PETALING JAYA: Rights activists and academics have urged Putrajaya not to pull the plug on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) just yet, saying the government should explain the treaty to the people instead of announcing the end of the road.
Ryan Chua, programme coordinator of human rights group Pusat Komas, said Putrajaya must work to counter any false narratives about the agreement, which would oblige parties to eliminate racial discrimination in all forms including in public institutions and government policies.
“The convention (upholds) international standards and good practices of non-discrimination,” he said.
“We are disappointed that the government had to take this stand because of the misrepresentations and allegations about ICERD.”
He was responding to Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah who recently reiterated the government’s decision not to ratify ICERD following opposition from Malay groups and political parties who warned that it was a threat to Malaysia’s affirmative action policy.
However, he said the battle to ratify the Rome Statute would continue, adding that its opponents had manipulated the issue through fear-mongering.
Pointing to Saifuddin’s defence of the Rome Statute, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Azmi Hassan said the minister should take a similar approach to ICERD.
“If the minister laments that the main reason the Rome Statute was rejected was misinformation spread by certain quarters, and says his ministry will disseminate the truth, a similar strategy can also be implemented for ICERD,” he said.
He added that Putrajaya, not the public, is to blame for the confusion over the treaty.
Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya suggested holding town hall sessions to obtain feedback from the public, saying this would allay fear among the Malays and dispel the perception that Putrajaya is “rushing” into such matters.
He also criticised Saifuddin for his remark on “kangkung” professors, saying it would not help matters.
“Such labelling will only worsen the situation and will not solve the issue at hand,” he said.
“Dialogue and discussion among academics and those who agree and disagree is the best way forward.”
Faridah Jalil, an academic and expert in constitutional law, said the issue was “very contentious” and predicted that it would take some time before Malaysia signs ICERD.
“The best approach at the moment is to revise local laws and make them in line with ICERD, and to gauge public interest,” she told FMT.
“But the executive will again have to go through public criticism and scrutiny.”
Gun Kut, who is part of the 18-member Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a United Nations body tasked with monitoring the implementation of ICERD said:
“ICERD is considered to be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life of citizens by protecting the right of non-discrimination for all vulnerable groups, whether in majority or in minority.
“However it is up to the governments of UN member states to decide when is the best moment to sign a convention. I am sure that when political circumstances are more favourable, the Malaysian government will be able to convince the public that ICERD will benefit the whole society.”