Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round-up (10/1/20) Iran – US Conflict, India University Protest, violation of Employment Law, New Session Courts…

International Law:

1. Conflict between Iran and USA

iran US

The crisis all started on January 2, 2020 when US president Donald Trump ordered the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps militia and one of the country’s top military leaders.

In response to the killing, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei swiftly pledged to take “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s assassination, quoted in Al Jazeera.

US then has defended the move, calling it was “self-defence”.

Trump’s in his Twitter threaten to attack 52 Iranian sites including those of high cultural importance. This would mean war crimes if carried out, said Human Rights Watch.  Hence, the US government should clarify that the US will always comply with the laws of war.

In fact, it is a war crime according to several international laws that the US has both sponsored and signed. These include the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 2017 United Nations Security Council resolution 2347, which “condemns the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage, including the destruction of religious sites and artefacts, and the looting and smuggling of cultural property from archaeological sites, museums, libraries, archives, and other sites, notably by terrorist groups,” according to The Guardian.

Andrea Prasow, Washington Director (Acting) at Human Rights Watch has commented that “Trump’s threat to attack Iran’s cultural heritage shows his callous disregard for the global rule of law.”

2. Protest against anti-Muslim citizenship

Student rampage happened at a Delhi top university – Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – to protest against the new anti-Muslim citizenship law.

According to MalayMail: “Some students blamed the university attack on right-wing activists, but they also accused police of doing nothing to stop the violence.”

“As condemnation of the attacks spread, more than 1,000 people held a vigil in Mumbai. Other demonstrations were held in Bangalore, Kolkata and other major cities.”

Numerous street protests were held across India after the passing of Citizen (Amendment) Act 2019 and more than 25 people have been killed. The mass rampage has created chaos across the country.

This Act creates an expedited path to citizenship for migrants from three countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but exclude the population of Muslims. The discriminatory nature of the Acts arguably violates the spirit of the India Constitution.

Read more about CAA 2019 India in our previous HR Round-Up.


Local Law:


1. Human Resources Ministry urges workers to file complaints against errant employers

The Ministry of Human Resources via the Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia encouraged workers to approach the Department of Labour for advice or to file an action if their employers violated labour law.

The Ministry said the purpose is to ensure the protection workers’ rights under existing labour laws, particularly the Employment Act 1955 (the Employment Act).

The statement also reads that the Employment Act “is the principal piece of labour legislation which outlines specific terms and conditions of an employment contract between the worker and the employer. The act also outlines specific provisions safeguarding workers in terms of their rights and benefits with a view to promoting their welfare and wellbeing.”

The Ministry of Human Resources said the Employment Act has a social function of laying out procedures for parties who want to to institute an action for redress, in addition to stipulating penalties in respect of any defaults in compliance under the act.

This is good news for the workers in Malaysia who are protected under the Employment Act.


2. Journalists’ safety issue in Malaysia

The Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Gobind Singh Deo, warned the public to not resort to threats or any illegal acts when they hold a different opinion from media reports.

Mr Gobind was commenting on a news report that a TV3 broadcast journalist had received a death threat for his media report. It was said that he received the death threat on his Facebook page after a video allegedly exposing the deplorable conditions of a primary school in Terengganu went viral, according to MalaysiaKini.

“I was criticised with harsh words and murder threats. Besides that, some people even posted abusive comments that they wanted to smack my face as well as to destroy property,” said Mohd Ishak who has served as a TV3 broadcast journalist for 14 years.

The journalist has lodged a police report. Mr Gobind also expressed hopes that the police will investigate and take stern action if an offence is found.

ASASI highlights that Mr Gobind’s warning not to threaten journalists stands well with press freedom.


3. Langkawi gets its own Sessions Court

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong announced the establishment of two new session courts in Semenyih and Langkawi.

The courts are set up to listen to immigration cases and to facilitate the right to justice for foreign nationals.

“The minister added the right of access to justice and a speedy trial are fundamental cornerstones of international human rights and trademarks of a vibrant and healthy democracy,” according to New Straits Time.

Mr Liew said the government would ensure citizens of Malaysia had access to this indispensable right.


4. Protection of whistleblowers

Following the recent release of audio recordings of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has urged the MACC to guarantee the protection of whistleblowers and uphold the right to privacy. The right to privacy in this context includes the standards required to listen and record private conversations and the standards required to release the recordings.

As the MACC refused to reveal the source of recordings and news reports suggested they were sent anonymously, the CIJ admitted they were unsure whether the surveillance was provided by a whistleblower or carried out by the State.

The CIJ explains that protecting whistleblowers would reassure Malaysians that any information obtained would be handled responsibly and in line with international human rights standards. The CIJ emphasized that there must be necessity and proportionality tests carried out by the state before interfering with the citizens’ right to privacy.

More specifically, the CIJ found that MACC’s action in releasing the audio recordings highlights the ‘very low threshold currently required by the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in which the police are authorised to listen in on private conversations and read messages’. Therefore, in light of these events, the CIJ encouraged the government to review the CPC’s Section 116c to ensure Malaysians are not being subject to unnecessary intrusive surveillance and interception of communication without due process.

ASASI agrees with the call by the CIJ to ensure citizens’ right to privacy are not infringed.


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