Wisma Putra’s reaction to Washington’s 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was predictable. It said the report on Malaysia was biased and baseless and that the US had been ignoring Malaysia’s sovereign right to its internal affairs
April 26, 2016
Wisma Putra was too emotional and defensive in its reaction to the US report on human rights practices.
By Saleh Mohammed
Wisma Putra’s reaction to Washington’s 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was predictable. It said the report on Malaysia was biased and baseless and that the US had been ignoring Malaysia’s sovereign right to its internal affairs. It complained that the report was “prepared in the absence of any formal engagement with government officials despite the close bilateral relations between Malaysia and the US.”
The report highlighted, among other things, government restrictions on freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of association. It expressed particular concern over police intimidation and sedition charges against activists, lawyers and opposition politicians.
Should Wisma Putra have loaded the heap and been so defensive? Our only defence was that “Malaysia will continue to take appropriate measures to ensure that all citizens enjoy fundamental rights without prejudice to the rights of others or threats to the security and stability of the country.”
If there were formal engagements between government officials, what lines of defence do you think the Malaysian officials would have taken?
Would they have pointed out that there was a recalibrated 2016 budget that cut in half Suhakam’s funding and the number of its commissioners? Suhakam’s outgoing chairman has said that the commission might be “unable to carry out the full range of its core functions” under the new budget constraints.
Would our officials have told the Americans that Suhakam did not have executive or enforcement powers despite its appeals for them?
The Suhakam Chairman has admitted that much of what he wanted to accomplish during his six-year tenure remains unfulfilled. He said Malaysia was in fact backtracking on its human rights obligations. “We have not acceded to the remaining six core conventions of the United Nations on human rights, not to mention other important international conventions, like the refugees’ convention,” he pointed out.
He added that despite Suhakam’s 16 years of operation, Parliament had not debated the human rights issues raised in any of its annual reports. “Parliament is also not active in promulgating laws on human rights.”
He also said, “Preventive detention, terrorism and security laws are being misused to suppress political expression and dissent.” Citing the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, he said the broad characterisation of “security offences” under the act showed that its ambit would extend beyond terrorism offences. This contradicts the PM’s guarantee in 2011 that “no individual will be arrested merely on the point of political ideology.”
It has also been reported that the commissioners and staff of Suhakam may need to march to Parliament to beg for money.
How do we justify spending more than a billion ringgit to give increments to civil servants and giving a hefty increase to the PM’s Department’s budget while drastically cutting Suhakam’s budget? Other key sectors like education, women’s health and welfare also suffered huge cuts.
Given the above, do we still say the US report was biased and baseless? Why can’t we look at it like we look at a school report card that shows our weaknesses this year and indicates what we should do to improve our scores? Do our teachers have formal engagements with parents before issuing report cards on students?
The government need not be too emotional, sensitive and defensive. It should instead be determined to do what it takes to improve its compliance with international human rights standards. It should direct its agencies to pull up their socks to show that Malaysia can be ready for 2020.
Saleh Mohammed is an FMT reader.
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