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Malaysia should take the Universal Periodic Review more seriously – COMANGO

PETALING JAYA – A coalition of more than 40 Malaysian NGOs submitted a report on human rights in Malaysia to the United Nations (UN) today. The report will be used in reviewing Malaysia during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in October this year. The UN Human Rights Council process reviews each of the 193 UN member states’ human rights records once every four and a half years.

“The government made many commitments at the previous UPR session in 2009 and only 23% are fully implemented,” said Honey Tan on behalf of the coalition called COMANGO, short for the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process. Tan, of Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), is the report’s lead writer.

“For instance, though the government recently ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and removed a few reservations it had on the UN conventions on women (CEDAW) and on children (CRC), it has yet to ratify the six other core UN human rights conventions.”

Besides previous government commitments, the report also highlights human rights issues that were not included in Malaysia’s report in 2008 e.g., the rights of non-citizens, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights, and racism.

COMANGO is the largest coalition of Malaysian NGOs submitting a UPR report. Thirty-four NGOs from across the country met in July last year to outline the content of the report.

The Bar Council, and NGO coalitions including the Child Rights Coalition, the Migration Working Group and Jaringan Utara untuk Migran dan Pelarian (Northern Network for Migrants and Refugees), Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (Network of Indigenous People Villages in Peninsular Malaysia), and Knowledge & Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS) also submitted separate UPR reports to the UN.

“The UPR helps us highlight human rights issues at a global scale, which is particularly important for issues that aren’t necessarily on top of everyone’s mind locally,” said Wong Kar Fai, Documentation and Monitoring Coordinator of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), another lead writer of the report.

“A good example of this is the rights of non-citizens. Our laws explicitly discriminate against domestic workers – mostly foreigners – who aren’t afforded equal rights in maternity benefits, rest days, and retirement benefits; they aren’t even recognised as workers.”

The Employment Act defines domestic workers as servants, helpers and maids.

“During the previous UPR cycle several countries urged Malaysia to improve conditions for migrant workers, but many of these recommendations were brushed aside. We hope this time around, the government will take constructive recommendations like this more seriously,” added Wong.

During its first review in 2009, Malaysia adopted 62 recommendations made by other countries, rejected 22 recommendations, and reserved comment on 19 recommendations.

Other NGOs which make up COMANGO include Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Dignity International, Sisters in Islam (SIS), ERA Consumer, Pusat Komas, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), and the Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA).