Muslim nations nudging Malaysia’s human rights agenda, critics told

PETALING JAYA, Nov 15 — Muslim critics of human rights defenders are “barking up the wrong tree” by accusing the latter of furthering a Western-backed or Christian conspiracy, a forum on Malaysia’s future in human rights was told last night.

According to Bar Council member Andrew Khoo, Muslim-majority countries were among those which have asked Malaysia to obey international human rights standards in the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) last month.

“These are not Western, European-centric recommendations... For anyone to attempt to say this is a Western agenda, sorry you’re barking up the wrong tree,” said Khoo, who is the co-chairman of the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee.

“I would say specifically to the likes of Muslim Lawyers’ Association and Isma (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia), if you’re saying this is a Christian plot, then why is it that you have Algeria, Chad, Tunisia talking about signing international conventions?” he asked, of two vocal Muslim activist groups, the latter referring to Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia.

In a presentation last night, Khoo told the discussion organised by Human Rights Movement (Proham) — a watchdog group made up of former human rights commissioners — that the bulk of the recommendations by other countries was for Malaysia to ratify those treaties. 

Out of the 232 paragraphs of 249 individual recommendations for Malaysia, 48 paragraphs or 20.7 per cent was about the ratification.

(From left) Proham secretary-general Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Proham chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chairman Andrew Khoo. Some 19 countries, including Muslim-majority Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Tunisia and Sierra Leone, wanted Malaysia to sign one or more of the six core international conventions on human rights which the Southeast Asian nation has yet to ratify.

Since 1995, Malaysia has ratified only three conventions: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“If you think that Islam is going to be threatened by any way by signing of the international conventions, then are you questioning the sincerity of Islam when it comes to those countries?” Khoo asked.

Ahead of the UPR, several Muslim non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had lobbied Putrajaya to not accede to certain international conventions and treaties despite proposals made by the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR process (Comango).

Islamist group Isma has been at the forefront of attempts to discredit Comango, which has also come under fire from other Muslim activists here who claim the group’s human rights recommendations to the United Nations ran counter to the “true” teachings of Islam and the sovereignty of the Federal Constitution.

Isma and the Muslim Lawyers Association had since signed on with a coalition of Muslim NGOs called MuslimUPRo, and had also accused Comango of attempting to spread “liberalism teachings” backed by Western powers.

Comango’s 22-page report deals with issues such as the administration of justice; freedom of religion, expression and participation; rights to work, health and education; indigenous and migrants’ rights; and discrimination involving sexual orientation and race.

Khoo however dismissed the Muslim NGOs last night, labelling them as fringe voices that must be countered by alternative opinions from moderate Muslims.

“I cannot accept anybody who says I cannot speak about Islam in this country because it affects me as much as it affects Muslims,” said Khoo.

“But I also acknowledge the reality that I have to find and support Muslim of moderate views and encourage them to speak up and to say that this is the alternative voice to those we only hear from government, through Friday sermons.”

Khoo labeled the Muslim NGOs as fringe voices that must be countered by alternative opinions from moderate Muslims.Malaysia must respond to the recommendations on or before the next time the Human Rights Council convenes, which is scheduled for March 2014.

Malaysia first came under the UPR review on February 2009, and consequently accepted 62 of the 103 recommendations issued by the UPR working group.