Human Rights Day message: Penang Suaram

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On 10 December, Human Rights Day, Penang Suaram issued a statement calling for the repeal of oppressive laws, the revival of local elections, an end to privatisation and the decentralisation of decision-making.

Graphic: United Nations

Today the world is celebrating Human Rights Day. The people of Penang are also celebrating.

But the world knows there is still a long way to go before we can say that the basic human rights of humanity are respected and enforced. The same is true for the people of Penang.

In Malaysia, the centralisation of power in federal hands remains a huge obstacle to the attainment of basic human rights. The ordinary Malaysian has very little say in the decisions that affect him or her. Most major decisions are made by federal ministries or other government agencies. There is no need to repeat the long list of abuses and controversies detailed over the last year: from Scorpene to cows to deaths in custody to arbitrary detentions to denial of information to media bias.

And we have to be highly sceptical of the so-called reforms that the BN government have recently announced if the Peaceful Assembly Bill is anything to go by. This continues to give arbitrary power especially to the police, which is no guarantee at all that basic rights of Malaysians will be respected.

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The consistent denial of local elections by the BN government also continues to demonstrate their lack of commitment to respect and support our basic human rights. Without local elections, local government continues to be unaccountable and impenetrable to the ordinary Malaysians. We look forward to the day when this key principle of democracy is recognised and local elections are brought back to our country and our state.

A further major impediment to the attainment of basic human rights for all is privatisation. By placing profits before people, the consequences of privatisation are a catalogue of human rights abuses and negations. Privatisation caters to the rich, the minority. The vast majority of people are then denied their rights to housing, mobility (lack of public transport), a clean environment (profits do not respect environmental concerns), health care (the public sector health facilities deal with the vast majority of patients but the private sector takes the majority of specialists and better qualified nurses and ancillary staff – to service the rich and the lucrative foreign medical tourists) and education.

Re-affirming the role of the public sector and properly resourcing public sector provisions for (for example) housing, education, health and transport, are necessary to reaffirm our commitment to basic human rights for all.

Further, the increasing lack of protection to workers, both Malaysian and migrant, as exemplified by the recent BN federal amendments to the Employment Act, demonstrate an increasing denial of basic rights to the vast majority of Malaysian and other workers. This needs urgent and immediate repeal.

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In looking forward to 2012, we therefore call upon the various authorities to

  1. Repeal all arbitrary and unaccountable legislation and practices.
  2. Legislate to bring back local elections.
  3. Stop the privatisation of essential services and affirm the role of the public sector in providing basic rights.
  4. Decentralise decisions to state and local governments, to allow participatory democracy to flourish in Malaysia. This more than anything will help us on our path to the realisation of our human rights for all.

At Penang level, we are heartened by the support shown by the State Government over, for example, Speakers Square, the Freedom of Information Bill and the study on local government elections. We will continue to lobby for better basic provision for the majority of Penangites, not least the more disadvantaged (persons with disabilities; migrant workers; single women; refugees; the elderly). This includes a better housing policy, better protection of our environment, and a more inclusive planning process, open and accountable and not ad-hoc. This would help guarantee sustainable development with the interests of all Penangites at its heart.

On this Human Rights Day, Suaram (Penang Branch) invites all concerned parties to come together and lobby for our human rights. Please join us in our struggle.

Thank you and Happy Human Rights Day!

Best wishes from SUARAM (Penang Branch) secretariat members

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