Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) Human Rights report Overview 2018 is now available to the public. 2018 has been a monumental year for Malaysia. With the first change of administration in the nation’s history, the Malaysian peoples’ aspiration for change and political reform is given an opportunity to flourish.
The change in administration also marks a change in policy direction in all areas. Changes to economic policy were swift with the abolition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) but slow when it comes to critical reform on the civil and political rights front. Apart from the initial announcement of the intent to abolish draconian laws and the announcement that the administration shall do away with the death penalty on World Day against Death Penalty (10 October 2018), the Pakatan Harapan administration has backtracked on several key issues such as the ratification of selected international treaty and the reversal of moratorium on draconian laws.
It is undeniable that many of the human rights violations observed today are inherited from the misconducts and abuses of the Barisan Nasional administration. However, this does not absolve the Pakatan Harapan administration from its failure to put an end to these violations.
In 2018, SUARAM notes that:
- Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and Prevention of Crime Act 1960 – was applied broadly up to the 14th General Elections. There is a notable decline in the application of these laws following the dissolution of several task force within the Royal Malaysian Police. However, many of those detained are still languishing in detention with no fair trial afforded;
- Harassment against Human Rights Defenders and Activists – the trend of police intimidation and harassment of human rights activists continues with the Deputy Home Minister defending police action in investigating human rights defenders and activists for public assemblies and memorandum to government agencies;
- Child Marriage – several cases where a minor was married off to adults sparked a round of controversy which was amplified by the lack of coherent voice by the administration in tackling the violation of child rights, while some of the early concerns have been remedied, the underlying violations and concerns of sexual grooming remains unaddressed;
- Moratorium on Draconian Laws – despite human rights NGOs early suggestions and recommendation for a moratorium to be imposed pending the amendment and repeal of draconian laws, no action was adopted by the Pakatan Harapan administration. The eventual implementation of moratorium followed by a swift withdrawal of said moratorium puts the conviction of the Pakatan Harapan administration in question;
- Democratization and Inclusive Policy Making – a remarkable improvement was noted in terms of government agencies’ accountability to the public and other stakeholders. While there is a notable improvement in government communications with stakeholders, decision-making process still takes place in a vacuum where human rights NGOs and thinktank are not necessarily engaged.
The development in the recent days has brought new concerns for the Pakatan Harapan administration’s direction and conviction for human rights reform. Failure to engage with civil society and build public discourse prior to the announcement of ‘policy plans’ have led to substantial backlashes such as those relating to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the abolition of death penalty. The answer to the backlash has thus far has been ‘U-turns’
SUARAM strongly encourage the current administration to review its policy and decision-making procedures and implement processes for a more inclusive engagement and decision-making process with civil societies and the broader public to ensure that the public is aware of the stakes involved and to de-escalate the on-going campaign of misinformation that may derail the human rights reform that Malaysia sorely needs.
The administration has shown that it is capable of broader engagement such as these through its stakeholder consultation on draconian laws; the appointment process for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) representative; and the planned establishment of thematic Parliamentary Select Committee.
It is time for the administration to set aside the toxic practices of their predecessor and genuinely embrace the reforms needed to bring about a new Malaysia.