100 Days Report Card on Pakatan Harapan Administration by SUARAM

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By: Suaram

INTRODUCTION

This 100-Day Report Card on the new Pakatan Harapan Administration has been prepared by SUARAM to monitor its promised programme of reform in its GE14 manifesto.

This report acknowledges some progress made with regards to the 100-days promises made by the Pakatan Harapan administration. However, it should be noted that this report does not intend to provide a detailed analysis of all the promises contained in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto (Buku Harapan) but seeks to examine the human rights related commitments contained in their Buku Harapan.

This report seeks to analyze the developments on human rights related policy changes and reform especially on those relating to Civil and Political Rights. We also examine the intersection between the calls for human rights reforms by civil societies and the promises contained within Buku Harapan.

Part I of this report provides an overview of the current developments related to human rights based on the Pakatan Harapan 100-days promises and their subsequent ‘backtracking’.

Part II of this report provides the civil society perspective of the current developments and the identified shortcomings of the current administration with regards to the promises contained within Buku Harapan.

Part III of this report outlines SUARAM’s expectations for human rights related reforms for moving forward.

PART 1: OVERVIEW OF POST ELECTION DEVELOPMENTS

100 Days Promises

This report notes that of the 10 promises made as part of the 100-day promises, most have had some progress with regards to its implementation. Notable exception to this would be the following promises:

  • Set up Royal Commissions of Inquiry (RCI) on 1MDB, Felda, Mara and Tabung Haji and reform the governance of these bodies;
  • Abolish unnecessary debts that have been imposed on Felda settlers

Notable and positive developments related to human rights includes the following.

Promise 36: Introduce EPF contribution for housewives [Item 4 in 100 days promises]

Fulfilling its promise to provide social security for women, the government has launched a three-phase project for its Suri Initiative.

The first phase of the project, which will start on the 15th of August, will provide the women who are registered with e-Kasih, to open an EPF account with a minimum of RM5 per month. E-Kasih platform is a national database that supports those in the bottom 40 percent (B40) income group. Unfortunately, house husbands are not eligible for this service.

For the second phase of this project, the government will have to extend the Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) to housewives, as the government will contribute an addition RM10 under SOCSO. This programme is said to be launched early next year.

The last phase will see the transference of two percentage of the husband’s existing 11 percent contribution to his wife’s EPF account. The government is currently in the process of amending EPF Act (1991), which will be tabled in the next parliamentary sitting

Promise 6: Postpone the repayment of PTPTN to all graduates whose salaries are below RM4,000 per month and abolish the blacklisting policy [Item 6 in 100 days promises]

18 July 2018, Pakatan Harapan pledged to implement a payment deferral for the National Higher Education Fund (PTPT) borrowers earning less than RM4,000 a month. The Ministry of Education is reportedly looking into ways which the Ministry can suspend the repayment for PTPTN for those earning below RM4,000. The practice of travel bans and blacklisting PTPTN defaulters has been suspended pending further study into repayment structure for PTPTN[1].

Backtracking by the Pakatan Harapan Administration

Abolishing Biro Tatanegara (BTN), National Service NS), National Security Council (NSC):

Despite the controversy that surrounds BTN, the Pakatan Harapan administration has issued mixed messages on the issue with statements by the PM and the Chief of the Civil Service that BTN would be retained but reformed into a vehicle for government servants with a focus on providing training for the civil service. This stand was rejected by Members of Parliament from Pakatan Harapan and was also supported by cabinet ministers who reiterated the administration’s commitment to abolish BTN.

Similar backtracking was also observed with regards to the National Service Programme. The Minister of Defence Mohamad Sabu has reportedly claimed that National Service would be revised as there are studies that have shown the positive impact National Service has had on trainees[2]. The Minister of Defence also claimed that National Security Council would be retained[3]. However, this was later refuted by a press statement from the Ministry claiming that there was confusion with what was referenced by the Minister.

The Minister for Youth has just announced on 14 August 2018 that BTN and NS will be scrapped.

Child Marriages

Family and Community Development Ministry and Ministry of Religious Affairs are in the midst of implementing a standard operating procedure (SOP) for child marriage, as they have stated that the Syariah laws at the state and civil law need to be taken into consideration before raising the minimum marriage age to 18.

This stance resulted in substantial criticism, especially after the Selangor Islamic Religious Council, Selangor’s Syariah Judiciary Department and Islamic Religious Department with consultation from various experts supported the move to raise the marriage age from 16 to 18.

