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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Capacity Building for UPR Monitoring

Mr Henry Koh (Proham volunteer, PROHAM Secretariat) highlights some aspects of the recently organised training focusing on ESCR issues

On 11 August 2015, PROHAM & EMPOWER organized a training on Universal Periodic Review (UPR) monitoring at Brickfields Asia College PJ Campus.

As the civil society plays a pivotal role during the UPR process, this training was designed for members of civil society, human rights defenders and volunteers who want to play a role in monitoring human rights issues and concerns in Malaysia. The training focused on the capacity building of civil society organisations (CSOs) in documentation of human rights conditions/violations in Malaysia for the next cycle of UPR in 2018. This session is specifically focused on the theme of Economic and Socio-Cultural Rights (ESCR) frameworks.

More than 50 participants joined us for the training – made up of CSOs of diverse rights groups, members of the Malaysian Bar Council, Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (COMANGO), human rights defenders, lawyers, researchers and law students. Among our participants, some of them have already previously worked on the UPR submissions and monitoring/documentation process; while some younger organisations would like to benefit from the training in order to play an active role in the upcoming UPR cycle of Malaysia.

The first session started off with Dr. Lin Mui Kiang (UN Consultant and PROHAM Secretariat) explaining the formation of the UPR process. 

Dr. Lin gave an introduction on the history of the UN, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International human rights mechanism and conventions that subsequently led to the creation of the UPR; under the direction of the new Human Rights Council back in 2006. It was also noted that Malaysia’s ranking is low among member states in ASEAN, OIC, NAM, UN and the Commonwealth Nations. Out of 9 international human rights covenants/conventions, Malaysia is only a signatory of 3 conventions; such as CEDAW, Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Dr. Lin continued to explain on the interdependency between sustainable development and human rights. Thus, the UPR was established when the Human Rights Council was created in 2006 during the UN General Assembly. The UN Human Rights Council was mandated to undertake a universal periodic review, based on objectives obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all member states.

For the very first time, the UN Human Rights Council provides an opportunity for all States to declare actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights through the UPR process. The UPR mechanism provides a platform for the sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. In this regard, the monitoring of CSOs and grass-root NGOs on reporting what is the actual human rights situation on the ground is extremely important in the submission of the national report during the review. Hence, it is crucial for Malaysian CSOs to be fully equipped with a working knowledge of UPR monitoring and submissions.

The advocacy and documentation officer of EMPOWER, Mr. Rizal Rohan then continued on the second session on the dissemination of Malaysia’s past UPR process and reports. 

As a co-secretariat of COMANGO along with SUARAM, EMPOWER have been actively involved in producing stakeholder reports, UN submissions as well as the mid-term review report on for the upcoming UPR in 2018. The participants were briefed on the methodologies on documenting the human rights situation according to the UPR format. In the process of doing so, Rizal explained on how can the key actors intervene better during the UPR monitoring process. He also stressed on the importance of not neglecting the implementation process after the review because that will be the appropriate period where changes are made in the states under review. For example, sometimes the CSOs focused too much on the review but neglected the implementation process.

Rizal further illustrated his points by referring to the current mid-term report prepared by COMANGO (with EMPOWER and SUARAM). It is also noted that some cases were thrown out due to technical issues. Furthermore, while the government is a signatory of certain international rights conventions such as CEDAW, there has been no tangible signs of commitment on behalf of the government in implementing those conventions so far. Rizal also encouraged the participants and local NGOs who have not joined COMANGO to do so in forming a stronger and unified human rights coalition during and after the UPR process. COMANGO will then prioritize issues at higher stake and group them together before moving on to build a good strategy in addressing them.

During the third session, Datuk Dr. Denison Jayasooria provided his expertise on the specifics aspects of ESCR monitoring. Dr. Denison gave a good insight on the technicalities of monitoring ESCR issues through his extensive academic researches, publications and practical experiences in doing so. He has interviewed many different parties involved or affected by the inequalities of ESCR issues throughout Malaysia. 

He further illustrated how certain sustainable programmes are affected when a state funded programme such as BR1M interrupted the funds meant for better ESCR sustainability programmes. Such a contrasting situation does not allow the symbiotic relationship between tackling ESCR issues and the sustainability in doing so – resulting in a non-reliable mechanism in the long run. Dr. Denison also encouraged certain NGO groups not to be disheartened when recommendations made were not accepted  as there are other avenues to be used as an entry point to slowly address and champion for the human rights matters that are being ignored at the moment.

In the closing for the training session, 

Datuk Khutubul Zaman delivered his speech on the reflection of the current human rights situation in Malaysia. 

He further encouraged the participants to continue to play a proactive role in safeguarding the equality and human rights for everyone in this nation. 

With the training session, all participants hope to work toward a more affective human rights monitoring mechanism through the UPR process and implementation.

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