Human Rights and Policy Making in Malaysia

Malaysia is developing its first national human rights action plan (NHRAP) based on 5 pillars: Civil and Political Rights; Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Rights of Vulnerable Groups; Rights of the Indigenous; and International Obligations. The collaboration between various stakeholders is crucial for the implementation of the NHRAP.

Seminar on Human Rights and Policy Making: National Human Rights Action Plan which was held at the Prime Minister’s Department, Putrajaya, on 29th August 2017.

The seminar on human rights and policy making was organized by the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department on 29th August, 2017, focusing on the development of the national human rights action plan (NHRAP). Among the objectives are to create awareness among civil servants on the importance of incorporating human rights element into the framework of public policy development and to raise understanding among the civil servants on the significance and benefits of an effective NHRAP to Malaysia.

Misperception of human rights occurs due to the lack of knowledge about human rights. There are a lot of interpretations for the human rights concepts. The idea of human rights should be understood that as an evolutionary account. Human rights are also grounded in universal objective values, which are rooted in basic human needs such as the right to food, the right to shelter and the right to safe water. Although Federal Constitution recognized civil liberties, the practical implementation of human rights obligations remains a major challenge.

Human rights primarily regulate the relationship between the state and the people. Before 1997, most United Nations development agencies pursued a basic needs approach, whereby they identified basic requirements of beneficiaries by either supported initiatives to improve service delivery or advocated for their fulfilment.

The introduction of human rights-based approach (HRBA) changes this by moving beyond the basic needs approach. HRBA integrates human rights obligations, standards, interpretations and principles. The HRBA approach works to fulfil the rights of people, rather than the needs of people. It recognizes that people are actors in their own development than just passive services receivers. Their participation not only to ensure the people has ownership over the programme, but also to sustain progress in a longer term. This approach entails a shift of perspective in the strategic focus of cooperation. The partner states’ institutions are now “duty-bearers”, who must fulfil their human rights obligations, while the people or target groups become “rights-holders”, who are empowered to claim their rights effectively.

As early as 2001, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has made recommendation to the Malaysian government to formulate a national human rights action plan (NHRAP). SUHAKAM has recommended the inclusion of first Universal Periodic Review (UPR)’s recommendations as a reference point in the development of Malaysia’s NHRAP. The Cabinet however, has only announced its decision to develop Malaysia’s NHRAP in 2012, a year before the second UPR. The NHRAP is formed based on 5 main pillars: (1) Civil and Political Rights; (2) Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (3) Rights of Vulnerable Groups; (4) Rights of the Indigenous and Aborigines; and (5) International Obligations.

The NHRAP reflects the government’s commitment to protection and promotion of human rights as provided by the Constitution (Articles 5-13), by helping to translate the government’s duty to protect fundamental and human rights into concrete terms, to guarantee human rights according to international agreements entered into by the government, and to reinforce the Malaysian society by improving the efficiency of the implementation of the individual’s rights. For example, if we talk about housing, we should be thinking about the right to shelter and housing. It is an obligation of the state to ensure the people enjoy the basic rights. The right to housing is considered as violated if a state engages in arbitrary forced evictions.

Procedurally, the HRBA offers main principles including accountability, participation, non-discrimination, and empowerment. The principle of empowerment is significant as in to enhance empowerment of both “rights-holders” to claim their rights and “duty-bearers” to meet their obligations. The HRBA emphasises that the process of development is as important as the outcome achieved. Broad and intensive consultations across government agencies and with CSOs and the general public should be undertaken.

Mainstreaming HRBA enables the government to implement the individual’s fundamental and human rights in compliance with the fundamental rights provisions in the Constitution and the international human rights treaties. Furthermore, it also enables the NHRAP in establishing a comprehensive system for implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This system would then facilitate implementation of the present plan, reporting obligations to human rights treaty bodies, the UPR, and other international and regional systems.

Human rights are crosscutting issues. Human rights are indivisible; the improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects others. Taking into this regard, poverty for example cannot be eradicated without the realization of human rights, ranging from economic rights, social rights, and cultural rights to civil rights to political rights. In the end of the day, it is not about the indicators in numbers that should count when discussing human rights, it is the human rights culture that we need to nurture.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Khoo Ying Hooi
Department of International and Strategic Studies,
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Email: [email protected]

Photo 2

Panels for the seminar: Tan Sri Razali Ismail (Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)); Datuk Dr. Denison Jayasooria (Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) Senior Fellow); Dr. Khoo Ying Hooi (Senior Lecturer, Department of International and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya).

Photo 3

Group photo with panels and participants.

Published: 23 Oct 2017


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