THE Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review Process (Macsa) congratulates the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) on the occasion of the first parliamentary discussion of its annual human rights report recently.
We have perused the contents of the report and find that while there are many areas that deserve to be commended, it is sadly bereft of objectivity, contains several misleading narratives and lacks inclusivity.
Firstly, in terms of the international human rights instruments that Suhakam refers to in justifying its push for a rights-based culture in Malaysia, we find that disproportionate weightage has been given to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other conventions derived therefrom, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
While we are aware that section 4(4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 requires Suhakam to have regard for the UDHR as well as Part II of our Federal Constitution on fundamental liberties, we remind Suhakam that Malaysia’s membership of not just the United Nations, but also the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which makes the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) and Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) equally applicable in our national human rights discourse.
We, therefore, opine that ideally section 4(4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 should be amended to reflect this.
Second, we are concerned with the way Suhakam continues to push for the abolition of the death penalty without taking into account public opinion thereon and the magnitude of certain crimes, such as murder, that many within the society agree warrants the penalty.
We have always stressed that reform of the death penalty, if any, must be in line with Syariah and focus on the standard of proof and to conform with Islamic principles.
Also, Suhakam’s continued push for the Sedition Act 1948’s repeal is also disappointing to say the least. Next would be the failure to address the criminal defamation perpetrated by the likes of Numan Afifi before the United Nations Human Rights Council last year, when he claimed that Jakim’s Muhkhayam programme, which catered to the religious rights of the LGBT community, amounted to state-sponsored violence against them.
We also strongly condemn the narrative that Suhakam has taken on LGBT persons stating that adherence to the so-called traditional two-gender theory has resulted in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
We reiterate that there are no universally accepted human rights instruments anywhere that enshrine any right to sexual orientation and gender identity.
There is also the failure to address the issue of Muslim women being discriminated against in the workplace for being barred their religious right to wear the hijab and Muslim men being prohibited from performing their Friday prayers.
We note that the right to wear hijab is mentioned only once in the entirety of Suhakam’s 2018 report.
Also ironic is Suhakam’s laudatory descriptions of mosques that have agreed to carry its human rights message in their Friday sermons when the national human rights body itself has failed to address those Muslim men barred by their employers from performing Friday prayers.
These various failures by Suhakam contradict its obligation to protect religious freedom provided by Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution, as well as Article 18 of the UDHR, Article 10 of the CDHRI and Article 22 of the AHRD.
Yet another concern that needs to be addressed is that while we have always been supportive of any move towards acceding to the Convention Against Torture (CAT), we note that Suhakam’s report has equivocated caning in schools to a violation of Article 16 of CAT, which is utterly false as it is misleading.
Child rights are dealt with under the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Malaysia is already a party to, and the definition of torture under Article 1 of CAT is clear in that it is limited only to circumstances of the state attempting to procure information by unlawful means and no more.
Suhakam fails to address the real human rights issues that have arisen in Malaysia which must be viewed with concern.
Macsa calls upon Suhakam to rectify these shortcomings immediately and cautions it on the consequences for the lack of objectivity, false narratives and non-inclusivity that is prevalent throughout its annual report.
However, on a positive note, there are many good things that can be said as well.
We laud Suhakam’s support for the right to education for children in particular with respect to the education of refugees, such as the Rohingya.
On child marriages in Malaysia, we reiterate our stand that this should be looked at from the perspective of Islamic law and the right of states to govern their own Islamic affairs as provided for by our Federal Constitution.
Child marriage is already stringently governed by the various Islamic administration enactments.
We also support Suhakam’s suggestion that a National Children’s Commission be established and stand ready to assist Suhakam in this regard.
We would also like to commend Suhakam’s efforts in the area of refugees and asylum seekers and its providing sensitivity training to enforcement agencies, in particular the Immigration Department of Malaysia, with respect to refugees.
On this point, we have also visited the embassy of Gambia in Kuala Lumpur to express our support for its government’s decision to bring Myanmar to book for its state-sponsored crimes against its minorities, such as the Rohingya, before the International Court of Justice. We reiterate our call for Malaysia to accede to the 1951 Convention on Refugees and immediately enact a Refugee Act catering for the welfare of refugees.
We also applaud Suhakam for its renewed focus on the rights of the disabled as well as the stateless community, especially its research on the issue in Sabah, which mirrors our own outreach efforts, in particular with respect to the Tagupi Membaca programme by some of our NGOs, such as Wafiq, Concern and Haluan Sabah. This programme focuses on teaching stateless children how to read.
Also deserving praise is Suhakam’s accurate observations on the state of elections in Malaysia, which has been deteriorating greatly as of late in particular when recent by-elections are taken into account.
We also support Suhakam’s recommendation that religious and tahfiz schools should improve on their safety, teaching methods and the quality of education.
We stand ready to assist Suhakam in targeting the areas that need further improvement so that it can realise its mission of attaining human rights for all.
LUKMAN SHERIFF ALIAS
Chairperson, Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review Process, Macsa.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR RAFIDAH HANIM MOKHTAR
President, The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education and Co-chairperson, Macsa