Malaysia, Indonesia to tackle Sabah stateless issue

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia and Ind­onesia took a giant step in addressing the complicated issue of stateless people in Sabah when the national human rights institutions of both countries signed a Memoran­dum of Understanding on the matter.

The MoU between the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suh­a­­kam) and National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Kom­nas HAM) will pave the way for both bodies to embark on cross-border work.

Through this first-ever MoU, Suh­a­kam and Komnas HAM, with the Commission on the Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) as an observer, aim to collaborate in addressing the statelessness issue in Sabah.

Suhakam acting chairman Jerald Joseph signed on behalf of the commission while Komnas HAM was represented by its chairman Ahmad Taufan Damanik.

CHRP commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana witnessed the signing. Besides being an observer, CHRP would also be involved in drawing up an action plan.

Joseph said the MoU would allow the national human rights institutions in the three nations to share information, be involved in joint research and have more high-level engagements with the governments of the respective countries.

He said the MoU, though complex in its end objective, would potentially have a far-reaching effect, especially in providing recommendations to push for the Malaysian government as well as neighbouring countries to resolve the issue.

He said the issues being looked at, among others, involve documentation for stateless people, migrant workers, rights to education and healthcare, as well as trafficking and exploitation.

“We met with the Sabah Chief Minister last week where he responded positively towards pragmatic solutions, and this MoU is one way to address the issue pragmatically,” he added.

Suhakam commissioner Datuk Godfrey Gregory Joitol said legalising stateless people did not mean simply giving out citizenships.

“We will determine what they are qualified for as we engage our Indonesian and Philippines counterparts too, for example on passports or permanent residency matters.

“The point is for them to be able to gain employment legally, as well as have basic access to health and education,” he said.

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