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MEL STA.MARIA | Malaysia's human rights record augurs ill for our people in Sabah

A Malaysian human-rights activist holds up a picture of one of those rendered missing, apparently a victim of involunatry disappearance, under Malaysia's tough security laws. AFP FILE PHOTO
The online news portal of TV5

(Atty. Mel Sta. Maria is the resident legal analyst of TV5. He teaches law at the Ateneo de Manila)

Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." – John Donne


We want the Philippine Government and the Federation of Malaysia to successfully and peacefully settle the Sabah issue  to  prevent  further bloodshed. Patiently looking for a solution in this case is a virtue.

However, I am apprehensive as to the Malaysian Government’s capability of peacefully handling the situation. More than the Philippine Government, it is the Malaysian Government which should be held accountable if it can be proven that the bloody event was the result of its heavy-handed management and over-kill.  It is clear that Malaysia does not want to consider this case’s deeply-rooted causes which, unquestionably, they know very well.  It just wants our Muslim brothers/sisters to get out from what it considers as its territory. What is more frightening, though, is the fact that Malaysia does not exactly have a stellar human rights record. Every so often we hear of reports of their treatment of our migrant workers--detention without charges, police brutality and other discriminatory acts, especially against Filipino women. There is also restrictive freedom of expression and the press in Malaysia.

Indeed, Malaysia is one of the countries which, up to now, has refused to sign the widely ratified International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  This is a landmark international multilateral treaty/convention which puts the civil and political rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into a binding treaty. The Human Rights Watch, a well-known international organization, said in their 2013 World Report that

Malaysia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), but has not signed or ratified most core human rights treaties. The government has also opposed including protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Human Rights Declaration and has blocked consideration of a comprehensive agreement to protect the rights of all migrant workers in ASEAN.

Given the  record of Malaysia in  the  area of human rights, I can understand why the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) in its Statement of March 2, 2013 strongly urged  the President to be concerned with the protection of the human rights of our Tausug brothers and sisters in  Lahad Datu, Sabah. The AHRC statement said:   “While not condoning any form of violence, the Philippine Government should demonstrate that the interests of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters involved are its paramount concern; and it has not derogated from its responsibility to protect their human rights.”

In the event that our Tausug brothers and sisters heed the call of the President for them to  surrender, the Philippines should immediately extend its protective mantle over them, making sure that their human rights are safeguarded and respected. The Philippines must immediately demand access to them. The Federation of Malaysia should be made aware that  the Philippine Government shall not “hook-line-and-sinker” believe Malaysia’s version of the start of the shooting and that our government is  also looking at the possibility that Malaysian forces have unduly   precipitated  the  bloody fire-fight which resulted in  the death of our Filipino brethren. It is also likely that, considering the  obviously overwhelming force arrayed against  our Tausug brothers/sisters, a greatly disproportionate use of force by  the Malaysian forces may have been employed  in violation of international law. 

More important, it must be made perfectly clear to the Federation of Malaysia that, nothwithstanding this tragic episode,  the Republic of the  Philippines has not abandoned its territorial claim over Sabah  and  will continue to protect the interest of the Sultanate of Sulu.