Pakatan needs roadmap for human rights reforms, says Amnesty International

Executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu speaks during a press conference in Petaling Jaya May 8, 2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu speaks during a press conference in Petaling Jaya May 8, 2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PETALING JAYA, May 8 — Amnesty International (AI) Malaysia today suggested that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government formulate a strategic roadmap for introducing human rights reforms.

Its executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said that while PH started out strong in its aim to introduce reforms and abolish repressive laws as well as ratifying international human rights treaties, it however seems in lack of a direction now.

“We need to see a plan that is clearly articulated and in the spirit of promoting and protecting human rights in the country,” she said, adding that some of the bold statements of rights reforms made in the past year, were swiftly followed by disappointing U-turns, indicating a lack of political will.

“For example, the government announced the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the accession to the Rome Statute but quickly backed down when these did not fly with certain quarters,” she said at a joint press conference with Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Asia chapter.

The press conference was held to reveal the two NGOs assessment of the PH government, a year after it took over Putrajaya from Barisan Nasional (BN).

She noted that in December, the government had also lifted a moratorium on six pieces of legislation — Sedition Act 1948, Section 223 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), Act 747 of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) and the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca) — purportedly for national security reasons.

She said that these laws, notably the Sedition Act and the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012 however, were later used to investigate organisers of the Women’s March event on March 9, indicating the continued trend to silence dissent and intimidate members of the civil society.

“At different times, the Sedition Act and the CMA were used to arrest individuals for commenting on the abdication of the throne by the former Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The culture of repression seemingly still prevails, and the government must address this,” she added.

On abolition of the death penalty meanwhile, Shamini noted that the PH manifesto had pledged to abolish the mandatory death penalty for all crimes, only to backtrack later.

“We are disappointed at this U-turn but consider the abolition of the mandatory death penalty as a step in the right direction towards total abolition.

“The Pakatan Harapan government needs to remain steadfast and demonstrate its commitment to human rights by abolishing first the mandatory death penalty, and then, full abolition in order to honour Article 5 of the Federal Constitution on the right to life and liberty and Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the right to life,” she added.

Shamini said that the new government has also made little impact on minority rights, particularly with regards to sexual minorities, expressing regret on the lack of protection for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people in Malaysia.

“Although Religious Affairs Minister Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa said that the LGBTI community in Malaysia deserves equal rights as citizens and that they cannot be discriminated against including at workplaces, there is a continuous trend of intimidation and censorship against the community,” she said, referring to the recent questioning of activist Numan Afifi.

Numan was recently questioned over a speech given by another person at Malaysia’s Universal Periodical Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

On the protection of the indigenous people, Shamini commended the government for taking what she labelled as a historic step, pursuing legal action against the Kelantan state, seeking legal recognition of native land rights of the Temiar tribe in Pos Simpor.

“We commend the federal government for upholding the rights of the Temiar, and hope that we will see the government step in when the rights of other Orang Asli and Orang Asal communities are being violated, including on indigenous land issues,” Shamini added.