SUARAM Malaysia – struggling for human rights

By Denise Nanni and
Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. Now let us move to Malaysia to talk to Chew Cy (Dobby)
struggling for human rights in the country.
organisation SUARAM, being active since 20 years in Malaysia, predominantly
works on issues relating to abuse of power by enforcement agencies and advocate
for marginalize groups that lack of platform to reach out.

What are the main issues
related to human rights in Malaysia?
In broad strokes, human
rights is largely rejected by the ruling political party in Malaysia and human
rights violation often occurs in a systematic manner with absolute impunity. In
the civil and political front, repression of freedom of expression takes place
on a daily basis with individuals arrested, detained and on occasion tortured
for comments relating to trivial matters such as criticism of politicians or
comment against football team linked to monarchy. Publications are also blocked
and made illegal at the whim of the ruling government which results in random
and unsystematic banning of print publications and other materials.
Participants of protests and organizers are often subjected to varying degree
of harassment by police and in the recent past, mass arrest and police
brutality in dispersing peaceful assembly was a common occurrence.
On the economic and social
rights front, mass land grabs occur in various part by corporation backed by
state and federal authorities. Indigenous peoples and community have been
threatened with violence by corporation and government agents. Journalist who
were covering the plight by these community has also been issued threats and
Apart from these
challenges, thousands of Malaysians who are alleged hard-core criminal and
terrorists remain in detention without trial through the various legislations
in Malaysia and reports of torture against detainees remain prevalent
throughout the years. The widespread use of torture has resulted in several
ghastly cases where individuals in detention were beaten and tortured to death
by police officers.
Apart from the issues
described above, other notable area of human rights violations involves the
on-going threat and harassment against refugees and asylum seekers. With the
absence of any form of legal protection and the staunch refusal by member of
government to recognize refugees and asylum seekers, refugees and asylum
seekers often turn to the darker side of Malaysian economy and are often forced
into inhumane work conditions with little to no pay and exploited by
enforcement agencies for economic gains.
What are the main campaigns
SUARAM currently leads the
campaign against detention without trial in Malaysia and serve as the
secretariat for the coalition campaigning against the Sedition Act 1948
(Coalition is called Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan – GHAH in Malay and roughly
translate to the coalition for the abolishment of the Sedition Act). Under
these campaign, SUARAM has provided support and legal assistance whenever
possible to victims of human rights violations and secured the release of
individuals wrongfully detained.
Apart from the campaign led
by SUARAM, SUARAM is also a coalition member in the ACT4CAT campaign (a
campaign with collaboration from Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission, the
Malaysian Bar and other partner organization) which advocates for Malaysia’s
ratification of the UN Convention against Torture; a member of the ICERD
working group working on the ratification of ICERD.
What is the current
situation related to human trafficking and how do you address this issue?
At the moment, SUARAM is
providing assistance and support to victim of human trafficking whenever
possible through partner organizations and community leaders. Assistance can
come in the form of providing information and relevant training for community
in need, assistance in the event of detention, monitoring and reporting of
situation to regional or international mechanism and assistance on UNHCR
At the moment there isn’t a
strong platform for advocacy on the national level on the issues of human
trafficking and as such advocacy is relatively limited on that front.
How do you assist refugees
and asylum seekers?
SUARAM office in, Penang
(northern Malaysia) provides direct aid and assistance to refugee and asylum
seekers whenever possible and coordinate with a coalition working against human
trafficking in the northern region of Malaysia (Penang Stop Human Trafficking)
which is often the primary human trafficking route. At Headquarters in Kuala
Lumpur, SUARAM works with UNHCR and other partner organizations in providing
support and assistance to refugee and asylum seekers in need and provide
assistance in the event of police arrest or wrongful detention.
Do you cooperate with other
human rights associations at the national or transnational level? If yes, how?
SUARAM is a member of
Forum-Asia, a member of FIDH and often conduct advocacy at regional and
international level through our partners. SUARAM also submit reports and alert
to relevant UN agency as and when necessary and actively participate in
regional meetings such as ASEAN Peoples’ Forum and similar events.
Apart from advocacy, SUARAM
also work closely with other international organization such as Front Line
Defender in providing assistance and support to human rights defenders in need
in Malaysia; collaboration on human rights monitoring with other international
organization; and regional solidarity and assistance to partners and
friends in other countries in need.