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UN Human Rights Council

Universal Period Review: Malaysia

Committee Objectives:

  • Understand how the UN Human Rights Council conducts period reviews of members
  • Assess the current state of human rights in Malaysia
  • Provide recommendations to the Malaysian government as to how to improve its human rights standing

Committee Structure/Instructions

What is a Universal Periodic Review?

A universal periodic review is an assessment of human rights in a UN member nation. All UN member nations go through periodic reviews. A periodic review is generally composed of multiple documents, but due to the time constraints of this committee, delegates will draft the periodic review as one document. A periodic review includes a statement of the issues, an acknowledgment of progress that a nation has made in addressing the issue, and suggested reforms that the nation could take to make further progress on the issue. The objective of this committee will be to debate what will be highlighted in the periodic review of Malaysia and to write clauses for the periodic review based on this debate. 

Committee Instructions

For the purposes of this committee, there will be two sections to this periodic review. Section 1 will be the introduction of the issues and the acknowledgment (or lack thereof) of past action on these issues, and Section 2 will be the UNHRC’s suggestions to Malaysia on how the country can better improve human rights in the future. In traditional ‘MUN’ terms, the first section will be similar to a preambulatory section, whereas the second section will be more operative. The first section, however, will be more substantive than preambulatory sections generally are because delegates must debate what actions the UNHRC will acknowledge as acts of progress. This section can set precedent on how the UN will view human rights developments. 

Delegates will be able to request witness testimony from the crisis staff to aid them in their deliberation.

The writing of documents will initially be done in blocs. Delegates can choose to write on any Malaysian human rights topics that they feel are important and should be included in a periodic review. Each bloc working paper should include both of the sections discussed above. Once working papers have been finished and presented, delegates will then debate the merits and shortcomings of the working papers, and finally, the delegates will work together to merge the working papers into one cohesive document to be voted on by the committee. The committee will vote to publish the draft periodic review, with a simple majority required to pass. 

History of Human Rights Issues in Malaysia 

Legislation Curtailing Rights 

I. Sedition Act

The sedition act is a relic of both British colonial rule and the strategy of containment of communism. This act was passed by the British in 1948 to allow for the prosecution of anyone in Malaysia spreading communist speech. Since 1948, the act has been altered multiple times. As it stands today, the Sedition Act prevents Malaysians from criticizing the government or royal officials of the constitutional monarchy. Offenders face sentences up to three years in prison. 

II. Printing press and publications act

This act is very similar to the sedition act, but it applies specifically to printed and published word. It’s main goal is to curtail freedom of the press and ensure that any information distributed through the media is immensely filtered, and paints the government in a positive light. 

III. Internal Securities Act

In theory, this act, written in 1960, prevents the formation of militant groups. While it was created to keep the broad populous safe, the government has used the powers granted in this act to detain and prosecute all forms of disobedience and dissent. The act allows for the arrest and detention for an indefinite period of a suspect judged as “likely” to commit an act deemed dangerous to national security. Detainees can be held for 60 days without legal counsel, and preventive detention can then be renewed every two years. Organizations like Human Rights Watch have continuously condemned the International Securities Act for violating the human rights of Malaysian citizens, and curbing progressive attempts at discourse and change. 

The Malaysian Justice system

  1. Torture

The Malaysian justice system has long viewed torture as a deterrent for many types of violent crime, but has more recently implemented it as a punishment for less-violent crimes like corruption or petty theft. The most common form of torturous punishment in Malaysia is caning, in where a cane is used to violently beat the perpetrator who has been tied town to a wooden plank. Since Malaysia sees this as nothing more than a deturrent to crime, the United Nations has been unable to decide whether or not to classify it as torture. However, since the use of caning is expanding into other crimes, it is up to the UNHRC to redress the issue, and make the necessary classifications. 

2. The Death Penalty

The death penalty applies to 33 offenses in Malaysian courts. This list of offenses includes drug trafficking. It is estimated that around 33% of people on death row in Malaysia committed a drug-related offense. A little less than half of the people currently on death row in Malaysia are not Malaysian. 

3. Modern Slavery & Human trafficking

Malaysia is on the second tier watch list for human trafficking. While the government has openly pledged to work with international authorities to combat kidnapping and trafficking in human beings, extensive government corruption, especially in law enforcement, has proved to be a huge roadblock in any substantive intervention. 

Present Situation

In 2018, Malaysians chose to vote out the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a group that has held majority parliamentary power since the country gained its independence in 1957. The government also released Anwar Ibrahim, an opposition leader who was politically imprisoned using laws put in place by the UMNO. 

