Rights bodies sign MoU on stateless people in Sabah
Published on: Wednesday, April 24, 2019
By: Larry Ralon

KOTA KINABALU: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Komnas HAM) will embark on a mission to address the complicated issue of stateless people in Sabah.

This follows their signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) here on Tuesday, observed by the Commission on the Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), which will also be involved in drawing up an action plan. 

The MoU was signed and exchanged between acting Suhakam Chairman Jerald Joseph and Komnas HAM Chairman Ahmad Taufan Damanik, witnessed by Indonesian Consul General to Kota Kinabalu, Krishna Djelani, and observed by CHRP Commissioner, Gwendolyn Ll Pimentel-Gana. 

According to their joint statement, Suhakam and Komnas HAM, with the CHRP as observer, aim to collaborate and support each other in addressing issues related to the statelessness in Sabah from a human rights perspective through the MoU. 

The three national human rights institutions (NHRIs) will also work closely together with their respective governments on issues pertaining to stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness in Sabah, and shall conduct joint research to understand and address the geopolitical nature and historical impetus of the issue. 

Suhakam, Komnas HAM and CHRP aim to provide recommendations based on the collective findings and guided by relevant international human rights treaties, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Compact on Migration. 

The three NHRIs remain positive in their outlook for the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to ensure that the fundamental human rights of stateless persons are respected and protected. 

These include, but are not limited to, the right to access asylum and justice, freedom of movement and liberty, non-refoulement, the right to work, education and healthcare. 

Stateless people in Sabah mainly are of Filipino and Indonesian descents, they said, adding stateless persons are often denied the enjoyment of basic human rights such as equality before the law, right to work, right to education, right to healthcare, right to own property. And they are at risk of becoming victims of crimes such as trafficking as well as harassment and exploitation. 

Documentation, either the absence of or lack of proper documentation, is a fundamental challenge faced by all stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness, and this is primarily the case in Sabah. 

While the exact number of stateless persons, specifically stateless children in Malaysia, is unknown, children born from illicit affairs and unrecognised marriages make up a large number of young people without any documentation. Sixty-eight per cent (or 381) of complaints made to Suhakam Sabah Office last year were related to statelessness. 

“This MoU is actually a way to grapple the issue of finding a more pragmatic solution and rights based solution,”said Joseph. 

“This has been an one over year journey with our colleagues from Komnas HAM and CHRP on how we can work together cross border because we realise that human rights do not follow border line. 

“It just happens anywhere and everywhere, here and in the neighbourhood, so it is like a neighbourhood concern. We just have to help each other solve the problems that affect all of us. 

“I thank both Komnas HAM for signing the MoU and CHRP for being an observer, and I am really looking forward to formalising what we have already started, the conversations and the working together. Suhakam looks forward to greater engagement, much more intense work on the ground and working with our governments both individually at our home country as well as across the border to find a solution,”he said. 

Ahmad said Komnas HAM’s mission is not only to sign the MoU with Suhakam but the concrete mission is how the three of them – Komnas HAM, Suhakam and CHRP – can work together on the issue of statelessness persons. 

“This is a starting point for us to work together. To us, we hope this MoU will not only be just on paper but to discuss on the implementation of it. We have agreed that this MoU should be implemented with concrete activities. 

“We hope to discuss with our counterparts in more detail our plan in implementing the MoU. I think it is time for us to work together to bring answer to the questions raised by the statelessness persons, especially that pertaining to how they can get a citizenship document based on their respective origin,”he said. 

Pimentel-Gana, meanwhile, said the CHRP not involved in the MoU signing does not mean that they are closing their door, but promised that before the end of the year CHRP will try to have such MoU with Suhakam and Komnas HAM in the Philippines. 

“In the Philippines, we have a number of statelessness persons like unregistered children, children of Filipino descent in migration situation, persons of Indonesian descents who are living in southern Mindanao, some of whom are Sama-Bajau people. So there are also a lot of stateless persons in the Philippines, and also in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

“It is very important as NHRIs, we should tackle this issue on a rights based approach. It is very important that in helping the State, we should also show them the way on how to deal with the statelessness persons. 

“It is very important that we do not only just enter into an MoU but move forward and in doing so, we should come up with concrete action on how to do it as an NHRI. And tomorrow will be really a good start of really laying down the course of action that we are going to take,”she said. 

As an observer, Pimentel-Gana said they are really excited to see how the two NHRIs - Suhakam and CHRP - will do so, while also offering their services to both.  

To a question, both Ahmad and Pimentel-Gana said there are no statelessness persons known originally from Malaysia in Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Meanwhile, Godfrey said the MoU does not mean that the Malaysian Government is to give everybody (every statelessness persons in Sabah) a document. 

“What this document means is that we are working together with the NHRI of Indonesia, Komnas HAM and also the Philippines to determine if there are Indonesians here. If that person should rightly be given Indonesian citizenship, then we will inform the Komnas Ham and the Indonesian Embassy that this person should be considered for Indonesian citizenship...and the same also goes with the Philippines.

“So it does not mean that Suhakam is saying that we should give everybody a Malaysian citizenship. No, we are working together with these three to give appropriate citizenship status to those statelessness persons in Sabah,”he said.   


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