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Malaysia fails to uphold the cores of universal human rights, says human rights group

By Peter John Jaban, 10-12-2023
HUMAN Rights Day which falls on, 10 December 2023, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. For 75 years, the core thrust of the Declaration has been to infuse societies with principles of equality, fundamental freedoms and justice. The theme for Human Rights Day 2023 is “Freedom, Equality and Justice for All”.

Malaysia being a part of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the term of 2022 – 2024, was elected on Oct 15, 2021. Unfortunately, Malaysia has failed to uphold the core Articles as enshrined under UDHR 1948, namely:

Article 1 - All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 2 - Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 7 - All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 18 - Everyone has the right to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19 – Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Truthfully, where is Malaysia heading?
It has been a year now since the present ‘Unity Government’ under the stewardship of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was formed and the people of Malaysia are increasingly growing impatient, dissatisfied and perplexed over the uncertain roadmap of the government in leading the nation. Promises of ‘Reformation’ made during the GE15 campaign trails have yet to be delivered to the people and remain merely as yet another political speech. 

The recent announcement by the Prime Minister that an economic congress on Bumiputera would be held in January 2024 to establish a new direction and approach for a Bumiputera agenda empowerment. This is not the first time such congress was being held and not the kind of reformation we expected. This raised a question, isn't Anwar supposed to be the Prime Minister of a multiracial, multireligious nation? Isn't the economic improvement should be beneficial for all Malaysians without being bias. During GE15, campaign, Anwar claimed that the Indians and Orang Asli are among country's poorest. Hence isn’t it supposedly an economic congress for Malaysians.
Statistics reveals that the majority of non-Muslims voted and supported Pakatan Harapan, the coalition led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, due to the simmering turmoil and unhappiness in the nation and hoped for a meaningful reformation of fundamental rights, economy, education, health and social welfare development.

However, till today, on this 75th commemorative day of World Human Rights Day, we Malaysians are still fighting an unresolved battle against racism, fanaticism, extremism, discriminations and double standard policies targeting the minorities in this nation. 

Take for instance the more recent incidents that impact and relate to religious persecution:
1. At the National Tamil Language Carnival on Nov 23 2023, participants were barred from reciting Tamil hymns to mark the start of the programme. Indian participants were not allowed to sing Kadavul Valthu (Praises to God) and Tamil Valthu (Praises to the Tamil Language) during the event which was held in a hotel in Kepala Batas. The carnival was a Tamil programme, that was organized to celebrate the advent and flourishing of the Tamil language over generations and restricting the two Tamil hymns was a gross and brazen infringement of participants' rights.

2. The refusal by TV Sarawak and the state’s UNIFOR (Unit for Other Religions in Premier Department) to play O Holy Night heralding the birth of Jesus Christ in a Christmas programme on Dec 3, 2023 at Padang Merdeka has shocked many non-Muslims (and even right minded moderate Muslims) throughout the country. It seems this rejection was due to religious elements as well as owing to the protocol from the Film Censorship Board. It is yet another case which is utterly ludicrous and discriminating. The matter was raised vigorously by the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) and only after the Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Openg intervened and ordered that the hymn O Holy Night should be allowed did the matter get resolved.

3.  The controversial dismissal of a non-Muslim, non-Malay restaurant worker in the federal capital city, Bukit Bintang, simply because he wore a chain with a small crucifix pendant – an artifact that is commonly worn by Christians.

4. Cases related to unilateral, unethical and unlawful religious conversions can be heard almost every month, endlessly year after year. It has caused family members, spouses and children to become victims as many families are broken up in the process. Some of these cases are still actively on-going in courts waiting indefinitely for a just, fair closure.

The time for Human Rights to anchor is now or never.

For the past three years GHRF (Global Human Rights Foundation) has been voicing out on matters concerning the violation of human rights especially towards those affecting the non-Muslims and the minorities in this nation. Police reports and memorandums were also handed over to the relevant ministries and authorities for redress but over hopes and efforts were in vain.

NGOs and human rights activists are condemned and criticized and even branded as a security threat by politicians, whenever matters of public concern are raised involving the violation of rights and injustices inflicted owing to policies, statements and actions. 
GHRF registers its greatest disappointment towards the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM). Being a legitimate body established under the Malaysian Parliament in 1999, SUHAKAM has painfully failed to address all the critical issues pertaining to human rights and violations towards the minorities. Public opinion holds SUHAKAM as totally inefficient and inactive in speaking up for the minorities and the injustice shown as well as the double standard policies impacting non-Muslims and non-Malays in the country. For years over decades now, they were merely being a puppet to the government given the fact that they are politically appointed representatives.

Today NGOs and netizens are deeply concerned and increasingly disturbed over the level of racial and religious intolerance in the country, which is morphing into a threat to national unity and harmony. It is a widely held perception that the racial divisions in the Malaysian society is drifting further and faster and it cannot continue to be ignored if we regard patriotism as a vital ingredient for national peace and progress.  
GHRF currently has three active cases pending in the courts with regards to inflammatory speeches and postings in the public domain insulting and deriding non-Islamic religions in the country. It has always been either, the NGOs or the public who have to individually or privately seek justice as the law enforcement agencies and authorities who are supposed to act on the matter without prejudice or bias seem to be operating on double standards.
GHRF has called on the Government of Malaysia to table a Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in Parliament, which would ensure that those making any statements deemed as hate speech directed at a particular race or religion will be prosecuted. GHRF has also requested for the Government to set in place an independent body to oversee conversions into Islam, and for strict laws and guidelines to be drafted and enforced to avoid such conversions being done covertly, coercively and in a partial manner favoring the converted against the unconverted. 

GHRF’s objective is to uphold the Malaysian Constitution, the Principles of Rukun Negara, Parliamentary Democracy, Rule of Law and equality without discriminations or hints of apartheid. Towards this end GHRF deems that the enforcing and abiding by the 30 Articles as enshrined in UDHR 1948 is non-negotiable.#

Peter John Jaban is Deputy President of
Global Human Rights Federation (GHRF)

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