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Next step for Malaysia: ‘leave no one behind’ in realising rights to water and sanitation

Malaysia: water & sanitation

27 November 2018

Malay version

KUALA LUMPUR (27 November 2018) – A UN human rights expert has urged the Government of Malaysia to “leave no one behind” and keep a close eye on reducing inequalities in access to water and sanitation services.

“Malaysia’s performance in the field of water and sanitation is excellent, with outstanding figures signalling a near-universal coverage of water and sanitation services, particularly for urban areas, and I would like to commend Malaysia for this,” Heller said in a statement after a visit to the country.

“The next step for Malaysia is to focus on those who are off the radar and outside this coverage. I stress that all the population in Malaysia is entitled to access water and sanitation without discrimination of any kind,” he said.
Some people were excluded from access because they were economically vulnerable, or lived in informal settlements, rural areas or certain regions.

“When people are undocumented, stateless or in irregular situations or when they are gender non-conforming, a pattern of discrimination in the access to services also takes place,” said Heller, who is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Heller stressed that the inclusion of all groups of society through the human rights lens is the key to providing equal access to water and sanitation without discrimination. This is in line with the underlying principle of ‘leaving no one behind’, which clearly resonates with several commitments by the Government of Malaysia, including the current Government’s promises under its manifesto and 11th Development Plan.

Another way to say ‘leave no one behind’ is to have ‘everyone on board’ and to be able to keep track of how the Sustainable Development goals and targets are met, especially for people who are non-existent in national surveys or those who are all too often forgotten and ignored”, the Special Rapporteur said.

To bridge these gaps and to fulfil a promise to make Malaysia’s human rights record respected worldwide, the Government must know who is left behind and focus on those neglected groups within the institutional and policy framework of the water and sanitation sector. “One initial task is to monitor and identify those who are left behind and not reached by services. It seems only logical to me that no Government can come up with an adequate policy if there is no information.

Simply put, there cannot be adequate policies for what we do not know,” Heller said.

Heller also raised concerns related to the rights to water and sanitation of people affected by large-scale dams and other mega-projects.

“There are human rights concerns related to water and sanitation at various stages of the mega-projects such as large-scale dams, from its planning, approval, construction as well as both short-term and long-term operation. I urge the Government to carry out a human rights impacts assessment at each stage, with meaningful participation of those affected and in a transparent manner, facilitating easy access to information,” he said.

Heller will submit a report to the UN General Assembly in 2019 focused on the impact of mega-projects on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation ­- an important issue related to the access to water for the population of Malaysia.

He also raised concerns about a recent event in the country: “The announcement of the Government of Malaysia not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is an unfortunate step and the opposite one moving away from the commitment of the Government.”

During his two-week country visit, Heller met with representatives of the central and local government and members of civil society organisations and spoke to individuals living in rural and urban areas, as well as indigenous groups. He visited Gua Musang, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Miri, Putrajaya and Sandakan.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a full report of his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in September 2019. Heller will further review how Malaysia has moved forward on the human rights to water and sanitation.


Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil) is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, appointed in November 2014. He is a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and was previously Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014. Learn more:

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Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Malaysia

For more information and media requests, please contact:
During and after the mission: Ms. Ahreum Lee +41 79 201 0119 /
[email protected]
For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: