Before the political upheaval, there had been steady progress towards reforms to improve women’s rights.…
Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO)
26 September 2013
KUALA LUMPUR – A human rights report prepared by the Malaysian government was criticised as being hypocritical by a coalition of 54 non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The report was prepared ahead of the government’s evaluation on October 24th under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a United Nations human rights mechanism.
“We’re not surprised,” noted Nalini Elumalai of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), one of the 54 NGOs that make up the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO).
“The government consistently tries to portray itself as moderate at the international stage, while back home it acts extreme. The report is filled with self-congratulatory remarks.”
Elumalai sites the report’s reference of the repeal of the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA), a law which allowed for preventive and indefinite detention without trial, as an example.
“The government seems adamant in bringing back draconian laws under different guises, first under SOSMA (the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012), and now under the Prevention of Crime Act.”
Yesterday proposed amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 were tabled in Parliament, which would allow someone to be detained without trial for up to four years.
Under the UPR, every United Nations member state is reviewed once every four and a half years. The state under review receives comments and recommendations from other states in relation to its human rights situation.
The report includes a section on general elections, which asserts that “elections in Malaysia are conducted with due process in accordance with the law and in full compliance with applicable international norms and standards.”
Jerald Joseph is an organising committee member of the on-going People’s Tribunal on the 13th General Election, which aims to determine how true, or not, that assertion is. According to Joseph, also of Pusat Komuniti Masyarakat (KOMAS), the government was not being forthright in this section.
“The government noted in its report that election laws were amended to allow for the use of indelible ink. But there is no mention of the fact that the indelible ink used during the election did not work, and was easily removable.
“The report also notes that election results can be questioned through petitions in court. But it didn’t point out that almost all of the petitions actually filed were dismissed on preliminary grounds, with the petitioners ordered to pay exorbitant costs as high as RM190,000,” Joseph commented.
Independent observers appointed by the government concluded that the 13th general election was partially free and not fair.
Activists were also not satisfied with the report’s provisions concerning migrant workers.
Several provisions in the report tout the government’s efforts to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers. Katrina Maliamauv of Tenaganita questions the sincerity of these claims. “Domestic workers in Malaysia are specifically excluded from protection under the Employment Act. They are often in states of servitude, without so much as given one day off a week.”
Maliamauv also criticised the 6P Programme, which the government report describes as “a beneficial exercise”, noting that during the recent crackdown targeted at irregular migrants under the 6P programme, refugees and asylum seekers were also detained.
“While UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has been able to secure the release of refugees with UNHCR-issued cards, asylum seekers remain in detention, and it is unclear what opportunity they have to contact UNHCR or make an asylum claim.”
She also noted that many migrants who tried to register themselves under the programme ended up being cheated by agents, and that these migrants are now being detained as well.
The government report also includes a section on the complementarity of civil and Syariah legal systems. But Honey Tan Lay Ean of Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), and lead writer of COMANGO’s UPR report, says the report did not address the conflicting aspects of civil and Syariah law.
Tan said, “The politicisation of Islam has resulted in increasing national disunity, and has negatively impacted Malaysians for example, on their rights to freedom of religion, education, work, and to found families. The government has also failed to address the discrimination and violence faced by Malaysians on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“The government had the nerve to claim that it had implemented all of the recommendations it accepted at the 2009 review,” Tan added.
“The picture painted by the government in its report is definitely rosier than the reality, but I think Malaysia’s first review in 2009 did contribute to some positive changes.”
During its review in 2009, Malaysia adopted 62 recommendations, rejected 22 recommendations, and reserved comment on 19 recommendations. Civil society will be watching the October review closely to monitor what recommendations are made to the Malaysian government, and which the government accepts and rejects.
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