Malaysia and the EU: NGOs ask for more forthright action

November 25, 2014

An “Advocacy Note” published in November 2014 by FIDH and SUARAM addresses the whole specter of human rights in Malaysia and how the EU should respond. Here are the parts that specifically concern human rights defenders:

FIDH and SUARAM draw the EU’s attention towards the following human rights challenges and call on Brussels to work with Malaysian civil society on the proposed solutions.

1. Publicly challenging Malaysia’s records on human rights

2. Addressing the impacts business activities on human rights

3. Using Treaties’ negotiations to obtain genuine human rights commitments

4. Supporting civil society activities

FIDH and SUARAM believe that the EU has overall been supportive of the work of human rights NGOs in Malaysia. The EU Delegation and Member States’ missions regularly meet with civil society and human rights activists, bilaterally or through the EU’s Human Rights Working Group, to discuss issues such as women’s rights, the elimination of racial discrimination, and freedom of expression. The EU Delegation maintains regular exchanges with NGOs, sends observers to trials against human rights defenders, and promotes the content of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders.

In recent years, the EU has provided financial support to NGOs working in the field of women’s and children’s rights, non-discrimination, freedom of the media, and indigenous people. With the current reduction of staff in the EU Delegation [7], civil society will now have to turn to Global Calls for Proposals to find support for its activities rather than seeking financial support directly at Delegation level through Country Based Support Schemes (CBSS). FIDH and SUARAM fear that such a change may have consequences on the effectiveness and sustainability of civil society activities. Many NGOs may not have the capacity to respond to the Calls for Proposals or to absorb the important amount of finance offered in calls designed for large- rather than middle-sized projects. It is therefore important for the EU to find alternative ways to support civil society beyond small emergency grants, for example in the form of funds at the regional level or sub-grants to local NGOs.

The EU must also step up its political support to civil society. The EU must push for the amendment of the 1966 Societies Act, which offers no judicial remedy to an association whose registration has been suspended or refused by the authorities. The EU must ensure that FTA provides for a genuine enabling environment for civil society.

Failure to do so would create a democratic gap in terms of monitoring of the agreement. The negotiation process should be an opportunity to hold tripartite discussions between the EU, Malaysian authorities, and civil society. The EU should offer technical advice to Malaysian authorities to reform the Societies Act and ensure the new version complies with international standards.

The fact that Malaysian authorities continue to criminalise peaceful assembly after the Court of Appeals declared a section of the Peaceful Assembly Act as unconstitutional is proof of the political will to repress peaceful assembly. This issue should be addressed by the EU at the highest levels of the political dialogue. The EU should also address the issue of recent calls made by Malaysian government officials to adopt legislation similar to the Indian Foreign Agents Registration Act, which would provide a legal basis for monitoring of foreign funds to civil society organisations.

Recommendations

FIDH and SUARAM call on the EU and its Members States to (inter alia):

• Demand the immediate release of individuals convicted for political reasons, notably under the Sedition Act.

• Establish a human rights roadmap in cooperation with Malaysian authorities and civil society, in order to achieve tangible results before the FTA are agreed.

• Ensure that human rights are included in the negotiations and the structure of the future Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Malaysia. 

• Place the support for civil society, human rights defenders, local communities, and indigenous peoples at the centre of their interactions with Malaysia. EU and its Members States must:
— Urge the Malaysian authorities to ensure that all citizens’ human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are respected;
— Press Malaysian authorities to amend the Societies Act to bring it in line with international standards, and provide technical support to that effect;
— Press for effective and immediate investigation into serious cases of human rights violations, and the formation of an Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate allegations of torture and deaths in police custody;
— Demand that Malaysian authorities set a date for the country visit of the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Freedom of Assembly and Association and extend an invitation to the UNSR on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UNSR on Freedom of Religion;
— Organize a civil society seminar before the EU-Malaysia human rights and political dialogues;
— Include civil society in sectoral discussions and in the negotiation process of the FTA;
— Propose alternatives to make up for the end of Country Based Support Schemes in order to ensure financial support to the work of human rights NGO.

Encourage Malaysian authorities and companies to adopt binding regulations and a business investment framework to prevent human rights violations by economic operators and ensure accountability in the case abuses take place. Regulations must be in line with international human rights standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

• Prepare a strategy on business and human rights that ensures that current and future investments by EU-based companies do not negatively affect human rights in Malaysia. This strategy, to be designed with Malaysian authorities, companies, and civil society, should aim at setting up binding regulatory measures corresponding in line with international standards.

• Work with Malaysian authorities to ensure that their development plans do not negatively affect human rights.

Advocacy Note: A committed but too shy EU support to human ….

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