PETALING JAYA, 12 Feb 2009: An international panel has urged Malaysia to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) and establish an independent oversight mechanism for police conduct.
In the inaugural review of Malaysia’s human rights report card, the United Nations Human Rights Council panel in its draft report also recommended that the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) be made independent, so that it is a more empowered oversight body.
Other recommendations made by some of the countries taking part in the peer review process in Geneva, Switzerland include:
That Malaysia ratify core human rights treaties, like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD);
That Malaysia withdraws its reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), treaties that Malaysia has ratified;
Stronger protection for migrants regardless of legal status, by enacting laws to recognise the status of refugees, giving immunity to trafficked women and children, and ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW);
A moratorium on the use of the death penalty with the aim for eventual abolition, and outlawing the practice of torture, including whipping; and
Amending the Penal Code to de-criminalise sexual acts associated with a person’s sexual orientation.
Malaysia faced international scrutiny on 11 Feb, through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in a week that also saw China, Jordan and Mexico under the spotlight. Foreign missions from 60 countries voiced their concerns on Malaysia’s track record.
The Malaysian government presented its national report through Ministry of Foreign Affairs secretary-general Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, with additional statements by attorney-general Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Patail and Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development secretary-general Datuk Faizah Tahir.
However, observers from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in the review were dissatisfied with Malaysia’s presentation.
In a joint statement today, NGO reps described Malaysia’s presentation as describing “some of its successes without acknowledging any shortcomings.” Crucial issues glossed over include the rights of indigenous peoples and deaths in police custody.
The statement also pointed out weaknesses in the review process. It revealed that 44 of the 60 countries that spoke at the review belonged to the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), the organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), or the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) — all organisations which Malaysia plays an active role in.
“Countries ‘friendly’ to Malaysia were able to manipulate the process simply by queuing up early and crowding-out other countries from an opportunity to speak,” Malaysian Bar Human Rights Committee co-deputy chairperson Andrew Khoo said.
He added that these nations congratulated Malaysia on her national report, “without giving substantive recommendations”.
“The review on Malaysia was extremely disappointing … the congratulatory-styled interventions in praise of Malaysia were a farcical element of the review,” said Suara Rakyat Malaysia’s John Liu.
He, however, acknowledged the efforts of some countries in raising genuine concerns and addressing the critical human rights issues in Malaysia in the review.
The draft report from the panel is expected to be adopted tomorrow.
As a next step, the NGOs said they will seek a meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the follow-up of the review’s draft report.
“We hope to persuade the government to make more commitments and to state the time-frame for them to be implemented. This can be done during the formal adoption of the outcome report in the June plenary session of the Human Rights Council,” said Honey Tan of the Selangor Community Awareness Association (Empower).