Malaysia’s 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR): Accepting and implementing recommendations
By Honey Tan Lay Ean
25 October 2013
It is cloudy with no chance of meatballs in Geneva. Actually it has been raining – quite a fair bit. Lucky for us our excitement kept us warm in the lead up to Malaysia’s universal periodic review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council on 24 October 2013. Coincidentally, 24 October is United Nations Day.
Days 2 and 3 in Geneva had us doing more intensive lobbying at the Serpentine in Palais des Nations with the representatives from the permanent missions of Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand, the US, Norway and Kenya.
We also made a visit to Palais Wilson to meet with the representatives from the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the situation of human rights defenders.
There was a frank discussion with representatives from the Malaysian permanent mission in Geneva and the Malaysian delegation that came for the UPR. It was good that we met. It gave us an opportunity to have a more in-depth consideration of some of the issues raised in our stakeholders’ reports and Malaysia’s report. We heard about the challenges faced by Wisma Putra in their efforts to coordinate Malaysia’s report, and we repeated our recommendation that Wisma Putra and NGOs should institutionalise regular meetings – perhaps twice a year. We spoke about how Malaysia would be approaching the review itself, Malaysia’s list of speakers, expressed our great concern about the latest slew of oppressive legislation that has made or is making its way through Parliament and how Malaysia would deal with it during the review.
So how did the UPR go for Malaysia?
Overall, it was a fair review. 104 countries spoke for 1 minute and 10 seconds each. Time keeping was strictly adhered to, and the chairperson had to knock a few times when speakers took longer than their allocated time.
HE Dato’ Ho May Yong, head of the Malaysian delegation started the review by highlighting Malaysia’s claims of successes. A few other delegation members attempted to address the concerns raised by member states and stakeholders.
It is extremely troubling that the JAKIM spokesperson stated clearly that when it came to women’s rights, they consider women’s equity – not women’s equality – in relation to men. He informed the Human Rights Council that there is no room for any type of Islam except the Sunni stream of Islam in Malaysia.
The representative from the Ministry of Home Affairs made feeble attempts at justifying the return of detention without trial under the amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act.
There were the expected congratulatory statements, and some countries like India, Saudi Arabia, and Lao did not make any discernable recommendation.
There were many calls from countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Mexico to abolish capital punishment, and / or for a moratorium pending the abolishment.
The advancement of women’s rights merited recommendations in many areas such as education, health, domestic violence and increasing the number of women in decision-making positions. Canada, Chile and Italy made recommendations on dealing with marital rape. Guatemala raised its concern that women married to foreigners and giving birth to children abroad could not automatically confer citizenship on their children.
Indigenous peoples’ rights were well supported, mainly in the area of land rights. Recommendations for these issues came from countries such as Norway, The Netherlands, and New Zealand.
Countries such as Argentina, Croatia and Belgium supported rights relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. There were concerns raised about the violence faced by people in sexual minority groups.
Many recommendations on children’s rights were made. They centred around the areas of education and health for poor children and those living in rural areas, and regarding birth registration. Among the many, Thailand, Slovenia and Sierra Leone made interventions. Montenegro raised its concerns on early and forced marriages of children.
On freedom of religion – especially on the rights of those practising minority religions in Malaysia – recommendations were made by Sudan, Poland and Italy.
As expected, recommendations on the rights of migrant workers were raised by Indonesia and The Philippines.
Around half of the member states made recommendations that Malaysia should ratify more core human rights treaties especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Many called on Malaysia to ratify the Rome Statute. There were also recommendations to invite more of the UN Special Procedures to make official visits to Malaysia.
The draft Working Group Report will only be released on Monday 28 October 2013 at 6 p.m. Geneva time. On 31 October 2013, Malaysia will have a chance to say which recommendations it accepts, rejects or reserves its right to make more comments later on. The formal adoption of the Working Group’s Report by the Human Rights Council will take place in 2014.
The hard work starts now. Malaysia must accept the tough as well as the easy recommendations. Take on the challenge, Malaysia!
It is unacceptable for Malaysia – which is now running to be elected into UN the Security Council in 2014 – to shy away from fulfilling the rights of ALL those who live here.