Launch Of A Week Of Celebrations In Conjuction With Human Rights Day 2014 & Interfaith Panel Discussion “Harmony In Diversity: A Human Rights Based Approach”

Dec 8, 2014

Senator Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Governance, Integrity and Human Rights

Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Chairman of SUHAKAM,

Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, CEO, Global Movement of

Moderates Foundation,

Bar Council of Malaysia,

Mr. Rama Ramanathan, Society for the Promotion of Human Rights,

Datuk Dr. Mohd. Tap Salleh, President of Malaysian Institute of Integrity,

Ayang Utriza Yakin, PhD. Ustaz, Muslim Scholar, and Lecturer at the State Islamic University, Indonesia,

The Most Reverend Archbishop Julian Leow, The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur,

Sister Barbara Yen, Buddhist Maha Vihara,

Prof. Dr. Suresh Kumar A/L P Govind, President of Sathay Sai Baba Central Council of Malaysia,

Excellencies and members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Officials of the government of Malaysia,

Colleague Representatives and Members of the United Nations Country Team

Fellow UN Staff and Retired Staff of the United Nations

Distinguished guests,

Selamat Pagi and Good morning!

ON behalf of my UN colleagues, I extend our warmest welcome to all of you to this morning’s event to celebrate Human Rights Day 2014, and to launch a week of commemorative and awareness raising activities.

Human Rights Day is an occasion of universal importance and contemporary relevance. It is a dedicated, but certainly not exclusive, moment in which the UN General Assembly calls upon every individual and every institution in society to recall our commitment enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to recognise, promote and respect the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of our human family, as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.  And as we recall the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations proclaimed by the General Assembly in the Universal Declaration, December 10th, Human Rights Day, is our opportunity to reflect on our efforts to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance; to pause and objectively assess our progress towards the realization of human rights for all.

The global theme for this year’s commemoration of Human rights Day is ‘Human Rights 365’.  This theme reiterates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status; and we are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination, everywhere, and at all times, 365 days a year.   Indeed, every day is human rights day.  Equally important to take account as we strive for the full realisation of these rights is that these rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. It is not a menu of rights from which we can select some but not others, or apply them to some people but not others.

This principle of universality is the cornerstone of international human rights law as first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, and reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.

In line with the global theme of ‘Human Rights 365‘ this year the celebrations of Human Rights Day in Malaysia is not confined or limited to one day. Instead, this event marks the launch of a week of celebrations under our local subtheme of Harmony in Diversity: A Human Rights Based Approach, during which the United Nations Country team, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), the Bar Council of Malaysia and the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM) jointly are hosting – with the important help and assistance of numerous other actors - a number of events that extend over a week and all, in different ways, underscore different human rights themes.

Among the events hosted are a round of debates on human rights and a speech competition for law students; an interactive workshop on human rights topics for youth; a cultural performance and forum on the rights of indigenous peoples; a public forum on the role of the UN Security Council in promoting peace, security and human rights; as well as a UN Dialogue on environmental rights in Malaysia, to mention a few. ILO is also hosting a photo exhibition on migrant workers, ‘a Journey of Hope’ which can be viewed today, along with an exhibit on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which was inaugurated in 2009 and has achieved important progress in its first 5 years.  Today’s Interfaith Panel around or sub-theme of Harmony in Diversity is a fitting start to the week.

It is my sincere hope, and I am sure the hope also of our partner organisations, that this rich palette of events will be an occasion to reflect on the journey that Malaysia has travelled in terms of human rights, and to discuss how continued progress can be secured as we move towards 2020, and also look beyond. We urge all of you here to share the calendar of events with your friends and colleagues and to encourage their participation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we give credit to all achievements in the sphere of human rights, and to the hard work of all human rights defenders. Yet, it’s important to look ahead with determination as a lot of work remains to be done on all levels - globally, regionally and locally - for the realization of the rights of all.

