30 September, 2009

Malaysia - Human rights awareness

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597) came into force on 09/09/99. This was followed by the appointment of 13 commissioners who took office on April 24, 2000. In the Act's 10th year, it is most opportune that the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) selected the theme of "Human Rights in Malaysia: The Last 10 years" to celebrate Malaysian Human Rights Day 2009.

This is the 9th Malaysian Human Rights Day, and it falls on 09/09/09. Since this date is very unique, the Commission reckons it is most appropriate that we reflect on the status of human rights in Malaysia in the last 10 years and how far the country has come in achieving international human rights standards.

On Feb. 11, 2009, Malaysia went through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The purpose of the UPR, which was created by the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006, is to assess the human rights situations in all 192 UN member states, once every four years. In this context, Malaysia shared its human rights practices, and the actions it has undertaken to improve the human rights situation, before the UNHRC. It is therefore fitting that we reflect on how far Malaysia has progressed in the area of human rights over the last 10 years.

Some actions could be taken to:

- review the status of human rights in Malaysia over the last 10 years,
- identify the challenges which hinder the achievement of human rights standards,
- propose a road map to enable the government to adopt a human rights action plan as national strategy, and
- discuss how human rights in Malaysia can be further strengthened.

Incidentally, Suhakam was established by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999. It was done at the initiative of the government with little public involvement. In order to address the issue of human rights and to promote human rights awareness, consultations and dialogues with various stakeholders were held. Suhakam has gone a long way to fulfill its obligations and realise its goal.

It has continuously expanded its operations to reach new villages and towns in various parts of the country. It has, to some degree, imparted human rights awareness to people of all walks of society, ranging from government officials and corporations to the general public, believing that when rights and responsibilities are guided by human rights, principles and good practices, then freedom is automatically enhanced.

Kofi Anan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations said, "Human rights are the foundation of human existence and co-existence. Human rights are what made us human. They are the principles by which we create the sacred home for human dignity."

Human rights violations continue to occur on almost a daily basis in Malaysia, according to Suhakam Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib. He said that, as an advisory body without executive power, Suhakam could do nothing to ensure that the government responded to and acted upon on the commission's recommendations. He said that although the government had made significant improvements since the Suhakam Act became law on Sept 9, 1999, Malaysia did not have a perfect human rights record.

Needless to say, human rights are the peoples' rights. They are the the rights to life, citizenship, development, education, a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of a person and his or her family; the right to housing, equality before the law, prohibition of arbitrary arrest and detention, the presumption of innocence; the right to freedom of thought, conscience, choice and change of religion; the rights to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of peaceful assembly; and the right to take part in the government of the country.

However, the most fundamental requirement is that human beings must be truly free in order to exercise such rights and freedoms. Differences in status, race, language, sex, religion or political affiliation must not provide for discrimination regarding such rights.

Suhakam, being a creature of statute, believes that the solution lies with the voting public and that if the right people were voted into parliament, they would amend the law so that there would be more power to probe into complaints of abuses such as police inaction, excessive force, selective investigations and prosecutions, death in policy custody, delays in disposal of court cases, delays in processing applications for citizenship, and denial of rights to ancestral land.

Human rights should not be just the privilege of a select few but should be for all people, as envisioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our society is based on rights. The rights of every person on earth are precious and important.

Every effort should be made to protect and promote the belief that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Sekina Joseph

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