In total, only 16 countries contested for this 2018-2020 term after Maldives withdrew, and we were the only one that lost out, the UN announced on 18 Oct. That would’ve been ok if we had been contesting against the likes of mebbe Sweden or Switzerland, or probably one of those countries that outlawed smacking kids. But we lost to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Qatar.
Wait, first, what IS the UN Human Rights Council?
Err.. they’re the ones who promote human rights kan?
Created by the UN in 2006, the Human Rights Council (HRC) is an inter-governmental body that is responsible for promoting and protecting all human rights around the globe. This includes public scrutiny of every country’s human rights performance, fact-finding investigations, spot checks by independent experts to monitor issues, technical assistance and so on.
HRC members serve for 3 years and they’re not eligible for immediate re-election after serving 2 consecutive terms. Malaysia served on the Council consecutively between 2006-2009 during Pak Lah’s tenure as PM, and between 2010-2013 during Najib’s tenure, but before GE13 – after that we had to take a back seat from 2014-2017. Unfortunately, after putting forward its candidature in January for 2018-2020, we didn’t make the cut.
During its term, our country ratified (meaning sign and agree to enforce) a couple of important treaties – to protect children from being involved in armed conflict, being sold into prostitution, child porn, and rights for OKU. We’ve also gotten those spot checks which the UN calls ‘country visits’, where they send a rep to check on how we’re doing in certain areas. Of course, you can guess what they had to say about our practice of arbitrary detention. They declared Anwar Ibrahim’s detention to be illegal and said he should be freed.
“The Working Group considers that the adequate remedy would be to release Mr. Ibrahim immediately, and ensure that his political rights that were removed based on his arbitrary detention be reinstated.” – report by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
Ok so back to the HRC, here’s the shocking thing, among the 5 countries that competed for the 4 seats allocated to Asia-Pacific (all the regions have a seat quota), Malaysia was SECOND on the freedom rankings. We scored 44/100 in the freedom index while Nepal had 52/100, Pakistan 43/100, Qatar 26/100 and Afghanistan 24/100 (0 is least free while 100 is most free). SO, HOW DAHEQ DID WE LOSE TO THEM?? \O.O/
Well, the election is conducted via a secret ballot by member nations. Ok, that might explain how we lost – people just didn’t want to vote for us la, even though we rank better than Pakistan, Qatar and Afghanistan. Maybe the voters didn’t like us, maybe we’re not the Prom King and Queen we thought we were.
BUUUT it doesn’t explain why they chose not to vote for us. These politicians explain the possibilities…
Ok, so WHY did we lose the vote?
Malaysia received 129 votes in the secret ballot that day. After our defeat, DAP Lim Kit Siang suggests that we lost because of kleptocracy. This Greek word literally means “rule by thieves”, depicting a government with corrupt leaders (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources in order to extend their personal wealth and political power.
“This international setback warrants a full explanation from the Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, whether this heralds the “coming of winter” for Malaysia’s international relations with the “kleptocratic chickens coming home to roost” – with Malaysia’s infamy and ignominy as a global kleptocracy as a result of the international multi-billion dollar 1MDB money-laundering scandal beginning to “bite” adversely on Malaysia’s repute and good standing in the international community of nations.” – said Lim Kit Siang
Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong asked Foreign Minister Anifah Aman to explain how this could have happened in Parliament and reveal how much it had cost the country to lobby for the position on the Council.
In reply, Anifah Aman said LKS’s accusation was ‘malicious and baseless’. He added that we might have lost because of other reasons – perhaps they were sympathy votes for first time candidates and candidates which lost, previously. It could really be as simple as that.
“Countries which had agreed to quid pro quo (trade-off) arrangements…with Malaysia for the term 2017-2019 were unable to extend their support for Malaysia’s new bid as they had already promised their support to a another candidate.
To further exacerbate the situation, countries such as Myanmar and North Korea reneged on their promise to support Malaysia’s bid for the term 2018-2020 due to the unfortunate strain in ties.” – Anifah’s statement
He was referring to strained ties with Myanmar after we criticised them about the Rohingya situation, and North Korea because, well, Kim Jong-nam was murdered here. The Foreign Minister however didn’t reveal how much it cost to lobby for the seat.
Ok, we have two sides to the story, but we can’t take either answer at face value coz, we may never know for sure why countries didn’t vote for us, unless they expressly reveal their reasons. But here’s what a UN human rights expert had to say…
A UN expert said we need to regain our tradition of tolerance
Karima Bennoune (the expert) is a professor of law and teaches human rights and international law courses in the US. She was appointed UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights in 2015. Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the HRC. Special Procedures is the independent fact-finding and monitoring system that addresses specific country as well as global issues. The experts work are volunteers and don’t receive a salary, they are independent from any government or organization.
In her recent September report on Malaysia, Karima highlighted several things, namely the growing marginalization of religious minorities, Zunar, the political cartoonist’s persecution, banning of traditional performing arts (Wayang Kulit, Mak Yong, etc.), and growing Islamization.
“In its efforts to foster unity in diversity, I encourage the Government to move away from viewing people primarily through the lens of ethnicity and to put greater emphasis on their shared and equal belonging to the Malaysian nation.” – Karima wrote in her statement
To sum it all up, the UN expert basically urged Malaysia to protect its tradition of tolerance.
A lot has happened since we last held the seat in the Human Rights Council in 2013…accusations of gerrymandering and phantom voters during GE13, confiscation of Bibles, detention of people who criticized the Government and political opponents, crackdowns and bans, so on and so on. It doesn’t look good.
So, perhaps the expert is right? Perhaps once we start protecting our tradition of tolerance, we may once again find ourselves in the running for the honoured seat.