Southeast Asia: Latest battleground over LGBT rights

An upcoming human rights declaration by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has become the latest battleground over rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Azril Mohd Amin (Photo courtesy of
Azril Mohd Amin (Photo courtesy of

On one side, the vice president of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia says his country could not accept including LGBT rights in an ASEAN declaration about human rights.  Lawyer Azril Mohd Amin said in a letter to the Malaysiakini newspaper website that LGBT rights are a “secular fallacy, perpetrated by the United Nations, that human beings may do as they please,” Gay Star News reported.

On the other side, LGBT activist Pang Khee Teik says LGBT rights are Asian and deserve to be protected.

Pang Khee Teik (Photo by Alastair Hudson via Facebook)
Pang Khee Teik (Photo by Alastair Hudson via Facebook)

“The very exercise of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration is ultimately to protect our rich Asian diversity, all our ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities. It is this diversity that is truly our way of life. It will be truly ironic if the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration chooses to deny this diversity,” he said.

Pang Khee Teik organized the banned Seksualiti Merdeka sexualities freedom festival last year in Kuala Lumpur last year.

Amin urged Malaysian representatives to speak against LGBT rights at today’s regional consultation on the ASEAN human rights declaration.

“Were ASEAN to endorse such rights in the final declaration, Malaysia as a Muslim-majority country would have to reiterate her strong objections; as such a policy clearly contradicts the principles enshrined in the religion of Islam,” he wrote.

In his letter, Amin cited examples of discrimination against LGBT people, but dismissed them as undocumented.  He also claimed that anti-LGBT laws are based on  “medical opinion that LGBT behaviour is essentially pathological” — a position that was discarded decades ago. But Amin alleged that “the decision to declassify homosexuality as a psychological disease was fairly recent made as 1973 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) due to intimidation and lobbying by gay groups and not based not medical or scientific evidence.”

Pang Khee Teik said in response to Amin’s letter:

We recognise and acknowledge the fact that the application of a universal human rights can be problematic, and sometimes western countries can appear to be bullying other countries into accepting what they have defined is universal. And that yes, if indeed human rights becomes another form of imperialism, then this is a problem as it is tantamount to disregarding the autonomy of each country.

Hence that is why ASEAN countries have come together to form and agree to OUR OWN set of human rights. And our set of human rights are not formed as way to ape the west, BUT out of the very principle of autonomy that we so value – for as we believe countries have no right bullying other countries to subscribe to their values, people also have no right to bully each other to accept their values. The human rights charter of ASEAN recognises both the autonomy of countries as well as the autonomy of individuals.

For more information, see the Gay Star News article “Malaysia lawyer says LGBT rights should be excluded from human rights declaration.”

Also see Amin’s full letter in Malaysiakini.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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