Malaysia’s 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR): Day 1 – Lobbying at the UN Human Rights Council
By Honey Tan Lay Ean
21 October 2013
Watery sunshine, temperatures in the low to mid teens, and trees in their autumn glory: welcome to Geneva!
We’re nearly there. Malaysia’s 2nd universal periodic review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council will happen on 24 October 2013 from 2.30 – 6.00 pm. Once every 4.5 years, all member states of the United Nations are reviewed by the Human Rights Council to gauge the extent to which the state under review is fulfilling its obligations to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of the people who live in that country.
Malaysia has filed its National Report, the UN agencies have compiled their report, and 28 NGOs – both national and international – have had their reports summarised into the Stakeholders Report. SUHAKAM’s report is also part of the Stakeholders Report. These are the 3 documents that the UN Human Rights Council will use as the basis of their review.
6 of us are here in Geneva: Andrew Khoo representing the Malaysian Bar, Honey Tan, Masjalizah Hamzah and Jerald Joseph from the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO), and Mark Bujang with Yusri Ahon from the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS). Over the past 7 months, COMANGO and the Bar have been briefing the diplomatic missions in Kuala Lumpur on a range of issues raised in our reports.
With 3 days to go before the review, we’re meeting with as many permanent missions as we can to update them in their countries’ areas of interest. At this stage, their areas of interest would have already been determined.
Today, we met with representatives from Canada, The Netherlands, and the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR).
We discussed their wide-ranging concerns. We spoke about the latest developments in Malaysia: the passing of the amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act that sees the return of detention without trial; the Home Minister’s remarks about shooting first; the treatment of migrant workers and refugees in Malaysia; freedom of religion; the Peaceful Assembly Act; criminalising marital rape; allowing women married to foreign men to be able to automatically confer citizenship on their children born abroad; corporal punishment; and rights relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The OHCHR was especially concerned with the attacks on COMANGO. We discussed the sermon issued by JAKIM on 18 October 2013 that urged Muslims to use all media to defend the religion of Islam and called upon the authorities to “effectively deal” with COMANGO by taking action against us. The OHCHR was also informed of the remarks made by the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association and Muslim NGOs in the UPR Process in attacking COMANGO’s report. The representatives from the OHCHR told us how human rights defenders may avail ourselves of the various UN mechanisms especially on matters of reprisals against us in our engagement with the UN processes. It was comforting to know that the OHCHR takes threats made against human rights defenders seriously: they are watching over us.