May 3, 2009

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER

April 27, 2009

Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Bin Haji Tun Abdul Razak
Pejabat Perdana Menteri
Blok Utama
Bangunan Perdana Putra
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan 62502 Putrajaya
Malaysia

Re: Human Rights in Malaysia

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your April 3, 2009, appointment as Malaysia's sixth prime minister. As you know, Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental human rights organization that monitors human rights in more than 70 countries around the world, has long raised human rights concerns in Malaysia with your predecessors.

We especially welcome your expressed "intention to uphold civil liberties" and your "regard for the fundamental rights of the people of Malaysia." To that end, we urge your government to take specific measures to bring Malaysian law, policy, and practice into line with international human rights standards.

We urge that your government promptly ratifies core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and begin the process of bringing domestic law into conformity with these international instruments.

We further urge that you and your government give priority to the issues of arbitrary and preventive detention, freedom of expression, protection of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, and ending impunity for security forces. In the pages that follow, we discuss these issues in detail and offer specific recommendations.

Arbitrary Detention

The state of emergency in effect in Malaysia since the 1960s has been used by previous governments to violate fundamental human rights. Under the emergency, the Malaysian government enacted emergency ordinances permitting the government to pass broad and ambiguous laws that bypass judicial processes and review and effectively permit indefinite preventive detention. The Internal Security Act (ISA) is the most notorious of such laws and violates a number of international human rights standards, including the right to be free from arbitrary detention, the right to due process and to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, as well as rights to freedom of expression and association.
Previous governments have justified use of the ISA by referring to multi-ethnic tensions. While Human Rights Watch recognizes that multi-ethnic tensions are a legitimate concern of any government, 51 years after independence, the government should not lose sight of the fact that Malaysia has a well-developed criminal justice system fully capable of dealing with multi-ethnic tensions, threats to its security, and other ill-defined activities without recourse to the extra-judicial ISA.
The official position that detention under the ISA is preventive, acknowledges that the government cannot, or has chosen not to, prosecute detainees for alleged crimes but rather extends executive power at the expense of the judiciary.

Throughout its long history, the ISA has been used to punish and silence peaceful political opponents and government critics. It has become an unfortunate and deeply embedded feature of a Malaysian political climate that stifles free expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Recent ISA political detainees include Raja Petra Kamaruddin, founder and editor of Malaysia's most popular website;
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