As we look around our world today we count more than 400 ongoing conflicts, over 40 considered “highly violent”, and which constitute the main driver for the roughly 51 million displaced people we have in the world today, more than 33 million of these being internally displaced or trapped inside their own countries. We also see persistent inequality between and within countries, the consequence of the way society is organised and resources are allocated, and fed by social and economic exclusion, stigma and discrimination.

The journey towards the full realisation of human rights around the world and here at home in Malaysia is far from finished.  We must redouble our efforts and guarantee that all are equal before and under the law, all have equal access to opportunity to maximise their potential, and that with tolerance and respect for the rights and dignity of each citizen, social cohesion and harmony will prevail for the continued advancement of this country and achievement of national goals.

Undoubtedly, human rights are central to the very notion of peace and development.  There is clear and increasing evidence that a rights-based approach to development will lead to better and more sustainable outcomes as it will address the inequalities, discriminatory practices and unjust power structures which are often at the heart of development problems.

As Malaysia eyes developed country status in six years and, towards this end, redesigns an inclusive future, it rightly emphasizes the people economy, and a harmonious and cohesive society.  We welcome the high priority Government assigns to safeguarding the rights of the poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalized or excluded groups, and expanding the middle class as an indicator of inclusive growth.

A rights-based approach must be at the heart of this people-centred strategy to address the remaining pockets of poverty, reduce inequality and improve the well-being and quality of life of people, and particularly the bottom 40%.  Specific focus on improving the human development indicators of the Orang Asli is required as the country eyes Vision 2020.  The human rights of the LGBT community must be recognized and protected to reduce stigma and discrimination and improve access to social services and economic opportunity and improve their personal security.  Efforts to achieve gender equality require renewed impetus; respect for the rights of migrant workers who are an important part of the Malaysian economy, and through their interactions also part of the society, should be improved for the benefit of the overall economy; and stronger protection afforded to the vulnerable population of refugees and asylum seekers seeking help on these shores.

As the country tackles these remaining development gaps and also emergent ones, Malaysia also must leverage its rich diversity which is an important asset in building an even more prosperous future. This, too, can only happen in an environment of respect, founded on human rights.  This is crucial in building the Malaysia of tomorrow – an open and caring society where harmony in diversity is reality – and where Malaysia continues to serve as an example for the rest of the world.

The panel today is a call to focus on what binds this country together - to what unites us as human beings.  It is an effort to add to many others that encourage respectful and constructive dialogue across racial, ethnic, religious and other spaces that often can divide us, in order to find common ground and move forward.

The panel will host four panellists, representing the main faiths in the country. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the panellists, who are here to offer their perspective on how to achieve lasting harmony in Malaysia, between people and communities in a religiously and ethnically diverse setting. I believe the discussion will offer valuable insights on avenues of moving forward on a strong foundation of respect for human rights.

Let me close by committing the UN System’s support to work with government and other stakeholders for the development of the National Human Rights Action Plan and Government’s response to the UPR recommendations.  We are very encouraged by Malaysia’s increased engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, including the invitations to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in December last year and to the Special Rapporteur on Right to Health who recently concluded his mission to the country; and the UN Country Team is ready to support Government as it considers the recommendations from these visits and seeks ways to address them through the 11th Malaysia Plan and/or the National Human Rights Action Plan, which also will support achievement of the country’s national development objectives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before giving the floor to Senator Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, for His official launching of the celebrations in conjunction with Human Rights Day 2014,  I wish to give my most heartfelt thanks to the Malaysian Institute of Integrity (IIM), for so generously hosting today’s festivities.  I could not think of a more suitable place for this launch, considering the IIM’s objective of developing a nation of high integrity that is resilient and embraces ethical values.  The IIM operates in an inclusive approach, embracing the public sector, the private sector, political parties, non-governmental organizations as well as the general public.  It is a most fitting place to be reminded of our commitment to universal values of human rights, and the urgency for the practical and substantive realisation of these rights.

Thank you.

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