Legislators and Human Rights: A Malaysian Snapshot
Advocate & Solicitor, High Court in Malaya
It is ironical
indeed that the actors who are responsible for upholding the law
are the principal violators of human rights around the world.
Human rights protection cannot subsist without State participation.
Lawmakers and legislators play a vital role in protecting and
promoting human rights through legislation and democratic practices.
In Malaysia, law makers are unfortunately blase about human rights
and its impact on the society.
Since its inception, the Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) has actively carried out its mandate culminating in no less than 15 reports. Of all the annual reports submitted to the Parliament none have been either tabled or debated. The Government has appeared reluctant in explaining why adequate time was not given for consideration of these reports. Besides pointing to the Government’s lack of respect for SUHAKAM, it also impairs its right to defend human rights which is an abdication of responsibility on part of the Government.
A genuine desire
to uphold human rights is usually clouded by political motivations.
After attending the Cabinet meeting on 2 March 2005, Datuk Azmi
Khalid, the Minister of Home Affairs, said, “Bona fide refugees,
as well as those who had applied for refugee status, would not
be targeted during the current Ops Tegas against illegal immigrants.”
This decision was welcomed as it represented an open acknowledgement
of the principle of non-refoulment which forms the core content
of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951.
next day however, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak,
reversed the Governments position and said, We will
take action against anyone who is here illegally. There is no exemption
on this including those who are carrying letters, genuine or otherwise,
from the UNHCR.
the international level, Malaysia has been repeatedly defensive
of its human rights record and continually deflects attempts to
improve the monitoring mechanisms promoted by the United Nations.Recently,
Malaysia resisted the recommendation of the United Nations to prepare
an annual report on the situation of human rights worldwide in view
“of the varying human rights perspectives and different political,
historical, social, religious, cultural and developmental characteristics”.
Yet, in the same breath, legislators maintained that not enough
was being done to address poverty, underdevelopment, marginalisation
and instability as “the universality and indivisibility of all human
rights have been accepted as far back as 1993, at the Vienna World
Conference on Human Rights.”
The problem is endemic. Contradictory public statements such as the ones quoted above are not isolated. This displays a deficiency on the part of MPs in understanding the struggle, thereby rendering other useful statements on the commitment to human rights as mere lip-service.
the legislators is no solution to the problem. We must make an attempt
to understand them and where they are coming from. Human rights
activists and non-governmental organisations find it easy to take
altruistic position, legislators on the other hand are constrained
by the political realities of the day. Legislators are elected and
sustained by the power of numbers. It is these numbers they must
keep to hold onto power. Human rights transcends the power and numbers
game. Hence, the dilemma.
however have been won, and the statement of Datuk Azmi Khalid on
2 March 2005 exemplifies that. It was a battle fought and won by
a combination of unrelenting and tireless NGOs, human rights activists
and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
to uphold Human Rights.
as the struggle continues, the feeling is that the legislators use
concepts of human rights to serve their own hidden agendas. Saying
so doesnt negate the fact that, in reality, they are indispensable
to the process of furthering the cause effectively. The focus must
now be to re-educate and re-democratise our country. There must
be a concerted agenda for MPs to pursue in terms of human rights
protection and promotion. Almost every issue in an election can
some way or the other be articulated in the language of human rights.
The promotion of human rights issues must then be shaped in different
forms to reach out to different sectors of the electorate
the poor, the disabled, the middle-class, the rich, the educated
long as the Opposition continues to be fragmented and disorganised,
there can be no effective challenge to the ruling Government. Exercises
in excess of power will continue. The baggage which PAS1 brought
to the Opposition was probably the major factor in the overwhelming
majority voting for the BN2. Despite PASs stated commitment
to human rights, its basic ideology and raison detre does
not sit well with international rights norms.
must be a concerted human rights agenda based on clear policies
(at the macro and micro level) of a shadow or alternative government
for the electorate to choose from. The human rights cause cannot
be fought on a piecemeal basis. It must be advanced as a whole in
every aspect of the administration and management of the country.