Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
18 Mar, 2009

Today, it’s going to be a long piece, complete with videos and all. So you will need time not only to read it, but to also absorb the message as well as the sprit behind the message. Read this, therefore, in your free time. The summary to this piece, if you are the type who just wants to see the bottom-line, is that Malaysia did not sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 mainly because the country did not ‘exist’ until 1957. Nevertheless, Malaysia is a member of the United Nations. So this means the Declaration is also binding upon Malaysia.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Malaysia did not sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when most other Muslim nations did so in 1948, as it had not yet come into being (Merdeka wasn't until 1957). But as a member of the United Nations, it still has an obligation to uphold the principles of this Declaration. However, as with most other Muslim countries, the chances of Malaysia supporting human rights are about as likely as strawberries growing on apple trees.

Malaysians must pressure the government into ratifying the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Understandably, the government will resist because many of Malaysia’s laws and policies violate this Declaration. Even where the Federal Constitution of Malaysia guarantees us certain rights, other parts of the Constitution take away these rights. Article 10 of the Constitution is only one such example. There are many more.

Malaysia is in gross violation of human rights. The government rules not by ‘rule of law’ but by ‘rule by law’. Just because we have laws -- and the argument to this is we must respect the law -- nevertheless, whenever laws are oppressive and discriminatory, then they should be opposed at all cost.

Discrimination, oppression and persecution are the order of the day in Malaysia. Even prosecution is done selectively. Some face the wrath of the courts if they oppose the government or those who walk in the corridors of power. Those aligned to those who walk in the corridors of power are spared even when the evidence of misconduct is overwhelming and indisputable.

Those in Umno are not spared either. As much as we may not have any sympathy for people like Norza Zakaria, Ali Rustam or Isa Samad, we have to admit these people were brought down not because they are corrupted but because they posed a threat to certain people in power. If corruption were really the issue, then not a single candidate would be eligible to contest the Umno party elections because none are clean.

This was emphasised by Datuk Harun Idris about 30 years ago during the time of Hussein Onn. Datuk Harun was charged for corruption and eventually served a stint in the Pudu Jail before he was pardoned. If corruption is really the issue, argued Datuk Harun in front of the Umno Supreme Council, then not a single one of you will be here. The entire Supreme Council remained silent with heads hung low. They knew Datuk Harun was right.

Sure, Datuk Harun did take the money. He never denied that. But he took it for Umno, not for himself. In fact, he did not even personally receive the money. Someone else collected it but in his name and with his agreement. The money was actually a donation to Umno. But corruption is such. It does not matter for whom you took the money. It could have been for your wife or father. It is still corruption and for that Datuk Harun went to jail for the so-called crime of corruption but in reality because he had ambitions of becoming the next Prime Minister of Malaysia.

This is not something new. Selective prosecution has been going on since way back. And, today, we are seeing selective prosecution of opposition leaders like Karpal Singh for the crime of sedition whereas those in Umno have done and said much worse but no harm has come to them.

The future is going to be worse. Once Najib Tun Razak becomes Prime Minister we shall see an orgy of human rights abuses. And the government will be able to do this because Malaysia never signed the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and many of our laws and policies violate this Declaration. It is time for all Malaysians to stand up to be counted and demand that the government ratify the 1948 Declaration.

The only way for injustice to perpetuate is for good people to just stand by and do nothing to stop the evil people from perpetuating evil. Good people, invariably, would become the accessory or accomplice to evil.


What are human rights?

Human rights are those rights that are necessary in order for us to live as human beings. Human rights give us dignity and equality. Human rights ensure that we all have adequate access to basic needs such as food and shelter. Human rights protect us from violence and abuse and work against ignorance and hatred. Human rights are inherent in all human beings and they should never be denied.

Human rights are universal. They transcend borders, cultures, political ideologies, and religious beliefs. No matter where you live in the world, who your parents are, or what kind of government you have, human rights are your rights.

