Obama’s star still shines in ASEAN

Barack Obama’s star quality shifted the focus of the event towards himself, and away from U.S. policy and its impacts.

U.S. President Barack Obama greeting an enthusiastic crowd after the Youth Town Hall at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Original image from Getty Images.

After waiting in the blazing afternoon heat for over an hour, I was finally seated in the Dewan Tunku Canselor, the iconic hall of Malaysia’s oldest university, along with several hundred other youths – people under the age of 35 – from Malaysia and other ASEAN countries.

It was a relief to get into the air-conditioned hall in Universiti Malaya, which was looking in tip-top condition. Two large flags, of Malaysia and the United States, hung side by side, covering the far wall. Rows of chairs lined the hall’s four sides. In the center, a square black stage, with a teleprompter on either side of a podium which bore the seal of the President of the United States.

There was a clear sense of anticipation in the air as we waited for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Town Hall to begin. People were taking group pictures, tweeting about the who’s who in the hall, and whispering about the secret service agents. Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah was a popular side attraction, with audience members filing her way to get a selfie with the popular opposition politician.

Two hours had passed when a large entourage entered the press area – perhaps the journalists who had been covering the President’s prior event, a joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib Razak. The front row seats on stage-left began filling up. U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Yun took their seats. We were asked to take ours. Continue reading

My statement during the adoption of Malaysia’s UPR report, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

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.

Delivering an oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, during the adoption of Malaysia's UPR report.

Delivering an oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, during the adoption of Malaysia’s UPR report.

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 Continue reading

Siapa tukarkan gambar ISTAC menjadi gereja?

Semalam saya menulis satu pos blog yang menceritakan bagaimana satu gambar saya yang diambil di dewan International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) telah disebarkan di beberapa blog dan forum di Indonesia. Gambar ISTAC itu dikatakan menunjukkan orang Islam di Malaysia yang murtad dan baru sahaja dibaptiskan di gereja.

Sememangnya, saya terperanjat menbaca dakwaan-dakwaan dalam blog-blog dan forum-forum itu.

Tetapi saya hairan juga – dari mana blogger-blogger Indonesia mendapatkan gambar saya itu? Dan kenapa blogger-blogger ini begitu berminat dengan kita di Malaysia?

Jadi, saya meng-google sedikit lagi hari ini. Apa yang saya dapat tahu – nampaknya gambar itu asalnya bukan disebarkan menerusi blog di Indonesia, tetapi menerusi satu blog di Kedah. Inilah screenshot daripada blog berkenaan:

 Gambar ISTAC yang dikatakan gambar gereja nampaknya asalnya disebarkan dari blog ini.

Gambar ISTAC yang dikatakan gambar gereja nampaknya asalnya disebarkan dari blog ini.

Saya menyebut nampaknya gambar itu berasal dari blog berkenaan kerana Continue reading

Gambar ISTAC dijadikan gambar gereja

Kedua-dua gambar ini menunjukkan ISTAC, bukan gereja.

Kedua-dua gambar ini menunjukkan ISTAC, bukan gereja.

Dua tahun lepas, 29 Febuari 2012, saya bersama-sama rakan sekerja telah menghadiri satu program anjuran agensi kerajaan LPPKN untuk membincangkan Dasar Keluarga Negara. Kebanyakan hadirin terdiri daripada kakitangan kerajaan, tetapi anggota NGO seperti saya turut hadir sekali.

Program itu diadakan bertempatan di International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), di Bukit Tunku, Kuala Lumpur.

Semalam, dua tahun selepas program itu, saya diberitahu oleh seorang rakan sekolah bahawa satu dakwaan telahpun disebarkan melalui beberapa blog dan forum di Indonesia yang mengatakan bahawa ramai orang Islam di Malaysia sudahpun murtad. Dalam pos-pos blog dan forum tersebut, dipaparkan pula gambar saya dan  Continue reading

12 takeaways from Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power

Pathologies of Power

Pathologies of Power book cover; picture from The Measles Project. I read the e-book.

I recently finished reading Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, by Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

As a student in the US, I learnt about Paul Farmer through my roommate who was a global health student activist (he now works with Paul Farmer in some capacity, and recently told me about his “highlight of the week” lending 20 dollars to Paul Farmer to pay a cab fare).

Anyway, I was extremely inspired by this man’s unrelenting belief and efforts in promoting health as a human right and social justice generally, and he certainly influenced the decisions I’ve made in my own career. Continue reading

“Grandmothers” in politics – stating facts can be sexist (Malaysiakini)

This article was published in Malaysiakini.

A few days ago Chief Minister of Penang Lim Guan Eng called Penang state opposition leader Jahara Hamid a “typical grandmother” and an “unreasonable and racist grandmother”, according to news reports. He was reacting to something Jahara had said in the Penang state legislative assembly.

Criticised promptly by Jahara and women’s groups, Lim apologised. Subsequently, some of his women colleagues called him out as well.

This apology is commendable. Yet, at least by reading though comments to the news reports of this episode, many seem to think that Lim had nothing to apologise for, that calling someone a “grandmother” is just stating a fact, not being sexist. I get the feeling many others feel this way too. Continue reading

Government and civil society: a complimentary relationship (inRoads)

This article was published in inRoads, Women’s Aid Organisation’s quarterly newsletter.

Group photo

Participants of the Dutch Visitors Programme, March 2013.

At the end of March this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the government of the Netherlands to participate in the Dutch Visitors Programme. Along with seven young women and men from other countries, I spent ten remarkable days in the Netherlands learning about international law and peace, human rights, and Dutch society, history, and culture.

As a soft diplomacy initiative, the programme was undoubtedly a success. An evaluation exercise asked participants to rate their emotional attachment to the Netherlands on a scale of 1 to 10, before and after the programme, where a higher number corresponds to higher emotional attachment. The average rating shifted from around 3 to around 7.

One reason for this positive shift, for me at least, was Continue reading