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Stand up for human rights!

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The Malaysian Bar commemorates Human Rights Day on 10 December occasion by hoping to mobilise the political will of the government.

We celebrate Human Rights Day every year on 10 December. It is a day that commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly.

The theme of this year’s Human Rights Day is “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights”, in correlation with the Covid pandemic. It is an opportunity for us to reaffirm the importance of human rights in rebuilding a nation severely affected by the disease.

The Malaysian Bar commemorates this occasion by hoping to mobilise the political will of the government and would like to take a firm stand on some matters of concern:

1. The Malaysian Bar calls on the government to legally recognise and protect customary lands, territories and resources that are inhabited and enjoyed by the natives of the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia. We firmly stand by the native communities of our country.

2. Malaysia hosts more than two million migrant workers, and we urge the government to accede to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990 and entered into force in 2003, as a way to provide a basis for stronger laws and enforcement mechanisms when it comes to the protection of migrant workers. Many of them are vulnerable and easily exploited.

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3. The Malaysian Bar asks that the government make known the findings of the royal commission of inquiry into the mass graves pertaining to human trafficking at Wang Kelian, Perlis. The outcome of this investigation needs to be made public and action must be taken to bring the responsible parties to justice.

4. We urge the government to consider abolishing all laws that impede upon the freedom of speech of its citizens as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. We once again call for the abolition or amendment of all draconian laws that substantially erode the rights of an accused to a fair trial and deprive them of their fundamental liberties. The government should also consider imposing a moratorium on these draconian laws pending abolition. In the same vein, the Malaysian Bar also reiterates its clarion call to abolish the death penalty without further delay.

5. The Malaysian Bar had submitted a Racial and Religious Hate Crime Bill to the then Committee on Institutional Reforms in June 2018, requesting for fundamental institutional reforms. The Malaysian Bar reiterates its clarion call for the bill to be passed into law. Our country’s legislation needs to criminalise hate speech and hate crimes in order to create a more harmonious society. A balance needs to be struck between freedom of speech and preserving the peaceful fabric of our society.

6. The year 2020 has been marked by several cases of river and reservoir pollution that made headlines in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. These man-made calamities have resulted in hardship to the vast majority of residents due to the constant water cuts. The Malaysian Bar calls on the government to take immediate and constructive action to ensure the effective enforcement of environmental laws in curbing the illegal activities that contribute to the adverse and irreversible effects on the environment, as well as the health and safety of all beings.

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7. As can be seen, human rights-related issues are still rife in Malaysia and much needs to be done to alleviate the systemic problems still present in our society. The Malaysian Bar is concerned that the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam’s) 2019 annual report was not debated in Parliament this year. We take the view that Suhakam’s annual report is important as it provides recommendations on the rights of vulnerable communities in our country. We sincerely hope that the report will be tabled and debated during future Parliamentary sittings to find viable solutions for any concerns raised in relation to matters of human rights.

8. On the international front, the Malaysian Bar has always been a firm supporter of our accession to international human rights instruments as well as their optional protocols. We will continue to advocate our country’s accession and ratification to these instruments as it is important to establish a benchmark for the protection of human rights.

Salim Bashir is president of the Malaysian Bar

This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.

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