Malaysia must pay heed to human rights – Proham & GMM

Proham and the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) hosted a roundtable discussion on the final Universal Periodic Review Working Group report which was discussed and agreed upon on March 20 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
This RTD was held on April 10 at GMM and was attended by 30 people.
We received input from Rama Ramanathn (Proham) who gave a detailed data analysis of the recommendations, Jerald Joseph (Komas) and Andrew Khoo (Bar Council).
Datuk Kuthubul Zaman welcomed the participants, set the agenda for the discussion and charted some pointers to the future.
In the final analysis, a number of key concerns and pointers to the way forward were highlighted by Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria in providing a summary of the conclusions arising from the discussions.
Appreciation of Malaysian action
Proham congratulates the Malaysian government for playing an active role in human rights matters at the regional-Asean level and at the international level, especially in the promotion of moderation as a key component of international relations and conflict management.
Proham notes that Malaysia took a serious approach in addressing the UPR matters through the UN mechanism. Malaysia’s open commitment to developing the long-delayed National Human Rights Action Plan is a step in the right direction.
Major concerns on rejected recommendations
While noting this aspect of active Malaysian involvement in the UPR process, however, Proham has major concerns in the recommendations from UN member states that we either rejected or not considered by Malaysia.
Proham is of the opinion that Malaysia adopted the more straightforward or weaker/softer human rights matters.
Malaysia in not adopting the more substantive aspects of human rights reveals its weak commitment and lip service to human rights based on the benchmark of international human rights norms.
Among the rejected recommendations are the following six major rejects:
Malaysia’s unwillingness to ratify major human rights conventions, such as convention on the elimination of racial discrimination (ICERD), international convention against torture (CAT), international convention of civil and political rights (ICCPR) and the international convention of economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR).
Malaysia’s failure to consider the establishment of a “structured interfaith dialogue”. This is most basic to Malaysia’s diverse ethnic and religious diversity and in line with Malaysia’s moderation strategy.
Malaysia’s inaccurate portrayal that there is no “conflict of competence” between the civil and shariah courts in Malaysia based on Federal Constitution Article 121 (1A).
In reality, this is one of the major unresolved issues impacting on religious freedom from a practical dimension with regular conflict situations among recent Muslim converts where one spouse converts and another does not.
Malaysia’s position on the Suhakam report on land rights of indigenous people. Instead of adopting the major recommendation of the Human Rights Commission in the establishment of a special land tribunal, the establishment of a task force and the slowness in the way it is carrying out its duty seems to reveal a delayed strategy.
Its UPR position reveals a weak position on major grievances of the indigenous people.
Malaysia’s rejection of the Royal Police Commission’s recommendation in not wanting to establish the IPCMC and its insistence that the EAIC plays that role is in denial of the major human rights violations committed by the Malaysian police as revealed in the Royal Police Commission report as well as based on the Suhakam inquiries into excessive use of force.
Malaysia’s unwillingness to establish a moratorium on death penalty and its inability to review it as torture, inhumane or degrading, including corporal punishment, is indicative that Malaysian officials are not able to appreciate the universal principles of human rights benchmarked against international standards.
The way forward – human rights priorities for Malaysia
Five major pointers were discussed.
There is a need to strengthen stakeholder participation and consultation. Engagement with all parties, especially civil society, is imperative.
It was noted that this openness was lacking in the recent UPR process where engagement with civil society was selective. 
The selective approach is unacceptable. There is a need to establish an open and transparent participatory approach like that instituted by the UN which has developed clear guidelines and accreditation process, including making all documents public through their website.
There is a need to strengthen Suhakam as the national human rights institution with adequate powers to ensure that agencies comply with their findings and the power to take human rights violators to court without the approval of the attorney-general.
In this context, too, to mandate Parliament to allocate time to debate the annual Human Rights Report and a permanent parliamentary committee on human rights be established.
There is a need for political leadership and greater role played by elected members of parliament as well as those in public office.
We have an impression that the UPR process within the government is largely a civil service and bureaucratic process and very little role played by parliamentarians and politicians in public office.
Therefore, the human rights agenda must have an active parliamentary process as well as elected public officials in government.
It is significant that Malaysia has made a public commitment to the establishment of the National Human Rights Action Plan.
This is long overdue. Furthermore the current committee working on this must be more inclusive and participatory.
More public dialogues must be held in the setting the priorities, including active participation of civil society human rights organisations.
There is a need to establish a People’s Monitoring Group on the implication of the human rights commitments as a way of monitoring the commitments and implementation over the next few years leading to the third UPR review in 2017. – April 13, 2014.
* This is a joint statement issued by Datuk Kuthubul Zaman (Proham chairman), Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (GMM CEO) and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham secretary-general).