Defend rights defenders; safeguard migrant workers

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The president of the Malaysian Bar, Ragunath Kesavan, has come out in defence of human rights lawyer Charles Hector, who is facing a RM10 million lawsuit by a Japanese multinational corporation after he highlighted the plight of migrant workers.

Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn Bhd’s threat to bring a RM10 million defamation lawsuit against Charles Hector, a member of the Malaysian Bar, is a deplorable and coercive act. The Japanese-owned Malaysian company has demanded this sum over a blog article by Charles Hector in which the latter alleges that, in response to grievances raised by 31 of their workers from Myanmar, the company threatened the workers with termination of employment and possible deportation back to Myanmar. The complaints ranged, it was alleged, from non-payment of agreed wages, unlawful deductions, and monetary penalties for absences from work.

We call on both the Malaysian and Japanese authorities to launch immediate investigations into the authenticity of the allegations that Charles Hector has brought to light, and to act immediately to prevent the committing or continuation of any human rights abuses against migrant workers.

Instead of harassing them and threatening them with incarceration, sedition or, in this case, defamation, state and non-state actors would do well to study the allegations made by human rights defenders like Charles Hector on behalf of voiceless migrant workers. They should also carefully study the terms and conditions of work to which migrant workers are subject, the conditions under which they live, and the restrictions under which they are placed to ensure that these conform to internationally-accepted standards.

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The case also brings to light the practice, permitted by the Immigration Department and the Human Resources Ministry, of allowing selected companies who have no labour operations themselves to nonetheless recruit foreign workers from overseas and then to outsource these workers to third parties for a fee.

To avoid any further incidents of abuse against migrant workers or allegations of the same, the Malaysian Bar calls upon the government to quickly ratify and implement the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 Dec 1990, and to give full effect to the Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers made on 13 January 2007.

The Malaysian Bar also calls on the Government to support and uphold the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, otherwise known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998. In particular, we urge the Government to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of these human rights defenders from any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration.

This incident gives the government a clear opportunity to improve its less-than-sterling record of protecting those who stand up for human rights.

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Ragunath Kesavan is president of the Malaysian Bar

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