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Malaysia’s new government fails to uphold human rights commitments in 2023, reports Human Rights Watch

Malaysia’s government, led by PM Anwar Ibrahim, failed to uphold its 2023 commitments on human rights and anti-corruption, says Human Rights Watch in its 2024 report.

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Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2024, has expressed disappointment with the Malaysian government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim for its failure to honor its promises to address repression and corruption in 2023. Despite his electoral reform pledges, Prime Minister Anwar has been criticized for not taking stronger action to uphold these commitments.

Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated, “In his first year in office, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim betrayed the reform pledges he made to Malaysian voters so he could hold his coalition together. The government should recommit to a rights-respecting agenda by turning its sidelined campaign promises into action.”

The 740-page report, marking its 34th edition, reviews human rights practices in over 100 countries. Executive Director Tirana Hassan, in her introductory essay, noted that 2023 was marked by human rights suppression, wartime atrocities, selective government outrage, and transactional diplomacy, all carrying significant implications for human rights.

While the Malaysian government has made some positive reforms, including the Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Act 2023, which removed the mandatory death penalty for 12 offences and abolished it for seven offences, it retains the death sentence for drug trafficking under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. This law is notable as the most common conviction for death row prisoners.

HRW, however, noted that the government has failed to abolish or reform certain oppressive laws, such as the Sedition Act 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which are still used to criminalize free speech. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has continued to ban access to online news portals, citing the prevention of the spread of false information and defamation, said the international NGO.

It also pointed out that refugees in Malaysia, who lack legal status and thus cannot formally work or enrol in government schools, continue to face challenges.

Furthermore, HRW said that the government had denied the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to immigration detention centres, where migrants and refugees, including children, are held in overcrowded and abusive conditions. More than 18,000 migrants were deported from these centres from January to May.

State-sponsored discrimination against LGBT individuals persists, said HRW, noting Prime Minister Anwar having rejected the idea of recognizing and protecting LGBT Malaysians under his government in January.

It also mentioned how the government has criticized the European Union’s Deforestation-Free Products Regulation, which requires EU-based companies to ensure their imports and exports are “deforestation-free” and uphold human rights. This regulation entered into force in June.

Human Rights Watch’s report underscores the urgent need for the Malaysian government to adhere to its human rights obligations and fulfil the promises made to its citizens.

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