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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Sustainable Development Goals & Human Rights: Can One Exists Without One Another?

By H E N R Y KOH (Intern with United Nations Human Rights, Asia Pacific, Bangkok office – Since 2015) 

*A perspective focusing on the UN’s latest SDG goals and how the goals can be achieved by strengthening human rights structures/institutions

- Human rights are essential to achieve sustainable development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) served as a proxy for certain economic and social rights but ignored other important human rights linkages. By contrast, human rights principles and standards are now strongly reflected in an ambitious new global development framework, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- The new Agenda  that was presented during the 2015 UN General Assembly covers a broad set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 167 targets and will serve as the overall framework to guide global and national development action for the next 15 years.
-The SDGs are the result of the most consultative and inclusive process in the history of the United Nations. Grounded in international human rights law, the agenda offers critical opportunities to further advance the realization of human rights for all people everywhere, without discrimination.

Relation between the SDGs & Human Rights:
1. The new agenda is guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including full respect for international law; grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. It is informed by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development.

2. Taking a look at some of the 17 SDGs (human rights issues at stake):

·         Achieve gender equality and empower all women. End harmful practices to girls at a young age such as forced early marriage and female genital mutilation.
·         Ending poverty & hunger
·         Ensuring healthy lives for all age groups. By 2030, the World Health Organization aims to end the epidemic of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria
·         Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
·         Reduce inequality within and among countries
·         Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

3. The SGDs resolution agenda is a universal agenda. This means it is applicable to all state members, including Malaysia. Looking back at the highlights of the SDGs mentioned earlier, they are difficult to be implemented without a sustainable and effective human rights mechanism in every nation. This includes a well-structured and vocal National Human Rights Institution, active NGOs, CSOs and human rights defenders. Eg: COMANGO can be a good and strong coalition body for all rights groups.

4. State government’s participation and the granting of adequate autonomy to the various human rights institutions and defenders are important to allow them to have the access to monitor without fear. Human rights institution works like ‘watch-dog’ and inquiry body over any human rights violations. However, certain laws curtailing freedom of expression make it hard for these institutions to fully carry out their duties and mandates.

5. When human rights institutions have limited access on what they cannot interfere, it is most likely to affect the monitoring process of the progress of the SDGs. In aiming to reach the goals within the desired period, in the context of UN’s SDGs resolution agenda; year 2030, an active and progressive network of rights groups or institutions across one’s nation is definitely vital.

6. Among the SGDs that were highlighted earlier, all of them are linked back to basic human rights, which are unfortunately neglected or violated even in this age that we are living in. To achieve that, it will depend on the creation of a strong ‘follow-up and review’ framework to ensure that SDG commitments are met. The follow up and review architecture, at national, regional and global levels should be universal, participatory, and transparent. It must ensure accountability of all relevant actors including the private sector, and track that ‘no one is being left behind’ by monitoring progress with data fully disaggregated by population groups. The framework should be evidence based, on the basis of a data revolution underpinned by human rights.

7. A good mechanism that the UN has been using to ensure a global participation among its member states towards making the SDGs(which are deeply rooted with human rights issues) is the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review(UPR). The UPR takes place every 5 years(for example Malaysia’s latest UPR was in 2013 and the upcoming review in 2018). The objectives of the UPR are to assess progress and constraints in implementation on the basis of constructive dialogue among the UN and state members. The global country review process will also be important in providing a unique opportunity to discuss global “means of implementation” commitments.

8. The national reviews of SDG progress should also integrate reports and recommendations from the existing human rights review processes in which States already participate. They should incorporate information from existing national mechanisms for oversight and review on matters related to the SDGs, including the parliament or other legitimate decision-making body, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and standing national reporting and coordination mechanisms for human rights. At a national level, the role of rights groups could make a great impact towards a good UPR, which directly goes hand in hand with having a progressive level of human rights in a particular nation. We have to always remember the wise words of Gandhi that is known to many of us, “change begins with oneself”. This notion has so much truth in it. A turning point or good revolution in a nation’s human rights development depends on the mindset of the people. What we do and what will we encourage others to do could change to bring a positive resolution process of the SDGs which will eventually improve the human rights issues that are still plaguing one’s nation.

