Executive Summary for Malaysia
The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI, pronounced ‘her-mee’) is the first global project to track the human rights performance of countries. Its 2021 Rights Tracker gives human rights scores on up to 13 different human rights contained in United Nations treaties, for around 200 countries.
The 2021 Rights Tracker scores for Malaysia include some positive scores, but also some strikingly poor results, including one of the biggest drops from 2019 among all the countries we researched.
Headlines (further details below):
Empowerment rights plummet in Malaysia
Covid-19 worsens human rights
Refugees and asylum seekers experience rights violations
The civil and political rights data, and the people at risk responses, were collected in February and March 2021, about events in the year 2020.
Spokesperson: Anne-Marie Brook, Co-founder and Development Lead
Spokesperson: K. Chad Clay, Co-founder and Civil and Political Rights Metrics Lead
Quotes from our experts
Dr Susan Randolph:
On the impact of the pandemic: ‘Worldwide, the pandemic’s impact fell most heavily on the most vulnerable countries and the most vulnerable people in all countries—the elderly, people with disabilities, indigenous people, immigrants, refugees, poorer people, people in detention, children, and those facing ethnic or racial discrimination.’
On the importance of human rights during the pandemic: ‘A focus on human rights is even more important in the context of Covid-19. Marshalling resources to improve human rights can simultaneously help stem the pandemic. How can people protect themselves by washing their hands if they don’t have access to running water? How can people maintain social distance if they are homeless or living in an over crowded home? How can people know to quarantine themselves when they feel ill if they don’t have access to tests? How can we prevent the deaths of those who contract Covid-19 if people don’t have access to affordable healthcare? It’s not just a matter of stemming the pandemic, but also of focusing our admittedly more limited resources on those factors that make the most difference to people’s lives.’
On how human rights can help slow climate change: ‘Beyond the benefits in stemming the Covid-19 crisis, refocusing country efforts to improve basic economic and social rights and away from energy intensive economic growth can help slow global warming ensuring our children and our children’s children have better opportunities to thrive in the future. To bring about this refocusing significant policy changes are needed. We know some of the policies that can help, but gaining insight into which policies work best and even whether our policies are working to promote the desired changes requires reliable measures.’
On why measuring human rights matters: ‘Leaders and other decision-makers already have lots of statistics on things like GDP growth. We want to make sure they also have robust data on how countries are treating people, so they can look at where things could be better and work towards making the changes that are needed.’
‘It’s hard for governments to know all the things they can be working on in the area of human rights if they don’t have accurate and consistent data that shine a light on both their successes and weaknesses.’
All images are taken from our Rights Tracker, and freely available for press and other use.
To explore the new 2021 data in full, go to:
Summary of Malaysia’s Scores
Safety from the State: 6.6 out of 10
Malaysia has a wide range of scores for this category, from 10 out of 10 for freedom from the death penalty, which is currently not in use in Malaysia, though not abolished, to 4.2 for freedom from torture and ill-treatment, which falls in the ‘bad’ range.
Malaysia’s performance on empowerment rights is poor, with all three scores fall in the ‘bad’ range. This suggest that many people in the country do not enjoy these freedoms.
Quality of Life
Malaysia has some good scores for economic and social rights, such as 99.7% for the right to work and 94.2% for the right to housing.
However, there are also low scores such as 66% for the right to food and 74.9% for right to health, both falling within the ‘bad’ range.
Malaysia Story Leads: Themes from the data
Empowerment rights plummet in Malaysia
HRMI human rights scores in Malaysia fell sharply from 2019 to 2020, one of the biggest drops of any country in our research.
Human rights experts spoke of their impression that the government used Covid-19 as an excuse to restrict these rights, and in particular to silence critics.
Covid-19 worsens human rights
In February and March 2021 we asked human rights experts in Malaysia (and 38 other countries) what effect the Covid-19 pandemic had on human rights in Malaysia in 2020.
Experts were emphatic that rights had been badly affected:
These were the rights people said were affected:
Refugees and asylum seekers experience rights violations
Human rights experts identified a number of groups that were particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. One of the groups most commonly mentioned was refugees and asylum seekers.
For example, this is a word cloud showing the groups chosen as being at risk of not enjoying the right to health:
Respondents mentioned the following specific points with respect to the right to health:
- Refugees, undocumented migrants, and stateless people face arrest or detention when accessing public healthcare
- Asylum seekers and refugees were not allowed to work, meaning most cannot afford healthcare
- Migrants, due to the 2016 removal of public healthcare subsidies
- Rohingya refugees.
For other rights, the following points were made:
- Migrants, refugees, and stateless people were commonly discriminated against in renting practices of both private and state-owned facilities
- Migrants were commonly housed by their employers in inadequate housing
- Some Covid-19 policies excluded foreigners from employment
- Stateless people and refugees, who are not allowed to work in formal sector positions
- Rohingya refugees
- Migrants are commonly abused or subjected to unfair or dangerous working conditions
- Employers take advantage of migrant communities for forced labour or slavery by either holding passports of their employees or engaging in debt-bondage
- Employers can also cancel work permits at any time and have migrant workers deported, creating an improper balance of power between workers and their employers
- Covid-19 was used as a reason to target migrant and refugee communities’ rights to opinion and expression, and the rights of those advocating for migrant and refugee human rights.
About the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)
‘HRMI is filling a gap in human rights data, providing human rights practitioners with powerful tools to show governments how they are performing, and remind them of the promises they’ve made by signing human rights treaties.’
