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 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 …

August 1, 2018 • Press Release

Malaysia: Acquittal of Zunar and others must lead to repeal of draconian sedition law

Responding to news that the Malaysian authorities have acquitted and dropped all sedition charges against political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar “Zunar” Ulhaque, lawmaker R. Sivarasa and civil rights lawyer N. Surendran, …

May 16, 2018 • Press Release

Malaysia: Release of prisoner of conscience Anwar Ibrahim a momentous day for human rights

The release of long-time Malaysian opposition leader and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Anwar Ibrahim is a landmark moment for human rights in the country, the organization said today. Anwar, who has twice been imprisoned …

November 26, 2016 • Press Release

Arrest of famed cartoonist Zunar in Malaysia is an outrage

“The arrest of Zunar is an outrage. The charge of sedition against him must be dropped immediately and he must be unconditionally released from detention. What we are seeing is the choking of dissent in Malaysia, where repressive laws are being used to silence and punish peaceful voices under the guise of national security,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

November 4, 2016 • Press Release

Malaysia: Journalists at risk as threats to news site mount

The Malaysian authorities must immediately take steps to protect journalists at the respected news site Malaysiakini against intimidation and threats from vigilantes, Amnesty International said today. The so-called “Red Shirts” …

August 25, 2016 • Press Release

Malaysia: Sedition conviction must be quashed

The conviction of Mohammed Fakhrulrazi Mohammed Mokhtar for sedition should be quashed immediately, Amnesty International said today.

August 1, 2016 • Press Release

Malaysia: National Security Council Act gives authorities unchecked and abusive powers

The National Security Council Act that comes into force today empowers the Malaysian authorities to trample over human rights and act with impunity, Amnesty International said today.

June 29, 2016 • Press Release

Police must be held accountable for death in custody in Malaysia

The Malaysian authorities’ failure to hold anyone accountable for the death in custody of N. Dharmendran raises serious questions about their commitment to ending serious human rights violations, Amnesty International said today.

May 18, 2016 • Press Release

Malaysia travel ban marks an escalation of the government’s crackdown on dissent

The Malaysian government’s plans to revoke or refuse to issue passports to critics is yet another demonstration of increasing intolerance in the country, Amnesty International said today.

URGENT: Children seeking asylum in the U.S. are being denied their human rights based on their nationality — help ensure that all girls and boys fleeing violence can seek safety.