Human rights allow us to fully develop our human abilities. They protect our right to participate in society, to work and provide for ourselves, to practice our culture and speak our language, to live in peace, and to be free from harm.

Most importantly, human rights are about respecting one another. They are about fulfilling our responsibility to ensure that no one’s human rights are violated. For example, it is your right to be free from discrimination and it is your duty to not discriminate against others. When any person is denied human rights we are all affected.

Recognising that human rights are only as strong as our willingness to treat one another as equals is the first step in achieving "freedom, justice and peace in the world".

Why is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights important?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a symbol of freedom, equality, and justice in the world. It was the first international agreement aimed solely at protecting and promoting human rights. Nations with diverse political, religious and cultural backgrounds joined together to make a statement against injustice and inequality. They created a standard of achievement that all nations thereafter would be morally obligated to respect.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a groundbreaking document that paved the way for the future of international justice and human rights. Many international human rights agreements have emerged since 1948. Thousands of non-governmental human rights organisations have been established in the past 50 years. These organizations have often used the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a way to measure their governments’ human rights performance. It is an instrument used to prompt democratic reform and to demand adherence to international human rights laws.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also important to you. It is the foundation of your freedom, your rights, and your responsibilities. Student and teacher demonstrations, non-governmental organizations, community groups and individuals have struggled to ensure that our rights as human beings are protected. We all have an obligation to do the same. Just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be used to measure a government’s performance, it can also be used to measure our own performance in respecting and promoting human rights. How do you measure up? Do you treat others equally? Do you respect diversity? Are you working against human rights violations? These are important questions you must ask yourself. If the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to continue to be a strong influence in our lives, we must act on it!



Human rights: what's stopping Malaysia?
By Elizabeth Looi and Shanon Shah, The Nut Graph, 10 December 2008

“MALAYSIA has only signed two out of the eight core international human rights treaties,” says Alice Nah, National Human Rights Society (Hakam) executive committee member.

“As time goes on, however, Malaysia's reluctance to sign these treaties will become more untenable, particularly if it wants to be a recognised and respected member of the United Nations (UN),” she tells The Nut Graph in an e-mail interview.

Considering the spate of state-led crackdowns on public assemblies, and detentions of activists and opposition politicians under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in recent months, Malaysia seems miles away from this particular goal.

The 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is marked on 10 December 2008. The UDHR was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 in France. While not legally binding, it is considered a moral obligation for signatories to honour its principles. And this is also why 10 December is now internationally recognised as Human Rights Day.

What is legally enforceable is the series of eight UN treaties referred to by Nah that were subsequently derived from the UDHR.

Of the eight treaties that have entered into force, Malaysia has only ratified Cedaw and the CRC — both acceded in 1995 — and with reservations. Malaysia has signed but not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

What's stopping Malaysia?

Why is Malaysia so reluctant to ratify the rest of the UN treaties? Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) vice-chairperson, says the commission has recommended for the government to ratify the treaties on economic, social and cultural rights, and on civil and political rights but there has been no positive response so far.

“I imagine that the government must have its own reasons for not ratifying them at the moment. Possibly one of the important factors which [the] government has to consider before deciding is associated with the (bumiputera) affirmative policy which could be interpreted at the UN level as discriminatory,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Another Suhakam commissioner, Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, elaborates: “The continued reliance on legislation which violates fundamental liberties such as the ISA on preventive detention, the Official Secrets Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act on freedom of expression makes it difficult for Malaysia to ratify the UN bill of rights.”

Denison cites other laws such as the Police Act, which restricts public assemblies, and the Universities and University Colleges Act that control university students' articulation of alternative views.

Hakam's Nah explains: “The human rights treaties specify what states can and cannot do to people — they are legally binding. Perhaps Malaysia is afraid of making such commitments.”

Suaram executive director Yap Swee Seng acknowledges that Suhakam has been trying to get the Malaysian government to ratify these treaties, but without any luck. He tells The Nut Graph, “The common excuse by the government is that we need to change our domestic laws so that they are compatible with these treaties before we ratify them. The NGOs, of course, consider this a lame excuse.”

