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New Straits Times (Malaysia) December 14, 2008 Sunday

Ensuring human rights for all Malaysians

BYLINE: Rais Yatim SECTION: LOCAL; Pg. 20 LENGTH: 954 words

TO mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, RAIS YATIM gives a Malaysian perspective and says Malaysia's performance will be reviewed by the United Nations on Feb 11. On Dec 10 every year, the world celebrates Human Rights Day. The celebration this year was all the more special for marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). All over the world, this sacred birth date was joyously celebrated, and for good reason. The declaration was formulated in response to the devastating aftermath of World War 2, specifically the atrocities committed by the Nazis. At its core, the UDHR underscores that, as stated in Article 1, that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". Malaysia is a firm and consistent advocate of equal treatment, peace and stability. But we should pause for a moment to reflect upon the reality of the world we now live in. We are still witnessing horrific mass scale slaughter of civilians, women and children in some strife-torn parts of the world. Full equality and justice as envisioned in the UDHR are still far from reach. What has the world achieved in the span of the last 60 years when it comes to the development of fundamental freedoms enshrined in the declaration? There is so much more that needs to be done before we are able to say that all 30 articles contained in the UDHR have become reality. Malaysia recognises the importance of the declaration, particularly its status as the most widely subscribed body of principles that establishes universal human rights norms and standards. The UDHR, the most translated document in the world, is available in more than 360 languages and is the world's primary reference point and most often cited human rights document. The declaration was adopted in 1948 when Malaysia had yet to achieve independence and was thus not yet a member of the United Nations. Nevertheless, at the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, Austria, in June 1993, Malaysia, along with 170 other countries, reiterated the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, and affirmed commitment to the UDHR.

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Malaysia's approach to human rights is holistic; we view all rights as indivisible and interdependent. The rights of every Malaysian citizen are protected by legal provisions, namely Part II, Articles 5 to 13 of the Federal Constitution, which spell out the fundamental rights of all persons, including minorities. But these rights are not absolute and are subject to, among others, public order, morality and security of the country, which is consistent with the UDHR. Malaysians from all walks of life should understand and appreciate the UDHR. But in celebrating the birth of the UDHR, we should also bear in mind that the declaration is not the sole authority in governing the system of human rights in our country. Such an effort should be in tandem with international standards, but we should also take into account the Asian values of our multiethnic society. Our Asian-ness should not be left out in place of Western ideals. It is time that the West gives due regard and high esteem to Asian values. Thus, when the UN created a mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to undertake a review of all its 192 member states with regard to their human rights obligations and commitments, Malaysia welcomed the initiative. Member states, Malaysia included, are obliged to be reviewed every four years, starting from April this year. Beginning this year, 48 countries will be reviewed annually in three separate sessions. Each session will see the human rights record of 16 states examined by the UN Human Rights Council. The first session was held from April 7-18 and the second from May 5-16. The third session, which started on Dec 1, ends tomorrow. Malaysia will be reviewed on Feb 11, during the fourth session scheduled from Feb 1-15. Each country under review will need to prepare a 20-page Country Report to support its presentation to the UN Human Rights Council. Malaysia's Country Report has therefore been prepared in line with international guidelines while taking into significant account the Asian values practised in our country. Malaysia's National Report contains, among others, our country's background, in terms of our diverse population, and the various programmes Malaysia has created in promoting and protecting human rights. These include the right to health, education and housing, as well as cultural rights. Also included in the report are the related challenges faced by the country. While upholding the universal principles of human rights, Malaysia accentuates its human rights values, which take into account the history of the country as well as the religious, social and cultural diversities of its communities. This is to ensure that respect for social harmony is preserved and protected. The practice of human rights in Malaysia reflects a wider Asian value system, where the welfare and collective well-being of the community are more significant than individual rights. States have the utmost obligation to ensure their people enjoy all the fundamental rights and freedoms. As UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon puts it: "This anniversary year is an occasion to build up that will (to implement international norms that governments have willingly accepted). "It is a chance to ensure that these rights are a living reality - that they are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone,

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everywhere." Malaysia looks forward to the UPR review in February to demonstrate that the country has been, and will remain, truly committed towards improving its human rights system. Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim is Malaysia's Minister of Foreign Affairs. LOAD-DATE: December 14, 2008 LANGUAGE: ENGLISH PUBLICATION-TYPE: Newspaper

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