Repeal sodomy laws and end discrimination

Press release

Paris-Bangkok, 9 January 2012. Following today’s acquittal of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on ‘sodomy’ charges by the High Court, the Malaysian government should take immediate steps towards repealing the anti-sodomy laws banning consensual sexual acts between people of the same sex and end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) today. Anwar had faced the penalty of flogging and up to twenty years imprisonment.

Anwar was previously convicted in 2000 on sodomy charges and sentenced to nine years in prison in a highly flawed trial. He served six years before he was released after his conviction was overturned in 2004. His second trial stemmed from charges brought against him by one of his former aide just months after Anwar led the opposition to significant gains in the elections in 2008. In today’s decision, the judge, Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah, expressed doubt regarding the integrity of the DNA evidence and said the “court is always reluctant to convict on sexual offences without corroborative evidence.”

A member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Malaysia voted against a landmark resolution [1] on sexual orientation and gender identity introduced by South Africa in June 2011 along with Brazil and 39 other co-sponsors from all regions of the world. The resolution was eventually adopted by the Council and reaffirmed the cardinal principle of non-discrimination enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties. It also commissioned a report by the High Commissioner to look into discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and requested the Human Rights Council to hold a panel discussion on the topic. The panel will take place on 7 March 2012 in Geneva during the Council’s 19th session.

A relic of the colonial era, Malaysia’s anti-sodomy laws is codified in Section 337 of the Criminal Code. In the report commissioned by the HRC resolution, the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the “criminalization of private consensual homosexual acts violates an individual’s rights to privacy and to non-discrimination and constitutes a breach of international human rights law.” [2]

Repealing laws so archaic and blatantly in violation of the inalienable right to be free from discrimination is long overdue ,” said Debbie Stothard, FIDH Deputy Secretary-General. “ In a multi-ethnic and modern society like Malaysia’s, the sodomy laws and other discriminatory laws have no place and the government’s continued failure to repeal them will only place itself at odds with the Malaysian people’s aspirations for greater freedom .”

Repeal of discriminatory laws also must be accompanied by measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary is strengthened to guard any official abuses of laws and regulations to intimidate political opponents, dissidents and pro-democracy activists ,” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH. “ The Malaysian government should implement judicial reforms recommendations by previous independent commissions, including those by the Royal Commission of Inquiry Into the V.K. Lingam scandal, and by civil society, as well as respond positively to the request for a country-visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, pending since March 2009 .”

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