BERSIH, SUARAM and Aliran highlighting Malaysian Human Rights Abuses at the UN Human Rights Council

Bersih2.0 June 20, 2012 0
Press Statement by SUARAM, 19 June 2012

SUARAM Highlights Malaysian Human Rights Abuses at the UN Human Rights Council
 (Geneva, 19 June 2012) A Malaysian delegation of civil society organisations, comprising SUARAM, Aliran and Bersih 2.0, are attending the 20th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which opened yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland. During this week, the group will meet with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as various permanent missions to the UN in Geneva and NGOs, to highlight and make recommendations on Malaysia’s poor human rights record.
The delegation was pleased to note that, in her opening address to the Human Rights Council, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, actively championed working with countries towards the adoption of legislation which enshrine women’s human rights and protect women human rights defenders. She further called on States to “fulfil their commitments to issue invitations, facilitate country visits, respond promptly to communications, and respect the independence and mandate of the rapporteurs.”
The Permanent Representative of Malaysia, Mazlan Muhammad, in his statement to the Human Rights Council, was adamant of the government’s position that human rights in general shall not sideline the right to development. He also advised the High Commissioner and her Office to not “succumb to the political agendas of certain quarters” and that the Council should focus on “real violations and not imaginary or over blown incidences”.
Nevertheless, at a parallel event , the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, affirmed that he took the human rights situation in Malaysia very seriously, saying, “…the State cannot lose its duty to protect people, protestors alike…”. Answering to the questions asked by SUARAM Executive Director Nalini Elumalai, he also repeated his offer to visit Malaysia ahead of the 13th General Election. In June 2012, Maina Kiai had issued a joint press statement together with the Special Rapporteurs on the right to freedom of expression and the situation of human rights defenders, Frank La Rue and Margaret Sekaggya, requesting to conduct an independent inquiry into the human rights abuses during BERSIH 3.0. To date, the Malaysian government has failed to respond.
In discussing the recent violence at BERSIH 3.0, Maria Chin Abdullah of BERSIH highlighted two issues. Firstly, how could assembly organisers reconcile the competing interests of demonstrators and private business owners? Harm to business owners was the key rational in the intimidation, harassment and personal attacks against BERSIH 2.0 co-chairman Datuk S Ambiga by the Traders Action Council, who had purportedly suffered financial loss during the rally. Secondly, what are the duties of the State and assembly organisers in ensuring the safety of protestors?
In his response, Maina Kiai reminded the audience that “…public space has as much right to be used by protestors as anyone else…” and urged for “one standard” – that peaceful protests be treated fairly whether or not the demonstration is in favour of the government, without bias or favouritism. Moreover, it is considered trite law for the State to ensure a peaceful and safe environment for any demonstrators; this responsibility cannot be transferred wholly to the organisers.
The learned Special Rapporteur also stated that it is not remote that financial loss would occur in a demonstration and emphasised that financial interest cannot supersede the opportunity and space for freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
In collaboration with FORUM-ASIA, FIDH and Human Rights Watch, SUARAM will be hosting a parallel event, titled “Malaysia: Human Rights and Democracy Reforms Under Siege” on Wednesday 20 June at the 20th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
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