**Human rights can continue to exist without the SDGs, but the SDGs cannot exist without human rights principles.

Views shared at the Proham Human Rights Day Speech contest among law students where Hery shared his views prior to the start of the contest. Dec 8, 2015 at BAC-PJ Campus

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Malaysia must protest against Brunei Criminalising the Celebration of Christmas and Non-Muslim Festivals

We, the undersigned Malaysian civil society groups, call upon the Brunei Government to lift its criminalisation of Christmas and other non-Muslim religious celebrations, with the proviso that offenders may be jailed up to five years for observing such celebrations.

We urge the Federal Government of Malaysia and the State Governments of Sabah and Sarawak to register their strongest protest and grave concern to the Brunei Government on the following grounds:

1. Such criminalisation is an outright violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which not only guarantees freedom of religion but also the freedom to teach, practice, worship and observe one’s religion in public or private sphere. Celebration of a faith is not proselytising it to the followers of other faiths. Such unwarranted religious repression should not be tolerated by the ASEAN countries. If Malaysia gives passive consent to such religious persecution of non-Muslims under the flimsy pretext of respecting national sovereignty, then Malaysia forfeits the moral high ground to speak up against similar religious repression of Muslims elsewhere in the world.

2. Such criminalisation severely affects the inalienable rights of citizens of Malaysia working, residing or travelling in Brunei, including a significant number of Sabahans & Sarawakians, due to the geographical proximity and close economic ties. Such criminalisation is definitely hostile and offensive to Malaysia, especially Sabah and Sarawak, Brunei’s closest neighbours. Until the criminalisation is lifted, the Malaysian High Commission must be prepared to provide legal and political support for all Malaysians prosecuted for exercising their religious freedom. 

3. Such criminalisation goes against the declared tenets of Islam proclaiming Islam's upholding of tolerance and respect for religious freedom. Instead of enhancing the image of Islam, it will only fuel Islamophobia and aid anti-Islam politicians in Europe and the United States in portraying Islam as a religion of intolerance and repression. Brunei should instead show the world that Islam stands for inclusivity and justice and fairness is what Islam is all about. 

Background to the criminalisation of non-Muslim celebrations: While the latest statement by the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) made clear that those sending festive greetings or wearing Santa hats may be punished with punishment up to five years imprisonment, the ban itself started earlier and covers all non-Muslim religious celebrations.

After ordering several business outlets to remove Christmas decorations, MoRA issued a statement on 27 December 2014 which stated that the public celebration of non-Muslim festivals constitute “propagations of religions other than Islam,” which is not permitted in a state governed by Shariah. On January 2015, MoRA confirmed that future public celebrations of Christmas are banned, while private celebrations are off-limits to Muslims. 

In keeping with this ruling, in February 2015, the authorities in Brunei also forbade public celebration of Chinese New Year and limited the lion dance troupe performances  to just  three days, and restricted the performance to temples, school halls and residences of Chinese association members.

This statement is endorsed by the following civil society organisations:

1.      Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (WargaAMAN)
2.      Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM)
3.      Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM)
4.      ENGAGE
5.      Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation (PRIMA)
6.      Gerakan Reformasi Anak Muda Sarawak (GERAK)
7.      Institute for Development of Alternative Living (IDEAL)
8.      Komuniti Muslim Universal(KMU)
9.      Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
10.  LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
11.  Malaysian Indians Transformation Action Team (MITRA)
12.  Malaysian Indians Progressive Association (MIPAS)
13.  Malaysian Youth Care Association (PRIHATIN)
14.  Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET)
15.  Malaysia Youth & Students Democratic Movement (DEMA)
16.  National Indian Rights Action Team ( NIAT )
17.  Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
18.  Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI)
19.  Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN)
20.  Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
21.  Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Malaysia (PROHAM)
22.  Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (RAPAT)
23.  Peoples Service Organization (PSO)
24.  Projek Dialog
25.  Rise of Sarawak Efforts (R.O.S.E.)
26.  Sabah Women's Action-Resources Group (SAWO)
27.  Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA HQ)
28.  Sisters in Islam (SIS)
29.  Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
30.  Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)


Thursday, 17 December 2015

Threat of Sexual Assault: Civil Society in solidarity with Datuk Noor Farida and G25

We, the following civil society organisations, condemn the efforts
 made to coerce and silence the group of prominent Malays known collectively as G25. 