– Anne-Marie Brook
Co-founder and Development Lead Anne-Marie Brook, an economist and social entrepreneur, based in Wellington, New Zealand, says, ‘We know that it is hard for countries to make progress if good data aren’t available that show how they’re actually doing. HRMI is filling a gap in human rights data, providing human rights practitioners with powerful tools to show governments how they are performing, and remind them of the promises they’ve made by signing human rights treaties.’
How HRMI produces the scores
HRMI human rights scores are produced by two teams of researchers.
Co-founder and Economic and Social Rights Lead Dr Susan Randolph produces scores for up to five Quality of Life rights, for around 200 countries, using indicator data supplied by countries to international databases. Dr Randolph then analyses the data using the award-winning SERF Index she developed with her colleagues, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Terra Lawson-Remer.
‘The SERF Index is unique because it takes into account a country’s financial resources,’ Dr Randolph explains. ‘The income-adjusted score shows how close a country is to meeting its urgent duty, compared with other countries with similar resources – for these rights, the realistic target is 100%.’
‘The HRMI Country Report tells people whether their government is doing its best with the country’s resources to give full effect to their economic and social rights, or whether there is room for improvement.’
Co-Founder and Civil and Political Rights Lead, Dr K Chad Clay from the University of Georgia, in the United States, heads up the data collection and analysis for HRMI’s Empowerment and Safety from the State measurements.
These rights are politically sensitive to measure, and HRMI is the first global project to track them systematically, country by country. In 2021 HRMI produced data for 39 countries, and is ready to expand to the rest of the world once sufficient funding is secured.
‘We know that the best sources of information on human rights in a country are the people directly monitoring conditions in that country. So we designed a detailed expert survey to be filled out by human rights practitioners, like lawyers, journalists, and advocates, including people working for organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We collected data in February and March of 2021, asking about the situation in their country in 2020 and 2019. We then used statistical techniques to be sure we were providing the most accurate and honest information possible. Now we’re presenting our findings in scores out of ten for each of the eight civil and political rights we measure.’
‘Our vision is a world where countries are competing to see who can treat people the best.’
– Anne-Marie Brook
HRMI works on an annual cycle and is already preparing to collect data about 2021, ready for publication in 2022. As funding increases, HRMI is ready to:
- expand to cover more countries
- measure performance on more rights, and
- provide more detail on performance, such as separating out scores by sex and race.
‘We want to create a global competition, where countries compete to treat people better,’ Ms Brook says. ‘As we repeat our data collection annually, we hope to see countries improve, until people everywhere are thriving and safe.’
Background Information on HRMI and HRMI staff
The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) is a unique collaborative venture between human rights practitioners, researchers, academics, and other supporters. It is hosted by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, a non-profit research institute based in New Zealand, ranked in the top ten economic think-tanks worldwide, with another base of operations at the Center for the Study of Global Issues (GLOBIS), at the University of Georgia in the US. HRMI is also collaborating closely with a number of other academic organisations, and a range of NGOs working to advance human rights.
The HRMI team includes some of the world’s most experienced experts in the field, including developers of some of the most widely used existing measures of civil and political rights, and the prize-winning authors of the best existing measures of economic and social rights.
Anne-Marie is an economist and social entrepreneur with a passion for helping to bring about systemic change. She is good at seeing the big picture and helping others see how their skills can contribute collaboratively to making our world a better place.
Prior to making the jump into human rights, Anne-Marie worked as an economist for the OECD and the New Zealand public sector. She is an Edmund Hillary Fellow and has degrees in Psychology and Economics from the University of Otago and an MPA in Economics from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, which she attended on a Fulbright Scholarship.
K. Chad Clay
Co-founder and Civil and Political Rights Metrics Lead Chad is a political scientist with a deep interest in furthering our understanding of human rights practices, political violence, organised dissent, and economic development. Chad teaches classes on human rights, international relations, and political economy in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) at the University of Georgia, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues (GLOBIS), and has published widely in leading journals.
One of the co-founders of HRMI, Chad is leading the design and development of our Civil and Political Rights metrics. He brings with him more than a decade of experience in the area of measuring human rights, including as co-director of the (now archived) CIRI Human Rights Data Project. Chad received his PhD in political science from Binghamton University in 2012.
Co-founder and Economic and Social Rights Metrics Lead Susan’s life-long interest in people’s wellbeing and economic development has led her to push the frontiers of our knowledge and help develop a ground-breaking approach for measuring the fulfilment of Economic and Social Rights.
Her recent book describing this approach, Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights with Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Terra Lawson-Remer (Oxford University Press, 2015), won the 2016 best book of the year award from the American Political Science Association’s Human Rights Section, and the three authors were awarded the 2019 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.
Susan is Co-Director of the Economic and Social Rights Empowerment Initiative, and an emerita associate professor of economics at the University of Connecticut. She has a PhD in economics from Cornell University.
Press contact and further resources
All three HRMI co-founders are available for interview or comment on the 2021 scores and related matters. You can book an interview at any time by emailing Thalia Kehoe Rowden, thalia.kehoerowden (at) motu.org.nz.
Our full dataset will be available for free download from our Rights Tracker, closer to the public launch date, so you can create your own graphics to fit your publication’s branding, or to draw out the data you are most interested in, such as comparing two particular countries.
All data and graphics on our Rights Tracker are freely available under a Creative Commons licence.
Video interviews with members of our team are freely available on our YouTube channel.