Asean Sogie Caucus: Najib’s statement disregards universality of rights

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A November 2014 court ruling in a case involving transgenders - Photograph: themalaysianinsider.com

The Asean Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (Sogie) Caucus expresses serious concern over Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent statement challenging the universality of human rights.

Such statement reflects a reality that the ghost of “Asian values”, which limits the application of human rights, continues to haunt the region.

In his statement on 18 August 2015, the Malaysian prime minister said that the government cannot defend the extreme aspects of human rights including the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons. Such a statement is a clear, blatant and gross disregard of its duty under international law.

Malaysia has the duty to respect the rights of all people. It is important to note that Malaysia, being a member of the United Nations, has pledged to promote and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons as further elaborated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

We view Najib’s statement as dangerous to LGBTIQ persons in Asean by further legitimising and affirming ongoing discrimination and violence, directly or indirectly. By denying human rights for LGBTIQ persons, he is indirectly inciting acts of hatred in the name of culture and religion.

The statement was issued based on a domestic context where serious discrimination and violence have been undertaken against LGBT persons. The Malaysian government continues to enforce Sharia laws that criminalise transgender persons for cross-dressing. Meanwhile, in addition to Malaysia, several countries in Asean, including Brunei, Myanmar and Singapore, criminalise acts of consensual same-sex relations.

We also view PM Najib’s statement as reflective of a problematic human rights discourse promoted by Asean. The Asean Human Rights Declaration, considered as a regional human rights standard, subjects the interpretation of human rights to a country’s specific social, cultural and religious backgrounds.

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We affirm the universality of human rights. This is an important principle to ensure that the rights of marginalised persons, including LGBTIs, are guaranteed.

We believe that any interpretation of and application of human rights principles should be done with a view to promoting the dignity of all persons and not legitimising any form of violence and discrimination against them.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The Asean Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity and Expression (SogieE) Caucus is a regional advocacy network with members from at least eight countries in South East Asia. It aims to build a strong LGBTIQ movement that holds governments accountable towards the protection and promotion of human rights of all persons regardless of Sogie.

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