Malaysia-Press Release: Democratic Space in Malaysia | Realising Aspirations of Human Rights

Press Release: Democratic Space in Malaysia | Realising Aspirations of Human Rights

Press Release

Democratic Space in Malaysia: Realising Aspirations of Human Rights

The Malaysian Bar notes the decision by the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, as reported in the media, to appoint a committee (albeit subject to Cabinet approval) to draft the amendments to section 15 of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971.  The stated intention of this committee is to permit university students above the age of 21 the freedom to join political parties and participate in political activity.

We, however, remind the government of its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which it acceded in February 1995.  The CRC contains provisions that recognise the right of a child – defined as anyone under the age of 18 - to freedom of assembly and expression.  The proposed intention to amend section 15 of the UUCA will thus still be contrary to Malaysia's international law obligations.  If those under the age of 18 are entitled to such rights under the CRC, the same rights must apply to those aged 18 and above. The proposed amendment, while a widening of existing Malaysian law, is nonetheless not sufficiently broad to bring the position in Malaysia in line with international human rights norms.

The Malaysian Bar reiterates that wide and meaningful public consultation must always be conducted by both the government and Parliament prior to any amendment or enactment of legislation being approved. The indecent haste and lack of meaningful consultation in respect of the Peaceful Assembly Bill must never be repeated.  Incidentally, the Peaceful Assembly Bill also contains provisions restricting the participatory rights of children that are contrary to the CRC.  It also contains other restrictions that are in breach of international human rights norms as confirmed by a substantial number of international organisations such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Lawasia.

Such a public consultation process would be a realisation of the eve of Malaysia Day promise by the Honourable Prime Minister of an "inclusive democracy" and placing "trust in the Malaysian people's intelligence to make decisions that will shape the path of their own future".

The restrictive and repressive attitude adopted by the government in some of its proposals contained in the Peaceful Assembly Bill is being repeated by certain quarters who are now threatening legal action against a peaceful gathering of the public in the KLCC shopping centre area.  These parties allege that such a gathering constitutes a threat to the safety of shoppers and will drive away business.

The Malaysian Bar begs to differ.  It may be that even more people will be attracted to the KLCC area by their curiosity about this proposed peaceful gathering.  The gathering itself, and any additional visitors, could translate into potentially even more sales than usual.  It may be instead that it is the over-bearing response of the management of KLCC itself that would create a sense of alarm and concern that deters shoppers.

As we commemorate International Human Rights Day on 10 Dec 2011, let us all, government and private sector, come together in support of peaceful public gatherings and the freedoms of assembly and expression.

Lim Chee Wee
Malaysian Bar  

9 Dec 2011


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