The World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA) is encouraged by the speech delivered by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on 15 September, which was the International Day of Democracy as well as the eve of Malaysia’s National Day. In particular, we strongly welcome the announcement that the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA), which has been the source of so many human rights abuses over the years, is to be abolished. We are also gladdened to hear that the three states of emergency that have been in effect for decades will be terminated, along with the Emergency Ordinance (EO), and that several other laws restricting freedoms of assembly and the press are to be amended.

While some have criticized the Prime Minister for seeking electoral advantage, we prefer to see this as the proper workings of democracy. All governments seeking re-election naturally ought to respond when enough people, in this case led by many courageous and effective civil society organizations, demand reform. Furthermore, regardless of motive, taken together, these steps would be a major step towards building the rule of law and implementing human rights in Malaysia. Moreover, we believe they would have a wider positive impact around the Asian region. Thus, we call on the government and the parliament to act quickly to fulfill the Prime Minister’s pledges. At the same time, if any new laws are to be enacted, we expect that they will adhere to international human rights standards, for example as to what constitutes lawful detention.

Looking ahead, we hope the Malaysian government will continue on the path of reform, eliminating or reviewing all other laws which contravene international norms. We also call on the government to establish mechanisms to rehabilitate and compensate the victims of the ISA. Finally, we urge all other Asian governments that retain similar draconian laws to follow the example of Malaysia and abolish them. Among these, some of the most notable are the closely related ISA in Singapore, the National Security Law in South Korea, and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in India.

(The Initiatives for International Dialogue is founding Steering Committee member of WFDA.)