Monday, February 12, 2007
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Feb 8, 07 11:37am
Home Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad should be commended for his ministry's attempt to develop guidelines to "handle refugees protected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)". (Bernama, Feb 1)
This is quite a leap from his predecessor's relationship with this UN body. Azmi Khalid, the former home minister, had accused the UNHCR in March 2005 of "helping illegal migrants" by granting refugee status to too many immigrants to escape the crackdown, Operation Tegas. (AP, Mar 4, 2005). This was refuted by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond.
However, the explanation for the ministry's guidelines is a cause of some concern. Radzi was quoted in Bernama as saying, "When we arrest them (refugees) the UNHCR will come and say they are under it's care. We don't recognise the UNHCR's action but on humanitarian grounds, we release them." "We do not recognise and accept the UNHCR-hosted refugees."
It would seem that the home minister has no qualms at all in refusing recognition to the protection work of the UNHCR. Thus the handling of refugees in the proposed guidelines may for all intents and purposes, be a reversal of all the processes and protocols painstakingly developed by the UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur for refugee protection.
The fact that Malaysia has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention is no longer a good reason as there is a growing body of human rights standards that the state no longer has an absolute right to turn individuals away from its borders.
Malaysia in good faith and in protection of her international image as a member of the UN had hosted the UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur. And now, Malaysia is turning its back on all that, by undermining the UNHCR and its work with relevant authorities, human rights groups and the judiciary in Malaysia.
At present, Malaysia is treating refugees under its immigration laws. There is nothing in this law on refugee protection as this law did not conceive of this category of people at the time of its making. When such is the case, then the use of such a law over refugees, is not legitimate and is unconscionable. As a matter of argument, it can be said that the home minister has acted illegally by using this law over refugees.
Under the immigration law, "illegals" can be jailed up to five years, face a RM10,000 fine and six strokes of caning. About 18,000 "illegals" were whipped in 2003. The terms, "illegal migrant", "illegal immigrant" are problematic because they criminalise the person. Using these terms have the effect of pre-judging the person's status.
When a person is forced to flee from persecution, international humanitarian law recognizes that they may need to enter a country without authorization. It would thus be misleading to describe them as "illegals". A person may also be brought into the country through trafficking, in which case such a person should be recognized as a victim of a crime and not a wrong-doer.
Refugees here face a terrible humanitarian situation. They are not afforded refugee status, where they can receive protection under the Convention rules. This includes the right of work.
The UNHCR and Malaysian human rights campaigners had welcomed the ministry's proposal to allow refugees to work. In Feb 2005, the former home minister announced that the refugee community of Rohingyas (recognised as refugees), would be permitted to work. That experiment was abandoned due to glitches but that proposal was not reviewed for this refugee community nor for any other refugee community in Malaysia since then.
We have a humanitarian disaster where refugees cannot work and then persecuted when they do work as they need to, to keep body and soul together. In keeping refugees in a limbo, we are implicated in the humanitarian problem that we may have inadvertently set for them on our shores.
According to UNHCR sources, the number of migrants in the world has reached an estimated 200 million. The important distinctions between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have been blurred. With it has come a growing degree of "asylum fatigue" which has threatened refugee protection. Control policies should distinguish between migrants seeking better economic opportunities and those people who are in need of international refugee protection.
Our present laws and policies are incoherent. Asylum seekers are not portrayed as refugees fleeing persecution and entitled to sanctuary. It is often overlooked that asylum seekers and refugees comprise only a small proportion of the tens of thousands of international migrants. It is with stronger reason that we need to safeguard the principle of asylum when we blur or confuse categories and distinctions.
Our control policies should recognise refugee protection which has also a history in the idea of safe passage or aman in the Islamic Law of Nations (precursor of a public international law). It should establish a status determination process for people fleeing human rights abuses. It should follow internationally accepted principles of non-refoulement. It should provide for humanitarian assistance to refugees in Malaysia.
The ministry should work closely with the UNHCR. The UNHCR has invaluable experience over issues of protection both under the 1951 Convention and outside of that. It has more than half a century of protection work. It does seem rather silly to ignore that body of work. We can and must learn from the UNHCR in developing the proposed guidelines.
