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Malaysia is a federation of 13 states with a parliamentary
system of government based on periodic multiparty elections.
The ruling National Front Coalition has held power since 1957.
There is political competition within the United Malays
National Organization (UMNO), the major partner in the
coalition, and opposition parties actively contest elections,
currently controlling two state governments.

The Government justifies internal security laws allowing
preventive detention (and arrests under such laws) by citing
the long-defunct Communist insurgency, the need to ensure that
the peace and stability of the country are protected, and
concern about longstanding racial tensions and endemic
narcotics trafficking problems. However, the Government also
has used these laws more broadly to detain persons when
available evidence is insufficient to bring formal charges
under the Criminal Code, as well as to detain political
opponents. The existence of these laws therefore serves to
inhibit active opposition to government policies.

The Royal Malaysian Police has primary responsibility for
internal security matters; it reports to the Minister of Home
Affairs. Prime Minister Mahathir also holds the Home Affairs
portfolio. Credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners and
detainees by the police and prison officials continued in
1993. Such mistreatment was not widespread.

Rapidly expanding exports of manufactured goods, especially in
the electronics sector, are a major source of the country's
vibrant economic growth. Crude oil exports and traditional
commodities (tropical logs, palm oil, rubber) add to Malaysia's
trade revenues. Malaysia's strong economic performance in
recent years has led to dramatic reductions in poverty, a rise
in the standard of living, and more equal income distribution.

There is an effective system of justice based on common law
principles. The Government, however, continues arbitrarily to
arrest and detain citizens without trial. The Government also
limits judicial independence and restricts freedom of
association and of the press.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial
killings by the Government or any other political organization.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance attributable to the
Government or any other political organization.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment

Credible reports of abuses by police officers interrogating
criminal suspects continued during 1993, including strong
psychological pressure and instances of physical abuse. In
some cases, police officials have been investigated for such
abuses. However, information on whether the investigations led
to further action is unavailable. For example, three police
officers were charged with "culpable homicide not amounting to
murder" after a burglary suspect died in police custody. In
another case, police set up a special team to investigate the
death, apparently while in police custody, of an alleged drug
addict suspected of burglary.

Malaysian criminal law prescribes caning as an additional
punishment to imprisonment for those convicted of crimes such
as narcotics possession. Judges routinely include caning in
sentencing those convicted of such crimes as kidnaping, rape,
and robbery. The caning, which is normally carried out with a
1/2-inch thick wooden cane, commonly causes welts and scarring.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Three laws permit the Government to detain suspects without
judicial review or filing formal charges: the 1960 Internal
Security Act (ISA), the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention
of Crime) Ordinance of 1969, and the Dangerous Drugs Act of
1985. The Government continued to use long-term detentions
without trial in cases alleged to involve national security, as
well as in narcotics trafficking and other cases. According to
the Home Affairs Ministry, as of July, there were 1,947 people
in Malaysia being detained without trial; most of those
detainees are being held under the Dangerous Drugs Act.

Passed more than 30 years ago when there was an active
Communist insurgency, the ISA empowers the police to hold any
person who may act "in a manner prejudicial to the security of
Malaysia" for up to 60 days. According to the Government, the
goal of the ISA is to control internal subversion, although
there is now no serious threat to national stability in
Malaysia. The Government also uses the ISA against passport
and identity card forgers, 37 of whom were being held as of
July 21. Security authorities sometimes wait several days
after a detention before informing the detainee's family. The
Minister of Home Affairs may authorize, in writing, further
detention for periods up to 2 years. Even when there are no
formal charges, the authorities must inform detainees of the
accusations against them and permit them to appeal to an
advisory board for review every 6 months. Advisory board
decisions and recommendations, however, are not binding on the
Home Minister, are not made public, and are often not shown to
the detainee. A number of ISA detainees have refused to
participate in the review process under these circumstances.

In response to a question from an opposition Member of
Parliament (M.P.), the Home Ministry reported in December that
there were 51 ISA detainees at that time, down from 128 as of
December 1992. Approximately 27 former detainees have been
released subject to "imposed restricted conditions," which will
be in effect for the balance of their detention periods. Most
of these ISA detainees were released subject to conditions
limiting their rights to freedom of speech, association, and
travel outside the country.

During 1990 and 1991 the Government detained under the ISA
seven Malaysians from the east Malaysian state of Sabah,
including the brother of the chief minister, for alleged
involvement in a secessionist plot. The Government released
one detainee in March 1991 upon expiration of the intitial
order. The remaining six were released in 1993 when their
detention orders were suspended. There are conditions attached
to their freedom, however.

Amendments to the ISA severely limit judicial review of
detentions, contravening international standards of due
process. During 1993 opposition leaders and human rights
organizations called on the Government to repeal the ISA and
other legislation that deprives individuals of the right to
defend themselves in court. Senior government officials
explain that the ISA in its present form continues to be
necessary to preserve peace and harmony in a multiracial
society. The Government did not detain anyone in 1993 for
political activities. However, the threat of detention remains
and serves to constrain participation in political activities.

The Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance
was instituted after intercommunal riots in 1969. Although
Parliament regained its legislative power in 1971, the state of
emergency declared at the time of the riots has never been
lifted. The Home Affairs Minister can issue a detention order
for up to 2 years against a person if he deems it necessary to
protect public order or for the "suppression of violence or the
prevention of crimes involving violence." According to figures
released by the Home Ministry, as of July 21, 93 people were in
detention under the Emergency Ordinance, down from 114 people
in 1992.

Drug suspects are detained under provisions of the 1985
amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, which give the
Government specific power to detain suspected drug
traffickers. Many of these detainees are suspected members of
organized crime gangs or secret societies. The suspects may be
held up to 39 days before the Home Minister must issue a
detention order. Once the ministry has issued an order, the
detainee is entitled to a habeas corpus hearing before a
court. In some instances, the judge may order the detainee's
release. Suspects may be held without charge for successive
2-year intervals, with periodic review by an advisory board,
whose opinion is binding on the Home Minister. However, the
review process contains none of the due process rights that a
defendant would have in a court proceeding. As of July 21,
approximately 1,750 drug suspects remained under detention or
under restrictions equivalent to house arrest under this
statute. Suspected narcotics traffickers and firearms
offenders are frequently rearrested under the preventive
measures clauses of the Dangerous Drugs Act or the ISA after an
acquittal in court on formal charges under separate provisions
of those acts.

A 1989 peace agreement allows members of the Communist Party of
Malaya (CPM) to return to Malaysia. According to the
Government, the agreement stipulates that they satisfy certain
conditions, including taking a loyalty oath "to king and
country" and renouncing the CPM in writing. Since 1989 at
least 608 former CPM members have applied for return to
Malaysia under the agreement. Sixty-six subsequently withdrew
their applications because they objected to the conditions on
their repatriation imposed by the Government. The Government
has rejected an unknown number of applications by former CPM
members to return to Malaysia. Since December 1989, 338 former
Communists and 50 dependents have been "rehabilitated" by the
Malaysian security authorities and resettled in Malaysia. A
credible report indicates that this rehabilitation consists of
detention without trial under the ISA at the Kamunting
detention center in Perak state. In addition, rehabilitated
former CPM members who have reintegrated into Malaysian society
are subject to being restricted to certain areas where security
authorities watch them carefully for up to 6 years. These
rehabilitated persons cannot resume full participation in
Malaysia's political life until this period of surveillance
demonstrates that they have abandoned their former ideology.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Most civil and criminal cases are fair and open. The accused
must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, and
charges must be levied within 14 days. Defendants have the
right to counsel, bail is available, and strict rules of
evidence apply in court. Defendants may appeal court decisions
to higher courts and, in criminal cases, may also appeal for
clemency to the King or local state rulers as appropriate.
Criminal trials are heard by a single judge without a jury,
except in murder trials where juries are the norm. The defense
in both ordinary criminal cases and the special security cases
described above is not entitled to a statement of evidence
before the trial.

The right to a fair trial is restricted in criminal cases where
the Attorney General invokes the Essential (Security Cases)
Regulations of 1975. These regulations governing trial
procedure normally apply only in firearms cases. In cases
tried under these regulations, the standards for accepting
self-incriminating statements by defendants as evidence are
less stringent than in normal criminal cases. Also, the
authorities may hold the accused for an unspecified period of
time before making formal charges. The Attorney General also
has the authority to invoke these regulations in other criminal
cases if the Government determines that the crime involves
national security considerations, but such cases are rare.

The public and the legal community have long regarded the
Malaysian judiciary as committed to the rule of law. The
judicial system traditionally exhibited a high degree of
independence, seldom hesitating to rule against the Government
in criminal, civil, or occasionally even politically sensitive
cases. For example, the High Court ruled in February 1988 that
the dominant party in the Government coalition was illegally
constituted. However, the Government's dismissal of the
Supreme Court Lord President and two other justices in 1988,
along with a Constitutional amendment and legislation
restricting judicial review, resulted in less judicial
independence and stronger executive influence over the
judiciary in politically sensitive cases. These developments
created the possibility that Malaysians who might otherwise
seek legal remedies against government actions would be
reluctant to do so. The 1988 changes have also resulted in
less willingness by the courts to challenge the Government's
legal interpretations in politically sensitive cases.

