By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik

Now let’s move to Malaysia to talk to Chew Cy (Dobby) of SUARAM, struggling for human rights in the country. The organisation SUARAM, active for 20 years in Malaysia, predominantly works on issues relating to abuse of power by enforcement agencies and advocates for marginalized groups that lack a platform to reach out.

Promosaik: What are the main issues related to human rights in Malaysia?

In broad strokes, human rights are largely rejected by the ruling political party in Malaysia and human rights violations often occurs in a systematic manner with absolute impunity. On 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 comments against football teams linked to the monarchy. Publications are also blocked and made illegal at the whim of the ruling government which results in the random and unsystematic banning of print publications and other materials. Participants in protests and organizers are often subjected to varying degrees of harassment by police, and, in the recent past, mass arrests and police brutality in dispersing peaceful assembly has been a common occurrence.

On the economic and social rights front, mass land grabs occur in various parts by corporations backed by state and federal authorities. Indigenous peoples and communities have been threatened with violence by corporations and government agents. Journalists who were covering the plight by these community have also been issued with threats and arrested.

Apart from these challenges, thousands of Malaysians who are alleged hard-core criminals 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, another 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 members of government to recognize refugees and asylum seekers, they often turn to the darker side of the Malaysian economy and are often forced into inhumane working conditions with little to no pay and exploited by enforcement agencies for economic gains.

Promosaik: What are the main campaigns of SUARAM?

SUARAM currently leads the campaign against detention without trial in Malaysia and serves as the secretariat for the coalition campaigning against the Sedition Act 1948 (the Coalition is called Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan – GHAH in Malay and roughly translates 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, we are also a coalition member in the ACT4CAT campaign (a campaign with collaboration from Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission, the Malaysian Bar and other partner organizations) which advocates for Malaysia’s ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and a member of the ICERD working group working on the ratification of ICERD.

Promosaik: 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 victims of human trafficking whenever possible through partner organizations and community leaders. Assistance can come in the form of providing information and relevant training for communities in need, assistance in the event of detention, monitoring and reporting of situations to regional or international mechanisms and assistance on UNHCR referrals.

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.

Promosaik: How do you assist refugees and asylum seekers?

The SUARAM office in Penang (northern Malaysia) provides direct aid and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers whenever possible and coordinates 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 our headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, SUARAM works with UNHCR and other partner organizations in providing support and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in need and provides assistance in the event of police arrest or wrongful detention.

Promosaik: Do you cooperate with other human rights associations at a national or transnational level? If yes, how?

SUARAM is a member of Forum-Asia, a member of FIDH and often conducts advocacy at regional and international level through our partners. SUARAM also submits reports and alerts to relevant UN agencies as and when necessary and actively participates in regional meetings such as ASEAN Peoples’ Forum and similar events.

Apart from advocacy, SUARAM also works closely with other international organizations such as Front Line Defenders 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.