Limitation of democratic space in Malaysia denounced at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council

By Émile Kinley-Gauthier, FORUM-ASIA

The space for civil society is steadily shrinking in Malaysia and this worrying development did not go unnoticed at the 31st session of the Council. The High Commissioner was the first to address the limitation of democratic space in the country during his oral update. He cited the ever-growing number of sedition charges issued against journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents. The enactment of the Prevention of Terrorist Act and the National Security Council Act and the imprisonment of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim were also mentioned as matters of grave concerns.

FORUM-ASIA echoed these sentiments, adding the blocking of online content and the cases of Adam Adli and Hishamuddin Rais to the list of concerns. It also called for the repealing of repressive laws such as the Sedition Act and the Peaceful Assembly Act. On one instance, the Malaysian delegation took the floor to rejecting allegations of restrictions on freedoms and stating that democratic space was actually increasing. Apart from this intervention, Malaysia chose to speak about the fiftieth anniversary of Covenants, the migrant crisis in the context of the war in Syria, disabilities and albinism, violence against children and counter-terrorism. Malaysia denounced violent extremism and raised the issue multiple times. It also delivered statements to support the UPR adoption of Lebanon, Australia, Oman and Myanmar.

In its statement to Myanmar’s UPR, Malaysia called the State to end discrimination against the Rohingya. Malaysia was one of the main sponsors of a resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar in 2015.

Malaysia has been a member of the Council twice in the past, and its last mandate ended in 2013. Accordingly, the State could not vote on the proposed resolutions but it did co-sponsor resolutions on the right to food, the composition of staff of the OHCHR and on the enjoyment of cultural rights.