The Government, following criticism of some of its policies by
the Malaysian Bar Council, attempted to gain greater control
over the Council in 1991 and early 1992. Although there was
concern that the Bar Council's freedom of expression and
independence were being threatened, government criticism of the
Bar Council has since ebbed.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or

These rights are normally respected and protected by law.
Provisions in the security legislation (see Section 1.d.),
however, allow the police to enter and search without a warrant
the homes of persons suspected of threatening national
security. Police may also confiscate evidence under these
acts. In a limited number of cases each year, police have used
this legal authority to search homes and offices, seize books
and papers, monitor conversations, and take people into custody
without a warrant.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and
press, some important limitations exist, and over the years the
Government has restricted freedom of expression of media
organizations and individuals. For example, the Constitution
provides that freedom of speech may be restricted by
legislation "in the interest of security...(or) public order."
Thus, the Sedition Act amendments of 1970 prohibit public
comment on issues defined as sensitive, such as citizenship
rights for non-Malays and the special position of Malays in
society. The Government has not brought charges under the
Sedition Act since 1986, when a trial court acquitted a former
president of the Bar Council.

Press freedom is subject to important limitations in the
Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, under which
domestic and foreign publications must apply annually to the
Government for a permit. The act was amended in 1987 to make
the publication of "malicious news" a punishable offense,
expand the Government's power to ban or restrict publications,
and prohibit court challenges to suspension or revocation of
publication permits. Government policies create a chilling
atmosphere for independent journalism and result in
self-censorship of issues the Government might consider

In practice, press freedom is also limited by the fact that
leading political figures or companies controlled by the
leading political figures in the ruling coalition own all the
major newspapers and all radio and television stations. These
mass media provide generally laudatory, noncritical coverage of
government officials and government policies, and give only
limited and selective coverage to political views of the
opposition or political rivals. Editorial opinion in these
mass media frequently reflects government positions on domestic
and international issues. Because they can be read only by a
minority of Malaysians (chiefly ethnic Chinese),
Chinese-language newspapers are generally more free in
reporting and commenting on sensitive political and social

Despite strong political influence on the editorial decisions
of major publications, small-circulation publications of
opposition parties, social action groups, unions, and other
private groups actively cover opposition parties and frequently
print views critical of government policies. The Government
does retain significant influence over these publications by
requiring annual renewal of publishing permits. During 1992
the Government acted to revoke the permits of at least two
newspapers. In one case, credible allegations suggest that the
Government revoked the newspaper's permit because it printed
articles critical of the Prime Minister and government
policies. In the other case, a tabloid weekly's permit was
revoked evidently for publishing embarrassing gossip about
members of several of Malaysia's royal families. The
Government continued to withhold a publishing permit for those
papers in 1993. In addition, a newspaper editor in the east
Malaysian state of Sabah was charged in 1992 with printing
"malicious news" about an alleged ISA detention of a Roman
Catholic clergyman. The editor challenged the charges on
constitutional grounds. In August the Supreme Court ruled that
the Printing Presses and Publications Act is valid although it
imposes restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and
expression conferred by the Constitution. The Supreme Court
decided that in this case Parliament could impose such
restrictions under another constitutional clause that permits
certain restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and
expression. The editor still faces trial.

Since 1991 the Government has warned two newspapers published
by opposition parties that the terms of their licenses limited
distribution to party members only. A legal challenge to quash
enforcement of the license limitation failed, resulting in
limiting circulation of these publications during 1992 and
1993. In 1993 the Home Affairs Ministry sent a final warning
to one opposition party regarding the distribution and sales to
the public of its paper, informing the permit holder that the
Ministry would take stern action for any future violation of
the rules. The paper has since disappeared from newsstands.

In June 1990, Parliament enacted legislation making the
Government-controlled Malaysian News Agency (BERNAMA) the sole
distributor of foreign news in Malaysia, formalizing previous
practice. The parliamentary opposition opposed the bill,
arguing that it would increase government control over foreign
news. Although the Government has not to date used this law to
restrict foreign news coverage or availability, in the past the
Government has banned under separate legislation individual
editions of foreign publications. In 1993 the Government
censored portions of photographs and a text in issues of
foreign news magazines.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of freedom of peaceful
assembly and association, but there are significant
restrictions. These rights can be limited in the interest of
security and public order, and the 1967 Police Act requires
police permits for all public assemblies with the exception of
workers on picket lines. Spontaneous demonstrations occur
periodically without permission, but they are limited in scope
and generally occur with the tacit consent of the police. In
the east Malaysian state of Sarawak, groups of indigenous
people have held peaceful demonstrations to protest government
policies and actions.

In the aftermath of the intercommunal riots in 1969, the
Government banned political rallies. While the formal ban has
not been rescinded, both government and opposition parties have
held large indoor political gatherings dubbed "discussion
sessions." Government and opposition candidates campaign
actively. There are, however, some restrictions on freedom of
assembly during campaigns. During the actual campaign period,
political parties submit lists of times and places for their
"discussion groups." Although theoretically no police permit
is required, some opposition discussion group meetings in past
campaigns have been canceled for lack of a police permit.
Outside of the campaign period, a permit is required, with most
applications routinely approved.

