Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government headed by a prime minister selected through periodic, multiparty elections. The National Front, a coalition of political parties dominated by the United Malays National Organization, has held power since independence in 1957. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. The government abridged the citizens' right to change their government: opposition parties faced significant restrictions on freedom of assembly and access to the media in the most recent national elections in March 2008 but nevertheless made significant gains at the national and state levels. No independent body investigated deaths that occurred during apprehension by police or while in police custody. Other problems included police abuse of detainees, overcrowded prisons, use of four statutes to arrest and detain persons without charge or trial, and persistent questions about the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. The government continued to restrict freedoms of the press, association, and assembly and placed some restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Although the government passed antitrafficking legislation during the year, the country was a destination and transit point for trafficking in women and girls for the purposes of prostitution and domestic servitude. Court backlogs and limitations on the right to organize unions in some industries impeded workers' rights.
A more open and democratic Malaysia that protects human rights will be a more effective partner in security and economic arenas. The U.S. government focuses on fostering a more vibrant civil society and a freer media, promoting strong and accountable democratic institutions, and combating trafficking in persons. Long-term success depends on incremental improvement in the application of the rule of law, a more independent judiciary, and the diffusion of checks and balances in society through stronger protections for freedoms of the press, assembly, and expression and a more robust civil society. There is still much to be done, including encouragement of the adoption of key international covenants such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Additional training and assistance should accelerate these positive trends and assist the government in enforcing the new anti-trafficking in persons law.
U.S. officials use bilateral meetings, speeches, and interviews to highlight the importance of enhanced democratic institutions. The United States supports civil society activities related to democracy, including the role of the media in the democratic process. Other democracy programming includes nonpartisan projects that promote political participation among urban youths and engagement in the electoral process. The U.S. government also used the International Visitor Leadership Program to focus on women's participation in the electoral process, citizen participation in a democracy, and the rule of law for state and local government.
U.S. efforts to promote media freedom center on the availability and flow of public information. The U.S. government supports an NGO that worked to promote open discourse on legislative and governmental matters. Another program focuses on strengthening independent media. In 2007 the U.S. government brought a journalist from the United States to conduct media training for approximately 800 journalists and journalism students.
U.S. officials use bilateral meetings and speeches to promote greater respect for human rights. The U.S. government uses meetings with the government, civil society, and international organizations to increase the protection for vulnerable groups such as refugees and victims of trafficking in persons. The U.S. government collaborates with NGOs and international organizations to assist with the health and education needs of refugees in Malaysia and to resettle refugees into the United States. The United States works with the government, international NGOs, and civil society to combat problems of trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation and labor. The U.S. government shares information on international best practices for combating trafficking in persons with the Royal Malaysian Police. The U.S. government funds law enforcement training that included components for combating trafficking in persons. The U.S. government also uses the IVLP to enhance the capacity for law enforcement, civil society, and local NGOs to combat trafficking in persons.