Why Malaysia should ratify ICERD

— Simon Sipaun
The Malaysian Insider
Oct 31, 2012

Oct 31 — PROHAM is a new human rights NGO formed by former Suhakam and the Police Commission commissioners. It was launched on 21st March, 2011.

Incidentally, 21st March every year is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This RTD will go a long way towards realizing PROHAM’s hope to see that Malaysia will, sooner rather than later become a party to the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1969 (ICERD).

This move represents a realistic approach to the issue rather than sweeping it under the carpet and pretend it is not there.

2. I am unable to find one good reason why Malaysia should persistently continue to be not a party to ICERD.

Any government which refuses to be a party to ICERD is a government that supports racism and racial discrimination.

How else can I interpret such state of affairs? 175 countries are currently party to ICERD including many Islamic countries.

Only 15 countries have yet to be a party to ICERD and Malaysia is one of them. It is in the company of countries like North Korea, Myanmar and a dozen of authoritarian countries.

The 175 cannot be all wrong and the 15 all right. It is very refreshing, however, to see Myanmar making fast progress in a relatively short period of time in the promotion and protection of human rights. It has recently established a National Human Rights Commission which was unthinkable not too long ago. I will not be surprised if Myanmar becomes a party to ICERD sooner than expected.

Malaysia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council(HRC). Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It would be hypocritical of Malaysia to be in the HRC and does not become a party to ICERD. It is not walking the talk. The observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reminds us of our individual and collective responsibility to promote and protect this ideal.

3. Article 1 of ICERD defines ‘racial discrimination’ as ‘any distinction, exclusion, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.’

Think about this ladies and gentlemen and ask yourself whether there is racial discrimination in this country or not. Relate this to the idea of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ and the affirmative action and policy for the Malays who form the majority population and control everything associated with government. The communities which really need assistance by way of affirmative action are the orang asli, Penans and other indigenous minorities. One objective way to determine the extent to which racial discrimination exists or does not exist in this country is to examine what statistical data indicate regarding who and which community is in control of the economic, social, cultural, civil and political life.

4. Racial discrimination is a form of human rights violation. It retards the country’s progress in a highly globalized and competitive world. It triggers a brain drain situation.

There are no less than 1.5 million Malaysians with tertiary education who have left the country. It is not conducive to the creation and maintenance of genuine national unity and integration. It generates unhappiness, frustration and resentment. It stunts meritocracy. All these consequences of racial discrimination become more intense as the literacy standard improves and more and more people have access to the internet.

5. In a paper (1st July 2012) entitled ‘institutional racism and religious freedom in Malaysia’ prepared by the Human Rights Foundation of Malaysia it provides a variety of statistics, news articles, reports, academic reports, anecdotes etc to demonstrate the scale and depth of the discrimination that non-Malays and non-Muslims face. Amongst others the following indicators are mentioned:

i) The federal constitution establishes 2 classes of citizens through Article 153, the root of the racist system.

ii) The State sanctions racist and religious extreme laws and policies.

iii) The State controls the government administration through one racial and religious group.

iv) The State channels most funds for economic, educational and social development programs, licenses, permits etc to one race.

There are some more in the list. I have not seen any government rebuttals to the allegations.

6. I also received an article forwarded to me through the internet by a friend (13 January, 2012) listing 55 items which suggest racism does exist in this country.

The title of the article is ‘Racial Discrimination in Malaysia : Don’t believe? Then look at the list.’ I do not know the name of the writer. I like to share with you 7 out of the 55 items. These are:

i) Of the 5 major banks, only 1 is multi-racial. The rest are controlled by Malays.

ii) 99 per cent of Petronas directors are Malays.

iii) 99 per cent of 2000 Petronas gasoline stations are owned by Malays.

iv) 98 per cent of civil servants in Putrajaya are Malays.

v) 95 per cent of government contracts are given to Malays.

vi) All 10 public universities VCs are Malays.

vii) A building plan for a Catholic church in Shah Alam has been waiting for approval for 20 years. As at 2004, there was still no approval.

I do not know to what extent the allegations are factual. However I have not seen any government rebuttal.

7. Debates and allegations of racial discrimination in Malaysia should subside the moment the country becomes a party to ICERD.

PROHAM therefore strongly recommends that the Malaysian government becomes a party to ICERD without further delay. If there is no racial discrimination and racism in the country then the government should show the world that this is so by becoming a party to ICERD.

* Tan Sri Simon Sipaun is PROHAM chairman.

* Views shared at a Roundtable Discussion on ICERD on Oct 31, 2012 at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

  1. #1 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 1 November 2012 - 9:51 am

    Well said Sipaun.

    But what did you do when you were in the Human Rights Commission?

    What can you do now as the head of PROHAM ?

    Did and does the government listen to all of you or were you all just decorative white elephants and members of a showcase club?

    Why are the citizens very, very restless and uneasy of late despite having many ‘wonderful’ institutions in place ?

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 1 November 2012 - 10:39 am

    Why would govt be party to ICERD? The whole of BN’s politics in last 50 over yrs is based on race. Even today UMNO is ratcheting up race rhetoric for GE 13. Think one can make them drop race indirectly, and so easily, from their politics by just exhorting govt to sign up ICERD? They are certainly not naive. Neither should anyone to think that BN govt could ever be party to ICERD. In fact I don’t think that even PR would dare commit to make govt a party to ICERD if it won the election.

  3. #3 by cseng on Thursday, 1 November 2012 - 10:52 am

    //I am unable to find one good reason why Malaysia should persistently continue to be not a party to ICERD//.. Sipaun

    There is no good reason, but plenty of bad ones. BN can’t work, if people are not boxed into different races and religions.

    Should Sipaun has the ‘moral’ and ‘courage’ to elaborate into these realities, his article would not sound so much like ‘beggars in own land’, a land, where ‘institutionalised racism’ still the policies.

    If people are not boxed and divided, they tend to have clearer mind to look into governance, corruption and abuses.

    Therefore, screen ‘Tanda Putra’, deploy the fear mongers, deploy bogeymen deceiving these boxes of race with ‘beggars in own land’, ‘hudud’, etc. then close up with ‘maintain peace and stability’ vote the box of yours.

    ‘Better devil that you know than angle that you don’t’, right?. See, how boxed mind works, devil or angle doesn’t matter, are you whom I know? are we the same box?

    Devils triumph only because good-men did nothing.

    Off late, good-men from the BAR lead the walk, good-men from the press gave up and go-online. These are profession ‘moral’ obligations, own up ‘courage’ for what they believe right… sign of real ‘development’ of democracy.

    Champions of human right and racism, come this GE13, shows your ‘moral courage’ or keeping begging with your ‘inspiring’ articles.

  4. #4 by dcasey on Thursday, 1 November 2012 - 4:41 pm

    Any government which refuses to be a party to ICERD is a government that supports racism and racial discrimination.

    Any government which refuses to be a party to BERSIH is a government that support dirty and unfair elections.

    Any government which refuses to respect a bi-partisan system in parliament is a government that support a self serving, self surviving authoritarian regime.

    How else can I interpret such state of affairs?

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