Home Web Specials 2009 Web Specials Malaysia’s first UPR: Too much praise, too little progress

Malaysia’s first UPR: Too much praise, too little progress

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The NGO section during the inaugural review in Geneva

The inaugural annual review of Malaysia’s human rights performance, held in Geneva, was extremely disappointing, say Malaysian activists. While acknowledging the efforts of some countries in raising genuine concerns and addressing the critical human rights issues in Malaysia, the congratulatory-styled interventions in praise of Malaysia were a farcical element of the review, which went totally against the intended spirit of the review.

The United Nations Human Rights Council conducted its inaugural review of Malaysia’s human rights record today. At the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Malaysia’s national report was presented by Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Patail, and Datuk Faizah Tahir, Secretary General of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development made additional statements. Representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from the Coalition of Malaysian Non-Governmental Organisations in the UPR Process (COMANGO), and the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) were present. Representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) also attended.

The UPR process compels the government to critically assess Malaysia’s human rights record, in consultation with SUHAKAM and NGOs. However, the consultation with NGOs has been superficial, patchy and cursory.

Malaysia’s presentation during the review today described some of its successes without acknowledging any shortcomings. The government highlighted the overall reduction of poverty but failed to address the increase in income disparity, e.g. within the Bumiputra community.
Malaysia also made some inaccurate statements. “The government claimed that the rights of indigenous peoples were well protected under existing legislation. Mexico and Qatar correctly raised the issue of the rights of indigenous peoples which needs better protection. I urge the government to accept Mexico’s recommendation to ratify the ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. I am also disappointed that the government only mentioned Orang Asli and the Penans thus leaving out the other indigenous groups in Sabah and Sarawak,” said Mark Bujang of JOAS.

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According to Giyoun Kim, UN Advocacy programme manager of the Asian Forum of Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), “With all the several country visit requests made by the Special Procedures mandate holders since 2002, the Malaysian Government only repeated its rhetoric excuses that it remains open to further discussions and is willing to consider the requests positively on the merit of each proposal. It is regrettable that Malaysia, as a member of the Human Rights Council, did not present any will to closely cooperate with the Special Procedures by way of declaring standing invitations to these mandate holders to visit Malaysia, as encouraged by several countries.”

“For today’s review, foreign missions began lining up at 5:45 am to register to speak. 83 countries eventually registered, but due to time constraints only 60 were able to speak. Out of these 60 countries, 44 were members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). This highlights one of the weaknesses of the UPR process. Countries ‘friendly’ to Malaysia were able to manipulate the process simply by queuing up early and crowding-out other countries from an opportunity to speak. Many ‘friendly’ countries congratulated Malaysia on her national report, particularly in the areas of poverty eradication, primary education, and the enhancement of the rights of women, children and the persons with disabilities, without giving substantive recommendations,” said Andrew Khoo, co-deputy chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysia Bar.

Commenting on today’s proceedings, John Liu of SUARAM, co-secretariat of COMANGO said, “The review on Malaysia was extremely disappointing. While acknowledging the efforts of some countries in raising genuine concerns and addressing the critical human rights issues in Malaysia, the congratulatory-styled interventions in praise of Malaysia were a farcical element of the review. This practice goes totally against the intended spirit of the UPR.”

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Despite this weakness, some countries did use the opportunity to ask relevant questions and made the following recommendations:
1.    specify a time-frame to ratify the core human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the optional protocols;

2.    specify the time-frame to withdraw the reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and to ratify the optional protocols;

3.    abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 and other preventive detention legislation;

4.    initiate a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a precursor to its eventual abolition and outlaw the practice of torture and cruel and inhumane punishment, including whipping;

5.    legislate to recognise the status of refugees and asylum-seekers and to distinguish them from irregular migrants, and ratify the Convention on the Status of Refugees and its Protocol;

6.    better protect and give immunity to trafficked women and children instead of treating them as perpetrators;

7.    increase the protection for all migrant workers, regardless of legal status, and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW);

8.    implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Police to establish an independent oversight mechanism for the Police; increase training for government officials, police, law enforcement and security agencies, lawyers, and judges, in respect of human rights and non-discrimination and the binding nature of international human rights laws;

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9.    make SUHAKAM independent, widen its term of reference to cover all rights within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and have it comply with the Paris Principles; and

10.    de-criminalise sexual acts associated with a person’s sexual orientation by amending the Penal Code.

“As the next step, we will seek to meet the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the follow-up of the review’s draft report. We hope to persuade the government to make more commitments and to state the time-frame for them to be implemented. This can be done during the formal adoption of the outcome report in the June plenary session of the Human Rights Council,” said Honey Tan of EMPOWER, co-secretariat of COMANGO. She adds, “We will also be holding a briefing for Members of Parliament and diplomatic missions in Malaysia shortly to update them on the review. We will hold the government accountable for the commitments it has made to improve the state of human rights in Malaysia.”

Contact persons:
John Liu (SUARAM) +60 19 3622679, [email protected]
Honey Tan (EMPOWER) +60 16 4100402, [email protected]
Andrew Khoo (Human Rights Committee, Malaysian Bar) +60 12 3730500, [email protected]
Mark Bujang (JOAS) +60 14 8776685, [email protected]
Giyoun Kim (FORUM-ASIA) +41 79 5957931, [email protected]

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.

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