On the occasion of World Human Rights Day (10 December), Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) calls for greater respect, protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia.
Democracy and human rights
During the 2018 general election, Malaysians exercised their human rights to vote and choose their people’s representatives and governments. At the federal level, we saw the defeat of the previous Umno-led Barisan Nasional government, when the Pakatan Harapan coalition won 113 of the 222 parliamentary seats. PH-plus also emerged as the government of all states except for Pahang, Perlis and Sarawak.
After that, we saw a violation of the human rights of voters, when we saw many people’s representatives ‘hopping’ out of their parties, and some joining other parties.
Then, in early 2020, we saw one of the PH parties and several MPs of some PH parties abandoning the PH-plus government, to join and form a new government together with the ousted Umno-BN and others.
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This can be seen as a violation of the human rights of the people of Malaysia. The right of the people to choose their representatives and government was violated, simply because elected people’s representatives changed their position and party affiliation with no prior mandate from those who had voted for them.
Malaysia’s local government (or local council) elections, which existed, were suspended after the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation in 1964. This human and democratic right was not restored speedily, even after that.
The government opted to simply appoint their ‘chosen ones’ rather than allow the people to democratically elect their own local council.
The alternative Pakatan Harapan-plus government parties had been fighting for local council elections, but when they came into power, they too preferred political appointees rather that democratically elected persons.
The fundamental human right of the people to choose our representatives must be restored fully, and political appointments must end.
Right to elect community leaders and local councillors
Malaysians also are denied the human right to democratically elect and choose their kampong, village and local community leaders. Many think this happens only in Orang Asli communities, but there are no democratic elections in kampongs, kampong baru/new villages, tamans (residential areas) or other communities.
Local community leaders and local councillors continue to be political appointees chosen by the state and federal governments in power.
Every person has a human right to participate in government, to be consulted and to even object to some projects, logging activities and proposed development.
This human right is now denied or ‘stolen’ by political appointees who claim that they represent the people, when in fact, they are not chosen and democratically elected by the people.
These politically appointed ‘community leaders’ and local councillors may be supporting or objecting with no mandate, prior knowledge or consultation with the people of the community – hence the ordinary people are deprived of the freedom of expression and opinion and the right to be represented and to participate in Malaysia, which claims to be a democracy.
Loss of right to be represented by a people’s representative
When the people’s elected representatives – MPs and state assembly members – elect to follow faithfully the orders of their party leaders in their expressions, actions and votes in the Dewan Rakyat, and not act in accordance with the voices and positions of the people, the people’s human rights in a democracy is again violated.
It is nonsense to believe that once elected, a people’s representative can do as he or she pleases without consultation or instructions from the people they represent.
Malaysians still do not have the right to remove an elected people’s representative who has lost the confidence of the majority in the constituency. This is a human right that Malaysians may claim – the right to remove elected representatives who change parties or betray the people.
Enact anti-Slapp laws
Malaysians’ human rights are also violated when the people’s and human rights defenders’ basic rights such as the freedom of expression and opinion are violated or denied by the use of threats, denial of public space and the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (Slapp).
Slapp lawsuits are intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
It is sad that in Malaysia it not just corporations and human rights violators that use Slapp lawsuits, but also some politicians who use defamation lawsuits to silence those who highlight alleged wrongdoings.
Such lawsuits are also often tools of the rich against the poor, who do not have the resources to fight lengthy, expensive battles in court – and this reality forces many to give up the struggle for human rights.
Malaysia sadly still not does not have anti-Slapp laws to ensure that those who speak up and struggle for human rights are not silenced by such Slapp lawsuits.
There is a need for the enactment of anti-Slapp laws, and the courts must review the cost and damages it awards, taking into consideration that high amounts effectively discriminate against the poor, which will lead also to their sacrificing their right to defend and protect human rights.
Media must bravely promote and defend human rights
Some journalists and several media agents have found themselves in the past victims of Slapp lawsuits by corporations and others, and the consequence is detrimental to human rights and human rights defenders, especially the poor and those with limited financial resources.
The voices of the ordinary people and community human rights defenders are not highlighted or published. The media fear and reluctance is possibly due to their fear of Slapp lawsuits by corporations, the rich and others.
For the sake of human rights, journalists and media must once again be brave and willing to provide space and highlight the voices of human rights defenders, not just politicians and celebrities. Media should also, without fear or favour, uphold the cause of human rights and justice.
Protect human rights defenders
Malaysians who struggle against human rights violations are at risk. They also find themselves sometimes victims of police and legal enforcement bodies, sometimes acting at the behest of human rights violators or their friends. This must end, and law enforcement officers must practise justice and avoid being used by (potential or otherwise) human rights violators, who may even use corruption or political influence.
The use of threats, violence and fear against ordinary human rights defenders, including workers, must end.
We recall the murder of environmental and native customary rights human rights defender Bill Kayong, who was murdered in 2016, and others who find themselves victims of enforced disappearance.
Even though we may not agree with the opinions and expressions of some, we must never forget that everyone has the human right to freely express themselves, voice their opinions and exercise the right to peaceful assembly.
Right to peaceful assembly still stifled
The right to peaceful assembly is still hindered by draconian legal requirements. It was disappointing that the previous PH-plus government failed to restore this right to us in Malaysia.
What the PH-plus government did was basically reduce the requirement for notice to the police from 10 days to five days, but it failed to remove all the other hurdles that make it impossible for ordinary people to exercise this right, including the need to get consent from the authorities to use public spaces.
We deplore the fact that Malaysia again in 2020 failed to table and debate in Parliament the Malaysian human rights commission (Suhakam) report, and this indicates the level of commitment the Malaysian government has for human rights in Malaysia.
One must acknowledge that peaceful assemblies often take place not because any one person or organisation organised it but simply because people come together to protest as happened during the Reformasi protests in 1998, which happened every Saturday for several weeks.
Madpet calls for the full human rights in a true democracy to become a reality in Malaysia. End political appointments, in favour of democratically elected people’s representatives at governments at all levels.
Madpet urges Malaysia to respect and promote human rights and to protect human rights defenders. Ensure that violators do not use law enforcement mechanisms to curtail the struggle for human rights.
Madpet calls for the enactment of anti-Slapp laws to prevent the use of the courts as a means of hindering or curtailing human rights defenders.
Madpet calls for more Malaysians to abandon fear and to bravely stand up and become human rights defenders, fighting not just for their own rights but for the rights of others.