Human Rights Situation in Malaysia
The Malaysian Federal Constitution provides for the liberties of individuals and citizens as a whole. Despite these rights being enshrined in the Federal Constitution, there has been a breakdown of the rule of law and the rise in human rights violations appears to be swept under the rug. Therefore, this article discusses some of the examples of human rights infringement in Malaysia.
Exploring Human Rights in marginalised communities
Article 8 of the Federal Constitution provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to its equal protection. However, do these laws actually apply equally to all citizens? Despite the guarantees of the Federal Constitution to protect rights of individuals, these rights unfortunately do not cover for the voiceless and marginalised; namely indigenous persons, undocumented migrants, the stateless and refugees. And the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the growing distaste and animosity of these individuals to the point of intractable conflict.
Recent events exemplified these violations last May when massive raids were performed to detain refugees and migrants in multiple residences in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The incident spiked immense criticism on the Immigration Department and Royal Malaysian Police on the way they handled the situation with the notion of mitigating the impact of the COVID-19.
Whereas in Sabah, the surge of cases forced the voiceless and marginalised to endure the harsh realities of the pandemic. This leaves them vulnerable to infections and provides no means of sustaining their livelihood during the Movement Control Order (MCO), with no guarantee they would even be able to sustain themselves after the MCO. In contrast, other groups of citizens who are fortunate enough are able to stay at the comforts of their homes whilst still having access to basic needs and essentials provided by the government.
By law, non-citizens would also need to pay more in healthcare and the unaffordable medical fee impedes these individuals from having equal access to health treatment and services. For instance, foreign workers, who are paid lower wages than an average Malaysian citizen, would have a significantly higher cost burden in accessing Malaysian healthcare. Even if they are able to afford the fees, those without documentation risk arrests and repercussions from not owning any form of legal documentation. By right, health and safety is of utmost importance for all especially during these trying times. Therefore, health care services should be available to all without discrimination and that clear assurance should be given out to marginalised groups that that they will not face any repercussions when seeking for medical attention.
Children from deprived communities would also be denied or have limited access to formal education. This is especially to those without proper documentation, as even if they reside in Malaysia they could not be admitted to government schools. Instead, they must rely solely on initiatives by local non-government entities to tackle the growing barriers of education faced by these children. The importance of education not only mitigates the problem of illiteracy and poverty, but also acts as a panacea to improve their intellectual development, which would be vital for their adulthood. Hence, children should not be denied the most basic human right as proper education allows them an opportunity to reach their full potential and thus a crucial part of a normal childhood.
Restrictive legislations and efforts of reform
Over the years, several pieces of legislation formed have restricted human rights in Malaysia. And active repression of human rights has been no stranger to the nation. According to the World Report 2020, campaign commitments on promised human rights reform on restrictive laws are stalled indefinitely. With the stagnant progress of Legal Reform in Malaysia, it shows the lack of urgency to improve the human rights situation in Malaysia. These are the examples of the existing legislations that contrasts with human rights principles:
The implementation of the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 permits long-term detention without trial nor criminal charges. Originating in the 1960s, the Act was justified to combat the armed insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency. Due to the alleged draconian and unnecessary nature of the Act, the ISA has since been repealed and was replaced with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA). Initially, the repeal indicated a positive change towards the direction of human rights in Malaysia and was commended. Despite this, the recently implemented SOSMA still bears a striking resemblance with its predecessor. The draconian provisions did not fall far from the tree and were “not going far enough to protect the fundamental rights and freedom in Malaysia”, according to German magazine Der Spiegel.
The repressive colonial-era law, the Sedition Act dates all the way back to 1948. The function of the legislation criminalises any speech or publications that are considered to be seditious. In accordance with Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, this clearly restricts the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression essentially ensures democracy and the individual’s freedom to express their opinions and thoughts without any restrictions. However, the controversial nature of the Act was seen as an oppressive tool and has been highlighted for reform as it carries out the opposite of its original purpose - to preserve racial harmony in our multiracial society. Instead it is often used to effectively censor or inhibit an individual’s exercise of freedom of expression. Despite having calls to revoke the Act in its entirety, these remained unfulfilled.
The Police Act 1967 requires police permits for large gatherings. The Malaysian Police have the upper hand to detain persons without warrants, effectively prohibiting the freedom of assembly. In 2012, the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) replaced Section 27 of the Police Act, which regulates public protests and assures that citizens are able to organise and participate peacefully in public assemblies. However, its implementation became more restrictive. For instance, children under the age of 15 are prohibited from participating in peaceful assemblies and those under the age of 21 are prohibited from organising any of these assemblies. In 2019, the Peaceful Assembly (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed, which gave promising developments for citizens to exercise their rights to assembly. Such notable amendments were reducing the notice period to 5 days, as opposed to the previous 10-day notification period and that street demonstrations and protest marches from one place to another will no longer be an offence.
The protection and promotion of human rights is indispensable to all walks of life. All in all, every individual, despite their status, should have equal access to basic rights. And with furtherance, unjust and obsolete laws should be reviewed and amended accordingly or abolished completely. And instead, these laws should be replaced by laws which are compatible and in compliance with International Human Rights Principles and the Malaysian Federal Constitution.
Malaysia: Migrants, Stateless at Extra Risk from Virus, <https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/24/malaysia-migrants-stateless-extra-risk-virus>
Malayan Mansion, Selangor Mansion residents decry first Immigration raid in three years conducted under cover of EMCO, <https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/05/06/malayan-mansion-selangor-mansion-residents-decry-first-immigration-raid-in/1863439>
A Question of Access: Education Needs of Undocumented Children in Malaysia, <https://sgp1.digitaloceanspaces.com/proletarian-library/articles/Linda%20A.%20Lumayag/A%20Question%20of%20Access_%20Education%20Needs%20of%20Undocumented%20Children%20in%20Malaysia%20%28256%29/A%20Question%20of%20Access_%20Education%20Needs%20of%20U%20-%20Linda%20A.%20Lumayag.pdf>
Every child has a right to education – including 'invisible' stateless children, <https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/09/22/every-child-has-a-right-to-education---including-039invisible039-stateless-children>
When children born in Malaysia are denied education because they aren’t citizens, <https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2018/01/26/when-children-born-in-malaysia-are-denied-education-because-they-arent-citi/1563021>
Undocumented migrants in Malaysia in a pickle, <https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/irregular-migrants-malaysia-pickle-1887937>
Malaysian Health Care Expensive For Migrant Workers: KRI, <https://codeblue.galencentre.org/2020/12/01/malaysian-health-care-expensive-for-migrant-workers-kri/>
Reforms must go on whoever is in power, <https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/02/569418/reforms-must-go-whoever-power>
Amend Peaceful Assembly Act but don’t repeal it, <https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2019/07/31/amend-peaceful-assembly-act-but-dont-repeal-it/ >
Unjust and regressive laws should be abolished entirely, <https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/11/05/unjust-and-regressive-laws-should-be-abolished-entirely>