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ARL Urges International Federation of Library Associations to Consider Civil Liberties in Conference Site Selection

Kuala Lumpur, image CC0 by Paweł Szymankiewicz

Research libraries are committed to such foundational values of the library profession as diversity, inclusion, equity, access to information, free expression, privacy, and social justice.

Upholding these core values, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is deeply concerned about the selection of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as the site of the 2018 International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress (WLIC).

ARL’s concern with Malaysia as a WLIC site is twofold. First is the danger that attendance would pose to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, or intersex (LGBTQI). Malaysian law prescribes extensive, punitive actions for sexual activity by LGBTQI people, including lashing and up to 20 years imprisonment. Moreover, these penalties may be compounded in certain jurisdictions that have more fundamentalist religious laws in place. In addition, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, is a vocal opponent of civil rights for LGBTQI individuals. The Association fears the safety of WLIC participants who identify as LGBTQI may be compromised due to the laws and political climate in Malaysia.

Second, the Malaysian government endorses and engages in censorship and does not honor confidentiality. Both freedom of expression and respect of confidentiality will be necessary to productive discussions at the upcoming WLIC. The potential dampening effect of censorship and lack of confidentiality should concern all WLIC 2018 participants.

Representatives of ARL sent a letter expressing these concerns to IFLA president Glòria Pérez-Salmerón. In the letter, Mary Ann Mavrinac, ARL president; Gerald Beasley, chair of the ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee; and Ed Van Gemert, chair of the ARL Advocacy and Public Policy Committee, stated:

we urge the IFLA governing board to consider local legislation and policy in the selection of future sites for the Congress. If IFLA honors its stated core values, then there must be diligence in selecting sites that allow for the safety of all attendees as well as full participation, without fear of reprisal. We also recommend that, in light of Malaysia’s discriminatory laws, it should be stated by IFLA that the usual expectation for Standing Committee members to attend is explicitly suspended for WLIC in 2018.

The Association continues to advocate for the IFLA Board to select future WLIC sites that are safe for all attendees and to explicitly suspend expectations for section and standing committee members to attend the 2018 WLIC.

ARL added in a subsequent letter to IFLA:

It is important to note that Malaysia will benefit economically as the host of the 2018 WLIC Congress, which fuels the ability of the country’s political leadership to impose such repressive policies. This seems contrary to [IFLA’s] goal of wanting to “strengthen and energize” library colleagues in Malaysia. We suggest that this also be taken into account when selecting new venues for the WLIC.

About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 123 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.