As 104 countries took their turns to grill Malaysia on its human rights record in Geneva on Thursday, one common theme was Malaysia's lack of engagement with human rights instruments.

A delegation of local NGOs attending Malaysia's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights in the Swiss city said during the review, many countries called on Malaysia to sign and ratify six core human rights conventions.

As for the three human rights conventions that Malaysia has already signed, the country has been pressured to remove its reservations on them and stipulate a time-line to implement them fully.

"In our view it will not be easy for the government to ignore these recommendations, as they did not come just from Western countries, but also from other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

"Muslim countries such as Egypt, the Maldives, Tunisia and Turkey also made this call, obviously seeing no threat to Islam in doing so, in contrast to views from certain Malaysian Muslim NGOs," the NGOs said in a joint statement yesterday.

The statement was issued by the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs for the UPR Process (Comango), Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) and the Bar Council.

Malaysia urged to sign Rome Statute as well

In addition, they said, Malaysia has also been urged to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which Malaysia said it would sign in April 2011 but has not done so.

The UPR is held every four-and-a-half years, during which each UN member has 75 seconds to comment and make recommendations on another member country's human rights record.

The NGOs also noted that despite being a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia's rate of cooperation with the UN special procedures and special rapporteurs, and its accession rate on international human rights instruments "leaves much to be desired".

For example, they said Malaysia has refused to extend a standing invitation to UN rapporteurs and independent human rights experts reporting to the UN, opting to extend invitations selectively instead.

Elections to the UN Human Rights Council will take place in October next year.

'Combat discrimination against religious minorities'

Among other calls on Malaysia, the NGOs said, Iran urged Malaysia to combat discrimination against religious minorities, while Canada, Chile and Italy has called on Malaysia to criminalise marital rape.

Japan urged Malaysia to promote Internet freedom, while several Asean nations urged Malaysia to protect migrant workers.

There were also calls to form the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) from New Zealand, and from a number of other countries to abolish the death penalty.

"In our view, Malaysia needs to be far more convincing that it is committed to the international system of law and order premised on acceptance of and compliance with international human rights norms and standards.

"If Malaysia wants to be active in the front yard of the international geopolitical scene, it must do more than make an outward show of professing, promoting and protecting human rights in its own backyard," the NGOs said, noting the wide range of complaints against the country.