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Suhakam Report Debate In Parliament Calls For Human Rights Training With MPs – Justice For Sisters

Debates in Parliament very blatantly show the anti-rights leanings of MPs who propose restriction of rights of LGBTIQ people and other marginalised populations.

The Malaysian Parliament. Photo by Saw Siow Feng for CodeBlue.

Justice for Sisters (JFS) is deeply concerned over the recurring anti-LGBT statements made by MPs in Parliament. During the tabling of the Suhakam report on June 12, 2023, at least five anti-LGBT interventions were made.

Learning from Russia, Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal proposed the introduction of a law to prohibit the promotion of purported sexual acts linked to LGBT people, for example, sex against the order of nature and pedophilia, to protect children, family values, tradition and the country.

Paedophilia is a form of sexual violence, not sexual orientation. Linking LGBT people and paedophilia is an age-old stereotype that has been widely debunked, as sexual violence against children is committed by people across sexual orientation.

Sexual violence against anyone, including children, is the result of unequal power dynamics and a desire to overpower someone. 

Awang Hashim likened sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to an addiction that should be cured and treated. It is important to note that efforts to change a person through SOGI change efforts, conversion therapy practices, or commonly referred to as “returning someone to the right path” in Malaysia, cause long-term harm, as is a practice that is not evidence and rights based.

As explained by health and human rights groups globally, diversity in SOGI is a normal occurrence. LGBTIQ are normal and do not require correction.

A JFS survey on conversion practices in Malaysia found out of 156 LGBTIQ respondents, 45.5 per cent faced increased strain on mental health due to pressure to change their SOGI, 36.6 per cent felt unmotivated and uninterest in school, work, family, and social activities, and 32.5 per cent experienced suicidal thoughts and attempts.

He and other opposition MPs made blanket and uninformed claims that Islam and all religions reject LGBTIQ people. “All religions” do not reject LGBTIQ people.

Increasingly, many religious groups are dismantling discrimination against LGBTQ people and recognising LGBTQ people as people of faith. Scholars, religious leaders, and theological discourse also offer different interpretations and analyses of the story of the Prophet Lot.

Many scholars from Abrahamic religions note that the behaviour condemned by God is violence, specifically sexual violence against women and men, hostility and inhospitality towards others.

It is very clear that the sexual acts that were described in the story are rape – non-consensual aggressions intended to overpower, humiliate, and violate others. 

Mohd Isam Mohd Isa claimed that LGBTQ people cause diseases and are against religion, morals and country. Evidence shows that LGBTQ people’s health risks and vulnerability will increase in the context of criminalisation and discrimination.

Studies have shown that in such contexts, LGBTQ people experience poor access to health care, redress, and other information and services.

UNAIDS has stressed that decriminalisation saves lives, while criminalisation is detrimental to health outcomes.

“Punitive laws have been shown to block HIV service access and increase HIV risk. Harmful laws include the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations, transgender people, HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission, drug possession and use, and sex work.

“Countries that criminalise key populations saw less progress towards HIV testing and treatment targets over the last five years — with significantly lower percentages of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status and achieving viral suppression than in countries that avoided criminalization.

Even greater gains were achieved in countries where laws have advanced human rights protections, particularly those that protected rights to non-discrimination and responded to gender-based violence. Decriminalisation is a critical element to end AIDS by 2030.”

Ahmad Marzuk Shaary and Mohd Sany Hamzan had a heated exchange over slander against Pakatan Harapan regarding the coalition’s perceived support of LGBTQ issues. Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man briefly mentioned LGBTQ issues and supported other anti-LGBT interventions.  

Some of the above-mentioned MPs have repeatedly made anti-LGBT remarks in Parliament and other spaces.

For example, Ahmad Marzuk Shaary proposed anti-LGBT laws in 2021. In March 2023, he stated in Parliament that LGBT people are worse than animals with complete impunity. 

We are concerned that unchecked misinformation and discriminatory speech against LGBTQ persons will perpetuate and increase discrimination against LGBTIQ people in Malaysia.

It is important that the Speaker holds MPs accountable and enforces Articles 36(4) and 36(10)(c) of the Standing Orders of the Parliament to ensure that Parliament is not used by MPs as a platform that inadvertently promotes misinformation about vulnerable populations, causing further harm.

According to a 2022 JFS survey with 220 LGBTIQ people, 124 respondents (56.4%) stated that anti-LGBT statements by politicians caused them additional stress. 33.6% noted that they have experienced discrimination. 

Further, 108 respondents (49.1 per cent) said that they experienced stress due to proposed anti-LGBT amendments to existing laws, while 95 respondents (43.2 per cent) said that they experienced discrimination as a result of such proposals.

Meanwhile, research by JFS has also found fear of expressing gender expression through clothing, fear of freedom of expression, movement, fear of arbitrary reporting, and increased trust deficit in public institutions among transgender women, following a discriminatory statement by the former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affair urging arrest and rehabilitation transgender women. 

More Training With MPs On Human Rights 

The debate exposed some MPs’ — mostly from Perikatan Nasional and Barisan Nasional — lack of understanding of human rights and evidence or rights-based policymaking.

Case in point, Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal commended the Swatch raid and referred to Russia’s ‘LGBT propaganda’ law as a ‘good practice’ — actions have been widely condemned as human rights violations. 

Many lack an understanding of human rights and unnecessarily pit human rights against Islam and religion, thereby creating a false binary that promotes tension and polarization in Malaysia.

For example, Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal has criticised the universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (UDHR) and called for the dignity of human beings as upheld by Islam to be centered in human rights without realizing that ‘dignity’ is already central to the UDHR.

The recognition of the inherent dignity of human beings is captured in its preamble, 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.

Discrimination against LGBTQ people is justified and normalised in the name of religion. As such, discrimination against LGBTQ people and the misuse of religion in Malaysia go hand in hand.

Undeniably, the current discourse reinforces the monopoly and hegemony on religious interpretation by some quarters in Malaysia.

While MPs and society now, in general, oppose the policitisation or weaponisation of Islam, the same cannot be said in relation to misuse of Islam and religion to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people. 

In his 2017 report, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief asserted that freedom of religion or belief and the right to equality (and non-discrimination) are inextricably linked.

Freedom of religion or belief should be seen as constituting a right to equality, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. He added that this right, however, does not give the power to marginalise, suppress or carry out violent acts against others and those in vulnerable situations, including women or LGBTI persons under the guise of manifesting their religion. 

While MPs generally avoid addressing LGBTQ-related discrimination and misinformation due to accusations of being pro-LGBT, liberal, or worse, un-Islamic,  the cost of not addressing such discrimination is high and will be borne by all in Malaysia. 

To that end, it is important for the Parliament and the Speaker to create a safer space and set parameters when discussing topics, like LGBTIQ, which elicit various views, including discriminatory views.

We reiterate our recommendation to the Parliament Speaker to enforce the Standing Orders in the context of incitement of discrimination and hostility against already marginalised populations, including the LGBTIQ population in Malaysia. 

Debates in Parliament very blatantly show the anti-rights leanings of MPs — typically, MPs who propose restriction of rights of LGBTIQ people also propose restricting the rights of other marginalised populations.

As such, JFS recommends Suhakam to undertake more training on human rights with MPs. 

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

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