmud Hashim, former ambassador
13. Datuk Emam Mohd Haniff Mohd Hussein, former ambassador
14. Datuk Faridah Khalid, representative of Women's Voice
15. Datuk Latifah Merican Cheong, former Assistant Governor, Bank Negara
16. Lt Gen (Rtd) Datuk Maulob Maamin, Lieutenant General (Rtd)
17. Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, former ambassador
18. Datuk Ranita Hussein, former Suhakam Commissioner
19. Datuk Redzuan Kushairi, former ambassador
20. Datuk Dr Sharom Ahmat, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Universiti Sains Malaysia
21. Datuk Syed Arif Fadhillah, former ambassador
22. Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, former Director-General, Malaysian Timber Industry Board
23. Datuk Zainuddin Bahari, former Deputy Secretary-General, Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry
24. Datin Halimah Mohd Said, former lecturer, Universiti Malaya and President, Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE)
25. Puan Hendon Mohamad, Past President, Malaysian Bar


Datuk Saifuddin & Dr Jun

Malaysian Network for Community Economy including GMM & COMMACT Malaysia hosted a discussion on Dec 5, 2014 on the theme of fostering a people economy.

The discussion was moderated by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (Chairperson of the network) and input from resources persons like Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Dr Hezri Adnan, Dr June-E Tan, Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid and Dr Lin Mui Kiang.

The discussion recognised that Prime Minister Najib in his 2015 Budget Speech has rightly highlighted a dual approach for economic management namely” a capital economy” and “a people economy”. There is therefore a need to foster a clearer understanding of the people economy and note its potential and implications at the national, Asean and global levels for sustainable development and overall improvement in the lives of ordinary people.

Contemporary Analysis

We noted that the public policy thrust was towards big business and growing the economy from a very strong market oriented growth with equity. While this approach has addressed poverty reduction, it has however resulted in increased inequalities within and among the various communities in Malaysia. The current levels of inequality and the issues faced by the poor especially low income families is effecting their capacity and capability to enjoy a better quality of life in Malaysian society. We note that there are many structural issues which need addressing and therefore a micro and individual project approach will not resolve the current issues faced by the grassroots.

We understood that our development policies and approaches have not given adequate emphasis on sustainable development especially in the way we have managed our environment and natural resources. The impact of these are revealed in disasters as in Cameron Highlands, Tasik Chini and the unsustainable use of the forest resources which has also impacted the Orang Asli and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak especially those forest based communities.
Dr Hezri (ISIS)

We recognised that the many initiatives by the Federal, State and local governments in addressing socio-economic development of the bottom 40%, however many of these have not built a self-reliant and resilient community but a ‘subsidy driven-dependent society’ which is impacting their ability to compete in the open market.

We also recognised that many of the development initiatives such as micro credit has not enabled the poor and low income families to graduate from subsided loans into commercial financial institutions. We also noted that there were high rates of defaults and non-performing loans which has disempowered micro and informal business. We were told that the poor and low income were playing higher interest rates for micro loans and hire purchase due to the longer repayment rates. Furthermore higher personal income tax as compared to higher income groups in terms of assets taxes (property & shares).

We noted that there is a sizable social economy sector which has not been adequately recognised especially the transactions made and the social contributions of micro finance institutions, cooperative based businesses, informal sector, income generating projects of the voluntary sector (recycling), private sector driven CSR income generating initiatives, and alternative financial initiatives such as Ar Rahnu or Islamic pawn broking is now popular among all communities.

We recognise young people are tapping the potential of social enterprises and social entrepreneurship projects in developing business solutions in addressing social, environmental and community problems in a sustainable way. This needs to be encouraged and developed further.

We noted the potential at the grassroots based on the thesis of ‘wealth at the bottom of the pyramid’. We need to build on this potential especially the good and services needed at this level to tap into the potential for local markets and small town developments.

We recognise the need to foster a stronger community, solidarity or collective oriented approaches which is bottom up in addressing social, environmental and economic development.

There is a need to develop empowering approaches which builds self-reliance and self-help through government intervention and policies in fostering people centred development.

Global policy towards Sustainable Development Goals

We reviewed briefly a number of global discussions and documents leading to 2015 and beyond.
We noted the thrust of the Rio+20 document entitled “The Future we Want” (June 2012), The New Global Partnership document (May 2013, report of the High level panel), the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals (July 2014) and the UN Secretary General’s Synthesis Report (Dec 2014) entitled “The Road to Dignity by 2030”

In all these documents there is a stronger call towards a sustainable development framework which adopts a human rights approach to development and which gives adequate emphasis towards economic, social and environmental concerns with a strong commitment for participation of people in governance through public participation in decision making.

Dr Muhamad, Andrew and Richrad

The proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets needs further study and application in the Malaysian and Asean context. These goals and targets moves beyond the MDGs and therefore provides an ideal policy framework for the development of a people economy in Malaysia.

We recognise that the UN established an Inter-Agency TaskForce on Social & Solidarity Economy (TFSSE) on Sept. 30, 2013. This is in the right step forward in recognising the potential of SSE in achieving sustainable development. This also enables Malaysia and other Asean countries to fully recognise the potential social economy in generating sustainable wealth and human wellbeing.

Specific Recommendations

We call on the Federal Government to establish a special Taskforce on Social Economy which will review all the current policies, programs, funding and initiatives and direct these towards an empowering and people centred approach which is sustainable. This can become the second generational policies and programmes in Malaysia in 2015 and beyond.

We call on the Federal Government to recognise this sector as a potential for growth and development in the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016 -2020) where there is a place for social, solidarity economy as a policy thrust and guiding principle for sustainable development.

We call on the Government of Malaysia to adopt a human rights approach for sustainable development with people and the environment at the heart of development including strengthening the institutional features for compliance, monitoring, impact assessment and implementation.

We call of the Prime Minister who is the Chair for ASEAN in 2015 to use his chair to promote a people economy through Social Solidarity Economy for Asean which will address the shortfalls and weakness of the current for profit and market oriented approaches towards justice and equity.

Jointly issued by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (Chairman), Prof Datuk Yusof Kassim (Vice Chairman) and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Secretary), Malaysian Network for Community Economy
Dec 7, 2014