28 February 2018, Kuala Lumpur: ASLI-CPPS and the the Malaysian Civil Society Organizations (CSO)-SDG Alliance recently hosted a discussion to review the Malaysian Universal Periodic Review (UPR) from Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) lenses.
About 25 members of civil society organisations and institutions were present together with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Human Rights Division), United Nations University and the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Malaysia.
The UPR is a peer review process agreed upon by all the nations in the UN and so far Malaysia has undergone two such reviews in 2009 and 2013. The third review will be in November 2018 and CSOs are called to make their comments and observations into the UN review process by March 29, 2018.
Arising out of the discussions are a number of key takeaways which are documented
1. Timely exercise to review UPR from a SDG lens
The Alliance recognises that this is one of the first discussions on reviewing the UPR recommendations from a SDG lens. Malaysia has agreed to undertake its development planning using the 17 SDGs goals framework and in bringing a greater balance to socio-economic development in line with a human rights approach to development as well as ensuring environmental sustainability. This is reflected in the documents prepared by the Economic Planning Unit as seem in the Eleventh Malaysia Plan.
CSO-SDG Alliance recommendation is that the Government undertakes the Mid Term Review of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan and in the formulation of the Twelfth Malaysia Plan should reconcile all these global human rights communities through the UPR, Treaty bodies, SDGs with socio-economic development, human rights and sustainability. The 12th MP should refer to them from a right to development perspective.
2. Looking at specifics
The discussion was enriched with specific references made to the 150 recommendations which Malaysia accepted out of the 235 made at the 2013 UPR.
Participants were reminded of the details available in the UPR info website, as well as the Mid Term Review report by COMANGO (2016).
These documents provide a useful summary and analysis on the implementation of the recommendations. While Malaysia has made clear advancements in socio-economic well-being, there appears regression in matters pertaining to civil and political rights. There is an urgent need for a thorough impact assessment of all commitments in a transparent way.
3. Human Rights & Development concerns
The discussion focused on clear links between human rights and development concerns especially in noting the concerns of indigenous people on their poverty situation together with their land right claims. There is a need for greater State commitment for their customary land rights and a greater need for disaggregated data by gender, ethnicity & sub ethnicity including age, disability and geographical location.
4. Environment & sustainability
The CSO-SDG Alliance noted with great concern that the UPR review has neglected environmental and sustainability concerns. It was clearly illustrated in the discussion that there is a close correlations between environment and rights violations. One example cited ‘water as a human right’. Safe, clean water illustrates how it relates not just to the environment concerns like water sources, conservation of forest and trees and mitigating floods as well as good health and sanitation. The Alliance were told that their focus had been in silos and therefore a SDG lens helps us in seeing the interconnectedness of environmental sustainability and human rights. More work needs to be undertaken from a rights perspective. In this context, inter-agency cooperation is most essential.
5. Civil society engagement & consultation
CSO engagement is a key component of not just the UN –UPR process but also in the SDGs and treaty body commitments. While some sections of government are open to CSO/NGO discussions, engagements and partnerships, these are often ad hoc and selective. It will be helpful for Malaysia to adopt the UN guidelines for CSO engagement and use the modalities provided. CSOs play a very active role at the local, national and global dimensions of all these UN commitment as CSOs are regarded as an essential stakeholder in this process.
The UPR process Ministry of Foreign Affairs had hosted a series of preparatory meetings in 2017 which COMANGO participated and in the SDG process the CSO-SDG Alliance has been working closely with EPU on the preparation of the Voluntary National Review Report as well as the SDG National Roadmap.
Concern was raised that there is no effective monitoring mechanism at the national level to review and assess the human rights commitment in the UPR and treaty bodies as there were directly under particular ministries.
The CSO-SDG Alliance recommends that the government reviews the possibility of establishing:-
- A special taskforce on human rights at the federal level to enhance interagency cooperation on follow up of the UPR, SDGs and treaty body commitments and monitor the process and the outcomes by working with all the relevant agencies & bodies.
- A parliamentary Select Committee on Human rights be establish as a monitoring and accountability body. This will strengthen by-partisan commitment and review.
- A CSO Human rights engagement mechanism be establish for enhancing CSO participation in human rights concerns with formal avenues to input and review government agencies in UPR, Treaty bodies and SDGs. This could be coordinated by SUHAKAM and additional resources be made available.