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Malaysians still denied basic rights

  • It is hoped that government policies should make people capable of living on their own and ensure everyone is getting an equal opportunity.

By Khoo Ying Hooi

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be involved in human rights training programs organized by the Democracy Academy of Malaysia in the East Coast of Malaysia, both Kelantan and Terengganu for the very first time.

It was an eye-opening experience for me as I learned from the local human rights activists about the issues that they face in Kelantan and Terengganu. The participants were very enthusiastic in learning more about human rights and to also explore more about what they can do to better advance the rights of the people in Kelantan and Terengganu.

Few indigenous peoples from Gua Musang also attended the training programme in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Listening to their stories from a colleague about their long journey to reach Kota Bharu for the training, and the deprivation of their basic rights such as no electricity triggers a simple question, why is this still happening in the country?

Living in the city, it is very often that we take things for granted. When the people do not get the access to their basic rights, whose fault is it? Is it the government or we, the people? Does the government have a duty in protecting human rights?

Human rights are about protecting the rights of people and to protect its daily life. It is about making sure people have access to their basic rights and not to be harm in any ways. But, the idea of human rights has probably never been taken seriously.

After the Second World War, the international arena came to recognize human rights in 1948 when all countries agreed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that every human being is born free.

The UDHR then becomes the guiding document for the members of the United Nations (UN). While it is not legally binding, but it serves as an important document in many ways, one of it is the birth of the two important international human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Article 1 of the UDHR states that, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Although every person deserves the natural right to life, liberty and personal security as guaranteed in the UDHR, people around the world including here in Malaysia continue to suffer from human rights violations. Human rights violations can be due to many reasons, and it is particularly rampant when the government is corrupt or lack resources to ensure the fulfilment of basic rights to its people.

Government is the principal duty bearers, but what is the nature of that duty? Over time, consensus has been achieved that the governments have responsibility to respect, to protect and to fulfill their obligations.

The obligation to respect means that the government needs to refrain from interfering the enjoyment of human rights. Second refers to the obligation to protect that is the government must protect individuals and its people as a whole against any form of human rights abuses. Finally is the obligation to fulfill, it means that the government must take action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.

What these really entail is that, the sole purpose of this prime elected body is to ensure the welfare of its people and to fulfill the role in satisfying the basic needs like food, shelter, health care and education of its people.

While we are all gearing up for the 2018 election, whoever wins the election, I sincerely hope that the government policies should be such that they are able to make their people capable of living on their own and ensure everyone is getting an equal opportunity.

(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer)



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