Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government headed by a prime minister selected through periodic, multiparty elections. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), together with a coalition of political parties currently known as the National Front, has held power since independence in 1957. In national elections held in March 2008, opposition parties faced significant restrictions due to limitations on their freedom of assembly and access to the mainstream media. The government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas, including abridgement of citizens' right to change their government; police abuse of detainees; overcrowded immigration detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; and persistent questions about the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. The government continues to restrict freedoms of press, association, assembly, speech, and religion. The country remains a destination and transit point for trafficking in persons. There were credible allegations of immigration officials' involvement in the trafficking of Burmese refugees. Longstanding government policies give preferences to ethnic Malays in many areas.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

A more open and democratic Malaysia that protects human rights will be a more stable and effective partner in security and economic arenas. The U.S. Government's democracy strategy supports the country's long-term stability and political success, including judicial independence and rule of law. The U.S. Government supports the country's implementation of its antitrafficking law; its cooperation with UNHCR, even though the country does not recognize refugee status; and advocates its adoption of international migrant worker standards.

The U.S. Government advocates for the country's ratification of outstanding fundamental human rights instruments related to human rights, trafficking in persons, refugees, and labor, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The U.S. Government also focuses on fostering a more vibrant civil society and a freer media and promoting strong and accountable democratic institutions. Long-term success depends on improvement in the diffusion of checks and balances in society.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. officials use bilateral meetings, speeches, and interviews to highlight the importance of enhanced democratic institutions. The United States supports civil society activities related to democracy, including the role of the media in the democratic process. Other democracy programming includes nonpartisan projects that promote citizen participation in the political process and guest speaker programs that promote democratic values and traditions. Through the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. Government sent 30 individuals to the United States, including two to participate in programs on government accountability, three to programs promoting journalistic standards in a democracy, and seven to programs on the rule of law at the state and local levels.

U.S. efforts to promote media freedom center on the availability and free flow of public information. The U.S. Government provided an experienced speaker in 2008 who promoted use of new media, especially the Internet, to open discourse on legislative and governmental matters and to strengthen the independent media. In 2008 a Fulbright scholar conducted media training for approximately 35 radio journalists at the country's only news radio station.

U.S. officials also use bilateral meetings and speeches to promote greater respect for human rights. The U.S. Government uses meetings with the government, civil society, and international organizations to advocate for an increase in protection of vulnerable groups such as refugees and victims of trafficking in persons. The U.S. Government also works with NGOs and international organizations to assist with the health and education needs of refugees. The United States supports international NGOs and civil society efforts to combat trafficking in persons for sexual and labor exploitation and encourages the government to address trafficking in persons. The U.S. Government regularly shares information on international best practices with local government agencies responsible for combating trafficking and assisting trafficking victims.