Malaysia’s wonderful achievements in human rights
- In May 2011 Malaysia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council.
- Malaysia invited the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit but then tried to stop civil society representatives from meeting privately with visiting group members.
- Malaysia had the primary role in thwarting a legally binding Asean instrument for protecting migrant workers.
- In June, Malaysia and Singapore did not vote in favour of the UN Convention on Migrant Workers
- US officials emphasised trade and investment, nuclear non-proliferation, and regional security “but did address some concerns” on human rights, democracy, and rule of law.
- In November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not meet with human rights groups or with Anwar Ibrahim
Malaysia fell far short during 2011 in meeting Prime Minister Najib Razak’s pledges to “uphold civil liberties” and build a “functional and inclusive democracy,” said Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2012.
• The government arbitrarily detained outspoken critics,
• teargassed and assaulted thousands who peacefully marched in support of clean and fair elections, and
• replaced long-existing restrictions on free assembly with even more draconian controls.
“This is hardly the ‘reform’ that Malaysia needs,” said Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. “Malaysia’s leaders are fooling themselves by thinking they can backtrack on public promises.” The more that ruling politicians played their game of big talk, little action the more it would backfire.
The government had taken some positive steps by repealing two infrequently used restrictive laws, the Restricted Residence Act and the Banishment Act, and later revoking emergency proclamations that authorised use of the Emergency Ordinance.
But this was undone by hasty passage of the Peaceful Assembly Act which bans all marches and processions; gives police officials arbitrary powers over any public meetings; and makes so many places out of bounds that conducting a protest in an urban area will be extremely difficult.
Starting in late May the government systematically targeted Bersih 2.0 leaders and followers, declared it illegal under the Societies Act, arrested supporters for wearing Bersih T-shirts, raided the Bersih secretariat, arbitrarily detained leaders of Parti Sosialis Malaysia under the Emergency Ordinance, issued travel bans to keep Bersih leaders out of Kuala Lumpur, and closed down the projected march route.
When these measures failed to stop the march, security forces assaulted the peaceful demonstrators with teargas and chemically infused water from water cannons, and arrested 1,697 people.
More ISA detentions
In November, the government used ISA to detain 13 people it accused of being terrorists. Despite its stated intention to repeal the ISA, the government continued to detain the 13 without charging them with specific offenses under the Malaysian criminal code.
The case against Anwar Ibrahim was politically motivated and plagued with irregularities. During the trial, the prosecution refused to turn over key evidence as required by the Malaysian criminal procedure code. “Anwar’s case should never have gone to trial,” Robertson said. “Malaysia should stop using its outdated sodomy law to slander political opponents.”
Malaysia should revoke its colonial-era law criminalising consensual same-sex relations. It should replace its law on non-consensual sexual acts with a gender neutral law on rape. “Malaysia should stop using its outdated sodomy law to slander political opponents, and live up to its status as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council by repealing all laws that criminalize consensual same-sex relations.”
Against refugees and migrant workers
Malaysia made no improvements to its immigration policies, which make no distinction among refugees, asylum seekers, trafficking victims, and undocumented migrants. A proposed refugee swap agreement with Australia was struck down by Australia’s High Court, which said it did not require Malaysia to protect asylum seekers. Malaysia lacks needed protections for trafficking victims, and migrant domestic workers remain particularly vulnerable in part because they are exempt from key provisions of Malaysia’s Employment Act.
“Malaysia’s key trade partners, including the US, the EU, and Australia, should remind the government that respect for human rights is a core element of a flourishing and inclusive democracy,” Robertson said.