Go on, insult your neighbour!

(The Malaysian Insider) — Were you surprised that the Cabinet scrapped the proposed Race Relations Act (RRA)? According to Bernama, the minister said the idea was dropped because "we don't have to unite the various races through the enforcement of laws, on the contrary, the community should be educated not only at the adult stage but at a much younger age. This will be more effective".

James Chin teaches at Monash University's Malaysia campus in Bandar Sunway, Petaling Jaya. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of institutions he is associated with. He can be contacted at
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He further added: "There is no element of force in our efforts to inculcate unity, the spirit of solidarity should be nurtured among the young people. There must be willingness in the feeling of love for others instead of using force."

Now I don't know about you but I'm guessing that the reason why the RRA was dropped is probably the same reason why Malaysia cannot ratify (or sign) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This convention is one of the oldest UN conventions presented to the UN general assembly in 1966.

Under article two, it states:

1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognised in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

2. Where not already provided for by existing legislative or other measures, each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take the necessary steps, in accordance with its constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Covenant, to adopt such laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognised in the present Covenant.

3. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:

(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognised are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;

(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;

(c) To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted."

Now, in Malaysia, we have the infamous NEP and affirmative action policies plus other regulations which come into conflict with this international convention. Some of these policies may be judged to be racial discrimination. Malaysians do not enjoy the full political rights granted under this convention so that is the reason why the government cannot sign it.

Connected to this international convention is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) another United Nations convention. The Convention commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races. The convention was adopted by in 1965, and entered into force on Jan 4, 1969. As of June 2, 2008, the Convention has been signed by 173 countries but not Malaysia.

The convention states that:

"Considering that the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 20 November 1963 (General Assembly resolution 1904 (XVIII)) solemnly affirms the necessity of speedily eliminating racial discrimination throughout the world in all its forms and manifestations and of securing understanding of and respect for the dignity of the human person,

Convinced that any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere,

Reaffirming that discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin is an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and is capable of disturbing peace and security among peoples and the harmony of persons living side by side even within one and the same State,

Convinced that the existence of racial barriers is repugnant to the ideals of any human society,

Alarmed by manifestations of racial discrimination still in evidence in some areas of the world and by governmental policies based on racial superiority or hatred, such as policies of apartheid, segregation or separation,

Resolved to adopt all necessary measures for speedily eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations, and to prevent and combat racist doctrines and practices in order to promote understanding between races and to build an international community free from all forms of racial segregation and racial discrimination"

Need I say more? Since we have not signed any of these convention it’s perfectly okay in Malaysia to insult your neighbour using their ethnic status. Hence there are plenty of racial jokes here that you can repeat; from calling other Malaysians "pendatang" to "Go back to India" to "Go back to China" to "when you see a snake and … who do you kill first?" Who cares about the Sedition Act since it is applied selectively.

It’s also okay to have laws and regulations that divide the population into two halves and you can have 1st class Malaysians, 2nd class Malaysians and so on. You can also divide the country according to the various religions and so on.

In fact you can discriminate in all areas of life and we Malaysians do it all the time. Discrimination is now part and parcel of Malaysian culture so much so that we even write jokes about it.

Thus, for those middle-class pretenders who are fighting for RRA to be adopted in Malaysia, I can only wish you good luck. If the government has no intention of signing international conventions on discrimination and social and political rights, I doubt it will accept RRA.