Just as for all countries, Malaysia’s human rights record gets reviewed at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva every four and a half years, through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.
Malaysia was recently reviewed, for the second time, on 24 October 2013. This is when other countries made recommendations to the Malaysian government on how to improve the human rights situation in Malaysia. And last week, the government noted which of these recommendations it was willing to accept, and which it was not.
Yesterday, 20 March 2014, marked the end of Malaysia’s second review. Malaysia’s UPR report was officially adopted at the Human Rights Council. This was also when the Malaysian government, other governments, and other stakeholders (mostly NGOs) made their last statements and comments.
I had the opportunity to attend the Human Rights Council in Geneva to make a 2 minute statement on Malaysia’s response to the recommendations it received on women’s rights and child rights (and briefly on the rights of people with disabilities).
I represented the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), which is a member of the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR process (COMANGO). My statement incorporated input from the Child Rights Coalition Malaysia. I must also thank the Urgent Action Fund for their support.
As a human rights activist, raising issues concerning women and children is part of my obligation; and representing my Malaysian NGO colleagues was a privilege.
You can watch my statement on the UN Web TV, where you’ll also be able to watch the statements made by the Malaysian government, other governments, SUHAKAM, and NGOs. I’ve also reproduced the text of my statement below.
The UPR process is one more nudge to the Malaysian government to improve the human rights situation in the country. As I fly back to Malaysia, and as we move into the implementation stage of the UPR, I am hopeful that the government will honour the commitments it made at the UPR, by implementing the recommendations it accepted and reviewing its position on the recommendations it rejected.
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
STATEMENT AT THE 25TH REGULAR SESSION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
MALAYSIA’S UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW OUTCOME
Statement delivered by Yu Ren Chung, Geneva, 20 March 2014
1. Thank you Madame/Mr President; greetings from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development and Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia, a member of COMANGO.[i]
2. We congratulate Malaysia for accepting several recommendations on women’s rights, including:
2.1. From Colombia to “launch a comprehensive national policy on gender equality”,[ii] and
2.2. From Sierra Leone to “submit [its] overdue reports on CEDAW and CRPD”.[iii]
3. But we are disappointed:
3.1. Malaysia rejected all seven recommendations to remove its reservations to CEDAW, CRC, and CRPD.[iv] Malaysia stated during its review that it is “unfounded” that Malaysia’s “Islamic Family Law … discriminates Muslim women on marriage issues.”[v] Thus, Malaysia should have no objections to removing its reservations[vi] to Article 16 of CEDAW, on equality in marriage.
3.2. Malaysia rejected Canada’s recommendation to criminalise marital rape.[vii] When a woman gets married, she is still entitled to say no.
4. On children’s rights:
4.2. Malaysia accepted two recommendations to ensure birth registration for all children,[x] and five recommendations to improve education for persons with disabilities.[xi] Free primary education still does not extend to non-citizen children.[xii]
4.3. Malaysia stated that child marriage has “never been a trend”. In Malaysia, Muslim girls aged 16 can be legally married; and girls below 16 and boys below 18 can be married with special permission. In 2012, more than 1,000 such special permissions were given.[xiii] Children below 18 are girls and boys, not brides and grooms.
5. The government has directly and indirectly harassed human rights groups which participated in the UPR, including declaring the coalition COMANGO illegal.[xiv] Moving forward, we hope the government will meaningfully engage with NGOs.
6. Malaysia has made progress which we all recognise; but much more needs to be done. We look forward to working with the government to continue to improve the situation of women, children, and all individuals.
[i] The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process, a coalition of 52 NGOs that submitted a stakeholder report on Malaysia’s UPR.
[ii] Recommendation 94 (Colombia): “Launch a comprehensive national policy on gender equality and non-discrimination.” Malaysia accepted this recommendation in principle.
[iii] Recommendation 37 (Sierra Leone): “Fully cooperate with international bodies by submitting overdue reports on CEDAW and CRPD.” Malaysia fully accepted this recommendation.
[iv] Recommendations 29 (Spain), 30 (France), 31 (Norway), 32 (Albania), 33 (Belgium), 34 (Belgium), and 35 (Slovenia).
[v] A/HRC/WG.6/17/L.8, Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Malaysia, Point 76.
[vi] Malaysia maintains reservations on five CEDAW Articles: 9(2), 16(1)(a), 16(1)(c), 16(1)(f) and 16(1)(g).
[vii] Recommendation 129 (Canada): “Ensure the right to equal protection under the law by criminalizing marital rape through the removal of the exception in Section 375 of the Penal Code.”
[viii] Comment to recommendation 34 (Belgium): “Malaysia has taken steps to ensure that capital punishment is not imposed on persons under 18, in particular by rescinding the Essential (Security Cases) Regulations which ceased to have effect from 21 June 2012. The Government is currently reviewing its policy with a view to abolish practice of caning of children in schools.”
[ix] Comment to recommendations 105 (Ukraine), 107 (Ecuador), 116 (Albania) and 127 (Czech Republic).
[x] Recommendation 73 (Australia): “Ensure prompt registration of all new-born children;” and recommendation 172 (Sierra Leone): “Ensure birth registration of all children to facilitate the access to social services.”
[xi] Recommendations 204 (Tunisia), 205 (China), 206 (Jamaica), 207 (DPRK), and 208 (Cyprus).
[xii] Malaysia rejected recommendation 203 (Norway): “Take concrete measures to prevent children from becoming stateless and guarantee universal access to free primary education, irrespective of citizenship and immigration status;” and recommendation 221 (Mexico): “Facilitate the process of immigration’s regularization for those persons who have resided in the country for an extended period and allow the registration of their children born in Malaysia.”
[xiii] The Star, “Child marriages on the rise”, 6 October 2013.
[xiv] The Star, “Home Ministry: Comango is an illegal entity, not registered with ROS”, 8 January 2014.