Racism is as contagious as Covid-19

Rohingya children in Malaysia are among those given refugee protection by the United Nations. (Bernama pic)

The international community commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, on March 21 each year.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) acknowledges that there are, undoubtedly, challenges in maintaining the country’s stability and peace given its multi-racial society; with a mix of many religions and ethnicity, some being the majority and others are minorities. We remain convinced that this diversity can be the strength and unity, for a nation like ours.

Suhakam reminds the government of Malaysia of the fiduciary relation that exists between it and the citizens, and that the government has an imperative duty in ensuring that Article 8 (1) of the Federal Constitution that ‘All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law’, is upheld and protected regardless in times of peace or crises.

Removing discrimination is a vital step in terms of paving the way towards achieving equality for all persons, regardless of race, colour or country of origin.

Often times it takes a serious situation, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, with Malaysia as one of the most impacted countries in Southeast Asia, to remind that every human being is equally vulnerable to disease and it takes the combined effort of every member of society to overcome this enormous challenge.

Efforts to combat the virus will only be successful, if approached holistically, including by protecting the most vulnerable and neglected people in society, both medically and economically.

Quoting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet “Each country affected should take appropriate steps in dealing with xenophobia or stigmatisation”; Suhakam commends the government and authorities, which have focused their efforts on containing the disease, to identify and treat suspected or infected persons, regardless if they are Malaysians or those from the marginalised or migrant communities.

These are challenging times. Suhakam reiterates, Malaysia must redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. Racism and Covid-19 are both contagious and can be harmful.

We need to strengthen relationships in our communities and support each other, so everyone may be safe. Promoting greater respect and trust among different groups within our society must be a shared responsibility.

Malaysia as a whole should remove all prejudices and learn to accept each other for their differences if it is to succeed in beating this pandemic or to achieve all that the country sets out to do in the future.

Suhakam is the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.