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From Our Member SUARAM, Malaysia – 19th HRC Regular Session – Malaysia: Anifah Aman on Malaysian Human Rights: Truth or fiction?

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Malaysian human rights organization SUARAM responds to the address of Mr. Anifah Aman, Minister for Foreign Affairs during the High Level Segment at the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 27 February 2012. In his speech, Aman stressed the practice of moderation in Malaysia as well as the importance of constructive dialogue and peaceful means of engagement and warned countries against using human rights as a tool to “impose values, destabilise and interfere in other countries’ internal affairs”. Malaysia is an elected member of the Human Rights Council for 2010-2013.

Press Statement 29 February : Anifah Aman on Malaysian Human Rights: Truth or fiction?

When Anifah Aman, the Foreign Minister, delivered his address to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 February 2012, he appeared to place much emphasis on the word, ‘moderation’. One wonders if the word is used to distract us from images of extremism.For many Malaysians, the word “moderate” is most poignant. Malaysians will recall that Prime minister Najib Abdul Razak has, in the run-up to GE-13, used the word “moderate” countless times. In January 2012, Najib held the first International Conference on the Global Movement of Moderates in Kuala Lumpur.If events in the country are anything to go by, moderate is the least accurate adjective to be used when describing Malaysia’s protection of basic human rights.Anifah’s assessment of “unprecedented global challenges and phenomenal historical change” sweeping nations in the Middle East, Africa and Europe is correct. He stated that “more and more people are expecting, demanding and standing up for a common human aspiration – to be able to shape and take control of their own lives, politically, socially and economically.”He declared that Malaysia was serious about its obligations towards the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), whereby governments engage constructively with the relevant stakeholders to protect human rights.To avoid confrontation, Anifah warned member states against repeating the mistakes of the former Commission on Human Rights, and said that “politicisation, selectivity and double standards should be eliminated”.Stressing the importance of constructive dialogue and peaceful means of engagement, he warned countries against using human rights as a tool to “impose values, destabilise and interfere in other countries’ internal affairs”.

Malaysia and the rest of the international community placed high expectations on the work of the UNHRC, which he said will “contribute to people’s ability to improve their opportunities in life”. But political observers and human rights groups disagree with Anifah and say that the Malaysian government lacks the political will to promote the human rights of its own people. It continually undermines constitutional principles and this eroded the basic human rights of Malaysians.

Critics claim that the abuse of power by the Malaysian Police and other enforcement agencies is worrying. There has been a rise in deaths of people in custody and an increase in people shot by police. Despite repeated requests from human rights groups, no progress has been made on the formation of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). During the Bersih 2.0 ‘March for Democracy’, the police dispersed peaceful crowds with baton charges, tear-gas and water cannon. The clampdown reached ridiculous proportions when anyone dressed in yellow was arrested. An anti-racism march organised by the Human Rights Party (HRP) resulted in scores of people, including children, being arrested.

Anifah used the current global economic and financial crisis to advice countries to concentrate on the economic, social and cultural rights of its own citizens. He warned of recession and unemployment and urged the international community to find a solution to the economic crisis. He said, “The right to food, right to housing, clean water, education, employment, health and other basic needs should not be taken for granted,” whilst outlining the government’s responsibility to protect the human rights of all their peoples and to maintain progress.

In Malaysia, several indigenous groups, like the Orang Asli and Penan, are forced from their ancestral lands. Very little of the wealth generated from natural resources like timber or oil and gas, has reached these marginalised communities. Many lack basic amenities like clean water, education, medical care and infrastructure, such as those Anifah mentioned.

Anifah praised the Malaysian people who practiced moderation or “wasatiyyah” during their 54 years of independence, and who had worked towards a peaceful, united and stable country. But he failed to mention the rise of racism, the lack of freedom of religion and expression being perpetuated by the government, and he was silent about the persecution of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Malaysia has strived to accommodate the basic needs of Malaysians as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When exercising the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Malaysia, Anifah said that these rights should not “impinge upon the rights of others, or create a situation in which the existence of a whole community is put in jeopardy”. He used this argument, to stress that this was the main objective of the Peaceful Assembly Bill (PAB) which was introduced and tabled in Parliament, and subsequently approved by both Houses.

The delegates at the UNHRC are not aware that the PAB was rushed through parliament and that the Malaysian Bar, which had been consulted about the PAB were shocked to find that none of their recommendations had been implemented. Although the government will repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA), two new anti-terrorism laws will be introduced to replace it.

Malaysia sits on the UNHRC, and yet it has failed to ratify the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Its disgraceful human rights record concerning the treatment of refuges surfaced during discussions with Australia in a refugee swap deal.

Citing the delicate balance which the Malaysian government has to strike for people to assemble peacefully and so protect them from violent acts, Anifah failed to mention that the mainstream media, such as government controlled newspapers, is used to incite religious hatred. None of these publications are censured despite public protests.

Although Anifah stressed Malaysia’s commitment to improving the human rights of its people so that its citizens could achieve inter-racial harmony, Malaysia continues to break international laws.

Two weeks ago, a Saudi journalist, Hamza Kashgari was deported from Malaysia, despite a court injunction by human rights lawyers to prevent his deportation. International condemnation was swift, but Malaysia has little regard for the international community and deported Kashgari anyway. Kashgari faces the death penalty in Saudi for posting some “Tweets” which Saudi authorities consider blasphemous.

Anifah’s attempts to promote Malaysia as a moderate Muslim country are commendable. However, the Malaysian government has failed to match his rhetoric with its actions. Most of what Anifah told the UNHRC yesterday was fictitious. What he said is probably what he thinks the UNHRC would like to hear.

Mariam Mokhtar, SUARAM Representative

Note: SUARAM’s international chapter has sent two representatives, Bala Chelliah and Mariam Mokhtar, together with Malaysian rights activist, Jerald Joseph, to the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council to observe the proceedings and make interventions as well as highlight the many and various violations of human rights in Malaysia.
SUARAM’s International chapter, will work in collaboration with FORUM-ASIA, a leading human rights regional NGO, and will undertake human rights advocacy and lobbying work in the United Nations and the European Parliament.