SUHAKAM has also stated that religious practices do not have precedence over matters relating to public order, public health or morality, as stated in Article 11(5) of the Federal Constitution. Other Ministers also expressed support for outlawing child marriages[4].

Other Developments

Making our human rights record respected by the world

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has vowed to ratify the remaining 6 core human right treaties and achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Currently, Malaysia has ratified with reservations, 3 out of 9 core human right treaties. The other six treaties are the Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

As of 14 August 2018, there has been some preliminary discussions for stakeholder meetings with the Ministry Foreign Affair to be called to facilitate Malaysia’s ratification of international conventions.

Reform of Bernama and RTM

In July 2018, the Communications and Multimedia Minister, Gobind Singh Deo, instructed Bernama and RTM to submit a paper proposing a merger of the two entities. The ministry believed that this merger will prove to be fruitful for both entities in terms of minimising the cost of operations, and the surplus of funds can be channelled to develop more quality content. However, the ministry is still currently consulting various stakeholders that are involved in this process. Furthermore, the ministry has started the development of the Media City, which will improve the infrastructure of RTM to produce more quality programmes.

However, the earlier fanfare related to an independent Media Council has slowed down substantially. Some MPs such as Nurul Izzah have continued to reiterate their commitment to repealing the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and establishing an independent media council but there has been no progress so far.

PART II: CIVIL SOCIETY’S PERSPECTIVE ON CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS

It is noted that for most part, reforms related to civil and political rights have been limited within the 100 days promised by the PH administration. Despite the dire need for immediate reform and intervention in several high-profile human rights issues, the Pakatan Harapan government has yet to implement any clear timelines or action plans for review and reform.

Human rights priorities

We acknowledge that many of the required institutional reforms to safeguard human rights or to correct gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Barisan Nasional administration requires time. With that said, we would like to highlight several key areas in which immediate changes can be implemented and ought to have started within the first 100-days of the new administration.

Abolishing Draconian Laws

In relation to abolishing draconian laws, there are several laws that that should have been prioritized for repeal during the first Parliament session. These include the National Security Council Act 2015, the Sedition Act 1948, and the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.

These laws have been subjected to extensive debates within Parliament when Pakatan Harapan was the federal opposition; extensively examined and criticised by experts and civil society as well as condemned by international human rights bodies.

The repeal of these laws will not result in any substantive legislative changes as they do not contribute constructively to the human rights institutions of the country but are merely used by the government of the day to harass and persecute human rights and political activists.

We do welcome the tabling of the repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 on 8 August 2018.

Implementing Moratorium on Draconian Laws

On top of abolishing these draconian laws, the PH government ought to have implemented a moratorium on the execution of the above-mentioned laws upon the formation of the Cabinet. The failure to do so has already resulted in two criminal investigations against human rights defenders, Fadiah Nadwa FIkri and Asheeq Ali under the Sedition Act 1948. Fadiah was also called for investigation under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 by Brickfields Police Station after the solidarity gathering for her coordinated by SUARAM. The call for investigation was later retracted by Brickfields Police Station.

Furthermore, SUARAM has also received reports that the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 has been utilized by private individuals to make frivolous claims of fake news against their business competitions or online contents with which they disagree. This could have been curbed if a moratorium had been implemented immediately after the government was formed.

Ending Politically Motivated Prosecution against Human Rights Defenders and Political Activists

Under the Barisan Nasional administration, countless human rights defenders and political activists have been investigated and prosecuted under various draconian laws in their lawful exercise of fundamental rights provided for by the Federal Constitution. Since the change in administration and the sacking of the former Attorney General, notable number of cases has been withdrawn by the Attorney General Chambers.

However, there are still cases of human rights defenders and political activists who face prosecution under the Sedition Act 1948 and other draconian laws. Those still facing prosecution for their human rights or political activities include Fahmi Reza, S. Arutchelvan and Khalid Ismath.

The current administration ought to have established clear criteria for the withdrawal of all politically motivated charges made against human rights defenders and political activists. Those who are investigated or prosecuted by laws which the current administration has committed to repeal ought to have their investigation halted and prosecution withdrawn.

