KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — A coalition of Malaysian NGOs has expressed its hope that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government will side with civil societies in the face of anticipated smear campaigns and backlash from critics, ahead of the country’s human rights review by the United Nations (UN).
Noting the experience and stance of several PH ministers and MPs when it comes to human rights, Comango also hopes to work hand-in-hand with Putrajaya for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council this year.
“Some of the MPs and ministers were from this side of the divide. They have a strong human rights background that they have fought for before this. And now they’re with the government,” said Sevan Doraisamy, the executive director of watchdog group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).
He gave the example of Gobind Singh Deo, who used to speak up against torture and death in custody, and now as communications minister, has the resources to educate the public about the UPR process.
“We need to make sure the current government is very uncomfortable about the use of public funds. You cannot have public funds being used to encourage state violence, discrimination and the persecution of selected populations in Malaysia,” EMPOWER executive director Angela Kuga Thas said.
Comango today launched its stakeholder report for the UPR, in which it noted that human rights defenders had been attacked by state-sanctioned and private groups under the previous government.
In the previous UPR in 2013, a group called MuslimUPRo, comprising 27 Islamic and Muslim NGOs, had accused Comango of being an illegitimate and foreign-funded organisation, but did not disclose evidence to support its assertion.
MuslimUPRo has since been replaced by another coalition called Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process, or Macsa.
Prior to the launch of the report today, a pro-Islamist group called Gerakan Pengundi Sedar accused Comango of, among others, fighting for the right of Muslims to commit apostasy, allowing the proliferation of Christianisation and Shiah Muslims, and promoting gay sex.
Angela urged Putrajaya today to speak up against the demonisation of human rights defenders, saying some ministers in the previous administration had been “too quiet” despite their positive response towards human rights.
“If there are these kinds of calls to discriminate or stigmatise or even to encourage violence, the ministers and those in power should speak up and discourage these acts,” she said.
Ahead of the UPR later this year, Comango had, in a statement, urged Putrajaya to be more transparent in its report to the UN, and should make principled efforts to detail concrete steps to address the “severe deterioration” of human rights here.
“Comango believes that our new government is well-primed at this point to adopt honest and critical self-assessment about the human rights situation of all people in the country.
“The government must pay better attention to the rights of vulnerable populations and persistent marginalisation of women and girls based on patriarchal values,” it said.
Held every four-and-a-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.
The process involves a three-hour interactive dialogue, where UNHRC members will question Malaysia based on reports prepared by the government and UN agencies, as well as the stakeholders’ report that summarises the reports of NGOs both national and international.