Malaysia Human Rights

Human Rights Concerns

The government tightened control of dissent and curtailed the right to freedom of expression and religion. Bloggers were arrested under the Sedition Act, and the Printing Press and Publications Act (PPPA) was used to control newspaper content. Ten people were arbitrarily arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Security forces continued to use excessive force while the establishment of an independent police complaints misconduct commission was postponed. Immigration personnel and volunteers conducted mass arrests of migrant workers. At least 22 people were sentenced to death. The number executed was unknown.

Trafficking in persons:

Malaysia is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, and men, women, and children for forced labor; Malaysia is mainly a destination country for men, women, and children who migrate willingly from South and Southeast Asia to work, some of whom are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude by Malaysian employers in the domestic, agricultural, construction, plantation, and industrial sectors; to a lesser extent, some Malaysian women, primarily of Chinese ethnicity, are trafficked abroad for commercial sexual exploitation tier rating: Tier 2 Watch List – Malaysia improved from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List for 2008 when it enacted comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in July 2007; however, it did not take action against exploitative employers or labor traffickers in 2007; the government has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol (2008).

Political Situation:

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a population of approximately 26.9 million. It has a parliamentary system of government headed by a prime minister selected through periodic, multiparty elections. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), together with a coalition of political parties currently known as the National Front, has held power since independence in 1957. The most recent national elections, in March, were conducted in a generally transparent manner and witnessed significant opposition gains. The opposition complained of the ruling coalition's exploitation of the powers of incumbency and domination of the mainstream media. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

Universal Periodic Review

Between October 24, 2013 and October 31, 2013 Malaysia undergoes a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations under the auspices of the Human Rights Council. The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all of the UN Member States. Malaysia underwent its first review in 2009. The UPR is an opportunity for member countries to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their country and to fulfill their human rights obligations. The UPR process is a recent creation of the UN General Assembly, when the Human Rights Council was established on March 15, 2006 by resolution 60/251. Amnesty International's concerns focus on Malaysia's inadequate implementation of previous recommendations and accepted by Malaysia in 2009, as well as, the continuing serious violations on the ground in Malaysia.

Amnesty International's current submission to the UNHRC raises continuing concerns and makes recommendations in regard to ratifications of core human rights treaties; the death penalty; freedom of expression, association and assembly; arbitrary arrest and detention; unlawful killings by security forces; torture, ill-treatment and deaths in custody; exploitation of migrants and non-recognition of refugees. These serious violations continue in the frame of Malaysia's inadequate action on UPR recommendations it accepted in 2009 relating to accession to core UN human rights treaties and the improvement of migrant worker situations . Malaysia rejected the abolition of the death penalty and the accession to the UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees.

Amnesty International recommendations include:

International standards

  • To ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The death penalty

  • To broaden the review of the death penalty with a view to eliminating mandatory death sentencing for capital offences;
  • To establish a moratorium on executions, beyond the time frame of the review of mandatory death sentencing;

    • To commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment;
    • To ensure vigorous compliance in all death penalty cases with international standards for fair trials;

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

  • To amend the Peaceful Assembly Act to allow for peaceful street protests, and to accord the right to to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to all people in Malaysia, without discrimination;
  • To amend or repeal the Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Act, and to ensure that in their amended form, the Communication and Multimedia Act, the Printing and Publications Act, the Evidence Act and the proposed National Harmony Act are in line with international human rights standards, and not used to restrict the right to freedom of expression and information;

Arbitrary arrests and detention

  • To reform the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act to eliminate provisional owing for incommunicado detention and detention without charge and to ensure it meets international human rights standards;
  • To charge the remaining ISA detainees with a recognizable crime, and to ensure that they are tried according to international fair trial standards, and without recourse to the death penalty, or else released immediately.

Unlawful killings, custodial deaths, torture or other ill-treatment by state security forces

  • To ensure that all criminal offences involving human rights violations by state security forces, including unlawful killing, deaths in custody and torture are promptly investigated through the criminal justice system and that those responsible are brought to justice;
  • To establish an independent police complaint and misconduct commission, outside of the Royal Malaysia Police , to ensure that there is a clear, independent and impartial system to deal with complaints of suspected human rights violations by police or security forces, including members of the Ikatan Relawan Rakyat;

For complete details of Amnesty International recommendations for action by Malaysia, see the following report.

More Information

Malaysia Newsroom

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

January 25, 2016 • Report

Critical Repression: Freedom of Expression Under Attack in Malaysia

Malaysia’s government has launched an unprecedented crackdown through the Sedition Act over the past two years to silence, harass and lock up hundreds of critics, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

May 21, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Malaysia 2013

Malaysia Head of state King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Head of government Najib Tun Razak Colonial-era laws which had allowed for arbitrary detention and restricted freedom of expression were replaced …

July 5, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Malaysia 2011

Head of state: King Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Head of government: Najib Tun Razak Death penalty: retentionist Population: 27.9 million Life expectancy: 74.7 years Under-5 mortality (m/f): 12/10 per 1,000 …

March 26, 2011 • Report

Malaysia: Trapped: the exploitation of migrant workers in Malaysia

Malaysia: Trapped: the exploitation of migrant workers in Malaysia

March 26, 2011 • Report

Malaysia: A blow to humanity: Torture by judicial caning in Malaysia

Malaysia: A blow to humanity: Torture by judicial caning in Malaysia Available in PDF

March 19, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Malaysia 2010

Head of state Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Head of government Najib Tun Razak (replaced Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in April) Death penalty retentionist Population 27.5 million Life expectancy …

February 10, 2020 • Press Release

Explainer: Seven ways the coronavirus affects human rights

The outbreak of the coronavirus (2019-nCov) that started in the Chinese city of Wuhan (Hubei province) in late 2019 has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). …

August 15, 2018 • Press Release

Malaysia: Convictions of two women sentenced to caning for having sexual relations must be quashed

Responding to yesterday’s sentencing of two women to six strokes of caning and a fine of RM 3,300 after they were convicted of attempting to have sexual relations in Terengganu …