At the heart of the problem is perhaps Suhakam's status as a national human rights body. Although it was established by Parliament under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Suhakam's mandate is to investigate human rights abuses. But it can merely advise the Malaysian government, nothing more.

By comparison, the mandate for the National Human Rights Council of Korea includes “other matters deemed necessary to protect and promote human rights”. This allows the Korean commission, among others, to file its opinions on human rights issues with the courts.

Even so, the Korean commission's independence has recently come under threat by the South Korean government. Additionally, all is not lost with Suhakam — it has a wide mandate to inculcate human rights awareness and education, even in government schools.

Holding accountable

The UN treaty system is not without its criticisms. The first is that it is extremely bureaucratic. Apart from the different treaties, there is also currently a Human Rights Council, which in 2006 superseded the Commission on Human Rights.

The current council also has a separate mechanism called the special procedures to address either specific country situations or thematic human rights considerations around the world. The bureaucratic morass is made worse by the fact that the UN is an inter-governmental organisation. In other words, governments can spend an inordinate amount of time wrangling over even the tiniest of details in a particular declaration or convention.

For example, the Vatican and the US under Bush have consistently blocked attempts to include the right to abortion in any UN effort to defend sexual and reproductive rights. A block of Muslim countries, often led by Malaysia, has also consistently opposed the UN's efforts to protect the basic rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. Many Muslim countries prefer the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which is not legally binding.

These criticisms notwithstanding, Nah says that the UN treaties would still be important instruments in holding the Malaysian government accountable to its human rights track record.

“As with any human process, there are faults in the UN system, but these faults can be overcome if there is political will.”

She notes that the Malaysian government will need to report to the UN's Universal Periodic Review of its human rights track record in February 2009. This is basically Malaysia's human rights report card from the UN. Continuous poor performance will be embarrassing.

Civil society activist and DAP Member of Parliament (MP) for Klang, Charles Santiago, says it's imperative for Malaysia to sign all the UN human rights treaties.

Charles Santiago

“We need to force political parties to take a position on UN treaties. It is also important to ensure that in policy-making, rights must become part and parcel of the process. MPs must be familiar with this as well,” Santiago tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.

According to Santiago, framing the right to development, water or housing ensures an enabling environment that helps all poor people, regardless of race and religion.

At the moment, however, Suaram's Yap says that there needs to be more awareness. “Ratifying treaties is still a pretty new concept to a lot of people. People might not know what these treaties are and what the benefits are of ratifying them.”

Nevertheless, Yap remains hopeful about growing public awareness and its impact on political leaders.

“I think with the [current] political changes, there is much more room for human rights work. [After] the past 10 to 20 years, people are now more aware of human rights. [This] is an important foundation [for] progress. So I am quite optimistic about our human rights prospects.”


Videos related to human rights

Amnesty International welcome video (

An introduction to Amnesty International (

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Amnesty International video (

You Are Powerful: protect the human by Amnesty International (

BULLET - THE EXECUTION: Your petitions are more powerful than you think by Amnesty International (

Rights Universal: 1000 bullets by Amnesty International (

Rights Universal: Colour Blind (

Iranian journalist Sina Motalebi talks about Blogging (

AfroReggae perform Lennon's Imagine for Amnesty International (

Emmanuel Jal sings Lennon's "Mother" for Amnesty International (

Black Eyed Peas sing "Power to the People" for Amnesty International (

What do human rights mean to you? (


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

* All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

* 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 opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

* Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

* No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

* No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

* Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

* All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

* Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

* No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

* Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

* (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
* (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

* No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

* (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
* (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

* (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
* (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
* (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

* (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
* (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
* (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

* (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
* (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

* (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
* (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

* (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
* (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
* (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

* Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

* (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
* (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
* (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
* (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

* Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
* (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

* (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
* (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
* (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

* (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
* (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

* Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

* (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
* (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
* (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

* Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

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