A national human rights plan?

No country is perfect in its human rights record. One way to overcome the imperfections and challenges in human rights is to establish a national plan to address the concerns of all Malaysians.

By BY Khoo Ying Hooi | The Malaysian Insider – Mon, Dec 15, 2014

No country is perfect in its human rights record. One way to overcome the imperfections and challenges in human rights is to establish a national plan to address the concerns of all Malaysians.

A national human rights plan is long overdue in this country.

Since 2002, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has continuously advocated for such a plan to be put in place. It took a decade for the government to finally agree to draw up a national human rights plan.

Since then, the legal department of the Prime Minister’s Department has been appointed the focal agency to come up with such a plan.

However, it falls short in several areas, particularly the involvement of civil society groups and the general public in providing input.

Apart from Suhakam, there is no human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) represented in the human rights action plan.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Nancy Shukri has reminded the NGOs and civil society to use the Malaysian mould of human rights in developing our own human rights action plan.

Such a statement indicates the centralised power of the authorities in developing the human rights plan. It also shows that the authorities have not matured alongside a more globalised and informed society that increasingly emphasises on human rights.

Worse, it suggests democracy, human rights, accountability and a host of other issues advocated by NGOs as alien values.

These rights are recognised as universal rights, and placed within our own constitution. So how can it be “un-Malaysian”?

This, therefore, is the number one challenge for the civil society since the government is “allergic” to criticism and dissent voices.

There are many ways to foster government and civil society cooperation especially on sharing of information.

The first step is to shed suspicion, or both entities will lose out as there is a lot to be shared when it comes to policy advocacy works.

It is also crucial for the government to provide more information to the public such as the timeline for the plan. With the advancement of technology, there should not be any obstacle for the public to channel input easily.

In many cases, the government has recognised the importance of the recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

After two rounds of peer review since 2009, it appears that we are taking the UPR mechanism as a diplomatic exercise, rather than utilise it for the purpose of improving our human rights performance back home. The progress has been slow.

Although a national plan on human rights is not an all-encompassing solution for our human rights record, it can serve a useful tool.

A successful national human rights plan depends on several factors such as strong human rights architecture, the measurement mechanism on the success of policies and ways to link the international standards and monitoring mechanisms.

Another big challenge is the misperception on human rights. The public need to know that they are practising rights in their daily life.

The role of Suhakam as the national human rights institution, therefore, would also need to be strengthened.

Currently, power is fully concentrated in non-representative hands and the public at large has no say or any influence in decision-making. This defeats the purpose to establish a human rights plan, because such a plan is a consolidated and structured national strategy to help accomplish the advancement of human rights in any country.

Civil society is perhaps the best machinery that we have to ensure broadmindedness, people-participation and democracy. If the government silences their voices, that means they have taken away the people’s self-determination. – December 15, 2014.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.