Malaysia stumbles on the road to international justice

Press release

(Kuala Lumpur, Paris) FIDH and its member organization Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) urge Malaysia to reverse its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to undertake a transparent and comprehensive public dialogue to clarify the importance and implications of the Rome Statute.

On 5 April 2019, the Malaysian Cabinet decided to withdraw from the ICC, a mere month after its widely lauded decision to join 123 other States Parties to the Court. The disappointing update was announced by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who cited “political and public confusion” about joining the ICC as justification for the move. Justice advocates in Malaysia and beyond are taken aback by the Cabinet’s decision, but remain hopeful that Malaysia will resume its journey on the road to justice.

Malaysia’s joining the ICC would carry weight in various ways. It would demonstrate the country’s commitment to uphold the principles of justice and the rule of law. Malaysia has been vocal about the ICC as a venue for justice for grave crimes, as demonstrated by its stance on accountability for the crimes against the Rohingya. Joining the ICC would be consistent with its professed adherence “to the principle that criminals must be punished,” as Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah declared with regard to crimes against Rohingya in February 2019.

The implications would spread far beyond its borders and the move would be beneficial to justice in the region. With its accession, Malaysia would increase the number of States Parties to the Court from Asia, which remains one of the most underrepresented regions in the ICC system, particularly with the recent withdrawal of the Philippines.

“It is in Malaysia’s interests to review all aspects of the Rome Statute through an informed Parliamentary process and public dialogue, and reverse this decision. Otherwise, Malaysia risks undermining public trust and international credibility concerning its position on critical issues of human rights and justice regionally and globally.”

Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General and ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator

The Cabinet’s decision was influenced by the circulation of inaccurate information by opposition parties and the media on what joining the ICC entails. Among the circulated misconceptions were that joining the ICC would be in breach of the Malaysian Constitution, particularly in relation to the King’s prerogative powers, and that joining would harm the privileges of the Rulers, who govern nine of the 13 Malaysian states. The misinformation went as far as to say that joining the ICC was a plot of some political parties who wanted to see “the fall of the country’s royal institution.”

“Joining the ICC would not modify any provision in the Malaysian Constitution, nor would it place the King before the ICC for prosecution. The ICC prosecutes only those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide only in the event that national authorities are unable or unwilling to do so.”

Sevan Doraisamy, SUARAM Executive Director

Two preliminary examinations before the ICC are from the Asian region - one relates to the situation of the Philippines and the other to Myanmar/Bangladesh. A decision on opening an investigation into the situation of Afghanistan is pending. Were Malaysia to join the ICC, it could play a positive role in promoting cooperation with the Court in the region and beyond and in advancing the justice agenda for Asia.

Press contact
SUARAM: Mr. Sevan Doraisamy (English, Malay) - Tel: +60169708370 (Kuala Lumpur)
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