SUHAKAM Annual Meeting
AT THE THIRTEENTH ANNUAL MEETING OF THE
ASIA PACIFIC FORUM OF
NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS
28-31 JULY 2008
AT THE IMPERIAL HOTEL KUALA LUMPUR
29 JULY 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- It gives me great pleasure to address the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions on the occasion of the Forum’s Thirteenth Annual Meeting.
- For a start, let me wish you all “SELAMAT DATANG” to this vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is honoured that Kuala Lumpur has been chosen as the venue for the event, and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) as the host of this important meeting of advocates and practitioners of human rights from the member states in the Asia Pacific region. The occasion is more meaningful as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which I understand would be a subject of your deliberations.
Ladies and Gentlemen
- It goes without saying that Human Rights is a time honoured concept. In Malaysia, fundamental rights are spelt out in Articles 5 to 13 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, which anchor the basis for human rights in Malaysia as stated in the Malaysian Human Rights Commission Act 1999. The establishment of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia by the Human Rights Commission Act of 1999 represents a momentous landmark for human rights in Malaysia. The main purpose of the Act was to create an independent body statutorily charged with ensuring that every individual’s fundamental liberties and human rights are protected. The Commission has thus far stayed true to it’s objectives, vigilantly investigating and monitoring human rights related matters brought to its attention
- The government notes with satisfaction the general strengthening of the protection of human rights in the country and the central role which the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, more commonly known by its Bahasa Malaysia acronym SUHAKAM, has played in the country’s efforts to respect, promote and protect human rights.
- In that regard I am pleased to note and share with you the advances Malaysia has made in terms of the rights of her citizens in various areas. In the field of education, the right to education is now made available to all children, including the children of Malaysia’s indigenous tribes. In the judiciary, the government’s recent move to ensure speedy disposal of cases and to look into the establishment of a more transparent system of appointment of Judges is illustrative of our continuing commitment to the rule of law and the protection of the rights of our citizens.
- The Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 ensures that women and children in particular are protected from this scourge and from human rights abuses that accompany human trafficking. I am proud to state that this Act is more comprehensive than anti-trafficking legislations found in some countries as it provides protection for male victims as well. In the area of human resources and employment, the passing of the Persons with Disabilities Bill on December 2007 and the government’s decision to open up a percentage of civil service jobs for the disabled, demonstrates that we have not failed to include the most vulnerable segment of society in our pursuit of the promotion and protection of human rights.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- The Malaysian society is characterised by pluralism and multi-culturalism. You may observe that there is a wide range of ideologies, beliefs, religions, lifestyles and value systems existing side by side in Malaysian society. It is freedom and respect for each others’ rights that make this pluralism possible. Malaysians come from a diverse background and it is this diversity that provides the strength and enrichment that has built a society based on tolerance, equality, dignity and respect for all. There is, as always, room for improvement; nevertheless we have been cited as a model for a harmonious plural society, and this is something in which Malaysia and all Malaysians take great pride.
- One of the highest aspirations of the common man is to lead a life where he can enjoy rights of freedom of speech and freedom of belief without fear of suppression. There is no doubt that such rights are well enjoyed by Malaysians who are free to express their views and opinions within the boundaries of the law. But because of the nature of our multiracial society we believe strongly in a balance between the rights of the community and the autonomy of the individual. Freedom of speech and expression does not and cannot mean the uncontrolled freedom to cause trouble, to slander and to incite hatred and rage.
- Whilst we encourage the right to freedom of expression, this particular freedom must be exercised responsibly and sensitively in the given nature of our complex society. We should discourage hate speeches that incite and inflame racial tensions and create suspicion and distrust, detrimental to a country’s progress, well-being and development. The government is extremely protective of the peace and harmony in the country and will act against any party attempting to cause unrest of any kind.
- We realize however that in doing so there will always be those who cry foul, immediately raising the banner of human rights as a way of justifying their disruptive activities. Often times the foreign media is quick to unfairly draw the conclusion that personal freedom is restricted in Malaysia, just on the basis of the claims of certain individuals or parties having interest in painting Malaysia and the Malaysian government in a negative light. But as I said, there is a fine line between the human right of self expression, and disruptive and disturbing conduct that can cause chaos in society, and just as one is mindful of human rights one must also be mindful of the boundaries of the law.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Since it’s inception SUHAKAM has rightly been very popular with those who feel that they have been denied their rights. However because of a lack of understanding of the role of SUHAKAM and of the care and caution SUHAKAM takes in handling each and every case, there are those who then complain and express dissatisfaction against SUHAKAM . There is also the view that SUHAKAM is not “strong” enough to exercise its functions effectively. One of the dissatisfactions which NGOs have expressed in the past few days through the media is that the founding Act of SUHAKAM needs to be strengthened further, for example, to provide it with enforcement powers.
- It must be borne in mind that any move to amend the Act will of course have repercussions and therefore needs to be studied carefully and with great scrutiny. Let me however assure you ladies and gentlemen, that the Government is well aware of your recommendations as well as those which SUHAKAM has independently made. We will take all views into full consideration when we revise the measures to achieve higher standards for the protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- At the regional level, we support the participation of SUHAKAM and its contribution towards the creation of an ASEAN Human Rights Body under the ASEAN Charter. SUHAKAM together with its three partners in the ASEAN national human rights forum (ANHRIs Forum) has presented their Terms of Reference for the consideration of the ASEAN high Level Panel as their input towards the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism as enunciated under Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter.
- The participation of SUHAKAM annually at the APF meetings, the International Coordinating Committee, the Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva and other fora provide for additional inter-active avenues for the advancement of human rights. Through such active interaction, SUHAKAM would benefit from best practices of other national human rights institutions which in turn can become an impetus to formulate human rights recommendations to the Government.
- We have been informed that there have been initiatives by the APF to train officers of member institutions. Perhaps APF could consider the possibility of extending this training programme to include officers from government agencies as well, as we note that there is still a lack of understanding on the part of some administration officials on Malaysia’s regional and international human rights obligations. There is an erroneous perception on the part of some officials that international human rights laws have no relation to domestic governance. We must correct this misperception just as we continuously review our understanding of various human rights issues.
- Other areas of human rights concerns that need to be studied are rights relating to media freedom, the right to privacy and ratification of international treaties. With the global emphasis on security and counter-terrorism, the right to privacy is the subject of great debate. The realities of today’s tumultuous world, demand that nations and governments find the right balance between the rights of the individual and bona fide concerns for national security. Perhaps finding this crucial balance is a matter into which Human Rights organizations ought to delve deeper; to find mechanisms to ensure both the protection of the individual and the security of the state, without one necessarily causing the compromise of the other. It would be a complex and challenging task, but one which would serve society well.
Ladies and gentlemen,
- I’ve highlighted some of the more pertinent issues you may discuss in the course of this APF. It is not exhaustive and when it comes to the protection of human rights there is never one single solution that solves all problems. This is why meetings such as this APF are extremely important so that we can continuously improve the ways in which we ensure that human rights are always upheld and protected. I wish you all a very fruitful meeting and hope that we may gain from your wisdom and recommendations. Your very presence today demonstrates a unity and cooperation on human rights issues in the Asia Pacific region. We are grateful to the Asia Pacific Forum and its Secretariat for their professionalism in making this event happen in Kuala Lumpur.
- I thank you once again for inviting me to be a part of this occasion and on that note, it gives me great pleasure now to declare open the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.