Malaysia has won one of the 18 seats on the UNHRC, reflecting the country’s determination to continue to make progress to protect and promote human rights, both domestically and internationally. The appointment comes at a critical juncture for Malaysia, as the nation recovers from the social and economic effects of COVID-19.
Announcing the news on social media, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said, “We are ready to play an active role - to be the facilitator for conciliation, enabler for cooperation, and builder of consensus.”
“Malaysia will work closely with UN Member States to advance the global human rights agenda, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the Prime Minister continued.
Ahead of its win, Malaysia made voluntary pledges to undertake the Universal Periodic Review, an examination of human rights records of all UN member nations, and to cooperate with relevant UN agencies and engageconstructively with the HRC.
Domestically, the Malaysian government vowed to implement policies to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, strengthen gender equality and female empowerment. They also committed to a national action plan on business and human rights, climate change, cultural rights and strengthening human rights institutions.
Civil society organisation, Article 19, urged the Malaysian government to honour these pledges if accepted to the UNHRC, referencing the existing lack of freedom of expression as a key concern. The Malaysian government made a series of promises to uphold human rights in a bid for a seat in 2006 and failed to uphold them.
According to the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), in the first 8 months of 2021, at least 17 cases involving 37 activists, media workers and artists were investigated under draconian legislation, such as Malaysia’s Sedition Act of 1948. At least five journalists have been detained by authorities this year.
The IFJ said: “The IFJ urges the Malaysian government to uphold international human rights and honour its obligations as pledged as an elected member of the UNHRC. The Malaysian government should do its utmost to foster a free, democratic press and maintain freedom of speech.”