Open letter to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) from the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
20 April 2012
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) welcomes SUHAKAM’s recognition of human rights violations based on sexuality in its 2011 Annual Report by stating (on page 61) that, “The Commission stands firm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation should be able to enjoy the full range of human rights without exception.”
However, JAG is disappointed at the comments made by the Chairperson of SUHAKAM, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, who reportedly said that “The problem is that when we engage with dialogues, our friends in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community are demanding more than what they deserve.” (“’LGBT community entitled to be treated with dignity and respect’”, Malay Mail, 17 April 2012) This stance is inconsistent with SUHAKAM’s role to protect and promote fundamental human rights in Malaysia.
Universal human rights are just that – universal. There have long been debates over human rights and a perceived potential clash between these fundamental rights and culture or religion. These debates have been recognised in international arenas as being settled in favour of the indivisibility and universal applicability of human rights.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has affirmed this by stating that, “The balance between tradition and culture, on the one hand, and universal human rights, on the other, must be struck in favour of rights… No personal opinion, no religious belief, no matter how deeply held or widely shared, can ever justify depriving another human being of his or her basic rights.” (“Top UN officials urge countries to tackle violence based on sexual orientation”, UN News Centre, 7 March 2012)
The SUHAKAM Chairperson is unfortunately mistaken in his interpretation of what constitutes human rights. The right to bodily integrity and the right to sexual identity and relationships are fundamental human rights and must be protected and promoted by our national human rights institution. The Yogyakarta Principles, which are based on international human rights law, affirm that “each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom.”
In response to comments from representatives of Islamic bodies who asserted that SUHAKAM should not recognise the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender diversity, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam reportedly said that “We will try our best and follow as far as we can but if anything in UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] is un-Islamic, then we will not implement it.” (Malay Mail, 17 April 2012)
Tan Sri Hasmy Agam’s statement is at odds with Section 4(4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, which establishes that the UDHR provides the guiding principles for SUHAKAM’s work.
For the Chairperson of SUHAKAM to make this statement also perpetuates a false divide between Muslim and non-Muslim Malaysians and in effect denies the fundamental premise of the UDHR – that everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Our national human rights institution must rise above political point-scoring and live up to its mandate to promote and protect human rights for all and be a strong, unflinching advocate for equality and non-discrimination in Malaysia.
Released by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, which comprises:
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC)