MPs must make time to discuss critical human rights issues affecting the lives of many ordinary people, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
It says a lot about the government’s attitude towards human rights when law minister Takiyuddin Hassan insisted recently that there was not enough time for the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) 2019 report to be debated in Parliament.
This is unfortunate as it also means that hot-button issues that are presented in the report will be put on the backburner. They are regarding the rights of vulnerable communities, including the indigenous people, women and children, victims of human trafficking, refugees and asylum seekers, and workers.
Surely, such issues of import deserve the time of day in Parliament, where lawmakers should address them and seek solutions to the problems at hand.
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If the coronavirus pandemic adversely affects people, the vulnerable communities mentioned are even more susceptible to the virus and the consequent economic hardship, as well as other human rights problems.
In other words, the plight of these vulnerable communities is as important as other issues that affect the larger society, such as the economic downturn, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, malnutrition and indebtedness.
While it is true that it is not mandatory for the Suhakam annual reports to be debated in Parliament, the previous Pakatan Harapan government, nonetheless, took the initiative to do so in line with the concern and preference of the larger society.
It was hoped that the Perikatan Nasional would still continue with this worthy practice, if not making it compulsory. To do so would also mean honouring the valuable contributions of Suhakam, the body that was established by Parliament itself.
To be sure, some of the issues confronting these vulnerable communities are longstanding.
For instance, indigenous communities often find themselves at the receiving end of so-called development when their ancestral lands are encroached by fortune hunters or state governments.
As in previous cases involving the Orang Asli, the Semai tribe is seeking an injunction from the Ipoh High Court recently to stop encroachment on their ancestral land by developers building “mini-hydro” dams in Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng.
It is, thus, crucial that their plight becomes part of the conversation of the lawmakers in the Dewan Rakyat, where the gravity of the problem can be fully appreciated and assessed.
Women and children, too, have their own set of problems. Apart from the issue of alimony, custody of children becomes a grave matter, especially when children are snatched from their mothers, rendering them helpless and enduring pain endlessly.
Deputy Home Minister Ismail Mohamed Said’s recent statement regarding the denial of citizenship for children of Malaysian women married to foreigners is cause for concern.
This is a travesty of justice in our society when Malaysian men with foreign spouses are accorded the right to apply for citizenship for their children. It also goes against Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution that prohibits discrimination based on gender.
In many of these cases, values of patriarchy that lurk in the corners of our society cause havoc to women’s rights, which must be addressed by lawmakers, men and women alike.
The xenophobia that was flaunted by some Malaysians in recent times regarding refugees, migrant workers and asylum seekers merits full attention and action by our parliamentarians so that the human rights of these people are respected.
Our lawmakers, therefore, must make time for such an equally important thing called human rights.