Malaysia: Human Rights situation under serious threat

Suaram calls on the United Nations to show strong moral leadership to address Malaysia’s worrying current human rights situation. We respectfully urge you Mr Ban Ki Moon and Madam Pillay to take account of these serious issues in the run up to Malaysia’s UN Universal Periodic Review.

We are gravely concerned that whilst Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the Malaysian government vie for a place on the UN Security Council, at home they are abusing fundamental human rights and oppressing their own people.

Yesterday, the government of Malaysia has passed a bill to amend the Prevention Crime Act (PCA) which will allow for detention without trial. Human Rights Watch deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson has stated that “Malaysia is taking a huge step backwards on rights by returning to administrative detention practices much like the draconian Internal Security Act. By doing so, Prime Minister Najib is backing methods that do little to curtail crime but threaten everyone’s liberty.”

Under public pressure for reform, on Sept 16, 2011 Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced that the government would repeal the Internal Security Act (‘ISA’) and the Emergency Ordinance (EO), both of which allowed detention without trial and both of which were systematically abused to silence legitimate dissent.

In 2012, both laws were effectively repealed. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak stated that, “The government gives its commitment that any individual will not be detained merely on the basis of political ideology.”

Suaram is therefore deeply concerned that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has backtracked on his previous commitment which appear to have been nothing more than empty promises prior to Malaysia’s general election.

Activists from Suaram and other civil societies as well as human rights lawyers and members of the public are staging protests over the government’s bid to repressively amend the PCA.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has stated that the amendments to the PCA are dedicated to fighting organised crime and not aimed at reviving the abolished ISA. Suaram argues that, like the ISA, the PCA allows for detention without trial, which can be renewed after the expiry of the initial two-year term and cannot be challenged in a court of law. Further, a registered detainee or witness appearing before the board of inquiry are denied access to counsel and legal representation.

Last week, The Malaysian Bar, the Sabah Law Association and the Advocated Association of Sarawak called the proposed changes to the PCA, “objectionable and repugnant to the rule of law”, and urged the government to withdraw the amendments that allow for detention without trial and remove the powers of the judiciary.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York must be seen in light of the worrying human rights situation on the ground in Malaysia. Whilst Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has called for “moderation” and “peace” on the global stage, the Malaysian government has swiftly backtracked on basic human rights following Malaysia’s recent general election.

Suaram is concerned that human rights in Malaysia remain under serious threat as the government severely limits the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association while permitting detention without trial, ignoring police brutality and compromising the rights of indigenous peoples and minority groups.

In the aftermath of the general election, the Malaysian government continues to deploy repressive legislation – namely the Sedition Act 1948, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 and the Penal Code – as tools to suppress the legitimate dissent of voters, human rights defenders and leaders of the opposition. A total of 51 human rights defenders and opposition politicians have been charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act for taking part in peaceful post-election rallies.

Suaram is also urging the Malaysian government to ratify core UN treaties – the CAT, ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD, ICRMW, ICPPED and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – at Malaysia’s upcoming UN Universal Periodic Review later this month.

Suaram condemns the unacceptable human rights violations taking place in Malaysia and calls on the international community to urge Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to immediately stop the harassment and intimidation of democracy activists and human rights defenders.

The United Nations has an obligation to ensure democracy and human rights are upheld and not turn a blind eye while supporting the Najib government’s empty rhetoric of reform. The Malaysian government must not get away with playing lip service to human rights and democracy in an attempt to retain its position on the UN Human Rights Council.

Mr Ban Ki Moon and Madam Pillay, we respectfully urge you to chastise Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the Malaysian Government’s violation of fundamental human rights . We urge you to call on the Malaysian government to repeal the PCA which allows for detention without trial.

The writer is executive director Suaram.