Malaysia: Rights of faithful protected, says UN

PETALING JAYA: The United Nations (UN) refuted allegations that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) denied the people from practising their faith.

“The values enshrined in the UDHR are universal values that are at the core of all faiths which include respect for the dignity of a person.

“The UDHR recognises the freedom of people to practise their faith as Article 18 states that everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

‘This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his [her] choice,” said the UN’s coordination specialist Juanita Joseph in an e-mail to FMT in response to claims by lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla that the UDHR did not champion the rights of the faithful.

“The UDHR is not universal because it does not cater for those who have faith in faith as the rights are secular based,” he said.

He said this in relations to attempts by Coalition of Malaysian Non-Government Organisations (Comango) to raise issues relating to freedom and human rights in Malaysia.

The group of 54 NGOs is expected to hand over its report on the situation of human rights at the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Thursday.

The government is worried in the wake of the “Allah” verdict at the Court of Appeal that barred Catholic weekly The Herald from using “Allah” in their Bahasa Malaysia version.

According to the human rights committee on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in September 1993: “The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (which includes the freedom to hold beliefs) in article 18 (1) is far-reaching and profound encompassing freedom of thoughts on all matters, personal conviction and the commitment to religion or belief, whether manifested individually or in community with others.”

The article protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs and the right not to profess any religion or belief.

It does not limit its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions.

The article also does not provide limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and adoption of a belief according to individual choice.

Most importantly, it is also freedom to manifest religion or belief may be exercised “either individually or in community with others and in public or private.”

Restriction to this freedom is provided for under Article 18(3) on the grounds of protecting public safety and order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.