Civil society groups had to take their complaints of human rights violations in Malaysia to Geneva as Putrajaya had closed its doors to discussion, a representative of a non-governmental organisation said.
Jerald Joseph, director of Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Komas), said there was not even a response to letters sent to the ministries. And to make matters worse, the Coalition of Malaysian non-governmental organisations in the UPR Process, or Comango, was declared an illegal entity. Komas is one of 54 groups in Comango.
"We had to go to Geneva to complain because the doors for consultation here were closed," he said at a discussion last night on the Universal Periodic Review on human rights recommendations for Malaysia, organised by the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).
He said in the run-up to Malaysia's second UPR last October, local stakeholders including Comango only had two meetings with Foreign Ministry officials.
However, he said, Putrajaya gave the impression to the international community that it had held dialogues with civil society in preparing its report for the UPR.
"In the UN, every country wants to look good. And in the case of Malaysia, many outstanding human rights issues were not resolved. The fact is we did not get sufficient space for constructive engagement," he added.
Joseph said Putrajaya must be sincere in engaging civil society and hear their views to address human rights violations in Malaysia.
He added that officials from key ministries were not keen to meet Comango representatives to obtain their feedback on the UPR.
Comango, Suhakam and the Bar Council were among 28 organisations in Malaysia that travelled to Geneva last October to present a report to the United Nations to compel Putrajaya to improve on its human rights record.
Joseph said over the past six months Comango has had to ward off attacks from some Muslim groups which claimed Comango was promoting unnatural sex, which was against Islam.
He said when the mainstream media attacked Comango, even the Foreign Ministry which was aware of the procedures leading to the UPR did not defend the coalition.
"The Muslim groups with the aid of the media promoted hate speech and got away unpunished," he said.
Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chair Andrew Khoo Chin Hock, who was also at the discussion, said Malaysia rejected recommendations on migrant workers from its Asean neighbours the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as those on child protection from Thailand.
He said there were issues which have not been resolved, like the abolition of the death penalty, corporal punishment, peaceful assembly and preventive detention under the Prevention of Crime Act.
Khoo bemoaned the fact that Putrajaya has failed to honour pledges it had made to address human rights violations.
He said: "There was instead a rise in extremism funded by the government and everything was seen from the racial perspective."
Khoo added that the introduction of laws like the Prevention of Crime Act and the Peaceful Assembly Act were in clear breach of the rule of law.
He said the People's Tribunal Report released two weeks ago revealed that last year’s general election was not fair and free as required under acceptable international standards.
"Civil society has to continue to pressure the government to improve on human rights, although Malaysia refused to accept some of the recommendations," said Khoo.
Global Movement of Moderates chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, who chaired the session, said the discussion was constructive and the way forward was to strengthen the consultation process with interest groups.
"The government must give recognition to civil society," he said.
At the second UPR conducted in Geneva last October, Malaysia's human rights record was reviewed and United Nations member states made recommendations to Malaysia.
Putrajaya took six months to respond to the UN Human Rights Council on the recommendations.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia said out of the 233 recommendations received from the UN member states during the October review, Malaysia accepted 150.
The 83 recommendations that Putrajaya did not support called for immediate changes to existing laws, regulations and policies or matters.