Critical Issues that Require Intervention

Apart from these priority issues, severe human rights issues which inflict permanent and irreparable damage to those affected ought to be top priority for the current administration to handle. These include:

Execution and Death Penalty

Despite the strong commitment to the abolition of mandatory death penalty, the Pakatan Harapan administration has yet to implement a moratorium on the application of death penalty in the country. The reported study on death penalty initiated by the Attorney-General Chambers which contributed to the reform of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 remains under a shroud of secrecy.

SUARAM has received disturbing news that detainees are still placed in quarantine pending their execution. Those detained in isolation awaiting execution have made allegations that some individuals have been executed during the past 100 days.

Juveniles who were detained under security laws such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and Prevention of Crime Act 2015 (POCA) remain in detention with no further action by the government with regards to their fate.

Despite the strong objections put forward by civil societies and the failure to answer and account for the arrest and detention of juvenile offenders under security laws which are supposed to target security threats, the Pakatan Harapan administration has yet to take any concrete steps in providing redress for these individuals. Those detained under POCA could have had their detention orders or house arrest orders reviewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and appropriate rehabilitation programmes (e.g. reintegration to schools) provided for those detained for them to have an opportunity to be productive citizens.

Positive Development

We would point out however, that there have been some positive developments with regards to human rights agenda under the current Pakatan Harapan administration. Since coming into power on 9 May 2018, several notable changes have taken place.

First and foremost, the establishment of the Institutional Reform Committee provided the executive with a body of independent experts to hear the grouses and key areas for reforms by human rights advocates. Nonetheless, we note also that after the submission of the Committee’s report, the report has yet to be made public and the current administration has yet to respond with their follow-up action to the findings by the Committee.

Second, on many issues, the newly appointed ministers and their respective ministries have made some initiatives to engage with civil society. During the 100 days, SUARAM has received communications from the Ministry of Education; engaged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR); and invited to be part of a taskforce to review security laws.

However, SUARAM’s communications with the Attorney-General Chambers have been met with silence. The Attorney-General Office still exhibits the same apathy and disregard for human rights issues and concerns raised by SUARAM as the previous government.

Thirdly, this report notes that the precursor committee in Parliament to establish the relevant select committee on human rights or on specific thematic issues has been established. The development in this regard is welcomed and SUARAM will observe the development in this area with keen interest.

Lastly, the other positive developments are the reassignment of several Commissions to be under the Parliament as opposed to the Prime Minister Office. This development will hopefully ensure that these Commissions will operate strictly independently of the Executive and that they can act freely in the interest of the people and not the current administration.

OUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE NEAR FUTURE

Moving forward from the first quarter of Pakatan Harapan’s administration, we expect the new administration to now formulate clear plans and policies for human rights reform in the first year of their term, not only with regard to civil and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights.

We expect clear roadmaps for reform and development with key performance indicators  established. The National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) that was poorly formulated by the former Barisan Nasional Administration was able to iterate the short-term, mid-term and long-term reforms necessary. We would expect Pakatan Harapan to do better than that.

Establishing Parliament Select Committee on Human Rights as part of long term systemic reform

As noted above, we welcome the establishment of a Dewan Rakyat Selection Committee to oversee the establishment of other Parliament Select Committees. We propose the establishment of a Select Committee on Human Rights to be established to oversee the process of reviewing and reforming existing laws to bring outdated legislation or legislation which are non-compliant with human rights principles in line with our human rights aspirations.

The Select Committee can address human rights violations, facilitate the development of rights-based governance policy and oversee the implementation of Malaysia’s human rights obligations.

More engagement with civil society and other stakeholders through stakeholder meetings or formation of thematic taskforces

Considering the systemic reform that the country needs at this juncture, we strongly recommend that the various ministries establish the necessary taskforces or establish open consultation processes with civil society and other stakeholders to discuss and develop legal policies and systemic reform. Our proposals include:

  • Establishment of an official task force by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to formalize the proposal for a gender equality law;
  • Establishment of a technical committee by the Ministry of Communication and Multimedia to review the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to bring it up to par with the needs of the 21st century;
  • Establishment of an interfaith and ethnically diverse committee to explore the need for a law on hate speech and hate crimes by the ministry on national unity.

[1] https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/07/18/education-ministry-to-study-feasibility-of-suspending-ptptn-repayment-for-those-earning-below-rm4000/

[2] https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/02/mat-sabu-govt-may-revive-national-service-despite-ge14-pledge/

[3]http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/06/28/government-to-review-national-security-council/

[4] https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/05/mujahid-laws-permitting-child-marriage-probably-abolished-in-future/

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