Other statutes limit the right of association, such as the
Societies Act of 1966, under which any association of seven or
more members must register with the Government as a society.
The Government may refuse to register a new society or may
impose conditions when allowing a society to register. The
Government also has the power to revoke the registration of an
existing society for violations of the act, a power it has
selectively enforced against political opposition groups. In
1993 the Registrar of Societies deregistered a political party
of long standing in the east Malaysian state of Sabah when it
formed a coalition with the ruling opposition party, and
threatened to do the same to the national opposition party
Semangat '46 if it continued to claim that it was the
legitimate successor to the original UMNO party. The threat of
possible deregistration inhibits political activism by public
or special interest organizations. Another law affecting
freedom of association is the Universities and University
Colleges Act; it mandates government approval for student
associations and prohibits student associations, as well as
faculty members, from engaging in political activity. Campus
demonstrations must be approved by a university vice chancellor.

c. Freedom of Religion

Islam is the official religion. Religious minorities, which
include large Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian communities,
generally are permitted to worship freely but are subject to
some restrictions. Ethnic Malays are legally bound in some
civil matters, such as family relations and diet, by Islamic
religious laws administered by state authorities through
Islamic courts. An Islamic religious establishment is
supported with government funds, and it is official policy to
"infuse Islamic values" into the administration of Malaysia.
At the same time, the Constitution provides for freedom of
religion, and the Government has refused to accede to pressures
for the imposition of Islamic religious law beyond the Muslim

The Government opposes what it considers extremist or deviant
interpretations of Islam. In the past the Government has
imposed restrictions on certain Islamic sects. It continues to
monitor activities of the Shi'ite minority.

There are persistent allegations that some state governments
are slow in approving building permits for non-Muslim places of
worship. In one instance, a municipal council had approved the
construction of a Catholic church headquarters. In August
1993, after a public outcry by the predominantly Muslim local
community, the state government rescinded its approval. The
Government has limited the circulation of a popular
Malay-language translation of the Bible, and some states
restrict the use of religious terms by Christians in the Malay

Conversion to religions other than Islam is permitted but
discouraged. Proselytizing of Muslims has long been proscribed
by law in some states and strongly discouraged in other parts
of the country. In a March 1990 decision, the Supreme Court
upheld the primacy of the Constitution over inconsistent state
laws by ruling that parents have the right to determine the
religion of their minor children under the age of 18. The
decision eased fears of the non-Muslim community over state
laws that in religious conversion cases set the age of majority
at puberty based on Islamic law.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Malaysians generally have the right to travel within the
country and live and work where they please, but the Government
restricts these rights in some circumstances. The states of
Sabah and Sarawak have the independent right to control
immigration into their territories; Malaysians from peninsular
west Malaysia and foreigners are required to present passports
for entry. The power to regulate internal movement is
exercised for provisionally released ISA detainees. The
Government limits the movement of some released ISA detainees
to a designated city or state. As of December 1993,
approximately 27 former ISA detainees were under "imposed
restricted conditions," which will last for the remainder of
their detention periods.

Malaysians generally are free to travel abroad, although in
some cases the Government has refused to issue or has withheld
passports on security grounds or in the belief that the trip
will be detrimental to the country's image. Most government
action is taken because of drug trafficking offenses or
involvement in serious crimes. In July, immigration
authorities withdrew the passport of a lawyer and poet
allegedly to prevent him from reading his poems, which
supported antilogging activities. Immigration authorities
returned his passport in late August. The Immigration
Department in the east Malaysian state of Sarawak, on
instructions from the Home Ministry, in August confiscated the
passport of a Sarawak native who was on his way to an
international conference of indigenous peoples. Two other
Sarawak natives who planned to attend conferences had their
passports confiscated in 1992; government authorities still
have not returned their passports. In 1992 the Government
began confiscating the passports of returning Malaysians who
had overstayed their visitors' visas when abroad, on the
grounds that violating the immigration laws of foreign
countries is an embarrassment to Malaysia. Malaysians are not
permitted to travel to Israel. Former restrictions on travel
to South Africa and to several Communist countries, including
China, were eliminated in 1990 and 1991. Generally, the
Government does not restrict emigration.

There are estimates of up to 1 million foreign workers in
Malaysia, many "illegals," who work in low-skill jobs in the
plantation and construction sectors of the economy. Although
some illegal workers ultimately are able to regularize their
immigration status, others depart voluntarily after a few
months, while some are formally deported as illegal migrants.
In 1992 the Government conducted a registration program
designed to regularize the immigration status of illegal
workers. After the registration program ended, however, the
Government launched combined police and military operations to
enforce immigration and passport laws. According to government
officials, by April 1993, 50,000 illegal immigrants had
returned voluntarily to their countries of origin, while 40,000
others had been arrested and repatriated. In 1993 at least
3,000 people deemed to be illegal foreign workers were
detained. There have been some credible reports of inadequate
rations in the temporary camps. In 1991 and 1992, separate
groups of asylum seekers from the Indonesian province of Aceh
(totaling approximately 300) arrived in northwestern Malaysia,
allegedly fleeing violence stemming from a separatist rebellion
in Indonesia. These asylum seekers requested refugee status.
Despite expressions of concern by local and international human
rights organizations and foreign governments, the Government
denied their requests, ruling that the asylum seekers were
"illegal immigrants" subject to deportation. According to
government sources, approximately 163 Acehnese asylum seekers
had returned home voluntarily as of June 1993. The Government
is holding 131 Acehnese in immigration detention facilities.

Although there are credible reports of mistreatment of the
Acehnese detainees, the Government has denied the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others
access to visit the immigration detention sites. Government
officials continued to stress during 1993 that Malaysia would
not force Acehnese asylum seekers to return against their will
but would encourage them to repatriate voluntarily. In June
1992, a group of 48 asylum seekers claiming to be Acehnese took
refuge in the compound outside the UNHCR offices in Kuala
Lumpur, demanding refugee status; 45 still live there. While
it regards this group as illegal immigrants, the Government
declared its readiness to assist in their repatriation to
Indonesia if they wish to return and said the Indonesian
Government had provided assurances that the group would face no
government oppression if they chose to return home. Members of
the group living in the UNHCR compound come and go freely.

Having provided first asylum to more than 254,000 Vietnamese
boat refugees since 1975, the Government began to deny first
asylum to virtually all arriving Vietnamese in May 1989, in
contravention of its commitments under the Comprehensive Plan
of Action (CPA) on Indochinese refugees adopted in 1989. Since
May 1989, Malaysia denied first asylum to 10,495, of which all
but 145 arrived in 1989-90. Credible reports indicate that
Malaysian authorities put back to sea a vessel bearing 23
Vietnamese asylum seekers in May 1993. Historically, Malaysian
authorities allow Vietnamese boats to land and normally hold
asylum seekers in temporary camps closed to observers. The
Government provides life jackets, boats, and essential supplies
to asylum seekers put back to sea. Interviews with asylum
seekers indicate that the Government takes positive steps to
safeguard the lives and welfare of those denied first asylum
and disciplines personnel involved in abusive behavior.
Recently, however, there are indications that Malaysia has
ceased its policy of redirecting boats.

In accordance with the CPA, Malaysia continued to screen
Vietnamese boat people in its first-asylum camps. Malaysian
military officers do the screening, with legal consultants from
the UNHCR present during each interview. As of December 1993,
about 7,500 Vietnamese remained in camps in Malaysia. The
Government has reiterated that it will not forcibly return
screened-out asylum seekers but will continue to urge voluntary

The Malaysian screeners and UNHCR consultants make every effort
to develop the asylum seekers' claims to refugee status. The
Government discusses all disputed cases with the UNHCR before
announcing a decision. An administrative appeal is available
to denied cases. UNHCR officials have praised the Government's
treatment of Vietnamese asylum seekers in Malaysia under
provisions of the CPA.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government

By law Malaysians have the right to change their government
through periodic elections. Malaysian elections are
procedurally free and fair, with votes recorded accurately.
However, electoral irregularities detract from the overall
fairness of the electoral process. Legal restrictions on
campaigning and government influence over the media contribute
to UMNO's continuing political dominance. Malaysia has a
Westminster-style parliamentary system of government. National
elections, required at least every 5 years, have been held
regularly since independence in 1957. Through UMNO, Malays
dominate the ruling national front coalition of ethnic-based
parties that has controlled Parliament since independence.
Within UMNO there is active political debate.

Non-Malays fill 8 of the 25 cabinet posts. The government
coalition currently controls 11 of 13 states. Ethnic Chinese
leaders of a member party of the government coalition hold
executive power in the state of Penang. In opposition-ruled
Sabah the party in power is controlled by Sabah's predominant
indigenous ethnic group and headed by a Christian. An Islamic
opposition party controls the northern state of Kelantan.

Women face no legal limits on participation in government and
politics, but there are practical impediments. Women are
represented in senior leadership positions in the Government in
small numbers. Women comprise approximately 6 percent (holding
11 seats out of 180) in the elected lower house of Parliament
and approximately 19 percent (holding 13 seats out of 68) of
the appointed upper house. They also hold high-level

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights

After a 2-year struggle for registration, the National Human
Rights Association, a local human rights society of prominent
Malaysians, began operating in 1991. This association publicly
criticizes the Government, although it does not investigate the
Government except in response to individual complaints.
Currently, it is pushing hard against the ISA and it is also
reviewing Kelantan's efforts to impose Islamic restrictions in
that state. A number of other organizations, including the Bar
Council and public interest groups, devote attention to human
rights activities. The Government tolerates their activities
but rarely responds to their inquiries or occasional press
statements. Malaysian officials criticize local groups for
collaborating with international human rights organizations,
representatives of which have visited and traveled in Malaysia
but rarely are given access to government officials. In 1992 a
group seeking to form a local chapter of a prominent
international human rights organization appealed a government
rejection of their application under the Societies Act. In
1993 the Government rejected the appeal.