Especially disgusting and obnoxious is the threat of sexual assault made against the group spokesperson, Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin by a Facebook user named Sharul Nizam Ab Rahim following her statement on the issue of khalwat laws during the G25 press conference on  December 6, 2015. He has since claimed unconvincingly that it was meant as sarcasm, and that it was his human right to do so.

Since its establishment, G25 has through its press releases, participation in public forums and in other ways provided important feedback to the government and public on a wide range of governance issues that are critical and crucial to the preservation of our democratic way of life. 
Its focus on the role of religion in a modern society is an integral part of its mission which is to work towards making Malaysia a model for the world as a moderate, harmonious and progressive Islamic multicultural democracy and beacon of tolerance. We are in complete solidarity with G25's mission. 
Not only are we coming from different parts of Malaysia and representing many sectors of civil society but we believe the larger Malaysian public values and respects voice of reason and rationality on national issues such as G25 and others.
We call on everyone to engage in a civil, temperate and rational dialogue and to put forth your views politely and civilly. That will serve our nation better than calls for a ban on G25 or threats of violence against their members.

We also call on the authorities and leaders of the ruling coalition parties to speak out and act against threats to G25. It is important that they protect the freedom of expression of all civil society organizations, and not just those that work in their political interests.

This statement is endorsed by the following civil society organisations:
1.      All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
2.      Anak Muda Sarawak  (AMS) 
3.      Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (WargaAman) 
4.      Bersih 2.0
5.      Council of Churches Malaysia CCM
6.      ENGAGE
7.      Friends of Kota Damansara
8.        G40
9.        Institut Rakyat
10.    Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) 
11.    Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JOAS) 
12.    Jawatankuasa Bertindak Kuala Lumpur Tak Nak Insinerator (KTI) 
13.     LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG) 
14.     Komuniti Muslim Universal Malaysia (KMU)
15.     Majlis Perundingan Malaysian Agama Buddha, Kritisian,Hindu, Sikh dan Tao (MCC BCHST) 
16.     Malaysian Indians Progressive Association (MIPAS) 
17.     Malaysian Indians Transformation Action Team (MITRA)
18.     Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility (MPSR) 
19.     Malaysian Youth Care Association (PRIHATIN)
20.     National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) 
21.     National Indian Rights Action Team (NIAT) 
22.     Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI) 
23.     People Welfare And Rights Organisation (POWER)
24.     Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN) 
25.     Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER) 
26.     Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS) 
27.     Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia (PROHAM) 
28.     Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (RAPAT)
29.     Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia(IKRAM)
30.     Projek Dialog (PD) 
31.     Pusat KOMAS 
32.     Rainbow Genders Society 
33.     Sahabat Rakyat
34.     Save Rivers Sarawak
35.     Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM) 
36.     Sisters in Islam (SIS) 
37.     Street Voice
38.     Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) 
39.     Tamil Foundation Malaysia (TF) 
40.     Tamilar Action Force (TAF)
41.     Tenaganita Women’s Force
42.     The Federation & Alumni Associations Taiwan University, Malaysia (FAATUM) 
43.     The KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall 
44.     Tindak Malaysia
45.     United Chinese School Alumni AssocNs of Malaysia (UCSAAM) 
46.     Women's Centre for Change (WCC) 
47.     Women Development Organization of Malaysia, PJ Branch
48.     Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) 


Malaysian civil society organisations view with serious concern the National Security Council Bill 2015 (NSC Bill) that was rushed through Dewan Rakyat on 3rd December 2015.

This Bill has dire consequences for the people of Malaysia and
represents an unprecedented threat to what remains of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.

Why is there a need for such a sweeping piece of legislation especially since it was done in such haste, without any justification, publicity or consultation?

The tabling of this Bill represents an extremely dangerous step for Malaysia as it concentrates extraordinary powers within the hands of a single member of the Executive arm of Government. Mechanisms of check and balance normally found within parliamentary democracies are either absent or severely compromised in Malaysia.

No person or entity should have absolute and unfettered powers. Concentration of power leads to the temptation for abuse, particularly in times of political crisis. The NSC Bill represents a quantum leap towards a dictatorship and a military-police state.

