Independence & Human Rights: Where Do We Stand After 57 Years?

“THIS IS WHERE LOVE BEGINS”, (Di Sini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta) is the theme chosen by the government for Malaysia’s 57th independence or Merdeka day this year.

“THIS IS WHERE LOVE BEGINS”, (Di Sini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta) is the theme chosen by the government for our country’s 57th independence or Merdeka day this year.

The theme is focused on love itself; encompassing love for religion, country, self, family, unity of the various communities, peace and, of course, development.

This year’s theme was adapted from the lyrics of the song “Warisan” made popular by the late great Sudirman Haji Arshad.

At this moment, it is worth reflecting that in 57 years of independence, Malaysia has achieved so much either economically, politically and socially that has brought our country’s name to the global centrestage.

However, a question that remains unanswered in the back of our minds is whether we are truly independent and able to exercise our rights responsibly as Malaysian citizens?

Most of us are aware of the Act in our Federal Constitutional Laws that takes care of individual rights among Malaysians.

It is the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 where it is clearly stated that the citizens of this country is accorded the freedom to live their lives, voice their opinions, assemble, congregate, practice their religion and many more other individual choices as long as they do not infringe on the conditions set out in our country’s laws.

In realization of this Act, the Human Rights Commission Of Malaysia (Suhakam) was created and gazetted by the our parliament on September 9th 1999.

Henceforth, Suhakam would be the organization that is responsible for matters relating to the individual rights of citizens of all races in this country.

But to what extent does freedom mean, as enshrined in our Federal Constitution?

Limitations Imposed On Human Rights In Malaysia

Naturally, when we speak about human rights in our country, we can’t compare it to far more developed nations like the United States of America (USA).

This is because most developed countries have evolved to a more open approach to human rights as compared to Malaysia.

It can be seen by the increasing number of cases of infringement of individual rights that are being reported in our local courts.

Often times, this stems from influences brought about by a more challenging global political landscape as well as dissatisfaction felt by certain quarters who feel that they are being sidelined by the Malaysian Government.

Among the more prominent cases include the ‘Oppose GST’ gathering that was held in May this year as well as the series of ‘Bersih’ rallies that have been held in 2007, 2011 and 2012.

These gatherings were held mainly to seek redress for rights that many feel have been taken away from them that they are entitled to as citizens either politically or economically.

According to Amiera Ariff, 25, who is one of the supporters of these rallies, had noted that Malaysia is, indeed, not truly independent yet.

This is because the country is still colonized in the form of entertainment, fashion and food.

“Just look at the number of films from Indonesia here and the heavy influence of popular music from USA and Europe. Even with extremely pricey tickets, most Malaysians still flock to see foreign artistes perform,” she said, when contacted by Malaysian Digest.

On another aspect of individual rights, Amiera also expressed her fear for her individual safety as she ventures outside the house due to the rising crime rate in Malaysia.

“There are so many cases of murder and rape that we can see in our local news. Is this what we call individual freedom when I am scared to leave my own home?” she added.

Using the recent ‘Bersih’ rallies as example, Amiera opined that the gatherings were essentially peaceful but was deemed illegal because it could not obtain police permits due to the group’s public stance against certain government policies and view on individual human rights in Malaysia.

Similarly, another case reported in 1994 involved several individuals who were seeking redress for their individual rights as heard in the Federal High Court of Kuala Lumpur. According to court documents, the case involved Hajah Halimatussaadiah bt Hj Kamaruddin V Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Awam Malaysia & Anor 3 MLJ 61.

Halimahtussadiah was a government servant who was fired for wearing the Purdah. At the end of the trial, she lost the case and the court decided against the plaintiff in this case.

Why was our individual human rights taken away in these cases? Are we truly free to practice our individual rights as Malaysians after 57 years of independence?

According to the map released by reliefweb recently, it clearly shows that Malaysia’s low ranking is the result of neglect and lack of effort in upholding human rights in our country.

In fact, the chart above clearly shows that Malaysia is still struggling with human rights issues. For example, the limitations placed on the freedom of the press, the restrictions placed on the people by certain government policies and the prohibition from public gatherings, especially if it is in opposition to the ruling government.

The chart puts Malaysia in the same category as Thailand, Cambodia and Thailand, where human rights have also not received enough attention and support.

The government will need to take a long term approach in striving for greater individual human rights. This is because we still need to safeguard the harmony that exists between different races and religious beliefs in this country.

A Challenging Task Ahead For SUHAKAM

In order to gain further insight into this issue, Malaysian Digest contacts SUHAKAM for more information.

According to its vice- chairman, Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, all progress and achievements on personal rights must be through positive dialogue and debate towards mutual understanding.

Simon clarified the misconception held by many about Suhakam’s role. This is because the Commission is not empowered to make judgment or rulings on human rights matters, which is under the purview of the courts in Malaysia.

“Our Commission can only give recommendations, provide support and dispense advice,” he said.

Simon added that Suhakam does not represent any political parties and their interest is in representing and voicing the concerns of the Malaysian public.

Socially, Malaysian society tends toward social and political polarization by politicizing issues and organizations. This tends to lead to social stigmatization and negative perceptions within the community.

The above statement is supported by social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, whenever issues on human rights are negatively portrayed in this country.

According to a report by Bernama earlier, Marina noted that human rights not only concerns political rights but also covers social rights as well as children, culture and gender rights.

“We need to start by taking the right step forward and really understand the true meaning of individual human rights before we can move forward as a nation,”.

One major obstacle towards progress on human rights issues is our inability to put ourselves in the shoes of those whose rights are being violated. We prefer to stay in our comfort zone,” she said.

We Will Not Be Complacent And Will Continue To Champion Human Rights – PM Najib

According to a report by Bernama in May recently, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has pledged his commitment to the principles and values of human rights in the context of our multi-racial society.

“As Malaysians, we support individual human rights and believe in the philosophy, concept and practices contained in Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),” he added.

The UHDR is a declaration acknowledged by the UN General Assembly on December 10th, 1948 in Palais De Chaillot, Paris.

This declaration was brought about by the bitter lessons of World War II and represents the first steps taken by the world as a global united body to recognize the individual rights of all humanity.