The Government has not acceded to any of the major
international covenants on human rights, generally maintaining
that such issues are internal matters. It rejects criticism of
its human rights record by international human rights
organizations and foreign governments. However, during 1992
and 1993 the Prime Minister and other Cabinet officials were
vocal advocates of human rights with respect to Serbian
atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the plight of the
Rohingyas in Burma.

Foreign government officials have discussed human rights with
their Malaysian counterparts, and private groups occasionally
have done so.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status


The cultural and religious traditions of Malaysia's major
ethnic groups heavily influence the condition of women in
Malaysian society. In family and religious matters, Muslim
women are subject to Islamic law. Polygyny is allowed and
practiced, and inheritance law favors male offspring and
relatives. Some Malay families practice a modified form of
female genital mutilation (circumcision) involving the removal
of a small piece of the prepuce. The Government has not
commented publicly on this practice. The Islamic family law
was revised in 1989 to provide better protection for the
property rights of married Muslim women and to make more
equitable a Muslim woman's right to divorce.

Non-Muslim women are subject to civil law. Changes in the
Civil Marriage and Divorce Act in the early 1980's increased
protection of married women's rights, especially those married
under customary rites.

Many government-sanctioned nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's) push for legislative and social reforms to improve the
status of women in Malaysia. Statistics on domestic violence
in Malaysia are sketchy, but both the Government and women's
organizations agree that the problem is growing. With no
specific laws in force on domestic violence, cases of wife
beating or child abuse normally are tried under provisions of
the Penal Code governing assault and battery, which carry
penalties of 3 months to 1 year in prison and fines up to
$750. Women's groups have collaborated in lobbying for a
domestic violence bill since 1985 but have had no success to
date. Women's issues were the subject of a number of public
seminars and media specials in the government-dominated media
during 1993.

There are no national laws or regulations restricting the
economic rights of women. Government policy supports women's
full and equal participation in education and the work force.
Women are represented in the professions, although their
participation as of 1990 in the administrative and managerial
occupations was less than 1 percent, and they generally receive
lower wages. In the opposition-controlled state of Kelantan,
the state government has imposed restrictions on all female
workers, including non-Muslims. Female workers cannot work at
night and are restricted in the dress they must wear in the
workplace. The state government justifies these restrictions
as reflecting Islamic values. Given Malaysia's federal
structure of government, there are no legal means by which the
central Government can overturn such state laws.


The Government is committed to children's human rights and
welfare; it spends 23 percent of its current budget on
education. According to statistics publicized by the National
Unity and Social Development Ministry, there were 588 cases of
child abuse from January to October 1993. The Government has
taken some steps to deal with abuse directed against children.
Parliament passed the Children's Protection Act in 1991 which
went into force in 1993 after the Attorney General prepared
implementing regulations. Since 1992 public attention and
debate on child abuse have increased significantly. In 1993
Malaysian news media featured regular reports, commentary, and
graphic public service announcements on these social problems,
and public symposia sponsored by social and political
organizations discussed their policy implications.

Statistics on the extent of child prostitution are not
available. The Health Ministry announced that it would work
closely with the police to stamp out child prostitution.
Although there are no official statistics about child labor,
the Government has regulations governing child labor (see
Section 6.d.).

Indigenous People

In theory indigenous groups and persons are accorded the same
Constitutional protection of their civil and political rights,
along with the same limitations. In practice, federal laws
pertaining to indigenous people vest almost total power in the
Minister of Rural Development to protect, control, and
otherwise decide issues concerning indigenous people.
Decisions affecting land rights of the indigenous people in
peninsular Malaysia are left to the state governments. In east
Malaysia, although state law recognizes indigenous people's
right to land under "native customary rights," the definition
and extent of these lands are in dispute. Indigenous people in
the state of Sarawak continue to protest the alleged
encroachment by the state or private logging companies onto
land that they consider customary territory. In 1992 the
Government arrested 95 indigenous people in Sarawak who
protested these alleged encroachments. The protests and
arrests continued in 1993. According to government figures,
the indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia, who number fewer
than 100,000, are the poorest group in Malaysia.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities are represented in cabinet-level positions in
government, as well as in senior civil service positions.
Nevertheless, the political dominance of the Malay majority
means in practice that the most powerful senior leadership
positions in government will be held by ethnic Malays.

The Government implements extensive "affirmative action"
programs designed to boost the economic position of the ethnic
Malay majority, which remains poorer, on average, than the
Chinese minority despite the former's political dominance.
Such government affirmative action programs and policies do,
however, limit opportunities for non-Malays in higher
education, government employment, business permits and
licenses, and ownership of newly developed agricultural lands.
Indian Malaysians continue to lag behind in Malaysia's economic
development, although the national economic policies target
less advantaged populations regardless of ethnicity. These
programs, which have operated since the 1969 riots, are widely
credited with helping assure the generally strife-free ethnic

People with Disabilities

While physically disabled persons are not subject to legal
discrimination in employment, education, and provision of other
state services, governmental budgetary allotments for people
with disabilities are very small. Public transportation is not
adapted to the needs of the disabled. Special education
schools exist, but they are not sufficient to meet needs.
Disabled persons work in all sectors of the economy, but the
prevalent feeling in society remains that disabled people
cannot work. A campaign through the government-dominated
Malaysian news media encouraged businesses and private
individuals to increase their understanding and volunteer
activities to assist disabled people. The Government allocates
money for the administrative expenses of rehabilitation centers
for the handicapped across Malaysia. The Government has not
mandated accessibility for the disabled, either legislatively
or otherwise.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

By law workers have the right to engage in trade union
activity, and tens of thousands of workers in both the public
and private sector are members of trade unions, including at
least 14 national unions. Within certain limitations, unions
may organize workplaces, bargain collectively with employers,
and form federations.

The Industrial Relations Act prohibits interfering with,
restraining, or coercing a worker in the exercise of the right
to form trade unions or in participating in lawful trade union
activities. The Trade Unions Act, administered by the Director
General of Trade Unions (DGTU), sets rules for the organization
of unions, recognition of unions in the workplace, the content
of union constitutions, election of officers, and financial
reporting. The act's definition of a trade union, however,
restricts a union to representing workers in a "particular
establishment, trade, occupation, or industry or within any
similar trades, occupations, or industries," contrary to
International Labor Organization (ILO) guidelines.

The DGTU may refuse to register a trade union and, in some
circumstances, may also withdraw the registration of a trade
union. When registration has been refused, withdrawn, or
canceled, a trade union is considered an unlawful association.
Nationwide congresses of trade unions from different industries
are required by law to register as societies under the
Societies Act rather than as trade unions under the Trade
Unions Act. During 1993, acting on complaints by private
parties alleging electoral and constitutional irregularities,
the Registrar of Societies required both major trade union
congresses, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and the
Malaysian Labor Organization (MLO), to show cause why they
should not be deregistered. In their answers, both groups
admitted not having followed their own constitutional
procedures and agreed to correct the irregularities. Having
done so, both bodies retained their registrations.

Government policy discourages the formation of national
unions. The Government posits a social compact where in each
sector, government, employer, and worker are part of an overall
effort to create jobs, train workers, boost productivity and
profitability, and ultimately provide the resources necessary
to fund human resource development and a national social safety
net. The Government has used its power to prevent the
Electrical Industry Workers Union, an MTUC affiliate, from
organizing national unions in the American and Japanese
dominated electronics industry on the grounds that electrical
industry workers and electronics industry workers are not
"similar" as required by the Trade Union Act. The Government
permits only "in-house unions" in the electronics industry. At
year's end, there were six such unions registered in the
electronics industry, of which four were recognized by the
companies involved, and two had collective bargaining
agreements negotiated with their employers. All members of one
of these unions were dismissed in 1990 following reorganization
of its American-owned company's structure. The union charged
the company with union-busting and wrongful dismissal. The
case was filed in September 1990; an appeal from an Industrial
Court decision is pending in the High Court. Malaysia's
restrictions on freedom of association in the electronics
industry have been the subject of complaints in the ILO.

Unions maintain independence both from the Government and from
the political parties, but individual union members may belong
to political parties. Although union officers are forbidden to
hold principal offices in political parties, individual trade
union leaders have served and currently serve in Parliament as
opposition politicians. Malaysian trade unions are free to
associate with international labor bodies and actively do so.
Although strikes are legal, the right to strike is severely
restricted in practice. Malaysian law contains a list of
"essential services" in which unions must give advance notice
of any industrial action. The list includes sectors not
normally deemed "essential" under ILO definitions. The
Industrial Relations Act of 1967 requires the parties to notify
the Ministry of Human Resources that a dispute exists before
any industrial action (strike or lockout) may be taken. The
Ministry's Industrial Relations Department may then become
actively involved in conciliation efforts. If conciliation
fails to achieve a settlement, the Minister has the power to
refer the dispute to the Industrial Court. Strikes or lockouts
are prohibited while the dispute is before the industrial
court. The result, in effect, is compulsory arbitration. The
Industrial Relations Act prohibits employers from taking
retribution against a worker for participating in the lawful
activities of a trade union. Where a strike is legal, these
provisions would prohibit employer retribution against strikers
and leaders. However, as there are no reports of such cases
alleging employer retribution against strikers, it is
impossible to assess the effectiveness of government

By law federations of trade unions may represent only a single
trade or industry or similar trades or industries. Only three
national labor federations are currently registered: one for
public servants, one for teachers, and one consisting of
state-based textile and garment workers unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Malaysian workers have the legal right to organize and bargain
collectively, and collective bargaining is widespread in those
sectors where labor is organized. About 860,000 workers are
covered by collective bargaining agreements, representing 12
percent of the total work force. Designed to curb strikes,
amendments in 1980 to Malaysia's Labor Law contain provisions
that the MTUC believes erode the basic rights of workers,
restrict union activities, and result in government and
employer interference in the internal administration of
unions. Despite subsequent amendments, the MTUC charges that
the Labor Law does not meet ILO standards. Many union leaders
also believe that the creation of the Industrial Court further
weakened their collective bargaining rights. Malaysian law
prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union
members and organizers. Complaints of discrimination may be
filed with the Ministry of Human Resources or the Industrial
Court. When conciliation efforts by the Ministry of Human
Resources fail, critics note that the Industrial Court is slow
in adjudicating worker complaints.

