GENEVA: Malaysia should pick up the pace towards incorporating a human rights approach to its laws in order to be a "fully developed" nation by 2020.
The call was made by National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam during a dialogue session hosted by the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango) at the United Nations headquarters here on Oct 25.
"I keep saying that by 2020, should you make it [as a developed nation], Malaysia will be judged by a different standard of human rights," said Hasmy, who was a panellist at the event held on the sidelines of the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.
"Their [the government's] arguments [on human rights] have remained the same since I was a diplomat," he said.
Malaysia was the 17th country to participate in the process which is held once every four-and-a-half years.
Hasmy noted that Malaysia's laws are still very much "security-orientated" and judges tend to interpret existing legislation according to the letter of the law.
Hasmy's observation was also based on the response given by a representative from the Attorney-General's Chambers to UN member countries who had participated in the UPR process for Malaysia, following presentation of its national report on Oct 24.
The government was urged to, among others, respond to the recent “Christian Allah” debacle in relation to freedom of religion in Malaysia.
The Attorney-General's Chambers had then explained how the High Court's decision to ban the word “Allah” from being used in the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Catholic newsletter the Herald was a preventive measure made in the interest of "public safety and public order" – instead of an act of discrimination against religious minorities.
The government representative also stressed that Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has the absolute discretion to ban any word that is prejudicial or deemed to be prejudicial to national security.
"These reasonings [national security] are no longer plausible now," Hasmy said, adding that while Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had made the "right" statements in terms of advancing the promotion of human rights in Malaysia, there is still a lack of political will to implement the necessary steps.
Malaysia, among others, has only ratified three UN treaties pertaining to the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities and these too are with reservations on certain clauses contained within the treaties.
Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chairman Andrew Khoo, as moderator for the day, had also referred to the Attorney-General's Chambers argument on the “Allah” decision and concurred that the government still appears to be "hung up" on the issue of national security.
Hasmy, in response, said that while religion is considered to be a "sensitive" issue in Malaysia, the government should be more open to accepting contradictory views from other Muslim countries.
"Right now, I can't blame them. They take their cues from religious officials. Once you come up with a fatwa, the common people think it should not be contradicted," he said.
Sudan and Iran were among the Muslim nations which had called upon Malaysia to ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the coalition of Muslim NGOs in the UPR Process (MuslimUPRo) had claimed will eventually lead to a rise in apostasy cases.
Other panellists who spoke at the forum were Comango members Masjaliza Hamzah (Center for Independent Journalism), Jerald Joseph (Pusat Komas) and Honey Tan (Empower), as well as Mark Bujang who represented the Malaysia Indigenous Peoples Network (JOAS).
Joseph, when asked for his views on the UPR process, had said he was quite impressed by the fact that many Islamic nations had called on Malaysia to ratify core human rights treaties without fear that it would somehow jeopardise the Muslim faith through introduction of "secular" values.
He also rubbished the government's excuse to hold out on ratification of various human rights treaties pending "full compliance" with its standards, pointing out that such mechanisms were designed to assist countries towards achieving full compliance.
The Malaysian government will be deliberating on all the recommendations it received from 104 UN-member states which took part in the UPR process and state its commitments in a report to be tabled on Oct 31.
~ The Ant Daily