(New York) – The Malaysian government should end rights-violating and discriminatory government policies that vilify members of Malaysia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Malaysian law, policies, and practices violate the internationally protected rights of LGBT people. In July 2012, Najib made public statements against the LGBT community that facilitate discriminatory activities by government and police officials.
“Prime Minister Najib’s claims to promote diversity in Malaysia ring hollow when he publicly calls for discrimination against the LGBT community,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “And Najib’s actions against LGBT people are a glaring contradiction to his self-proclaimed profile as a ‘global moderate’ leader.”
In two speeches in 2012, Najib singled out the LGBT community as a threatening “deviant culture,” and said that such deviance was to have no place in a Malaysia under his leadership. The first speech was in June at the launch of a book of Najib’s collected speeches and messages, The Agenda of Islam in National Transformation, and the other in July to 11,000 imams and mosque members.
Government actions and policies against the LGBT community in Malaysia include: the government shutdown of the November 2011 Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexual Diversity) Festival; a government program to train volunteers to “convert gays”; and the public recommendation by Deputy Education Minister Dr. Mohd Puad Zarkashi that educating parents to recognize “symptoms” of gay or lesbian orientation could be effective in fighting increase of this “unhealthy phenomenon among students.”
The government should also act to repeal laws criminalizing homosexual relations between consenting adults such as article 377 of the Malaysian Penal Code on “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” and replace the provision on non-consensual relations with a gender-neutral rape law. Revoking section 377 would free Malaysia’s legal system from a colonial past and historical prejudices.
Najib’s views on the rights of the LGBT community are indicative of a broader disregard for the universality and indivisibility of international human rights. As a member of the United Nations, Malaysia is obligated to uphold the principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” A November 2011 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which specifically addressed violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, made recommendations that have specific relevance to Malaysia.
“World leaders like UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have repeatedly called for an end to anti-LGBT discrimination, intimidation, and violence, and will repeat those calls on December 11, during international human rights day celebrations,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director.
Najib should make a commitment to repeal all laws and policies that discriminate against LGBT people. He should end projects aimed at the conversion, marginalization, or stigmatization of LGBT people, and initiate a public awareness campaign aimed at ending hostility toward LGBT people. By doing so, Malaysia would take a giant step toward becoming a rights-respecting “modern democracy,” a goal Najib has repeatedly endorsed.
“The Malaysian government has sadly used anti-LGBT policies to pander to conservative groups within the ruling coalition and society at large,” Robertson said. “Encouraging discrimination against a marginalized group to win votes repudiates commitments to respect rights that Malaysia touted when it sought a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.”