Comango: Previous administration backed attacks against human rights defenders

Advocacy and Capacity-building officer of EMPOWER, Rizal Rozhan, speaks at the launch of the Comango UPR Stakeholder Report in Kuala Lumpur June 7, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Advocacy and Capacity-building officer of EMPOWER, Rizal Rozhan, speaks at the launch of the Comango UPR Stakeholder Report in Kuala Lumpur June 7, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — Human rights defenders (HRDs) had been attacked by state-sanctioned and private groups under the previous government, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs asserted in a report to the United Nations (UN) launched today.

The report by Comango, which tracks progress in the field of human rights in Malaysia since the last UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), pointed out that the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration's stance on some issues had resulted in violence, harassment, and hate speech against HRDs.

“The government failed to uphold the principles and values of The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and has tried to politicise the human rights situation on the ground and demonise HRDs,” it said.

“Comango’s involvement in Malaysia’s previous UPR resulted in the Home Ministry declaring Comango ‘illegal’, while Muslim-based groups in The Coalition of Muslim Organisations in the UPR Process (MuslimUPRo) organised hate and smear campaigns against Comango.”

The report was prepared following a series of consultation sessions with Putrajaya between 2014 and 2017, following the last UPR on Malaysia in 2013 — when the country accepted 150 recommendations from its peers.

BN controlled the government at the time, but was defeated by Pakatan Harapan in the general election last month.

In 2013, MuslimUPRo comprising 27 Islamic and Muslim NGOs had accused Comango of being an illegitimate and foreign-funded organisation, but did not disclose evidence of its assertion.

MuslimUPRo has since been replaced by another coalition called Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process, or Macsa.

In the 26-page report, Comango highlighted the Menara.my blog linked to BN government, which it said promotes “anti plural, anti-liberal and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trasngeder (LGBT) themes and messages” which targets HRDs and groups.

Menara.my allegedly targeted those working in the areas of freedom of religion, interfaith, LGBT rights, women’s rights, or those seeking institutional reforms, and especially in relation to Shariah laws, gender equality, and human rights.

Comango also highlighed Friday sermons written by religious authorities openly calling for “jihad”, or holy struggle, against “liberal Muslims, LGBT individuals, and HRDs” — lumping them together with terrorists Islamic State.

A programme by government-linked think tank Institute of Islamic Strategic Research Malaysia (Iksim) had also labelled “secularism, liberalism and cultural diversity” as elements that undermine Islam.

The report further noted that the government’s position on LGBT people has resulted in an increase of anti-LGBT groups and rhetoric by private entities, while LGBT HRDs face reprisals for upholding such rights.

“Gender based violence and hate crime towards trans-women and gender non-conforming people are largely unreported, and often dismissed,” it said.

“Many anti-LGBT groups out or disclose personal details online, including SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) of LGBT persons; use pejorative terms; posts varying degrees of hateful, violent and harmful messages in online spaces.”

In response, Comango recommended for the Home Ministry and the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to acknowledge, promote and protect HRDs, in addition to end impunity of certain groups by introducing complaints mechanisms against them.

Held every four-and-half years, the UPR is a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) mechanism that was established in 2007 to improve the treatment of human rights in all 193 UN member states.