Malaysia's newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends a news conference in Pataling Jaya, Malaysia, May 12, 2018.  © 2018 REUTERS/Stringer

(New York) – Malaysia’s new government should move swiftly to implement the human rights commitments set out in the Pakatan Harapan coalition’s election manifesto, Human Rights Watch said in a May 21, 2018 letter to newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

“The coalition’s election manifesto contains a wide range of important human rights commitments,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By fulfilling those promises, Malaysia could become an example for the region as a protector and proponent of human rights and the rule of law.”

Human Rights Watch urged the new government to prioritize its commitment to abolish oppressive laws, particularly laws which have been used to suppress freedom of speech, assembly, and association.

It also highlighted the coalition’s commitment to establish an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission during its first term in office, and to ensure that all allegations of misconduct are investigated in a fair and comprehensive way – steps that are critical to reforming the country’s police force.

The government should also carry out its pledges to ratify core international human rights treaties – including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Refugee Convention – strengthen the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), and raise the minimum age for marriage to 18.

The new government should not only fulfill its commitment to enable refugees to work and rebuild their lives with dignity, but should also permit refugees and asylum seekers access to health care that is on par with nationals, as well as free primary and secondary education. Malaysia should also enter into a formal agreement with the United Nations refugee agency that would ensure its longtime invaluable role in the country would continue, Human Rights Watch said.

“As the new government has recognized, Malaysia faces many human rights challenges,” Adams said. “Prompt action to fulfill the coalition’s human rights promises would send a vital and positive signal that a new rights-respecting era has dawned in Malaysia.”