The Malaysian Bar notes the statement by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of law and parliamentary affairs, Liew Vui Keong, that the government is “developing concrete solutions for unresolved human rights issues neglected by the previous government”.
This recommitment is most welcomed in light of Human Rights Day, which falls on 10 December. Human Rights Day is a day to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly which provides a yardstick for Malaysians to take stock of our progress and acceptance of human rights.
In this regard, we note that Liew is reported to have addressed freedom of information legislation, alternative sentencing to replace the mandatory death penalty, the establishment of a law commission and ombudsmen Malaysia, the decriminalising of drug addiction, and that the cabinet had approved the development of a national action plan on business and human rights for Malaysia. These are all welcomed.
This season of Malaysia’s growth and development as a nation is distinguished from previous seasons, as we now have a reference text from which we are able to hold the Pakatan Harapan government accountable – the election manifesto. Over the past 12 months, we have seen the Pakatan Harapan government both renege and deliver on various promised human rights reforms.
Most importantly, the government has delivered on opening up the democratic space and has taken a less severe attitude towards censorship. In this connection, we have seen a decrease in the use of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 in comparison to 2017 and 2018 [“While the abuse of the two Acts for political purposes has seemingly reduced when compared to 2017 and 2018, their use is far more common against any speeches that touch on race, religion and royalty.” Suaram’s Human Rights Overview Report on Malaysia 2019].
We also note that the government did attempt to revoke the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, but was thwarted by the Senate. We note that the bill to repeal the act was tabled and passed in Parliament again and is currently in queue at the Senate.
Further, we await the entry into force of the Youth Societies and Youth Development (Amendment) Act 2019 passed earlier this year, which seeks to define “youth” as those between 15 and 30, compared to 15 and 40 previously. The enfranchisement of our youth with the lowering of the voting age to 18 in this vein is also welcomed. This ignition of the government’s commitment to our youth is particularly poignant in light of the theme of Human Rights Day this year : “Youth Standing Up for Human Rights”.
Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done, both with regard to our international human rights commitments and closer to home.
Of concern was the government’s U-turn on acceding to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the withdrawal of its decision to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Promise 26 of the election manifesto – that pledges to “Make our human rights record respected by the world” – has been severely challenged.
The acceptance and incorporation of international norms and standards as set out in these conventions are necessary in establishing universal baselines for human rights.
The Malaysian Bar therefore also calls on the government to accede to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as pledged, without further delay.
The government had also pledged, in Promise 27 of the election manifesto, to “abolish oppressive laws”. In this respect, none of the laws detailed therein have been repealed or even attempted to be repealed. They remain still on our statute books.
Instead, we saw the recent use of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) against 12 individuals allegedly linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. These persons were arrested, detained and denied bail under Sosma and were only charged nearly two weeks later. Since then, the government has stated that it will consider removing certain draconian provisions from Sosma.
This cannot continue to be the mode in which reform is effected. The Malaysian Bar therefore hopes that the commitment by Liew will manifest not only in stronger political will but should also signal less abuse by the Executive.
The Malaysian Bar has, through the years, repeatedly called for the above reforms, and on this occasion of Human Rights Day, the Malaysian Bar reiterates and reaffirms its stand.
As we approach the year 2020, it is pertinent to remind ourselves that protection of human rights, respect for human dignity and the rule of law are essential and indispensable to the growth of a democratic nation.
The Malaysian Bar calls on the government to remain faithful to its manifesto promises on human rights and implement the same without delay.
Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor is president of the Malaysian Bar
This piece dated 13 December 2019 is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.