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Halt Johor rehab centre for LGBT, religious minorities due to human rights concerns

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Justice for Sisters (JFS) calls for an immediate review of the Johor state government’s plans to establish a rehabilitation centre targeting LGBT people and individuals deemed “deviant” to Islamic teachings by July 2024. 

The 29 November statement by state Islamic religious affairs committee chairman Mohd Fared Mohd Khalid, indicating an allocation of RM400,000 for the establishment of this centre, raises serious concerns about the potential violation of human rights, including the rights to equality and non-discrimination, privacy and a life of dignity, free from torture.

“Detaining people on the grounds of changing their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression undeniably amounts to torture,” JFS co-founder thilaga s said.

Violation of Constitution

The establishment of the rehabilitation centre is enabled by the criminalisation of LGBT people in Malaysia. The criminalisation of LGBTQ people has a systemic impact on all areas of life, including increased vulnerability to further state-sponsored violence, including so-called rehabilitation.

However, it is important to note that the criminalisation and any form of effort to change the sexual orientation, gender identity and expression of LGBTQ people is a violation of human rights safeguarded under both the Federal Constitution and international human rights law.

The rehabilitation centre directly violates Article 5 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, which safeguards the personal liberty, privacy and dignity of all Malaysian citizens.

It also violates Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which safeguards equality before the law and prohibits discrimination based on gender.

In addition, the Federal Court in a constitutional review of Section 28 of the Selangor Sharia Criminal Offences Enactment, which criminalises sex against the order of nature, found the law unconstitutional on the grounds of lack of legislative competency. This decision applies to all similar state laws.

Therefore, all liwat (sodomy), sex against the order of nature and even musahaqah (sexual relations between women) state laws have no legal effect, although they remain in state Sharia enactments.

As such, arresting people under these laws and subjecting them to fines, imprisonment and state-mandated rehabilitation violates a range of provisions in the Federal Constitution, not limited to Part 2 of the Federal Constitution that safeguards our rights.

As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), Malaysia is required to ensure that there are no discriminatory laws or practices against women in all spheres. In 2018 the Cedaw Committee called Malaysia to not only amend all laws which discriminate against LGBTI women, including the provisions of the Penal Code and Sharia laws that criminalise same sex relations between women, but also discontinue measures which aim to ‘correct’ or ‘rehabilitate’ LGBTI persons.

More harm than good

Major global medical and human rights organisations have widely discredited and condemned conversion practices, recognising them as not only lacking any scientific basis but also as unethical and extremely harmful to the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals involved.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (Paho) are among the bodies that have called for a ban on conversion practices and for the media to expose them to promote respect for diversity.

“Based on our survey of LGBTQ people in Malaysia, these practices result in long-term severe impacts, including negatively impacting their mental health, dropping out of schools and suicidal ideation and attempts,” thilaga said.

JFS is concerned that these state-led efforts will further increase the trust deficit in public institutions, creating more barriers for LGBTI people’s access to redress and services such as healthcare, over concerns of being reported or sent to rehabilitation centres or subjected to other sexual orientation, gender identity and expression-change efforts.

A 2023 JFS et al survey involving 156 respondents found that as many as 66% (103) have faced pressure to change their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, while 10.9% (17) were offered sexual orientation, gender identity and expression-change efforts during their lifetime. Of these 17 respondents, 12 (70.6%) were assigned Islam at birth, while 11 (64.7%) identified as transgender or non-binary persons.

Suhakam’s research found that 18% of trans and intersex respondents reported that whilst accessing healthcare services, healthcare professionals have suggested religion or other forms of therapy to “cure” their gender identity. The same research also found that 15% of respondents were forcibly sent to mental health professionals for their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and 9% were forced to consult religious authorities.

Key recommendations

JFS strongly urges the Johor state government to halt its plans to establish the rehabilitation centre.

We also urge Suhakam, as the national human rights institution, to engage the Johor state government in a review of its plans given its severe human rights impact.

We also urge Sukaham to conduct a human rights impact assessment of rehabilitation centres and similar state-sponsored initiatives to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. – Justice for Sisters

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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