Suhakam, Indonesian rights body sign MoU on stateless people in Sabah

Suhakam acting chairman Jerald Joseph (left) and National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia chairman Ahmad Taufan Damanik signing the MoU in Kota Kinabalu today.

KOTA KINABALU: The national human rights institutions (NHRIs) of Malaysia and Indonesia will embark on a mission to address the complicated issue of stateless people in Sabah.

This follows the inking of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Komnas HAM) here today.

The signing was witnessed by the Commission on the Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), which will also be involved in drawing up an action plan.

Through this first ever MoU, Suhakam and Komnas HAM, with the CHRP as observer, aim to collaborate in addressing issues related to statelessness in Sabah from a human rights perspective.

Suhakam acting chairman Jerald Joseph noted 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 of stateless people.

Komnas HAM chairman Ahmad Taufan Damanik signed on behalf of the Indonesian human rights commission while commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana represented the CHRP.

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.

Joseph said the MoU would allow the NHRIs 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.

“A variety of possibilities are going to happen. After this we will have a closed door meeting to work out the action plan for the next two years, at least on how to move forward.

“We want to utilise a big framework, using UN standards on statelessness, to strengthen our work on the ground so we can advise the government on better policies and law.

“But we realise this is a cross-border issue so we need to work with our partners across the border,” he told reporters.

Joseph said, however, Suhakam would not only focus on stateless foreigners in Sabah but also on cases involving locals without proper documentation, especially in rural areas, adding this MoU would also help resolve that matter.

Commission on the Human Rights of the Philippines commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana witnessing the MoU signing between Suhakam acting chairman Jerald Joseph (seated left) and National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia chairman Ahmad Taufan Damanik (seated right).

“Our commission will continue on that part – we had a meeting with the National Registration Department and also met with Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal recently.

“And we realised that this issue has a lot to do with us being stuck because the policy of Putrajaya and Sabah – they are kind of disjointed.

“So, Suhakam will have to work with the CM’s office and Putrajaya. But it’s not only in Sabah. There’s a lot of work too in Sarawak and even Peninsular Malaysia has the problem,” he said.

Joseph said the MoU would also help clarify the negative perception that providing documentation to stateless people was equal to giving citizenship.

“Providing documents is not equal to giving citizenship. Citizenship is a political decision of the government. Documentation is the right of everybody. Everyone must have documentation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pimentel-Gana said they intended to sign a similar agreement with Suhakam in future, adding they were eager to see the results of the MoU between Suhakam and Komnas-HAM.