Malaysia: As activists clash over human rights, PM says country big enough for all

PUTRAJAYA, Nov 5 — Malaysia can be accommodating when it comes to discussions over human rights, Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today, as activist groups from opposing ends of the spectrum lock horns over safeguarding minority and majority interests.

The prime minister said that his administration is willing to listen to views “from all sectors”, but noted that it must be in line with the founding principles of the country.

“Our position is based on the Constitution of Malaysia and the laws of the country, and also the position of Islam and the respect for other religions,” he said at a press conference after attending the national Maal Hijrah celebrations here.

“So long as it is in concert with the above, we will make the appropriate decisions on whatever demands that are brought forward,” he said.

Yesterday, Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) urged Putrajaya to ignore proposals put forth by a local human rights activist coalition, called the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango), at the United Nation’s (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, recently.

Isma deputy president Aminuddin Yahya said the recommendations were an affront to religious sanctity and the sovereignty of the Federal Constitution for insisting on religious freedom, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) rights, the right of a Muslim to be an apostate and the removal of Malay privileges.

Isma, which has since signed on with a coalition of Muslim NGOs called MuslimUPRo, had also accused Comango of attempting to spread “liberalism teachings” backed by Western powers.

Comango, which counts Sisters in Islam, the Women’s Aid Organisation, the Malaysian Bar and Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia among its 54 signatories, countered that their report was merely an effort to encourage Malaysia to prove its commitment towards improving the lot of all Malaysians via the UPR.

Najib, however, said today that there is no single interpretation of human rights that can be applied to each an every country in the world.

“Whether locally or overseas, we realise that there is no one definition of human rights that can apply to all countries.

“Of course there are some universal principles, but we must also take into consideration the situation in a given country.

“We must always consider both aspects,” he said, when asked to comment on the point raised by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah in his earlier speech at the Maal Hijrah celebration.

In his speech, Tuanku Abdul Halim warned that boundless protection of human rights, among other issues, could lead to a breakdown in society and the country.

He said the growing confusion that comes with degrading moral values and disrespect towards religious and royal institutions in the country will do nothing but destroy the faithful.

“We must rise and look behind us for a moment to evaluate all the mistakes that need to be corrected,” he said in his speech.