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. 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

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

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Universal values won’t help resolve issues faced by Malaysia (The Ant Daily)

My comment addressing allegations made against COMANGO, and on the compatibility and relevance of universal human rights mechanisms in Malaysia (definitely rebutting the claim highlighted in the article’s title):

Meanwhile, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) advocacy officer Yu Ren Chung said while Isma and the Muslim groups are entitled to express their views on the matter, the use of state machinery to vilify Comango is a cause for concern.

WAO is one of the 54 endorsees of Comango’s demands and Yu said the coalition has been subjected to “outlandish comments” and “baseless allegations” – including through the official Friday prayers sermon text prepared by the Islamic Development Department Malaysia (Jakim) on Oct 18.

“It is our responsibility to respond to Isma because what they have said are factually untrue. Isma is claiming to speak on behalf of the larger Muslim community when that is not necessarily true either,” said Yu, in pointing out that matters of religion should be personal to every individual.

He also maintained the overall concept behind championing for adoption of universal human rights standards is so that every individual will be able to live their chosen life with dignity.

This, he said, is due to the fact that a UN member country will receive technical assistance to implement the resolutions which it has ratified for the betterment of the people.

Read the full article published in The Ant Daily on 23 November 2013. 

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Comango: Muslim NGOs missing forest for the trees (The Malay Mail Online)

My comment on the perceived notion that human rights, including international mechanisms like the Universal Periodic Review, are foreign ideas and at odds with religion.

“There’s a misconception that human rights is something from the West … If one looks at the history of the human rights, it has global support,” said Yu Ren Chung from Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

According to Yu, two of the five authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) were P.C. Chang who was from China, and Charles Malik who was from Lebanon.

The UDHR was subsequently adopted by UN members in 1948, with 48 countries in favour and eight abstained ― mostly from the Soviet bloc.

The representatives also rubbished claims by Muslim NGOs that by ratifying international human rights protocol, Malaysia will open the floodgates to practices that “would threaten the position of Islam” such as same-sex marriages and apostasy.

“Realistically and practically speaking, it seems a far-flung idea, used simply to scare people into taking a position in line with (them) … They choose the most polemic of all topics, we’re not even at that stage yet,” said Suriani.

“By signing (the protocols), it sends a signal that we would like to meet these standards, basic global human rights standards, and one can work progressively to achieve that,” explained Yu.

Yu has also stressed that there are many Muslim countries that have ratified the global protocols, without any sudden spike in same-sex marriages and apostasy.

*Correction: I noted that there were eight or nine drafters of the UDHR, not five.

Read the full article published in The Malay Mail Online on 24 October 2013. 

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Reviewing Human Rights in Malaysia (BFM 89.9)

Suri Kempe from Sisters In Islam (SIS) and I shared our thoughts on Malaysia’s human rights situation, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and COMANGO, with Lee Chwi Lynn on BFM’s The Bigger Picture.

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Prelude by BFM:

All member states of the United Nations are subjected to a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every four and a half years by the Human Rights Council to gauge the extent to which the state under review is fulfilling its obligations to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of people who live in that country. Malaysia was first reviewed in 2009, and was reviewed again on 24th October for the second time.

As part of the review process, the UN would take into account the report submitted by the Malaysian government, various reports compiled by UN agencies, as well as a third report summarizing various stakeholders’ positions. One of those stakeholders is the coalition of Malaysian NGOs, or COMANGO, who is advocating for a more progressive agenda with an emphasis on equality. Another stakeholder is the coalition of Muslim NGOs, or MuslimUPro, who champions a more conservative agenda, which stress upon Malaysia’s unique circumstance as a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country.

Here to articulate COMANGO’s stance is Yu Ren Chung, advocacy officer of Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), and Suri Kempe, programme manager of Sisters in Islam (SIS).

Interview aired on BFM 89.9 on 25 October 2013.

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As peer review nears, NGOs hopeful Putrajaya will meet rights pledges (The Malay Mail Online)

My comment on Malaysian human rights NGOs hopes for the Malaysian government’s review under the Universal Periodic Review process:

Two Comango members who stayed back in Malaysia told The Malay Mail Online in an interview this week that an important issue addressed in the report is the politicisation of religion.

“The reason why this is such a big issue, is it affects many issues. It affects women’s rights, children’s rights, freedom of religion, minority rights, et cetera,” said Yu Ren Chung, advocacy officer for Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

“If anything, we’re challenging the stranglehold the government has on religion,” Yu added, refuting claims from some Muslim NGOs ― which have banded under the name MuslimUPRo ― that Comango is trying to challenge the position of Islam in the nation.

Read the full article published in The Malay Mail Online on 24 October 2013.