Bar Council: SUHAKAM Is Right - Malaysia Needs To Be Human Rights-Compliant

The Malaysian Bar strongly supports the call by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (“SUHAKAM”) and its Chairman, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, for Malaysia to look seriously into accelerating the pace of ratification of the six remaining core United Nations instruments relating to human rights, as follows:

(1)    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
(2)    International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
(3)    Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
(4)    International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
(5)    International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; and
(6)    International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Indeed, Malaysia should also be looking into ratifying the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees since these involve critical issues right on our very doorstep.
 
The recent Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”) of Malaysia by the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2013 has brought into sharp focus the glaring disparity between Malaysia’s international ambitions on the one hand, and the domestic realities on the other.
 
Malaysia’s term as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council ends on 31 December 2013.  As an outgoing member, Malaysia has failed in the last four-and-a-half years to show much progress in extending our commitment to the international system of human rights norms and standards.
 
Although Malaysia has ratified one more international instrument since the last UPR in February 2009, namely the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Malaysia has failed to make much headway in the commitments we made in June 2009 to study the ratification of four further international instruments, namely the

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
  • Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In the National Report submitted by the Malaysian Government for the October 2013 review, there was reference to an expected conclusion and recommendation in respect of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and a commitment to studying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Nothing, however, was said about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

If there are genuine concerns about these international instruments, they should be intelligently and coherently articulated. Proper discussion of the ratification of these international human rights instruments is not advanced by the vilification of individuals and groups in support of them. The unwarranted disparaging remarks and verbal attacks on Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, SUHAKAM, and the Coalition of Malaysian Non-Governmental Organisations in the UPR Process (“COMANGO”) and members of that coalition, serve no positive purpose. 
 
It is also irresponsible to allege that countries, especially fellow member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (“OIC”), were either forced to accede to the international instruments or did not know better, but provide no evidence to support these fantastical observations. After all, 54 out of the 56 OIC member states that are also United Nations member states have ratified or acceded to more international human rights instruments than Malaysia. Such comments are thus not just patronising and condescending but additionally have the potential to damage Malaysia’s relations with these countries.

This also serves to highlight that the practice of Islam is not a hindrance for the OIC member states, and should not be used as an excuse by Malaysia to delay our ratification of the international instruments. It should be noted that although Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution provides that Islam is the religion of the Federation, it is nevertheless not the supreme law of the Federation. Article 4 provides that the Constitution itself is the supreme law of the Federation.

Malaysia now has ambitions to vie for a seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2015-2016 term. Malaysia would need to rely on the support of other countries, including these OIC countries, if we are to emerge successful in our ambition.
 
Our international record would come into focus. Malaysia has to convince members of the United Nations General Assembly in October 2014, when the voting is carried out, that we are a mature and responsible member of the international community, capable of being entrusted with decision-making at the United Nations’ most important body.
 
Recent actions and decisions by our Government, and recent statements by some of its Ministers, raise serious doubts as to whether Malaysia is ready. The world today is very different from that of 1989-1990 and 1999-2000, the previous times Malaysia sat in the Security Council. The 232 paragraphs of recommendations to Malaysia at the UPR in October 2013 point to the extremely high level of expectations that the international community places on Malaysia. We can no longer hide behind excuses that we are a developing country, and need more time.

Our goal of achieving “developed nation” status by 2020 is not viewed as merely an economic target, but a political and diplomatic one as well. For us to adequately respond to these expectations, our domestic realities must accord with our international ambitions.
 
Christopher Leong
President
Malaysian Bar

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