Call for more moderate Muslim voices in Malaysia’s human rights debate

November 18, 2013

An interesting example of how human rights defenders should tackle the pernicious issue of islamic opposition to human rights progress comes from Malaysia:

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. “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.

(Khoo labeled the Muslim NGOs as fringe voices that must be countered by alternative opinions from moderate Muslims)

During the recent UPR session re Malaysia 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).

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.

Muslim nations nudging Malaysia’s human rights agenda, critics told | Malaysia | The Malay Mail Online.

On 12 November the same source had already carried an elaborate piece on the the disagreement between human rights groups and Islamist groups.Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), among 54 non-governmental organisations alleged by Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) to be challenging Islam’s position in the country and by extension the nation’s sovereignty, reprimanded the latter group, telling it to respect the work of human rights defenders, which it insisted were also guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. “Isma is finding a way to make us quiet about human rights violation in the country, for us not to raise any concern about human rights in Malaysia,” Suaram’s executive director, Nalini, told The Malay Mail Online. The same day, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had called on the country’s “silent majority” to drown out the voices of extremism, but without specifically naming groups. He said diversity should be celebrated and the right to co-exist should be defended.

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