KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 ― Several lawyers have expressed their cynicism over Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) commitment to reform, after Putrajaya reversed its decision to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
They also told Malay Mail their hope that Putrajaya will continue to ratify the ICERD, much like other core human rights conventions, some time in the future.
Lawyer-activist New Sin Yew said Putrajaya should have remained steadfast in its promise, as the ICERD could have addressed the concerns of even those who are apprehensive about the international treaty.
“It’s sad that we have succumbed to fear-mongering and racial rethorics,” he told Malay Mailyesterday.
“The rights under Article 153 won’t be affected as long as there is a need to protect them and improve their standard of living. The affirmative action under Article 153 should continue until there is no longer a need to but that is a different debate altogether.
“Article 153 was introduced as a form of affirmative action when our constitution was first drafted to improve the life of the Malays and Bumiputera,” New added, referring to the constitutional provision on the special quota for Malays and natives in Sabah and Sarawak.
New said that the debates on ICERD had also already lost its substance and objectivity, as it had evolved into political and racial rhetorics instead.
“We could have made a significant step forward in improving our human rights track record. The government should reconsider its decision to not ratify ICERD and have a consultation process with all stakeholders to allay any fears,” he added.
Meanwhile, another lawyer-activist Siti Kasim denounced any idea of a “New Malaysia” following PH’s victory in the 14th general election.
“There’s no ‘Malaysia Baru’. All my predictions are coming true,” she told Malay Mail.
“This is very disappointing. The government should have shown leadership instead of giving up to the voices of extremism in the country.
“After 60 years, we need strong leadership to take us all out of the wilderness of racism and discrimination,” she added.
The Prime Minister’s Office made the announcement yesterday amid mass protests nationwide, vowing its commitment to uphold the so-called “social contract” instead.
In response, senior civil and Shariah lawyer Nizam Bashir downplayed any sinister meaning behind the “social contract”, saying the phrase is merely an umbrella term referencing what is the common good, and that all that citizens must depend on each other to live peacefully.
“It provides a practical basis for a government’s legitimacy to govern its citizens,” he said, while rubbishing arguments that ratifying the treaty would result in civil unrest.
Nizam said that he viewed Putrajaya’s move to not ratify ICERD, as a mere case of choosing its priorities, especially as it has to deal with depleted coffers following Barisan Nasional’s administration.
“It’s a question of priorities as opposed to ‘giving in’ to whichever fear-mongerer. The reality is that we have a new government and it is hobbled by the numerous unpleasant things which it has inherited from the previous government.
“Given those circumstances, is ratifying the ICERD its number one priority or or should it focus on recovering the billions stolen from the citizens of Malaysia?” he asked..
“The gates to the nation’s treasury were left open, unscrupulous individuals are attempting to run away with what has been stolen and it seems quite sensible to focus on recovering all that has been pilfered. So let’s come back to the issue of ICERD in due course and I truly hope, sooner rather than later,” Nizam added.
Malaysia is one of 14 countries in the world that has not signed or ratified ICERD, including Brunei, Myanmar, and North Korea.