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Malaysia / Right to health: UN expert calls for a non-selective approach to consolidate achievements

KUALA LUMPUR / GENEVA (3 December 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, urged yesterday Malaysia to put an end to its selective approach to human rights as “the way forward to consolidate its achievements in realising the right to health.”

“The selective approach to human rights is affecting many groups of the population that are being excluded in law and in practice from the efforts to promote and protect the right to health,” Mr. Pūras said* at the end of his first official visit to the country.

The UN expert commended Malaysia for its accomplishments in improving the health status in the country through a sustained commitment to health policy, noting that over the past decades health indicators had increased to reach the level of those of high-income developed countries. “But the right to health is broader than this,” he stressed.  

“Most of the challenges to the effective realisation of the right to health in Malaysia,” Mr. Pūras explained, “are related to a selective approach to human rights mostly based on restrictive interpretations of cultural and religious norms and practices, and to a departure from universal human rights principles and standards.”

This has led to discrimination against certain groups whose enjoyment of the right to health is severely hindered. Among the most affected are women and girls; children; migrants and refugees; indigenous communities; LGBT persons; and people living with HIV/AIDS.

“I am particularly concerned about the prevalence of harmful traditional practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation,” he said. “Also, the use by law enforcement of the healthcare system to target undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers is not acceptable.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that “laws criminalizing same sex conduct and different forms of gender identity and expression has led to serious rights violations, and hinder the enjoyment of the right to health of a group of the population.”
“The health sector in Malaysia has been developed with a strong focus on primary care, achieving universal coverage for most of its population and fairly good standards of availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality,” the expert said. However, he highlighted, “its sustainability is at stake.”

“More resources need to be injected into the public health care sector, and a better integration between public and private sectors must be ensured. The way of financing the health care system should ensure that the ability to pay does not affect an individual’s decision to access necessary health goods and services,” the UN Special Rapporteur said.

“In order to successfully achieve ambitious plans such as becoming a high-income nation with inclusive and sustainable development by 2020, Malaysia needs to move away from a selective approach to human rights and towards a full adherence to human rights principles and standards as enshrined in Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and international human rights law,” he stated.

Mr. Pūras, who is charged by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the implementation of the right to health, met with Government officials, members of Parliament, medical practitioners and representatives of international organizations, development partners and civil society.

During his two-week visit to the country at the invitation of the Government, the expert assessed health facilities, mental health centres, and immigration detention centres in Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, and Sabah.

The UN Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report on his visit to Malaysia at a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015.

(*) Read the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15370&LangID=E

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health (right to health). Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) is a medical doctor with notable expertise on health policies, mental health, and child health. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/SRRightHealthIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country page – Malaysia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MYIndex.aspx

For press inquiries and additional information, please contact:
In Kuala Lumpur (during the visit):
Ahmad Hafiz (+60320953356/ +60123021234/ ahmad.hafiz@undp.org)
Dolores Infante-Cañibano (+ 41 79 444 4332 / dinfante@ohchr.org)
In Geneva (before and after the visit): Dolores Infante-Cañibano (+ 41 22 917 9768 / dinfante@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en