Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Malaysia broke human rights pledges, says watchdog report

The Malaysian Insider
by Shannon Teoh

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — Malaysia failed to live up to the human rights standards it had committed to in 2006 in its pre-election pledge to the United Nations Human Rights Council (Council), a Commonwealth human rights watchdog said yesterday.

A report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) that corresponds to the first two years after the March 2008 election said that Malaysia made little progress to advance human rights domestically, allegedly using “draconian legislation” to stifle dissent instead.

“While Malaysia claimed in its pledge that it had succeeded in achieving a balance between human rights and security requirements, the continued use of draconian colonial-era security legislation suggests otherwise,” said the CHRI.

“Malaysia made specific commitments to advance the rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees and asylum seekers. The findings of the report indicate, however, that little substantive progress was made on this pledge.

“Malaysia further pledged to work towards making the council a strong body. Despite this pledge, the report’s findings show that Malaysia mostly voted to shield countries with human rights situations of serious concern from international scrutiny,” the international NGO said.

In 2006, Malaysia was one of 18 Asian candidates that contested the 13 seats reserved for Asia in the council. Malaysia was elected fifth in the Asian Group, with 158 votes.

Malaysia decided not to seek re-election to the council when its three-year term ended in May 2009.

The report titled “Easier Said Than Done” said that Malaysia allegedly continued to used “draconian legislation” such as sedition and press laws to stifle dissent.

It noted that “the highly controversial Internal Security Act” which allows for detention without trial remained in effect at the end of the reporting period, which was from mid-2008 to mid-2010.

“Journalists in Malaysia were reportedly harassed and opposition members were intimidated. Much needed police reforms did not occur, while police abuse, custodial deaths and extrajudicial killings were frequently reported.

“Additionally, the death penalty and corporal punishment continued to be practised. Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission remained weak, while discrimination based on religion and ethnicity continued to be a major concern,” it added.

The CHRI also said that despite Malaysia’s pledge to actively support international action to advance the rights of vulnerable groups including children, refugees, asylum seekers and legal and illegal migrants still suffered and child marriages continued to take place.

Malaysia also discouraged the efforts of United Nations Special Rapporteur investigators on torture to consider whether the death penalty constituted a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said the report.

“It also reacted strongly against an attempt by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to comment on the defamation of religions,” the CHRI wrote.

The CHRI also reported that Malaysia discouraged scrutiny of Myanmar and Sri Lanka, looked at Cambodia positively, supported weaker resolutions on Congo and Sudan and abstained from voting North Korea and a resolution on discrimination based on religion or belief.

According to the CHRI website, it is an independent, non-partisan, international non-governmental organisation, mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth.