Malaysia’s 2nd UPR: We got a peanut, not a coconut


What the world told us can be seen in my UPR Map.

Rest Stop Thoughts

Malaysia’s 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was conducted in Geneva on 25 October 2013. During the UPR Malaysia’s human rights record was reviewed. One hundred UN member states provided recommendations to Malaysia. Malaysia took 6 months to review the responses. In March 2014, the Malaysian government submitted its responses to the United Nations.

On 21st March 2014 the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Suhakam, issued a press statementwhich said:

“Of the 232 recommendations received from UN Member States during the review held on 24 October 2013, Malaysia has accepted 150 recommendations, 113 of which are accepted in full, 22 accepted in principle and 15 accepted partially. Malaysia did not support 83 recommendations which call for immediate changes to existing laws, regulations and policies or matters which it is not prepared to consider or commit to implement at this juncture.”
A day earlier, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights website said:
“Jordan had accepted 126 recommendations and noted the remaining 47; . . . Malaysia had received 232 recommendations, including 150 that received support while the rest had been noted; and that the Central African Republic had accepted 177 and noted one.”
When was the last time you heard or read the word ‘recommendation’? What do you think are the features of recommendations? Consider these questions: Why would you seek or offer recommendations? Does ‘recommendation’ imply a call to change something? Does a sentence beginning with “continue” constitute a recommendation?
Take a moment to answer those questions before you continue reading.
This is how an online Oxford dictionary defines recommendation:
“A suggestion or proposal as to the best course of action, especially one put forward by an authoritative body.”
Notice it doesn’t say anything about change. After my medical check-up I may ask my Doctor whether the results indicate a need for me to change my eating or exercise habits. My doctor may say “I recommend you continue doing everything you are doing just the way you are doing it now.” That’s a suggestion from an authoritative person. That’s a recommendation: a recommendation to continue as-is.
Recommendations to continue current practices are the best possible outcome of any independent examination of a business. It’s the outcome every manager wants. It’s a great compliment. It’s confirmation by an authoritative person that I’m doing the right things and I have no need to change anything.
If a recommendation is in truth a compliment, should we give credit for ‘accepting’ or ‘supporting’ such a recommendation? That’s the first problem I have with the UPR accounting process: it doesn’t differentiate between compliments and calls to action.
The second problem I have with the UPR accounting process is the language used to describe the responses to the recommendations. Why did Suhakam say “accepted 150 recommendations” and then add that the acceptance fell into 3 levels: fully, in-principle, and partially? Why did the UN say Jordan and the Central African Republic “accepted” recommendations whereas Malaysia “supported” recommendations?
The third problem I have with the UPR process is that the UN does not have a mechanism to call a lie a lie. For instance, the Malaysian government conditionally accepted or rejected some recommendations because we have an EAIC (Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission). Yet, every Malaysian knows the EAIC is comatose. Similarly, the Malaysian government said our police are being trained in human rights by Suhakam – though most Malaysians believe the training is totally ineffective. And Suhakam has been trying for years to get the Malaysian government to listen to it.
The UPR is a standard process designed to identify gaps in human rights compliance and to recommend changes. But it depends upon diplomats, persons who practice the art of diplomacy, which Ambrose Bierce (1842 – 1914) defined in his The Devil’s Dictionary:
“The patriotic art of lying for one’s country.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big supporter of the UPR process. The UPR process enables us to measure the enjoyment of human rights in our nation against global norms.
I like that the UPR process desires not only the government of the state under review, but also NGO’s and others, including UN agencies (“Special Procedures”) and non-national groups (e.g. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) to submit reports.
The government, with its almost unlimited resources will paint a rosy picture on a large canvas. The others will paint small bleak pictures targeted to get the attention of other nations’ diplomats – who will offer recommendations during the UPR process. (Whether these diplomats are “authoritative” is a matter I will leave for another time.)
The UPR gives citizens a platform to raise and debate human rights issues. It gives civil society the opportunity to draw attention to gross violations of human rights, and to campaign for change. But we must understand the process in order to benefit from it.
So, what does it mean when the UN says Malaysia “supports” 150 recommendations?
I used “first word analysis” to study the recommendations. I separated all the recommendations which are really compliments and called them weak recommendations, the acceptance or support of which matters little.
I won’t try your patience by going into the details of my analysis. Let me just say that I fragmented some compound recommendations, so according to me there are 249 recommendations. According to my methodology, only about 50 % of the recommendations are ‘strong.’