Malaysia defended its human rights position at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva yesterday by rejecting much of the more liberal-natured criticism levelled at it by international delegates and civil society in general. 

Foreign ministry deputy secretary-general of multilateral affairs, Ho May Yong, and her team of senior government officers sat at the assembly comprising most of the 193 UN members, who took turns giving their feedback and recommendations in rapid succession, mostly in their native languages. 

Each UN member had exactly 1.05 minutes to speak in the three-and-a-half hour session that is held only once in four-and-a-half years.

After reading out a prepared report that Malaysia had improved on its standards for education, healthcare, housing and the rights of indigenous peoples and women, and that it was on target to developed country status and eradicating poverty, Ho dealt with some recent issues:

GE13 irregularities, or lack of

"Despite the fact that the campaigning period was marked by a several incidents of related violence and inflammatory political rhetoric, touching on sensitive racial and religious issues from both sides of the political divide, the voting exercise ensued in a peaceful manner. Apart from that, GE13 was significant for setting the record for the highest voter turnout at 85 percent of eligible voters.

ec wan ahmad wan omar in kaula besutAs for allegations of possible fraud in use of indelible ink during GE 13, Ho said: "The EC is committed to conducting investigations on the matter. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has also initiated investigations and those investigations are currently on-going.

"Moving forward, the government is conscious of the need to work towards national unity and achieving national reconciliation after the elections. 

"With a view to enhancing the integrity, credibility and transparency of the EC, the PM's office relinquished its oversight function of the EC on June 1. Henceforth, the EC will report to a bi-partisan Parliamentary Select Committee. Thus, the United States question on this issue, I believe, has been answered."

Rights of ‘certain' minorities

On this, Ho said: "The government wishes to underscore that in its efforts to preserve and enhance national unity and integration, it has demonstrated openness and considered interpretations of fundamental constitution and other legal provisions. 

NONE"For example, this approach at tolerance, moderation and understanding is evidenced by, among others, the government's continued financial and material support for the federal vernacular education system in the country."

As for the rights of Lesbian, Gays, Bi-sexual and Transvestites (LGBTs) and other Islamic school of thoughts: "The government will handle the matter carefully, consistent with cultural traditions, religious doctrines, societal norms and in accordance with our national laws and regulations."

Ho then gave the floor to a representative from the Attorney-General Chambers, which dealt with several recent legal tussles.

The new Peaceful Assembly Act has been resoundingly successful, the attorney-general's representative said, adding: "The introduction of the PAA is a huge milestone in enhancing the rights to assemble peacefully and without arms for all Malaysians and it includes provisions for relevant authorities to facilitate this assembly to ensure the safety of citizens who participate in this assembly. 

"In short, the new law delivers life into the Malaysian constitution and reinforces the constitutional right to assemble peacefully and without arms."

NONEThe AG's representative then commended the police for working well to handle the crowd of two huge opposition rallies attended by thousands in January 2013 and on May 8, 2013 and said only problem was that some children tagged along.

"The government is aware of criticism to investigate 14 of the participants who were alleged to have brought children and the government wishes to take this opportunity to clarify that children under the age of 15 are not allowed to participate in an assembly and any person who brings or recruits any children to an assembly, other than those assemblies that are allowed... will be committing an offence."

He went on to commend the police for not stopping the Black 505 rally in Kelana Jaya on May 8, even though very short notice was given.

Freedom of religion and 'Allah' issue

The AG's representative continued: "The use of Allah in the Malay version of The Herald (which is also published online) has the potential to disrupt the even tempo of the lives of the Malay Muslims. It may cause religious sensitivity in the context of Malaysia.

NONE"The Al-Kitab andThe Herald are two publications of entirely different character. The Al-Kitab, or Malay version of the Bible is meant for Christians and used in churches whereasThe Herald is also available online and can be read by Muslims and non-Muslims. They, therefore, cannot be treated in the same manner.

"The crux of the matter, as argued in court, is not premised on freedom of religion... instead it is related to maintaining order in the context of Malaysia. The banning of the word was not based on religious consideration but was made on the basis of the publication being in violation of Malaysian publishing laws. 

"Therefore, the decision to ban the use of ‘Allah' in the Malay language text in this newspaper was on the basis that such usage can give rise to religious sensitivity, which may lead to a threat to national security and public order."

As the Malaysian government officer spoke, many Malaysianstweeted their responses at much of these repeating the government's statements with sarcasm or emphasising the recommendations made by the other UN members on the UPR panel.

A few also expressed disgust with one Malay comment made at the end of the session, that the government had just "sodomised the minds of the people".

In an immediate reaction after the session, a coalition of 54 NGOS called Comango, which had earlier said the government would whitewash its human rights report to the UN assembly, said it was disappointed but had expected the "touch-and-go manner" of the UPR process.

"Many countries have made good and wide range of recommendations and we urge the government to implement them," a Comango representative said from Geneva, immediately after the session ended past midnight Malaysian time.

Malaysia also went on record at yesterday's UPR session, declaring that said it had successfully implemented 62 recommendations from other UN member states made at its inaugural UPR meet on Feb 11, 2009.

The UN will compile the feedback of all the member nations on Malaysia from the latest UPR meet on its website over the next few days. Malaysia has the sovereign right to accept or reject any of the recommendations.