With a general election looming and amid criticism over a crackdown on its critics, the Malaysian government announced Thursday that it was developing a national human rights action plan (NHRAP) to be implemented within a “certain timeframe.”
The plan was unveiled by Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose government has charged some of his critics under the nation’s sedition laws and also clamped down against calls for him to resign over allegations of corruption tied to state fund 1MDB.
“The NHRAP, I am proud to say, is a comprehensive plan that has taken into account the aspirations of the people,” Najib said during the launch at the Perdana Putra building in Putrajaya.
The plan is to provide: an “objective depiction” of the state of human rights; a comprehensive assessment of needs; increase the government’s capacity to promote and protect human rights; incorporate greater standards in domestic laws and policies; integrate principles into other areas such as development, business, education, health care and justice; and raise public awareness.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) questioned the timing of Najib’s announcement.
“In reality, this so-called action plan has been cooking on the stove for years – and suddenly a few months before the election, the government announces it with great fanfare,” HRW Asia Division Deputy Director Phil Robertson told BenarNews.
Najib, who will call for the general election which is to be held by August, expressed confidence that the NHRAP could boost the performance and image of the country, especially in terms of economic development and efficient and credible governance. He said he wanted Malaysia to become among the most advanced countries of the world in the next three decades.
“When I say among the best countries by 2050, it does not mean only in terms of per capita income, but also as a more equitable, caring and kinder Malaysia. This is my vision,” the PM said.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and others, meanwhile, have criticized Najib and his United Malays National Organization for the government’s efforts to go after political foes and others. Mahathir will represent the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan in the election.
In a news release, the government acknowledged that the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) had advocated for the plan since 2002 and would assist in its preparation by providing information when possible. Suhakam also will monitor and assess its implementation.
Azril Mohd Amin, executive director of the Center for Human Rights Research and Advocacy, said he hoped Sukaham would serve as a monitor for the plan once it was implemented. He added that it should not ignore history, culture and religion as enshrined in the constitution.
The government should ensure that those involved must understand the meaning of human rights, said Siti Zabedah Kasim, a member of the Malaysian Bar Council of Human Rights Committee.
“I also think this human rights action plan should not be misused and taken advantage of by terrorists and asylum seekers,” she told BenarNews.
Robertson said the plan contained some good elements, but he added it “reads more like a report card on what the government has already done, and omits anything about the misuse of laws to persecute political opponents, critical media outlets, and civil society activists.”
He also questioned Najib’s announcement that a mobile phone app would be set up to gather feedback from the nation.
“Asking for comments from the public via a mobile phone app is an indication of just how little civil society participation there was in putting together this plan. PM Najib is clearly trying to be all things to all people in his campaign for re-election, and the downside is any serious implementation of the pledges in this plan will likely falter as soon as the votes are counted in the general election,” Robertson said.