KUALA LUMPUR, Wed: The Bar Council has submitted a 5–page report on Malaysia’s
human rights track record to the United Nations Human Rights Council in respect
of the Council’s Universal Periodic Review on Monday, September 8. (For a
complete version of the Bar Council’s submission, please click here to download
Assisted by a team of lawyers from the Human Rights Committee led by Andrew Khoo and consisting of Usha Kulasegaran, Simranjit Gill, Renuka Balasubramaniam, Roger Chan, Sonya Liew, Shamuga Kanesalingam and Zarizana Binti Abdul Aziz, the Bar Council made the following main points, in summary:
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights
While the state of human rights in Malaysia today is different than under the previous administration, the Government still fails to accord the Declaration its proper legal status.
• Women’s rights
Despite acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Government has not ratified the Optional Protocol. Principles of substantive equality and non–discrimination have not been incorporated into domestic legislation. The lack of women participation in the decision–making process perpetuates the failure of women to effect changes on gender–discriminatory law. Women still face discrimination in several areas such as in matters of citizenship.
• Children’s rights
Despite acceding to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, important provisions such as mandating that children have the right to make their views known in proceedings affecting their interests have not been incorporated in the Child Act. The spirit of Convention is inapplicable in instances where the liberty of a child is deprived to be held at the pleasure of the Ruler, or when children born without birth certificates are denied access to education
• Persons with disabilities
The Government has not signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Persons with Disabilities Act does not provide remedy for its breaches nor ensure that persons with disabilities are not discriminated for example in education and employment opportunities.
• Indigenous peoples
Despite the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples which guarantees the right of ownership and possession over ancestral or customary lands, the rights of the indigenous continue to be violated. State Governments have continually allowed the clearing of ancestral land to third parties. Compensation offered is inadequate. The Government has not taken sufficient steps to identify lands which the indigenous traditionally occupy, and to guarantee effective protection of their rights of ownership and possession.
• Migrant workers and refugees
The current system of recruiting and managing migrant labour perpetrates the lack of responsibility and accountability by the Government and individual employers. Various breaches under international law are identified, and the lack of sufficient domestic protection is of concern. Refugees continue to be denied international law protection in relation to their status.
• Free and fair elections
Doubts exist whether the electoral process in Malaysia is free and fair based on concerns regarding the variations in the delineation and number of registered voters, voting by postal ballots and use of Government assets and machinery for election campaigning.
• Promotion of a free media
The control of all free–to–air news stations – television or radio – is in the hands of the Government or Government–linked companies. Non–government political views, activities and advertisement rarely, if at all, gets coverage. Malaysia Today.com, a popular news website, was recently ordered to be blocked by the authorities.
• Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression remains curtailed on various fronts. The Government continues to enforce the Police Act requiring a permit to be obtained for public assemblies. A group of activists was arrested and prosecuted for a walk held on Human Rights Day on 9 December 2007.
The Government continues to ignore SUHAKAM’s annual reports by failing to debate the same in Parliament.
• Terrorism and law and order enforcement agencies
As at 4 September 2008, 66 persons continue to be detained without trial by the Government under the notorious Internal Security Act. The integrity of law and order enforcement agencies remains doubtful. Recommendations by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police have not been fully implemented, particularly the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. Another Royal Commission of Inquiry recommended the establishment of a Judicial Appointment Commission but to–date no further strides in this direction has been made.
• Right to privacy and data protection
There is no data protection and freedom of information law. In August 2008, the Government introduced the DNA Identification Bill in Parliament without consulting key stakeholders.
• Freedom of religion and religious dialogue
Non–Muslims face difficulties in the construction of places of worship. The right of religious organisations to publish and comment on matters in the public sphere is being threatened by the Government. Inter–religious dialogue remains problematic.
It is hoped that the interactive dialogue during the Review process on Malaysia will see an end to the problems faced by victims of rights abuses and improve our compliance with international human rights standards.