In the wake of the controversial endorsement this week of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, the wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak defended her country’s insistence on preserving the document’s “public morality” clause, which rights groups have condemned as subjective and discriminatory against women and sexual minorities.
Datin Seri Paduka Rosmah Mansor told the Post in an exclusive interview the clause was something Malaysia “wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, compromise... on high morality.”
“To me... human rights [are] the rights of an individual based on what you believe in, based on your culture and your religion. Fine, you want to recognise [LGBT rights], you think that’s right, you don’t want to follow what is in your bible, fine, I’m not condemning that... But this is the way we want to run our country. Based on... high morality.
“You know why HIV and AIDS occur... how it is being spread. Now the number of people suffering from HIV is alarming. What is it you want? Do you want to allow this... or do you want to contain it – then this is the way we all should live.”
In September, the Sin Chew Daily and foreign media outlets such as The Huffington Post reported that the Malaysian Education Ministry had supported a “guideline” for parents in how to identify gay and lesbian children — claims the Malaysian government denied.
But Rosmah maintained: “You have to nip [homosexuality] in the bud.
“If you don’t, when the time comes and you have to stop [homosexuality], you will find it’s too late.”
Rosmah's claims have drawn the ire of human-rights groups around Southeast Asia.
Dr Yuval Ginbar, a legal adviser and ASEAN expert with Amnesty International, told the Post three of the declaration's general principles, one of which was the “public morality” clause, severely hampered human-rights protection.
The Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN declared in September that public morality had not been defined in international human-rights standards and its interpretation in daily life had been largely based on dominant political, cultural and religious regimes.
Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Malaysian NGO Women’s Aid Organisation, said it was “disappointing to hear teachers will be encouraged to conduct witch-hunts in schools looking for signs as to who is gay. This, in effect, is an endorsement of promoting hatred.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak labelled Rosmah’s comments “outrageous”.
“Come on, it’s 2012 – these are bogus and extremely homophobic claims that HIV is a result of homosexuality – the world knows this is not true,” he said. “This confirms our fears about the declaration – that these clauses were included to give governments excuses to not uphold universal principles of human rights.”
Thilaga Sulathireh, from the ASEAN LGBT Caucus, said Malaysia’s views on public morality and homosexuality were archaic and economically and politically motivated.
Contacted for comment yesterday, the Malaysian embassy forwarded the request to the prime minister’s office, which did not reply by press time.
To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at firstname.lastname@example.org