First published in freemalaysiatoday.com

GEORGE TOWN: A former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Malaysia to raise and deliberate in its parliament the contents of two reports prepared by the world body on the state of human rights in the country.

Navi Pillay, who served as high commissioner from 2008 to 2014, said the recommendations and findings of the UN’s Human Rights Council need to be followed up on and appraised locally with a new report on the nation’s performance in the matter.

“Malaysia has been reviewed before the Human Rights Council (HRC) twice now (in 2009 and 2013.) That should be reported before parliament. It should be discussed,” she said.

Navi, who is also a former judge of the International Criminal Court, stressed that Malaysians need to be aware of the recommendations that their government told the HRC committee it would implement.

She said this in her keynote lecture during a forum titled ‘Affirmative Action in Malaysia – Who Gains? Who Loses?’ at the Penang Institute here last night. Also present as co-panellists were former Sabah state secretary Simon Sipaun, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan and chief economist of DM Analytics Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid.

Navi, who was born and raised in South Africa, served as the UN high commissioner from 2008 to 2014.

A descendant of indentured labour migrants from India, she is the first non-white woman judge to sit in the High Court of South Africa. Among her other accomplishments, she was president of the International Criminal Tribunal on the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and led the UN’s fact-finding mission in 2014 to investigate atrocities and abuse related to the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Responding to a question from Batu Kawan MP Kasturi Patto from the floor on how a government can be compelled to form a human rights committee in its parliament, Navi said she has heard many parliamentarians from different countries raise their helplessness in trying to advance human rights agendas in their legislative houses.

She stressed that it is important for the report of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) to also be tabled and discussed in the parliament.

When told that such a report has never been tabled before, she quipped: “There’s no way you can make them (get) going on this unless you change the government.”

To another question Navi said a key difference between Malaysia and South Africa is that Malaysia does not have an independent judiciary.

“The judiciary’s jurisdiction (in Malaysia) is circumscribed by parliament. I have never heard of such a thing in a democracy,” she said.

She stressed that the courts in South Africa are known to have ordered the parliament there to exercise oversight over the executive.

She pointed to a move by the constitutional court to order South African president Jacob Zuma to revoke his administration’s notice to withdraw South Africa from the International Criminal Court, on the grounds that the executive should have consulted parliament first.

“That is the value of having an independent judiciary because it can render justice for all the complaints that I am hearing today,” she said.

She added that there are “vibrant and open discussions” on the debate over affirmative action in South Africa, particularly on the controversial Black Empowerment Programme (BEE) launched by the government in 2003 and now criticised for benefiting elites and people close to the governing party.

“Don’t be afraid. I see you whispering about this matter here (in Malaysia), about corruption and cronyism,” she said.

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