Side Views

What did Asean nations tell Malaysia at the UN Periodic Review? – Rama Ramanathan

What follows is a review of recommendations given to Malaysia by members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) last month at the United Nations Periodic Review (Universal Periodic Review) of Human Rights in Malaysia. I will also provide a synopsis of what Malaysia recommended to 4 Asean nations.

Although Asean presents itself as a regional cooperative for purposes of security and prosperity, the reality is that Asean member nations compete with each other. We’re all trying to attract investments and we’re all trying to protect our own industries.

It is also an open secret that no Asean nations are paragons of human rights – we use the cover of “mutual respect for sovereignty” to severely limit criticism of each other.

The more self-righteous members like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines think the bad guys are Cambodia (Pol Pot!), Vietnam (Uncle Ho!), Laos (whoever!), Myanmar (the Generals!), Thailand (they hurt Muslims!).

No Asean nation accepts the moniker "police state". We just say we put community rights above personal rights. So, what advice did our Asean neighbours give us?

Malaysia plus 9 other nations make up Asean. 8 of these nations provided a total of 16 "recommendations" to Malaysia:

Brunei (2), Cambodia (2), Indonesia (2), Myanmar (2), Philippines (3), Singapore (2), Thailand (2) and Vietnam (1). Only Lao PDR didn’t pitch in.

I’ve put "recommendations" in quotation marks because some of the statements sound more like "you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back". Here’s my analysis:

1. Children’s rights (1). Myanmar suggests we share our good practices in "easing child burden which disproportionately affects women". Go figure.

2. Education (1). Brunei suggests we continue "promoting the right to education". Okay.

3. Foreign workers (2). Indonesia and Philippines, being purveyors of labour to Malaysia (and to other nations), want us to step up and expand the safety, welfare and working conditions of our guest workers. We are asked to look especially at domestic workers and undocumented migrants (perhaps this is a veiled reference to our practice of caning "illegals"). We are asked to "step up" and "expand" our efforts in these areas. These recommendations are so vague that it is unclear what would constitute success.

4. Freedom of expression (1). Indonesia suggests we continue efforts to enhance the rights of citizens to assemble peaceably. What specifically do they think we should do?

5. Gender discrimination (3). Brunei suggests we continue our efforts in safeguarding the rights of women and children (yes, Brunei said that). Singapore suggests we continue promoting gender equality and empowering women. Vietnam suggests we share best practices in promoting gender equality through education and training. Huh?

6. General (1). Singapore suggests we continue our efforts to increase "enjoyment of human rights" and living standards. Are you feeling helped?

7. Healthcare (1). Thailand suggests we step up efforts to provide universal access to affordable health care. I wonder why.

8. Income inequality & poverty (2). Cambodia and Myanmar suggest we continue and share what we are doing to alleviate the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Okay.

9. International agreements (2). Philippines and Thailand ask us to consider becoming parties to the core UN covenants on human rights and monitoring protocols. The ICRMW (refugees and migrant workers) is especially called out. I guess this means they’re hoping we’ll accept more refugees.

10. Trafficking in persons (2). Cambodia suggests we continue and share our efforts in this area. Philippines asks us to enhance implementing 2 UN conventions: CRC (children’s rights) and CEDAW (discrimination against women).

I think you will agree with me that our neighbour’s benign recommendations indicate they placidly wish us to just give lip service to human rights. This is either because they intend to do the same, or they intend to overtake us.

Our neighbours have closed their eyes to the vast disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples which is going on in East Malaysia – and documented by SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s NHRI (National Human Rights Institution); they have closed their ears to the reports of mistreatment of Shiites, the Allah Judgment, etc.; they are determined to say nothing about our Home Minister’s "shoot first" policy.

Malaysian diplomats did us proud, as you can see in this synopsis of the recommendations we provided to Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand:

  • We told Indonesia to improve partnership with its equivalent of Suhakam and civil society - which includes NGO’s - and to put more effort into law enforcement (July 2012).
  • We told Singapore to make housing more affordable, share the burden of refugees in the region and improve human rights domestically (July 2011).
  • We told the Philippines to put more resources into improving the rights of women and to do more to address income inequality and poverty (July 2012).
  • We told Thailand to continue its efforts in dealing with trafficking of persons, to implement the recommendations of “the Truth and Justice Commission” and to develop the justice process in South Thailand (December 2011).

The foregoing shows that Asean nations put human rights on the fringes of their national agendas. Their chief concern is domestic security and prosperity. They pay lip service to human rights, except when it impacts the well-being of their own nationals working in Malaysia, and when it impacts the choices refugees make about where to seek asylum.

Asean nations see no evil, hear no evil and make only benign remarks. The leaders of Asean nations appear to have concluded that their vote banks care nothing about the dignity of human beings in other countries.

I am more impressed by the recommendations from the Muslim-majority nations which I discussed in my previous analysis. In my next analysis, I will review the G20 nations’ recommendations for Malaysia, which I believe are more vigorous and more actionable. – write2rest.blogspot.com, November 18, 2013.

* The writer reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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