On Friday (April 5), Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the Cabinet had decided not to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which governs the prosecution of perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.
Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson (pic) said that by quitting the ICC, the Malaysian government had undermined its credibility on human rights reforms.
"Rather than stand up for justice, the government caved in to pressure from former ruling parties and certain hereditary rulers," he said.
The New York-based NGO said that when Malaysia acceded to the Rome Statute on March 4, it was a commitment to combating international crimes for global peace and security.
"Malaysia stood ready to work with all state parties in upholding the principles of truth, human rights, rule of law and accountability.
"The Malaysian government's standing on international justice has taken a nosedive because of misleading and unpersuasive criticism of the ICC.
"Unless the government stands firm on its original decision to join the ICC, it will be putting its whole human rights reform agenda at risk," said Robertson in a press statement on Saturday (April 6).
He added that the criticism which forced the government to retract its ratification of the Rome Statute "reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and practices of the ICC".
The ICC is a court of last resort, and only steps in when national authorities are unable or unwilling to deliver credible justice for the grave international crimes under the ICC's jurisdiction.
"This latest reversal on human rights follows the government's backtracking on its pledge to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd and its decision in November 2018 to lift a moratorium on using the draconian colonial-era Sedition Act," said Robertson.
On Friday, a visibly upset Dr Mahathir announced that the government had decided to make a U-turn on the Rome Statute due to pressure from parties politicising the issue.
"There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Rome Statute, so we will not accede.
"This is not because we are against it, but because of the political confusion about what it entails caused by people with vested interests," he added.
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