LGBT Rights in Malaysia: Will TPP Take Precedence over Stated Obama Administration Principles?

For Immediate Release: September 15, 2015

Contact: Jerame Davis,, 202-637-5014

LGBT Rights in Malaysia: Will TPP Take Precedence over Stated Obama Administration Principles?

Washington – After facing bipartisan criticism for placing its pro-TPP agenda ahead of human trafficking concerns in Malaysia, the Obama Administration is facing another test case of its priorities and principles.  This time, Malaysia’s record and rhetoric on LGBT issues is under scrutiny.  While serving as Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term, Hillary Clinton famously asserted, “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”  Yet when it comes to TPP and Malaysia, it remains unclear whether the Obama Administration will continue to live up to this lofty assertion.

As the Washington Blade recently wrote, “Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last week said his country’s government will not defend LGBT rights and other issues that are not within the ‘context of Islam.’”  As the Blade reports:

“Malaysia is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.

Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month during his meeting with Najib in Kuala Lumpur raised the case of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a leading opposition figure who is serving a five-year prison sentence after his conviction under the country’s anti-sodomy law. State Department spokesperson Julia Straker told the Blade the U.S. Embassy in the Malaysian capital “meets regularly with civil society groups to discuss LGBTI issues.”

A judge on the Malaysian Court of Appeals last November issued a landmark ruling that declared unconstitutional a law in the state of Negeri Sembilan that bans Muslim men from wearing women’s clothes in public. Officials appealed the decision, and the Malaysia Federal Court on Aug. 13 heard their appeal.”

The heightened concerns about LGBT rights and Malaysia follow on the heels of public and bipartisan backlash to the nation’s upgraded ranking in the annual State Department ranking of countries on human trafficking issues.  At a recent Senate Foreign Relations hearing, a bipartisan group of Senators blasted the Obama Administration for allowing political and TPP calculations to influence Malaysia’s upgraded ranking in the State Department’s report. As The Hill newspaper wrote, “Senators in both parties accused the State Department on Thursday of protecting trade goals over victims of human trafficking.” Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) encapsulated the emerging consensus that, “this year’s TIP report was under exceptional pressure to shape the rankings to meet political demands, not the facts on the ground,” and that, when compared to the authoritative facts, it appeared that the Malaysia upgrade was “the result of external pressure.”

Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, announced in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that Malaysia’s upgraded ranking occurred “undermines the TIP [Trafficking in Persons] report [and]… the goals, the presidentially stated goals, of the TPP in terms of moving those countries in Asia into a better place.”

“Fixing the ranking to match the desired outcome, if true, undermines our country’s credibility on many other human rights issues,” remarked Pride at Work Executive Director, Jerame Davis. “That very much includes the President’s stated goals with regard to LGBT equality internationally. Malaysia’s terrible record on LGBT rights is only surpassed by Brunei’s among TPP countries.”

Malaysia’s inclusion in the TPP agreement is also posing additional headaches for backers of the deal. An analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently assessed that Malaysia is facing domestic political considerations that could hurt the TPP’s completion, as well. As Politico reported, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razik ‘appears to lack the political juice to push through compromises at home on such politically sensitive issues as government procurement and state-owned enterprises’ as part of the TPP pact, per the CSIS assessment.