Companies in free trade zones (FTZ's) must observe labor
standards identical to those elsewhere in Malaysia. Many
workers at FTZ companies are organized, especially in the
textile and electrical products sectors. Workers in FTZ
companies in the electronics sector are limited by government
policy to forming in-house unions. During 1993, amendments to
the Industrial Relations Act removed previous restrictions on
concluding collective agreements about terms and conditions of
service in "pioneer industries." Workers in industries granted
pioneer status may now conclude collective agreements on all
issues permitted to workers in other industries. The
Government took these measures in part to respond to ILO
criticism of its previous policy with respect to pioneer
industries. The ILO continues to object to other legal
restrictions on collective bargaining.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

In theory, certain Malaysian laws allow the use of imprisonment
with compulsory labor as a punishment for persons expressing
views opposed to the established order or who participate in
strikes. The Government maintains that the constitutional
prohibition on forced or compulsory labor renders these laws
without effect. In practice, there is no evidence that forced
or compulsory labor occurs in Malaysia, for either Malaysian or
foreign workers.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act of 1966
prohibits the employment of children younger than the age of
14. The act permits some exceptions, such as light work in a
family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed
for the Government in a school or training institution, or work
as an approved apprentice. In no case may children work more
than 6 hours per day, more than 6 days per week, or at night.
Ministry of Human Resources inspectors enforce these legal
provisions. However, according to credible reports, the
Government still needs to take further steps to regulate child
labor. There is no evidence that child labor is used in
industries that export to the United States.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Malaysia lacks a national minimum wage, but the Wage Councils
Act provides for a minimum wage in those sectors or regions of
the country where a need exists. Under the law, workers in an
industry who believe they need the protection of a minimum wage
may request that a "wage council" be established. About
140,000 workers, or 2 percent of the over 7 million-member
labor force, are covered by minimum wages set by wage
councils. Representatives from labor, management and
government sit on the wage councils. Not having been revised
for many years, the minimum wages set by wage councils
generally do not provide for an adequate standard of living for
a worker and family. Minimum monthly wages for workers covered
by wage councils in urban areas range from $70 to $90; for
workers in rural areas, the minimum monthly "council" wage is
$60 to $80. However, prevailing wages in Malaysia, even in the
sectors covered by wage councils, are higher than the minimum
wages set by the wage councils and do provide an adequate

Under the Employment Act of 1955, working hours may not exceed
8 hours per day or 44 hours per workweek of 5 1/2 days. Each
workweek must include one 24-hour rest period. The act also
sets overtime rates and mandates public holidays, annual leave,
sick leave, and maternity allowances. The Labor Department of
the Ministry of Human Resources enforces these standards, but a
shortage of inspectors precludes strict enforcement. In
October, Parliament adopted a new Occupational Safety and
Health Act (OSHA), which replaced the Factories and Machinery
Act of 1967. The new OSHA covers all sectors of the economy,
except the maritime sector and the military. The act
established a National Occupational Safety and Health Council
composed of workers, employers, and government representatives,
to set policy and coordinate occupational safety and health
measures. The act requires employers to identify risks and
take precautions, including providing safety training to
workers, and compels companies having more than 40 workers to
establish joint management-employee safety committees. The act
requires workers to use safety equipment and to cooperate with
employers to create a safe, healthy workplace. There are
currently no specific statutory or regulatory provisions which
create a positive right for a worker to remove himself or
herself from dangerous workplace conditions without arbitrary
dismissal. Employers or employees violating the act are
subject to substantial fines or imprisonment for up to 5 years.

Significant numbers of contract workers, including numerous
illegal immigrants from Indonesia, work on plantations.
Working conditions for these laborers compare poorly with those
of direct hire plantation workers, many of whom belong to the
National Union of Plantation Workers. Moreover, immigrant
workers in the construction and other sectors, particularly if
illegal entrants, may not have access to Malaysia's system of
labor adjudication. Government investigations into this
problem have resulted in a number of steps to eliminate the
abuse of contract labor. For example, in addition to expanding
programs to regularize the status of immigrant workers, the
Government investigates complaints of abuses, endeavors to
inform workers of their rights, encourages workers to come
forward with their complaints, and warns employers to end
abuses. Like other employers, labor contractors may be
prosecuted for violating Malaysia's labor laws. The Government
has taken action against labor contractors who violate the law,
and has assessed fines. The minimum fine currently assessed by
law is $4,000. Effective April 1, 1994, the minimum fine will
increase five-fold. In principle, serious violators can be
jailed, but, in practice, such punishments are rare.

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