Malaysian Judges Discuss Freedom of Expression and Human Rights

More than 120 judges from the high courts and lower courts all over Malaysia convened at the “Judicial Colloquium on Applying International Human Rights Principles/Norms in Judicial Processes” on 23 March 2019 in Kuala Lumpur.

The colloquium is designed to address the question of how international standards on human rights including freedom of expression could be implemented or “domesticated” into national laws as practiced by the judiciary in the country. The event was jointly organized by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and the United Nations in Malaysia namely UNDP, Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), and UNESCO.

The Chief Justice of Malaysia, Richard Malanjum, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, David Wong Dak Wah, and Chief Judge of Malaya, Zaharah binti Ibrahim, were some of the notable speakers. Opening remarks were given by the UN Resident Coordinator, Stefan Priesner, and Chairman of SUHAKAM, Razali Ismail.

The discussion started off with an overview of how the judiciary could consider international standards in their judgments. Former Malaysian representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Edmund Bon, stated that in a situation where national laws are incomplete, inconsistent, or otherwise unclear, judges could refer to international laws for guidance. If it is not feasible to do so, attempts should be made to address the irregularities between national laws and international laws.

Chief Justice Malanjum, who gave the keynote address to the event, emphasized the commitment of the Malaysian judiciary to safeguard its independence as the third branch of the government and that the rule of law must underpin the judicial process.
UNESCO supported the event as well as moderated the panel on “Human Rights, Freedom of Expression, and Access to Information-Role of the Judiciary in Striking a Balance”. The fast-paced session went through the vast topic of freedom of expression with examples from Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia provided by experts including Joan Barata, an international expert in freedom of expression, freedom of information and media regulation, Justine Limpitlaw, a communications law consultant, and Eric Paulsen, the Malaysia’s representative to AICHR.

Following the historic general election in May 2018, the political landscape in Malaysia has greatly changed and providing opportunities to strengthen democratic space in the country. UNESCO has been supporting this process through a series of engagement including training with parliamentarians, supporting the establishment of a media council, and working with civil society organizations and media organizations in access to information and countering disinformation.

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