SALBIAH AHMAD, a member of MADPET, is a lawyer and an independent researcher. MALAYA! as the name for this column was inspired by the meaning of 'Malaya' in Tagalog which means freedom. The events at the end of 1998 in KL offer a new inspiration. MALAYA! takes on the process of reclaiming the many facets of independence.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Paris, 1-3 February 2007
Assembled in Paris from 1 to 3 February 2007, on the initiative of Ensemble contre la peine de mort (Together against the Death Penalty), supported by the World Coalition against the Death Penalty,
We, citizens and representatives of civil society and public authorities, meeting in even greater number than at the first two World Congresses against the Death Penalty in Strasbourg in 2001 and Montreal in 2004, adopt this Declaration at the conclusion of discussions involving some 30 debates as well as testimonies, analyses and exchanges of experiences and strategies.
We welcome the fact that the death penalty is receding in the world and that since the Montreal Congress Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Mexico, the Philippines and Senegal have abolished capital punishment, while no country has re-introduced it. We regret that, during the same period, some countries have resumed executions after prolonged moratoria, such as Bahrain in 2006, and that the death penalty is still applied on a large scale in a number of countries including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Vietnam. We strongly condemn the initiatives in some abolitionist countries to reintroduce the death penalty and demand in particular that the Peruvian authorities renounce this effort.
We recognise that the process of abolition must be accompanied by a better consideration of the needs of victims and by an in-depth reflection on penal policy and prison systems, in the framework of an equitable and restorative justice.
We demand with one voice the end throughout the world of justice that kills. No authority has the right to strike out a person’s life. We recall that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, that it is contrary to human rights, that it has no utility in the fight against crime, and that it always represents a failure of justice.
The 3rd World Congress against the Death Penalty adopts the following recommendations:
1. We call on all countries to abolish the death penalty and to ratify international and regional abolitionist treaties, especially the Second Optional Protocol to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2. Following on from the statement at the UN General Assembly in December 2006, which was supported by an unprecedented number of countries from around the world, we solemnly appeal to all states of the world to stop all executions immediately.
Recognizing the great value that a successful resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly would have for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, we invite the member states of the United Nations to take all necessary steps to ensure the adoption by the General Assembly of a resolution
- calling for an immediate and universal moratorium on death sentences and executions and the commutation of existing death sentences, with a view to the universal abolition of the death penalty;
- recalling that the death penalty violates human rights and fundamental freedoms; and
- encouraging the UN, its member states, and other relevant international, regional and sub-regional organisations to support the implementation of this moratorium, including through mobilizing resources and expertise.
We call on the citizens of the world to sign the petition, launched by the Sant’Egidio Community and supported by the World Coalition against Death Penalty, which has already attracted over five million signatures, in favour of a worldwide moratorium on executions.
3. We welcome the presence in Paris of many abolitionists from North Africa and the Middle East and their efforts to create national, sub-regional and regional coalitions. We hail the initiatives taken in Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan towards abolition and call on the countries of the region to abolish the death penalty.
4. Welcoming the presence in Paris of Chinese abolitionists, we call on the Chinese government, in the prospect of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Shanghai Universal Exposition in 2010, to establish an immediate moratorium on executions with the objective of progressively abolishing the death penalty, and in particular to remove non-violent offences, including economic and drug offences, from the scope of capital punishment.
As, moreover, the Chinese Supreme Court from 1 January 2007 is to review all death sentences imposed by courts of first instance, we call on the Chinese authorities to remove the secrecy surrounding the administration of the death penalty.
5. We welcome the fact that, since the Strasbourg Congress in 2001, the world abolitionist movement has structured itself, with full respect for the diversity of its members, around the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, which was created in 2002 and now includes over 50 organisations.
We call on organisations and institutions that share the objective of abolition – non-governmental organisations, bar associations, trade unions and local governments - to join the World Coalition.
We call on abolitionists of the whole world to take part each year in the World Day against the Death Penalty, which will focus in 2007 on China in the Prospect of the Olympic Games in 2007 and in 2008 on Teaching Abolition in 2008. We call on all regional and international organisations, and the European Union in particular, to adopt 10 October as an official day in favour of universal abolition.
We call on the cities of the world to take part in Cities for Life on 30 November each year.
Finally, we call on members of parliament of the whole world, whose powers include that of voting for abolition, to sign this Declaration.
Paris, 3 February 2007