New Religious and Racial Hatred Bill Should Not Stifle Freedom of Speech

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We refer to the recent move by the Malaysian Government to introduce the Religious and Racial Hatred Act.

The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) applauds the effort of the government in taking proactive steps to ensure racial and religious harmony in multicultural, multi-religious and multiracial Malaysia. However, we caution the government from turning this into a law criminalising blasphemy.

COMANGO strongly advises the government to ensure that adequate protections are in place for legitimate criticism in the soon to be tabled Religious and Racial Hatred Bill.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, and regardless of frontiers. The same freedom is similarly enshrined under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. Additionally, the government’s consideration of any hate speech should be in the spirit of the Rabat Plan of Action which prohibits the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

The Rakyat should be free to point out if they disagree with religious edicts or teachings without fear of reprisal, especially those that involve punitive action. This expression is not limited to articles but also jokes, satire and parodies that are used to highlight social and religious issues in Malaysia.

Similar laws have been used around the world as tools to stifle freedom of expression and the expression of legitimate concerns regarding religions. This is further compounded in Malaysia where the state is also empowered to carry out the administration of Islamic religious law, including the criminalisation of criticism of the religion, or anything related to it. We urge the government to protect citizens from punitive action or repercussions arising out of legitimate criticism of religion.

If the Act is vaguely worded, it can be used as a tool for harassment and persecution of those with opposing viewpoints on religion. This would not reflect the spirit of Malaysia Baharu as espoused by the Pakatan Harapan government, where all are freely able to speak their mind within reasonable and rational limits, without fear of reprisal.

COMANGO supports the criminalisation of hate speech against race and religion and we strongly urge the government to consider protecting other minorities in Malaysia from hate speech as well, to ensure fairness, equality, respect and harmony for all.

Uphold Promises For Human Rights Reform Under Pakatan Harapan’s Manifesto (Buku Harapan)

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The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) regrets the stances and positions adopted by  the Pakatan Harapan administration which contradict the promises made in Buku Harapan to uphold the UN standards of human rights in the country.

COMANGO would like to remind the current administration of Promise 26, where Pakatan Harapan (PH) has committed to ‘make our human rights record respected by the world’. This promise includes the strengthening of the existing human rights mechanism such as the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the ratification of international human rights conventions; and improving Malaysia’s performance on human rights standards are on par with international standard in the Universal Periodic Review.

COMANGO calls on the Pakatan Harapan government to uphold its promises and would like to highlight five key areas which the administration must reconsider its stance and position in line with international human rights standards.

First, the issue of child marriage surfaced again with the recent case where a 11-year-old girl was reportedly married to a 41-year-old man. Malaysia’s State obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) must be fulfilled. The PH government must fully recognise that child marriages have resulted in many human rights violations, especially of the girl child, as numerous research have shown. It is also against the spirit and intention of Malaysia’s Child Act 2001 and the protection promised under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017.

Second, the crackdown against undocumented migrants under “Ops Mega 3.0” raises substantial concerns with regards to the violation of the rights of migrant workers. Not only were undocumented migrant workers treated as ‘criminals’, documented migrant workers and refugees were equally maltreated as such. Women migrants are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and violence in such operations. The ongoing crackdown violates the UPR Recommendation 146.217[1] which Malaysia accepted in principle in 2013.

Thirdly, the decision of the Minister for Youth and Sports to cave-in to pressure groups on the appointment of Numan Afifi is in direct opposition of Promise 26, as Numan like any other, irrespective of his sexual orientation, has the right to work, and his appointment should have been defended based on his capacity and merit.

Apart from the above-mentioned issues, there are substantial concerns with the ongoing human rights violations that was initiated by the former administration. Activists who were previously charged under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 continue to face prosecution for their activism; lawyers and civil society activists are still called for questioning, detained and prosecuted for advocating and defending human rights. The most recent example is the pursuit of investigations against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri for exercising her freedom of expression.

We call on the Government of Malaysia to immediately place a moratorium on all laws that have been abused for the political interests of a few, including by pressure groups.  We also call for the immediate establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). Additionally, we encourage the Government of Malaysia to:

1.     Ensure the protection and promotion of the universal, inalienable and non-discriminatory human rights for all citizens especially in public spaces.

2.     Integrate human rights education based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination at all levels of education.

