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ICERD: Malaysia should not be defined by outsiders, says Muslim group

Protest rallies have been held against the ratification of ICERD before Putrajaya’s announcement yesterday.

PETALING JAYA: Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra), a coalition of Islamic NGOs, has praised Putrajaya’s decision not to ratify the ICERD and said it showed an insightful understanding of the prevailing socio-political realities in the country.

Its chief executive Azril Mohd Amin disagreed with talks that the government’s decision to not ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) represents the death of the promise of a new Malaysia.

“We find this attitude strange; is the New Malaysia to be defined by outsiders or by Malaysians themselves? Is their interpretation of Malaysia Baru such that the country must adhere to legal obligations outlined by foreign nations, rather than one in which Malaysia adopts laws in accordance with the specific needs and circumstances of our society?

“We believe that non-ratification represents a wise preservation of Malaysian sovereignty, and an insightful understanding of the prevailing socio-political realities in our country,” he said in a statement.

Azril said implicitly in the loud disappointment and criticism of the government’s decision was a presumption that Malaysia should be governed, essentially, by the consensus of foreign powers, and not by its own authority.

“This is an unacceptable vision for our society, and we congratulate the administration for their independence and sensitivity to the unique Malaysian reality.

“This decision should inspire new hope in the promise of Malaysia Baru, not pessimism,” he added.

Azril’s views, however, are not shared by other civil society groups who expressed disappointment over Putrajaya’s decision.

In a statement by Pusat Komas, endorsed by 18 other NGOs, they said the controversy surrounding ICERD was due to Pakatan Harapan’s lack of commitment in addressing the myths and misconceptions carried by opposition groups.

The statement, endorsed by NGOs such as Suaram, Sisters in Islam and Bebas, said that ICERD was not inconsistent with the Federal Constitution nor does it undermine the power of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the sultans.

They added that Article 1(4) and 2(2) of the UN convention seeks to bring effective equality, and not superficial equality, and did not contradict the temporary special measures, underlined by Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.

“It is only when the provisions of Article 153 are (mis)interpreted as permanently entrenching ‘Malay rights’ or ‘Bumiputera rights’ would it be inconsistent with the aims of ICERD.”

They said Article 2(2) of ICERD acknowledged that in appropriate situations, governments can enforce special and concrete measures to ensure development and protection of certain racial groups and individuals.

“It is imperative for the Pakatan Harapan government not to be overpowered by dissidents and stick to its commitments to ensure equality, non-discrimination and justice for all,” they stated.

Putrajaya yesterday said it would not ratify ICERD, amid intense opposition from Malay rights groups and political parties who warned that the global treaty was a threat to Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.

“The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution which includes the social contract agreed upon by representatives of all races during the founding of this nation,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The debate over ICERD erupted following a speech by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the United Nations General Assembly in September, where he said the Pakatan Harapan government would ratify remaining human rights conventions endorsed by the world body.

The United Nations convention provides individuals worldwide with a mechanism for complaints over issues of racial discrimination, among others, and is enforceable against member states.

Specifically, it obliges parties to eliminate racial discrimination in all forms including in public institutions as well as in government policies.

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