The Malaysian Bar welcomes the reported statement by the Honourable Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak that “it is time for a global movement for culture of peace”. Opening the Third UMNO International Forum entitled “Conflict and Conciliation in the People’s Politics — Looking Back or Looking Forward?” in conjunction with the UMNO General Assembly 2012, the Honourable Prime Minister also emphasised that we are living in a “changed world”.
The Malaysian Bar firmly believes that peace for all cannot be achieved by denying the rights of some.
In Malaysia, members of the marginalised lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning (“LGBTIQ”) communities have, regrettably, too often been socially condemned and scorned as “immoral”, “abnormal”, or “diseased”, called “rejects” or “pariahs”, and even referred to as being against the public interest. Discriminatory laws have long been used (and even misused) to oppress and persecute these communities. One such example is section 377A of the Penal Code, commonly known as the “anti–gay law” even though its provisions criminalise oral or anal intercourse, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The authorities have regularly portrayed homosexuality negatively and as a “social ill” that must be curbed.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (“SUHAKAM”) in its Annual Report 2011 made the following forceful statement:
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. Violence, abuse and violations of the rights of the sexual minorities cannot be justified.
SUHAKAM also noted that public service messages are required to promote the rights of LGBTIQ individuals. As discrimination of persons based on gender identity and sexual orientation is prevalent, SUHAKAM suggested that relevant laws should be reviewed and Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution should be expanded to bar such discrimination.
Similarly, the Malaysian Bar does not condone such a judgmental, damaging and divisive attitude and approach, which breeds prejudice and intolerance, and incites bigotry and violence against individuals who belong, or are perceived to belong, to these groups. It is this attitude and approach that must be curbed. Individual choice with respect to gender identity and sexual orientation must be respected.
All individuals should be treated equally, and the principle of non–discrimination must be paramount. Discrimination against LGBTIQ individuals — who are equal citizens — is abhorrent, and must be prohibited by law. These individuals are equal before the law.
We note that the spread of HIV has often been erroneously and misleadingly linked to the sexual practices of LGBTIQ individuals, when it is an individual’s unsafe sexual practices that increase the risk of infection.
The Malaysian Bar calls on the Honourable Prime Minister to provide leadership in rejecting the persecution of, and discrimination against, sexual minorities. The laws of the nation must prohibit discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against any discrimination. This would be a significant first step, and would give real meaning to the Prime Minister’s call to embrace moderation and to “put…empathy and understanding into the service of facing down extremism in all its forms”. It would also reflect commitment to his words — written in an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 October 2011 — that Malaysia is a “progressive, liberal nation”.
No doubt there are those amongst us who do not agree with the sexual orientations and gender identities of LGBTIQ individuals. But it is precisely because of this that sexual minorities, and indeed other minority communities, need to be protected. Individual freedoms and liberties mean very little if they are only extended selectively, or to those who agree with the majority view.
Lim Chee Wee
3 December 2012