3.     Carry out intense and widespread public and social awareness to promote and instil human rights consciousness and eradicate discrimination on issues of freedom of expression, the right to work and others, as well as towards marginalised groups such as, but not limited to, the LGBT community and migrant workers.


[1] Adopt more robust measures to protect the rights of migrant workers and temporary workers. UPR recommendation from Germany to Malaysia in 2013.

Improve the Human Rights Situation in Malaysia

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The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) urges the Malaysian Government to take principled measures to improve the standards of human rights in the country. This is essential to reflect Malaysia as a willing and vested supporter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

In today’s launch of COMANGO’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Stakeholder Report, the Coalition reminded the Government of commitments made in Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto. In the recent 14th General Elections, the ‘Buku Harapan’ promised to uphold human rights in Malaysia by strengthening human rights institutions and actors, and improving mechanisms and tools.

COMANGO’s UPR Stakeholder Report shows how the standards of human rights in Malaysia has regressed over the years. This was punctuated by the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) which was launched by former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in March 2018, which undermines efforts to protect the rights of Orang Asli, as well as women and girls in Malaysia.

Malaysia has also yet to take necessary steps to to fully recognise the nine core human rights treaties and their optional protocols, as well as the Rome Statute of the International criminal Court. The lack of recognition for these frameworks by our previous government has resulted in poor and regressive protection of the rights of the most vulnerable communities in Malaysia.

Selective cooperation with international Special Procedures as expressed by UN Special Rapporteurs based in Malaysia in their reports has also reflected deteriorating rights of women and girls, indigenous communities, LGBTIQ persons, people living with HIV and AIDS and drug users, children and persons with mental disabilities, as well as trafficked women and girls.

COMANGO’s Report makes critical observations of Malaysia’s considerably weakened constitutional and legislative framework. This includes laws which are dangerously arbitrary, and laws which are too broad and vague with no clear checks and balances for the abuse of power.

COMANGO believes that our new Government is well-primed at this point to adopt honest and critical self-assessment about the human rights situation of all people in the country. The Government must pay better attention to the rights of vulnerable populations and persistent marginalisation of women and girls based on patriarchal values.

The Coalition therefore urges the Government to be transparent in its report to the UPR which is due to be submitted in June/July this year. The Government should make principled efforts to detail concrete steps towards addressing the severe deterioration of human rights in the country.

The Coalition remains keen in engagements with the Government to contribute towards the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights in the country, and the achievement of equality and non-discrimination for all people in Malaysia.

 

Angela Kuga Thas, Executive Director, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), Co-Secretariat of COMANGO

Sevan Doraisamy, Executive Director, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Co-Secretariat of COMANGO

 

For more information kindly contact:

Rizal Rozhan at upr[at]empowermalaysia[dot]org or call 03-7784 4977

 

 

 

NHRAP FALLS SHORT OF ADDRESSING SYSTEMIC INEQUALITIES IN MALAYSIA

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The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) commends the government of Malaysia for finally launching the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP).

The NHRAP includes 294 action plans in 83 priority areas categorized under 5 pillars – civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, rights of the vulnerable people, rights of the indigenous peoples and Malaysia’s international human rights responsibilities. While COMANGO found many parts of the NHRAP comprehensive and well-explored, particularly the action plan items for the welfare of elderly persons, we found glaring reasons for concern in many others.

The NHRAP as a whole falls short in addressing systemic human rights issues, root causes of inequality and the enjoyment of human rights for all in the country, and lacks a gender perspective. Some of the actions points proposed also do not adequately address the issues at hand. For example, on the issues of underaged marriages, the action item offered is to update the standard operating procedure (SOP) for child marriages, which only serves to fortify the act instead of to safeguard the rights of the child. While it is commendable that the NHRAP highlighted misuse of racial and religious themes in politics, the corresponding action item to increase voter awareness does not reflect how this objective will be achieved as those who politicise racial and religious issues in Malaysia are often those connected to political power.

The NHRAP while acknowledged the urgency to address discrimination towards LGBTIQ+ persons from a human rights based approach, provided no specific action items in the scheduled issues or action items to address this.

