We need to aim for aim for greater effort in dialogue and consensus-building, say civil society organisations.
The government’s decision not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) underlines the gigantic demand on Malaysia’s newly revived democracy for greater effort in dialogue and consensus-building.
It is a loud and clear reminder that deeply rooted distrust across communities must be addressed before any change to the status quo can be made. Sadly, for narrow political interests, some quarters have exploited the need for change as a communal zero-sum game, pitting one community against another in the name of race and religion and threatening violence to shut down space for dissenting opinions and dialogue.
In the face of this gigantic challenge, Malaysians ought to deepen our commitment and effort to facilitate dialogue and forge a broad consensus on national interests, not just on ICERD or any other aspects of human rights, but to build a more inclusive and just society. In doing so, we ought to uphold five fundamental principles inherent in Malaysian life:
Islam and all other religions are compatible with human rights and against all forms of discrimination
We categorically reject the notion that Islam and other religions are incompatible with human rights. Neither does Islam nor other religions condone discrimination. Lest we forget, racial discrimination is explicitly denounced by Islam, and stressed by the Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon (Khutbatul Wada’) on 9 Dhul Hijjah 10AH (9 March 632) at Mount Arafat:
All mankind is from Adam, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white, except by piety and good action.
[Al-Bukhari, 1623, 1626, 6361, Muslim 98, Imam al-Tirmidhi 1628, 2046, 2085, Iman Ahmed Hanbal, Masnud 19774]
This explains why Article 11(A) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Charter provides for the elimination of “racial segregation and discrimination”. In this respect, we noted that 55 out of 57 OIC countries have ratified ICERD in contrast with 14 countries which have not.
Article 153 of the Federal Constitution is for affirmative action, not to perpetuate discrimination
We categorically stress that the provisions of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution on the “special position of the Malays and natives of the States of Sabah and Sarawak” is an instrument of affirmative action in response to the historical development and socio-economic circumstances in Malaysia. Merely ratifying ICERD or any other human rights convention and treatises will not render the article ineffective. Article 153 is meant to safeguards the rights and legitimate interest of all people groups for their socio-economic wellbeing and not to be a tool to perpetuate discrimination and promote segregation. .
Major changes affecting Malaysia must involve all Malaysians in deliberation and consultation
We acknowledge that there are deep disagreements and concerns as to how ratification of ICERD or other human rights instruments would affect existing institutions, policies and practices. Recognising this, it is imperative that any major changes affecting Malaysia must involve all Malaysians, from both West and East Malaysia, in deliberation and consultation for consensus-building.
In the case of ICERD, we note that the voices of East Malaysians did not appear until at a very late stage thus allowing the issue to be cast as though it only affected communal interests in West Malaysia, when East Malaysia is equally a stakeholder. A decision-making process that involves extensive deliberations and consultation is therefore essential.
The government must ensure an effective process of deliberations and consultation by putting in place a proper mechanism and procedures
We urge the Pakatan Harapan government to publish a green paper or white paper before introducing any important laws or policy change in accordance with Promise 16 of its Buku Harapan manifesto.
This should be followed-up with well-planned consultation and dialogue with all sectors of society whether in the form of roundtable dialogues or town-hall meetings, so that the aspirations and apprehensions of every individual and all communities may be taken into consideration.
Until such consultation and dialogue have taken place, the government should desist from making announcements on changes in major policies and legislation so as to encourage democratic participation and add confidence in the decision-making process.
There must be continual and intentional efforts by everyone to build an inclusive and just Malaysian society
Notwithstanding the polemics on the ICERD, we see room for building consensus on the elimination of discrimination in the context of making affirmative action more effective and targeted. Civil society, the corporate and private sector, together with the government, must play their roles in lifting and empowering marginalised communities and vulnerable groups such as the bottom 40%, irrespective of gender and whether they belong to a particular ethnic or religious group, within the region or beyond.
We seek also for continual efforts to be made in the quest for national unity and social cohesion within the diverse communities of Malaysia through education and community intervention programmes aimed at building bridges and understanding the multicultural way of Malaysian life. These are acts that will lead the country towards the practise of elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.
The statement is endorsed by the following member organisations of GBM:
1. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
3. Tindak Malaysia
4. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
5. Muslim Professional Forum (MPF)
6. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
7. Partners in Community Organising, Sabah (Pacos Trust)
8. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)
9. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
10. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
11. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
12. LLG Cultural Development Centre
13. Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (Ikram)
14. Tamil Foundation
15. Persatuan Bekas Siswazah Universiti dan Kolej di China, Malaysia (Liuhua)
16. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami)
17. Pusat Komas
18. Merdeka University Berhad (Education Centre)
19. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)