(Bangkok) – Political parties in Malaysia’s November 19, 2022 general elections should commit to a strong human rights agenda for the country, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent to party and coalition leaders this week.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved parliament on October 10, setting the stage for the country’s 15th general elections. Malaysians will vote to fill all 222 seats in the federal parliament, along with three state assembly elections. The recent lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 added six million people to the voter registry.
“Voters deserve a robust debate during this campaign about the human rights issues that affect them and their families on a daily basis,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “All parties should commit to reforms that will advance a rights-respecting Malaysia in the years to come.”
Malaysia’s parties and coalitions should inform voters about their views on human rights priorities and the concrete actions they plan to take on pressing issues, including free speech, refugees and migrants, sexual orientation and gender identity, women’s and girls’ rights, Indigenous rights, and the environment.
In particular, parties and candidates should make a public commitment to amend or repeal laws that make defamation and criticism of authorities a criminal offense, repeal all legal provisions that authorize detention without trial, and abolish the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said.
Parties should also pledge to halt deportations of asylum seekers and refugees and grant the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, immediate and unfettered access to immigration detainees. They should make a commitment to end all limitations on women’s right to pass down citizenship, decriminalize same-sex conduct and gender diversity, and uphold the land rights of Indigenous people and local communities, particularly in the context of large-scale development projects and climate finance.
Malaysia’s next government should prioritize ratifying the core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.