For people who aren´t familiar with Malaysia, a good overview about the Human Rights situation in Malaysia could be helpful before starting reading the Blog, which could be quite confusing without any background information.
In the last days I found a summary of human rights violations which were committed in 2013. It was published by the amazig human rights organization „Suara Rakyat Malaysia“, which could be familiar to some of the readers.
2013 was notably marked by the 13th General Elections which saw the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) getting 47% of the total popular vote while the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat got 52%. Malaysia´s May 5th general election came under intense scruntiny internationally. There were allegations of vote buying and other reported irregulartities. The government also enforced a media blackout, with Malaysia´s mainstream media refusing to give more than 10 minutes of air time to opposition parties during the election campaign.
The outcome of the 2013 General Elections was a manifestation of the popular aspiration for reforms and greater respect for human rights in the country. It had come through great disappointment with the increasing failure of state institutions, such as the police, judiciary and others to uphold justice, equality, human rights and democracy.
Independent election watchdog BERSIH (Coalition for free and fair election), formed a people´s tribunal to investigate the allegations of electoral fraud concluding that eye-witness accounts, photographs and video recordings have „led us to question the legitimacy of some of the results. We have no doubt that the election was not clean and fair.“ Moreover, BERSIH´s demands, especially regarding the cleaning up of the electoral rolls, have not been fully met.
Major events in Malaysia in 2013 included the landmark decision on the death of A Kugan in police custody in 2009; the open apology by NST to SUARAM, BERSIH, Centre for independent Journalism (CIJ) and Merdeka Centre for publishing untruthful and defamatory articles on 21st September 2012.
There were more arrests and detenions under the Sedition Act 1948, Peaceful Assembly Act (2012); amendments to the Penal Code and return of detention without trial in a new form, namely, the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) 1959. The year was marked also by Malaysia´s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council.
Thus in 2013, we saw the same repressive trend in human rights observance as in previous years:
Detention without trial
In 2011, the Internal Security Act (ISA) and Emergency Ordinance (EO) were repealed. Despite the estimated 2000 EO detainees released when the law was repealed, the abolition of ISA didn´t have any effect on the people who were still detained under the act. Documentation and monitoring by SUARAM and the Abolish ISA Movement show that there were still six detainees behind bars, without charge or judicial review, who were arrested under this law.
Malaysia´s August 2013 state Universal Periodic Review report claims that „with the repeal of the ISA, the practice of preventive detention was effectively ended.“ However, in practice, preventive detention continues with the Internal Security´s replacement, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) and the amended Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) which were passed in June 2012 and in October 2013 respectively. Although the three proclamations of emergency have been lifted by the Prime Minister, some laws that allow for detention without trial remain.These include the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Mearues) Act 1985 (DDA) and the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA).
Police Abuse of Power
Abuse of power by the police remained unchecked while the Government continued to drag in feet in setting up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) that had been recommended by the Royal Police Commission in 2005.
In 2013, SUARAM recored 12 cases of death in police custody while a total of 124 people were shot dead by the police from 2009 to August 2013.
Press freedom continued to decline in world rankings with Malaysia place at an all-time low position of 145 out of 179 countries, the country´s worst showing since 2002.
Freedom of Expression
Malaysia´s 13th general election saw increased attacks on freedom of expression. In April 2013, just days after parliament had been dissolved and new elections declared, various alternative media websites including „Free Malaysia Today“, „Malaysiakini“, „The Malaysian Insider“ and „Sarawak Report“ were targeted by sustained DdoS attacks. Independent radio stations „Radio Free Sarawak“ and „Radio Free Malaysia“ also had their broadcasts systmatically jammed. Despite past statements by the BN government to repeal this unjust catch- all law.
Freedom of Assembly
The Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA 2012) was enacted by the government apparently „to uphold, protect and promote freedom of assembly“ in 2012. The Act is riddled with incosistencies. For example, there are contradictions in the definition of a moving assembly and street protest. At least 26 people were charged under the PAA 2012 during the post-election rallies and 33 others were charged under Section 143 and 17 people were charged under Section 147 of the Penal Code for unlawful assembly and rioting.
Refugees, Migrants and Asylum Seekers
Refugees and asylum seekers continue to be arrested, detained, imprisoned, whipped and deported by law enforcement authorities with governmental sanction.
The efforts and ability of the UNHCR to protect refugees and asylum seekers are limited and restricted by the government´s refusal to accept any recommendations pertaining to refugees and their recognition. It is not uncommon for UNHCR officials to be denied access to detainees to verify if they have legitimate refugees claims, as happened in June when, sectarian clashes between Myanmar nationals prompted authorities to detain foreign workers at the Selayang wholesale market and charged them with entering the country illegally.
Racial and religious intolerance
The year also saw the perpetuation of racial and religious intolerance as a result of heightened politicisation of race and religion by the BN Government after its loss in the 13th general election. Throughout Malaysia´s modern political history, the race based ruling coalition has continued to invoke the „spectre of racial conflict“ to consolidate power and to justify its control of power especially in times of political crisis especially during the UMNO party election. Thus, after the BN coalition´s poor showing in the 13th General Election, there were challenges to the leadership of Najib Tun Razak.
The growing criticisms of Najibs´government both from within and without had major implications for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Malaysia.
International Standing on Human Rights
Malaysia´s credibility at the international level took a further blow at the second review of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council on 24th October 2013. Malaysia´s recent pledge to „keep pace with progress made on economic, social and cultural rights“ was castigated as an empty promise by Amnesty International and SUARAM in a joint statement issued on 31st October 2013.
The 103 UN- member states at Malaysia´s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) highlighted the fact that many of the previous recommendations made during the 2009 UPR were still not met while new areas of concern are emerging. Human Rights concerns include Malaysia´s poor ratification record on core international human rights treaties; restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly; the preventive detention of criminal suspects for long periods of time without charge or access to a judge; human rights violations at the hands of the security forces including torture and other ill-treatment; and the retention of the death penalty, particularly mandatory sentencing for drugs and other non-violent offences.
Other concerns include the treatment of migrant workers, indigenous peoples, refugees and asylum- seekers, as well as freedom of belief and religion,LGBT rights and discrimination.
Despite an initial pledge made in 2009 to „consider ratification“ of key international human rights instruments, Malaysia has yet to ratify core human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Malaysia has also yet to ratify the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor the International Convention on Protection of Migrant Workers and their families.
After the 2009 UPR, the Malaysian government stated that it was „progressively studying the proposal to ratify the ICCPR and CAT and would be in a position to do so once major issues related to the legislative framework has resolved.“ Yet, four years later, Malaysia has yet to ratiy these treaties.There was no mention of any progress on this during the second UPR.
Source: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (2013). Malaysia Human Rights Report 2013- Civil& Political Rights. Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd: Petaling Jaya.