The serious ramifications of this Bill call for further and extensive consideration by the Dewan Negara.  

The following are the immediate issues that are apparent:-

a)         The constitutionality of the NSC Bill in light of Article 150 of the Federal Constitution is highly questionable.  Article 150 specifically provides for the DYMM Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to issue a Proclamation of Emergency where there exists a “grave emergency” in the Federation.  The provisions of this Bill will create a separate mechanism under which the Prime Minister can effectively proclaim a “security area”.  The NSC Bill therefore effectively usurps the power of the DYMM Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, which will now be exercised by the Prime Minister even though the word “emergency” is not used in the Bill; [Clause 18]

b)         In relation to the military, the chain of command that DYMM Yang Di-Pertuan Agong shall be the Supreme Commander of the armed forces as provided for under Article 41 of the Federal Constitution has been ignored. Further, there has been no regard for Article 137 which provides for the Armed Forces Council, Article 150 for the proclamation of emergency, and the Armed Forces Act 1972;

c)         The Prime Minister is given unlimited power to declare an area anywhere in Malaysia a “security area” even though it does not amount to a real threat that justifies the involvement of the military;

d)         There are no checks and balances as the role of the other members of the NSC is merely advisory.  Parliament has no supervisory powers because under Clause 18(6), a declaration and any renewal is only laid before Parliament (not debated) with no specific time period as to when. Furthermore, the six months limitation on the declaration is an illusion as the Prime Minister may, without any consultation, extend the period of the declaration any number of times; [Clause 18]

e)         Malaysia has existing legislation to address national security issues. In addition, the government has brought in controversial legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (POTA), the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (with substantial amendments in 2014) and the 2012 amendments to the Penal Code that added numerous vague offences against the state including “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”;

f)          The entire legislation is open ended and vague in many of its key definitions, and tremendous scope is given to the NSC to determine what constitutes a security issue.  Of particular concern is Clause 18(1) of the NSC Bill and the low and arbitrary threshold for the Prime Minister to declare a “security area”. Some of these phrases include “seriously disturbed or threatened by any person”, “likely to cause serious harm,” “to the territories, economy, national key infrastructure of Malaysia or any other interest” and “interest of national security”; [Clauses 4 and 18]

g)         A declaration of a “security area” allows authorities arbitrary powers of use of violence and deadly force, warrantless arrest, search and seizure, and imposition of curfews. It also empowers them to take possession of land, buildings and moveable property, and to destroy any unoccupied building or structure within a security area; [Clauses 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34 and 42]

h)         There will be impunity as the NSC Bill allows dispensation with inquests of members of security forces and persons killed within the security area as long as the magistrate is satisfied that the person has been killed in the security area as a result of operations undertaken by the security forces; [Clause 35]

i)          The Bill allows the NSC to compel Government Entities to report to it, and to furnish information to it.  This would allow the NSC to override a State Government’s authority; [Clause 17]

j)          The Bill allows the NSC to act as a super intelligence gathering entity as it compels the military, police and other agencies to provide their independently gathered intelligence; [Clause 17]

k)         Protection for members of the NSC, its committees, personnel and security forces from any civil and criminal proceedings (unless done in bad faith) coupled with the obligation of secrecy under the Bill, renders them completely unaccountable for their actions. [Clauses 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41]

Assurances that the legislation will not be abused give little comfort. This is because the authorities have used the harsh pre-trial detention powers provided under SOSMA despite similar assurances. For example, Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang were detained and charged for “attempted sabotage” and tried under SOSMA.

The NSC Bill is clearly unconstitutional and a grave abuse of power. Malaysia does not need such a Bill as this is nothing more than an attempt by the Prime Minister to usurp more power and centralise that power in him. This goes against all principles of democracy and undermines the rule of law in the country. It will change Malaysia forever.

We, the undersigned civil society organisations therefore call upon all members of Dewan Negara to do their duty by the rakyat, DYMM Yang Di-Pertuan Agong
and the Federal Constitution and oppose the NSC Bill.


The #TakNakDiktator Campaign Coalition

1.      Amnesty International Malaysia
2.      BERSIH
3.      Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
4.      National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
5.      Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (IKRAM)
6.      Institut Rakyat
7.      Lawyers for Liberty
8.      Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Malaysia (PROHAM)
9.      Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)