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  • Writer's pictureJia Yaw Kiu

Edging closer to recognising the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

We were scheduled to meet with Members of Parliament on 1st August 2022 on the issue of climate action in Malaysia. This was organised by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) at Parliament House.

But a few days before the event, on 26 July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly came through with a historic resolution declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, a universal human right.

This was (and continues to be) a big deal for the world, because the UNGA's recognition elevates this right to its rightful place of a universal human right. This is even more significant for a country like Malaysia that does not have an explicit recognition of environmental rights in its Constitution.

We have Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution on one's right to life, and some courts have interpreted this purposively so that the conditions necessary for one's life - like a clean and healthy environment - are included as a person's fundamental liberties. However, we still do not have any official recognition of this fundamental right.

Within a few hours of the UNGA declaration, we discussed with our friends in Greenpeace and CERAH and decided to make the most of this and get the ball rolling on a campaign towards the official recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in Malaysia. We agreed to start with a small campaign to get Members of Parliament to sign a direct pledge to recognise this right at the APHR event at Parliament.

We then immediately reach out to the country's pre-eminent scholar on the Federal Constitution, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi, Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair, University of Malaya, to invite him on board. To our absolute delight, Prof. Shad quickly agreed!

After an intense consideration of various constraints, opportunities, gaps and varying expectations, we finalised the MP's Pledge within three days.

It is a Member of Parliament's pledge to -

(1) recognise every person's right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as part of our fundamental liberty in Article 5(1); and

(2) support its recognition in any -

(i) future legislation, including amendments to existing legislation;

(ii) future amendments to the Federal Constitution; and

(iii) policies and programmes that affect the environment.

It was pivotal that Prof. Shad was able to join us in meeting with the MPs at the APHR event on 1st August 2022. And we are grateful that he had adequate air time to impress upon the MPs how crucial it is for Malaysia to recognise the basic right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

On 1st August 2022, we managed to get eleven MPs to sign the Pledge! Well done to the MPs who readily committed to the pledge; well done to Prof. Shad for his eloquent and rousing intervention at the event and his swift efforts in working with us on the MP's Pledge (and its translation); our gratitude to APHR for graciously accommodating this campaign at their event and to all our civil society friends for the immense support.

We hope to build on this campaign and ultimately push for an amendment of our Federal Constitution to expressly recognise this fundamental right. In the mean time, here is CERAH's campaign page and Greenpeace's campaign page, with the list of MPs who have signed on to the Pledge. All this has been done voluntarily, and we certainly welcome collaborators to help get all 222 Members of Parliament to sign on to this pledge to recognise our right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

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