The commemoration of the Human Rights Day in Malaysia was held on the 7thDecember 2015, hosted by The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), the Bar Council Malaysia and the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM) and the United Nations Country Team in Malaysia. The commemoration, with the theme “Rights and Freedoms as a Foundation for an Inclusive Future”,
was attended by members of media, NGOs, as well as the United Nations Association Malaysia (UNAM) Youth Circle represented by Anuradha Raghu, Afif Ridhwan and Eshaan Menon.
The event began with keynote speeches from Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Chairman of SUHAKAM, and later was launched by YB Senator Datuk Paul Low. In his speech, he highlighted the need to revamp the understanding and respect towards human rights in authority He mentioned that there is need for change, and assured the audience that the overhaul of SUHAKAM will be a priority in his term as senator.
The event followed by a forum moderated by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), and joined by advocates of human rights in different areas of society; Anderson Selvasegaram (SUKA Society), Francis Johen (SUHAKAM Commissioner, on behalf of People With Disabilities), Nisha Ayub (SEED Foundation), Shanti Dairiam (Former member of CEDAW Committee) Yusri Ahon (Orang Asli community in Pahang) and Nurul Eeman Haji Mansor (Youth Advocate).
Various interests of improving human rights were spoken throughout the forum. Nisha Ayub articulated that, “From the day a transgender woman is born to the day she dies, it is a constant issue of human rights.” Ms. Nisha called for the need for the society to treat the transgender community as equally as they would for men and women. UNAM Youth Circle’s Afif Ridhwan, during the Q&A session, asked the panel the path public policy should take in terms of dealing with the complex and sensitive issue of sharing equal rights with the transgender community in a Muslim country, where Islam has an influence over the law. Ms. Nisha pointed towards the Iranian and Palestinian models of Islamic governance where respect and equality are given to transgenders.
Anderson Selvasegaram touched on the problems in providing education to stateless people. “We do not want to deal with stateless people because they are not us,” he poignantly said. Mr. Anderson touched on the difficulties in setting up schools in rural areas, where stateless people are normally located, and suggested that a public platform should be built where children can gain access to holistic education and personal development, as compared to the lacklustre system we have now. In answering UNAM Youth Circle’s Eshaan Menon’s question on the rights of refugees, with a personal connotation given in the context of a mutual friend of Eshaan and Afif, Mr. Anderson related back to the International Declarations on Human Rights and how it should be upheld.
Another interesting thought was shared by Francis Johen. Speaking on the behalf of people with disabilities, Mr. Johen highlighted on the difficulties he, and other people with disabilities face every day due to the lack of disabled people-friendly infrastructure. Mr. Johen mentioned that there is a policy apathy towards people with disabilities barring them from “enjoying their rights.” Aside from that, Mr. Johen argued that, often, the credentials of people with disabilities are often overlooked as he cleverly said “We need to stop looking at their disabilities and start looking at their abilities.”
Yusri Ahon, an advocate of indigenous peoples’ rights, was also a prominent speaker in the forum. Mr. Yusri’s concern with rights given to the indigenous community extended from their right to (and fear of) education, culture preservation and particularly their own set of difficulties that they face due to poor infrastructural provisions. In education specifically, Mr. Yusri raised a concern on the lack of a syllabus that touches on the preservation of the aboriginal culture. In terms of inclusivity, Mr. Yusri said that the indigenous community is more than willing to develop and grow, but not at the cost of losing their culture.
Taking on the youths’ perspective, Nurul Eeman spoke on her concerns on general youth apathy, but also said that the error lies within the youth themselves in being more indulged with material things rather than real issues. Ms. Nurul, too, said that the national education system lacks in promoting critical thinking and instilling passion for change in today’s generation. One of Ms. Nurul’s plight was that she was alarmed at how none of her peers were able to actively discuss global matters with her.
Taking it outside of the ballroom, SUHAKAM and UNICEF ran booths where attendees of the events got the chance to network with them and learn about their activities. While SUHAKAM handed out freebies and gave brochures on their upcoming event later that week, UNICEF gave out T-shirts and gave short excerpts on the matter of disabled children.
After lunch, the session reconvened with closing remarks from Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Malaysia. Ms. Gyles-McDonnough notedthat in order to remain aligned with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it is vital that Malaysia propagates proper and excellent practices of human rights. After that, attendees who stayed had the opportunity to engage in a human library session organised by the SCOPE group. In this session, participants were able to borrow a “human book” — a person with an interesting story — for 20 minutes to sit down and talk with them.
Overall, the Human Rights Day was a day of human rights advocacy. Multiple perspectives were put on the table, discussed, and exhibited. The UNAM Youth Circle hopes to see some of these ideas rationalised, with future embodiment of these ideas as the Circle’s own initiative. Here’s to a greater Malaysia.