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Johor Rehab Centre Targeting LGBT People Impacts Upon Human Rights — Justice For Sisters

The criminalisation of LGBTQ people has a systemic impact on all areas of life, including increased vulnerability to further state-sponsored violence, including so-called rehabilitation. 

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

Justice for Sisters (JFS) calls for an immediate review of the Johor state government’s plans to establish a rehabilitation centre targeting LGBT people and individuals deemed “deviant” to Islamic teachings by July 2024. 

The statement on November 29, 2023, by state Islamic Religious Affairs Committee chairperson Mohd Fared Mohd Khalid, indicating an allocation of RM400,000 for the establishment of this centre, raises serious concerns about the potential violation of human rights, including the rights to equality and non-discrimination, privacy, and a life of dignity, free from torture. 

Detaining people on the grounds of changing their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) undeniably amounts to torture. 

Violation Of Federal Constitution

The establishment of the rehabilitation centre is enabled by the criminalisation of LGBTQ people in Malaysia.

The criminalisation of LGBTQ people has a systemic impact on all areas of life, including increased vulnerability to further state-sponsored violence, including so-called rehabilitation.  

However, it is important to note that the criminalisation and any effort to change the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) of LGBTQ people is a violation of human rights safeguarded under both the Federal Constitution and international human rights law. 

The rehabilitation centre directly violates Article 5 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, which safeguards the personal liberty, privacy and dignity of all Malaysian citizens.

It also violates Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which safeguards equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.

In addition, the Federal Court in a constitutional review of Section 28 of the Selangor Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment, which criminalises sex against the order of nature, found the law unconstitutional on the grounds of lack of legislative competency.

This decision applies to all similar state laws. Therefore, all liwat, sex against the order of nature, and even musahaqah state laws have no legal effect, although they remain in state Syariah enactments. 

As such, arresting people under these laws and subjecting them to fines, imprisonment and state-mandated rehabilitation violates a range of provisions in the Federal Constitution, not limited to Part 2 of the Federal Constitution that safeguards our rights.  

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Malaysia is required to ensure that there are no discriminatory laws or practices against women in all spheres.

In 2018, the CEDAW Committee called Malaysia to not only amend all laws which discriminate LBTI women, including the provisions of the Penal Code and Syariah laws that criminalise same sex relations between women, but also discontinue measures which aim to ‘correct’ or ‘rehabilitate’ LGBTI persons. 

More Harm Than Good

Major global medical and human rights organisations have widely discredited and condemned conversion practices, recognising them as not only lacking any scientific basis, but also as unethical and extremely harmful to the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals involved.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are among the bodies that have called for a ban on conversion practices, and for the media to expose them to promote respect for diversity

Based on our survey of LGBTQ people in Malaysia, these practices result in long-term severe impacts, including negatively impacting their mental health, dropping out of schools and suicidal ideation and attempts.

JFS is concerned that these state-led efforts will further increase the trust deficit in public institutions, creating more barriers for LGBTIQ people’s access to redress and services such as healthcare, over concerns of being reported or sent to rehabilitation centres or subjected to other SOGIE-change efforts. 

A 2023 JFS et al survey involving 156 respondents found that as many as 66% (103) have faced pressure to change their SOGIE, while 10.9 per cent (17) were offered SOGIE-change efforts during their lifetime.

Of these 17 respondents, 12 (70.6 per cent) were assigned Islam at birth, while 11 (64.7 per cent) identified as transgender or non-binary persons. 

SUHAKAM’s research found that 18 per cent of trans and intersex respondents reported that whilst accessing healthcare services, healthcare professionals have suggested religion or other forms of therapy to “cure” their gender identity.

The same research also found that 15 per cent of respondents were forcibly sent to mental health professionals for their SOGIE and 9 per cent were forced to consult religious authorities.

Key Recommendations 

JFS strongly urges the Johor state government to halt its plans to establish the rehabilitation centre.

We also urge SUHAKAM, as the national human rights institution, to engage the Johor state government in a review of its plans given its severe human rights impact, and to conduct a human rights impact assessment of rehabilitation centres and similar state-sponsored SOGIE-change initiatives.  

Justice for Sisters is a human rights group working towards meaningful protection, promotion, and fulfilment of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ+), and gender-diverse persons in Malaysia.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.

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