Definition of International Human Rights Instruments

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1.0 Definition of International Human Rights Instruments

International human rights instruments are treaties and other international documents relevant to international human rights law and the protection of human rights in general. They can be classified into two categories: 1) declarations, adopted by bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly, which are not legally binding although they may be politically so as soft law; 2) Conventions, which are legally binding instruments concluded under international law. International treaties and even declarations can, over time, obtain the status of customary international law. International human rights instruments can be divided further into global instruments, to which any state in the world can be a party, and regional instruments, which are restricted to states in a particular region of the world. Most conventions establish mechanisms to oversee their implementation. In some cases these mechanisms have relatively little power, and are often ignored by member states; in other cases these mechanisms have great political and legal authority, and their decisions are almost always implemented. Examples of the first case include the UN treaty committees, while the best exemplar of the second case is the European Court of Human Rights. Mechanisms also vary as to the degree of individual access to them. Under some conventions – e.g. the European Convention on Human Rights – individuals or states are permitted, subject to certain conditions, to take individual cases to the enforcement mechanisms; under most, however (e.g. the UN conventions), individual access is contingent on the acceptance of that right by the relevant state party, either by a declaration at the time of ratification or accession, or through ratification of or accession to an optional protocol to the convention. This is part of the evolution of international law over the last several decades. It has moved from a body of laws governing states to recognizing the importance of individuals and their rights within the international legal framework.

2.1 Situation in Malaysia
“MALAYSIA has only signed two out of the eight core international human rights treaties,” says Alice Nah, National Human Rights Society (Suhakam) executive committee member.

“As time goes on, however, Malaysia’s reluctance to sign these treaties will become more untenable, particularly if it wants to be a recognised and respected member of the United Nations (UN),” she tells The Nut Graph in an e-mail interview.

Malaysia is seems to be miles away from international human rights goals as Malaysia still impose certain limits to their citizens on some human rights freedom. Before this, the detention of activists and opposition politicians under the Internal Security Act (ISA) before it was abolished was said to be one of the biggest reluctant towards the international human rights treaties proposed by Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Thus the question arises is why does Malaysia seems to be so reluctant towards the international human rights treaties?

Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) vice chairperson, says the commission has recommended for the government to ratify the treaties on economic, social and cultural rights, and on civil and political rights but there has been no positive response so far.

“I imagine that the government must have its own reasons for not ratifying them at the moment. Possibly one of the important factors which the government has to consider before deciding is associated with the (bumiputera) affirmative policy which could be interpreted at the UN level as discriminatory,”

Another Suhakam commissioner, Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, elaborates,

“The continued reliance on legislation which violates fundamental liberties such as the ISA on preventive detention, the Official Secrets Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act on freedom of...
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