Human rights for a new Malaysia

WILL the Pakatan Harapan government deliver on reforms promised in its GE14 manifesto? After the historic vote, we expect serious reforms to uphold human rights. Many of these legislative reforms can be implemented during the 100 days while initiatives to bring other reforms can also be started during the 100 days. This will involve reconstituting truly democratic institutions and new standard operating procedures for the police and other enforcement agencies.

In order of priority, we expect urgent initiatives to implement the following:

» Abolish the death penalty, impose an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition and commute the sentences of all persons on death row;

» Implement the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission and other recommendations of the Royal Police Commission to ensure transparency and accountability by the police and other enforcement agencies so that police shootings and deaths in custody are minimised.

» Repeal all laws that allow arbitrary declaration of emergency, torture, detention-without-trial and incommunicado detention including NSC, Sosma, Pota, Poca;

» An end to race-based parties and policies. It is time to replace race-based policies with needs-based measures that truly benefit the lower-income and marginalised sectors. With the lack of ethnic diversity in the civil and armed forces, recruitment and promotion must be based on merit. At the same time, racist and hate speech must be dealt with by appropriate laws and an Equality and Human Rights Commission.

» Zero tolerance for corruption – The anti-kleptocracy campaign must extend to all cases of complaints against suspected corruption and abuse of power including, the super-rich politicians in Sarawak and the financial scandals during the decades of BN rule; a truly independent Anti-Corruption Commission must be answerable to Parliament and not to the prime minister with the power to recommend prosecutions for all offences of corrupt practice, cronyism, nepotism and abuse of power especially by the political elite; every discrepancy in the annual Auditor-General's Report must be accounted for and the officers in charge and political leaders responsible must pay for any negligence or corruption involved; political leaders who have been charged with corruption must step down.

» Bring back elected local councils.

» Abolish or amend all laws that violate the freedom of expression. Enact a Freedom of Information Act at federal and state levels which is reflective of the peoples' right to know; the national broadcasting authority must be independent and non-partisan and not answerable to the minister.

» Institute judicial freedom by devolving the appointment of judges to an independent commission comprising judges, Bar Council representatives and NGO representatives to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

» Resolve the conflict of jurisdiction between civil and syariah laws.

» Suhakam commissioners should be truly independent and its annual report debated in Parliament.

» Establish a royal commission of inquiry to end the problem of statelessness for Malaysians who were born here or have lived here for more than 10 years; permanent residence for foreign spouses of Malaysians, and the problem of undocumented migrants.

» Democratise the GLCs – they must be subject to democratic control of the people and directed to implement good labour and environmental policies. Income differential within the GLCs should not exceed 1:20.

» We want a strong and fairly distributed public-sector health, education, housing, transport services including highways which have been privatised to crony capitalists at the expense of the public good.

» Redistribute wealth fairly – The serious gap in income inequality needs to be addressed through progressive taxation on high-income earners, their wealth and property and effective tax laws to ensure there are no tax loopholes for the super-rich. Transfer pricing that enables the largest corporations to stash their profits in off-shore tax free havens has to be curtailed by legislation. Capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms must be reviewed while a tax should be imposed on all international financial transactions and hedge funds.

» Equal opportunities for all with no racial discrimination with enrolment into all schools including tertiary institutions. Besides building national schools using BM, mother tongue schools for the various ethnic groups should be built in education precincts sharing facilities to promote integration, ensuring proportionate financial support and training adequate teachers for these schools. Schools should be built according to demand by the local communities under the elected local councils.

» Defend workers' rights and interests – The right of all workers to unionise is universal and we want a progressive guaranteed living wage for all workers. Workers must be given the right to association, full employment, retrenchment, pension fund and workers' representatives should be part of decision-making in enterprises. Promote workers' cooperatives to produce goods that are useful for society.

» Child-care facilities in all public and private sectors for working parents, homes and day-care centres for the elderly and disabled through benefits, support services, including access to mobile health care.

» Prioritise Orang Asal rights and livelihood – There should be a new ministry for indigenous peoples to replace the redundant FT Ministry after local governments are elected. The rights and livelihood of the Orang Asal must be placed at the top of the national agenda by recognising their rights over the land they have been occupying for centuries, prohibiting logging in Orang Asal land and ensuring all Orang Asal villages have social facilities and services. Their autonomy must be respected by ensuring participation in all policymaking involving their interests and introducing policies and laws that comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

» Sustainable development and environmental protection – All local people must be consulted before any development projects and all permanent forest and wildlife reserves gazetted. We want renewable energy projects that do not destroy forests and reject nuclear power and other toxic industries. The government should lead in the development of renewable energy and not rely on the private sector to suggest environmentally harmful and socially destructive projects. A people's government would enforce recycling measures, responsible waste disposal and enact laws to protect animal welfare.

Lawyers have pointed out that the repeal or review of laws that violate basic rights can be accomplished within the first 100 days. Priority must be given to overturning laws and actions which result in deaths, detention without trial and unjust incarceration. Efforts to initiate the other urgent reforms listed above should be likewise implemented within these 100 days. Suaram will continue to be vigilant in its monitoring and documentation of all rights violations and we will do this without fear or favour.

Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com