24 July 2020

QUEZON CITY – The national human rights institutions (NHRIs) of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines – Komnas HAM, SUHAKAM, and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) respectively – inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Friday, 24 July 2020, to strengthen efforts in addressing statelessness and the protection of the rights and welfare of stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness in Sabah.

The said signing was done remotely through a web conference, with each NHRI joining in from their respective countries, and was aired live on their official social media pages.

The new MOU builds on the previous efforts of Komnas HAM and SUHAKAM by adding CHR as a main signatory from being an observer in last year’s cooperative agreement.

The exact number of individuals who may be affected by statelessness in the context of Sabah is difficult to establish because of the complexity of mixed migration and geopolitical issues surrounding the region. Stateless persons are confronted with challenges of lacking or no documentation, as is the case in Sabah where many stateless persons are of Indonesian and Filipino descent. This scenario makes them vulnerable to dehumanizing crimes of trafficking, harassment, and exploitation.

Stateless persons who are “not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”, are often deprived of their basic human rights, such as equality before the law and rights to work, education, healthcare, and to own a property.

Initial steps towards fully documenting stateless persons were already taken by the said NHRIs, alongside representatives from their respective governments, starting with a workshop in 2019.

In the coming months, Komnas HAM, SUHAKAM, and CHR will increasingly engage government agencies and stakeholders in their respective countries. Regional and international collaboration is also being sought, including a case referral mechanism. As for the Philippines, site visits are also eyed in the Sarangani Province, Davao, and Zamboanga in Mindanao as part of the NHRI cross-border community engagement in these affected areas.

As NHRIs, however, their focus is on human rights and humanitarian issues on the ground, and they always stand ready to bridge dialogues among governments and relevant stakeholders.

As such, it crucial and timely that the three NHRIs are intensifying efforts to work closely with their respective governments, as well as other stakeholders, towards ensuring that stateless persons are treated with dignity and their rights are upheld, such as access to asylum and justice, decent work, education, healthcare, freedom of movement, liberty, and non-refoulement among many others.