The party that recently came to power, the Pakatan Harapan alliance ran on a platform vowing to repeal oppressive and unjust legislation, prosecute corruption, improve facilities for refugees and participate in more international discussions about the protection of human rights. In the words of the party, the new government plans to make Malaysia’s human rights record “respected by the world.” While the government has made some small steps towards progress, change has still yet to come. 

One area in which the government of Malaysia has made great strides recently is human trafficking. A new court was established to investigate and prosecute cases dealing with human trafficking, releaving some of the backlog on the rest of the justice system.  Along with this, the Malaysian government tripled its funding for NGO’s that support the victims of human trafficking. 

Another area where there is a potential for progress is on the death penalty. Last year, it appeared as though the death penalty was going to be repealed completely. Earlier this year, however, the government changed its position slightly, proposing the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty. The mandatory death penalty applies to crimes such as murder and drug trafficking. If this were to be abolished, then, people convicted of these crimes may be sentenced to life in prison rather than death. Since this change was announced in the spring, however, nothing has actually changed. 

Last year, the government of Malaysia also proposed the abolishment of the sedition act. Earlier this year, the government affirmed its commitment to replace the act with a different law. Dissidents in Malaysia, however, are still being arrested and tried under the sedition act. 

The list of human rights issues in Malaysia is not exhaustive. In addition, the description of recent actions is very limited. All delegates are encouraged to conduct outside research on these topics in order to write comprehensive draft reviews. 

Questions to Consider

  1. What can the UNHRC do to empower a nation to enact changes itself in order to improve human rights?
  2. How can the UNHRC balance the acknowledgment of progress in human rights while still presenting the dire nature of the remaining issues? 
  3. How does your nation’s relationship with Malaysia affect what it’s willing to consider a Human Rights abuse? 
  4. If a nation and the UNHRC define a term differently, such as torture, what can the UNHRC do to make progress on what it perceives as a human rights violation? 
  5. What other human rights abuses has the UNHRC failed to record, and what can be done to bring them to light?
  6. What recurring processes, if any, can be put in place to ensure Malaysia’s new push for progress is sustained and change is implemented properly? 
  7. What experts/witness testimony would the committee benefit from hearing?


Additional Resources







  1. “2018 Trafficking in Persons Report (MALAYSIA).” U.S. Embassy in Malaysia, my.usembassy.gov/our-relationship/official-reports/report-trafficking-in-persons-062918/.
  2. “Internal Security Act – Act 82 (1960, Rev. 1972).” International Commission of Jurists, 1 Aug. 1960, www.icj.org/se-asia-security-law/internal-security-act-1960-rev-1972/.
  3. Lin, Jessica. “After Months of Promising to Abolish the Death Penalty, Malaysia’s Government Now Makes U-Turn.” Business Insider Malaysia, 14 Mar. 2019, www.businessinsider.my/after-months-of-promising-to-abolish-the-death-penalty-malaysias-government-now-makes-u-turn/.
  4. “Malaysia.” Amnesty International USA, www.amnestyusa.org/countries/malaysia/.
  5. “Malaysia’s Callow Government Has Not Kept Its Vows on Civil Liberties.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, www.economist.com/asia/2019/07/20/malaysias-callow-government-has-not-kept-its-vows-on-civil-liberties.
  6. “Malaysia Must Reject Caning, an Archaic, Inhumane Form of Punishment.” International Commission of Jurists, 8 Oct. 2018, www.icj.org/malaysia-must-reject-caning-an-archaic-inhumane-form-of-punishment/.
  7. Paddock, Richard C. “Malaysia to Repeal Death Penalty and Sedition Law.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/10/11/world/asia/malaysia-death-penalty-repeal.html.
  8. Pak, Jennifer. “What Is Malaysia’s Sedition Law?” BBC News, BBC, 27 Nov. 2014, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-29373164
  9. “Printing Presses and Publications Act, 1984.” UUM Press – Printing Presses and Publications Act, 1984, uumpress.uum.edu.my/index.php/bookstore/act/95-printing-presses-and-publications-act-1984.
  10. “Unfair Trials and Secretive Hangings in Malaysia Reveal Cruelty of Death Penalty.” Malaysia: Unfair Trials, Secretive Hangings and Petty Drug Convictions Reveal ‘Cruel Injustice’ of the Death Penalty | Amnesty International, www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/malaysia-unfair-trials-secretive-hangings-petty-drug-convictions-cruel-injustice-death-penalty/.
  11. “Universal Periodic Review – Malaysia.” OHCHR, www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/MYindex.aspx.