Lawyer: Since Pakatan promised refugee protection, why not sign other UN treaties?

Chan said attention should be paid to the overall roots that enable oppressive Malaysian laws to exist, instead of merely identifying breaches to different human rights. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Chan said attention should be paid to the overall roots that enable oppressive Malaysian laws to exist, instead of merely identifying breaches to different human rights. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 — The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government should sign international human rights conventions to protect Malaysians, on top of its promise to sign a treaty that will protect the rights of refugees in the country, a lawyer has said.

Seasoned human rights lawyer Roger Chan was referring to PH’s election manifesto of 60 promises, with the 59th promise being the ratification of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention to enable refugees who come to Malaysia to receive appropriate aid.

“I note in Pakatan Harapan’s promises, the second last of the promise is to sign the Convention of Refugees.

“And that got me thinking, if you can do it to people outside our own national boundaries, why can’t you do it in respect of people within our own boundaries?” he said when raising a comment at human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia’s (Suaram) annual human rights report launch here yesterday.

Chan said attention should be paid to the overall roots that enable oppressive Malaysian laws to exist, instead of merely identifying breaches to different human rights.

“Within the Malaysian constitution, there is an embedded and entrenched general power to pass oppressive laws, such that it has already carved out an area where as and when, according to your whims and fancies; if you choose to abuse power, human rights is out of the question,” he said.

To prevent the government’s potential abuse and arbitrary use of the entrenched powers in the Federal Constitution for oppressive laws, Chan mooted the strengthening of the country’s constitutional and legal framework for human rights.

“I would suggest one first step forward is to ratify and sign all the six core international human rights instruments,” he said.

Malaysia has only signed three out of the nine core international human rights instruments, namely the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The six UN treaties that Malaysia has yet to ratify include: the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The remaining ones unsigned also include the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Chan questioned how it could be guaranteed that PH would not revert to the old Barisan Nasional (BN) administration’s way of doing things and that past abuses would not recur, reiterating that this would only be possible if the Federal Constitution is amended to ensure international human rights norms are protected.

Later when met, Chan explained that the Federal Constitution’s Article 150 allowed for the enactment of emergency laws that were only repealed about 40 years later in 2011, while Article 149 also gave broad powers to the government to make laws that effectively suspend the constitutional rights of Malaysians.

“Article 149 actually gives very wide powers to the government to introduce security laws and these security laws can also affect and violate human rights. Therefore the human rights guarantee under the Constitution is not actually very firm in practice unless the government of the day gives commitment,” he told reporters.

He cited laws created through Article 149 as including the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota) which all allow for detention without trial.

Chan explained that the signing of the six UN treaties was necessary to ensure that the government truly commits to and does not pay mere “lip service” to human rights, and also to create a culture where human rights will be upheld and eventually entrenched in the country’s legal framework.

“Once you sign it, then the courts will look into it, that’s a treaty, a treaty is a contractual obligation,” he said.

This should then be followed by a repeal of laws that are “anti-human rights” such as Poca, Pota and the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.

The signing of the human rights treaties should also be followed by the adoption of international rights standards into the Federal Constitution and Malaysian laws, with any contradictions to be ironed out through government consultation with stakeholders, he said.

“After that, you need to enforce it, you have to retrench it and pave the way for introduction of human rights norm in Malaysia, this will give meaning to a new Malaysia,” he said.

When asked if Article 150 should at the same time be abolished, Chan noted it is not unusual for any nation to have such a provision that enables the declaration of emergency to safeguard the country.

As for Article 149, Chan said it can be reconciled with the human rights norms by introducing safeguards such as the requirement for a two-thirds majority in Parliament for any laws that will take away civil liberties.

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