It is also difficult to assess the added value of the NHRAP to the long-term promotion and protection of human rights, as some of the proposed action items lack indicators, are already on-going efforts or existing strategic plans and policies such as the National Policy on Biological Diversity 2015 – 2025, the National Strategic Plan on Ending AIDS 2016-2030 among others. COMANGO also found efforts towards Human Rights education to be severely lacking in the NHRAP. There was also little effort towards integrating many overlapping interests together, resulting in many of its action items operating in silos instead of optimally.

The NHRAP references the Federal Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Cairo Declaration and political and sociocultural aspects (or national/cultural particularities) as its core frameworks. The NHRAP fails to show how it will reconcile existing tensions and conflicting frameworks on human rights, between the UDHR and the Cairo Declaration and in relation to the political and sociocultural context of Malaysia. The Cairo Declaration views human rights as restricted explicitly to the limits set by the sharia law. Sharia laws vary tremendously between countries and even within them, such as in the case of Malaysia. Women and people of other religions do not have the same rights as Muslim men under many interpretations of sharia law, nor do they have the same access to create, debate, and amend these laws. This contradicts greatly with the standards set by the UDHR, wherein everyone has the right to equality under the law.

Additionally, freedom of religion is narrowly interpreted and pluralism within Islam is strongly discouraged and minority Muslim sects are persecuted. The contradictions between the Cairo Declaration and UDHR in this document reflect the long-standing and rising tensions between Malaysia’s civil and sharia legal systems. The NHRAP offers no rights-based solutions to these tensions, but may indeed add fuel to the fire.

Embracing frameworks that do not address structural discrimination and guarantee substantive equality makes the NHRAP a deeply problematic document as Malaysia’s current socio-cultural setup is predominantly patriarchal in nature. It will only serve to reinforce existing inequalities. Adding a political dimension to the document, a political Islam, will result in action plans which favour benefiting certain institutions rather than the Rakyat.

Some of the action items in the NHRAP do not respond to the critical and urgent human rights needs in Malaysia, and to some extent set back years of work to advance human rights in the country for all peoples. Highly questionable in integrity are action items to re- explore the need for Orang Asli to be involved in the decision making process under the 1954 Orang Asli Act (Act 134); to re-evaluate the need for laws mandating equal pay between genders, to re-evaluate the need for specific laws with regards to sexual harassment at the workplace, and to continue studying the ratification of international human rights conventions. The need for all of these is already been established through numerous research, case studies, and reports, a number of which were commissioned by the Government itself. For example, the Malaysian Government had been conducting studies to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) since 2009. Despite studies claiming that the country is ready to ratify the ICERD, no actions were taken. Also questionable in integrity is the action item to establish a ‘women-friendly’ bank as it is not a priority for women’s human rights in Malaysia. Even more concerning, critical issues, such as those relating to the rights of foreign spouses and migrant workers were not even addressed in the NHRAP.

Investing in a rights-based development model that can integrate issues of human rights, environmental, good governance, wealth redistribution and economic will result in a more integrated and holistic impact for the peoples of Malaysia, and contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the TN50 aspirations.

Continuous and consistent engagement the people, civil society and NHRI is vital in developing government policies. While members of COMANGO were consulted in the early stages of the drafting of the NHRAP in 2016, the coalition was not engaged at all throughout 2017. COMANGO was unpleasantly surprised to see the completed document launched on 1st March without any forms of notification to any of the well reputed human rights civil society organisations. It is regretful that the coalitions’ experience and work on the ground were not taken into consideration in the drafting of this document. COMANGO strongly urges the government to re-consider the action plans in the NHRAP to reflect the diversity of all Malaysians and to re-establish engagements with the coalition.

The NHRAP is an outcome of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations in 2009 by Jordan – “Continue to develop the institutional framework with respect to the promotion and protection of human rights” – and in 2013 by Kazakhstan – “Continue efforts on adopting the National Human Rights Action Plan.”

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. Civil society actors, NHRIs and regional mechanisms can submit written information for the report containing a summary of information submitted by other stakeholders, which is considered during the review.

The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) was formed by civil society organisations in 2008 to engage in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). It is the biggest civil society coalition of its kind in the UPR process, comprising of over 50 organisations. EMPOWER and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) are the co-secretariats for COMANGO.

For more information, contact:
Rizal Rozhan, EMPOWER at 03 8884 4977 / upr@empowermalaysia.org