Let the dust settle on ICERD, then try again

Out of the 57 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries, 55 have ratified or acceded to ICERD, with only Malaysia and Brunei not having done so.

G25 would like to remind the public to keep their emotions in check regarding the issue of Malaysia’s accession to ICERD. The prime minister in his statement has laid the matter to rest by stating that the government will not accede to it, while at the same time reminding all races of the social contract. Any effort to exploit this issue further will be construed as a cheap political and selfish ploy to disrupt the peace and stability we Malaysians have diligently built and safeguarded since our independence, and rebuilt and fortified once more since the May 13 racial riots.

G25 regrets that ICERD has been used by various groups to incite hateful speech, threats and violence rather than intellectual discourse and civil discussion, which is unbecoming of the civilised people we claim to be. We urge all Malaysians to shun the actions of those who are determined to threaten the peace and harmony we enjoy in the country, and to continue defending and cultivating a multiracial society worthy of a New Malaysia.

While G25 supports and encourages the accession of the six UN human rights treaties to which it is not yet a party, we also understand the reason why the prime minister has chosen to put Malaysia’s accession to ICERD on hold out of concern for national security.

G25 notes that the opposition to ICERD is mainly due to the misconception that its accession will lead to further international pressure on Malaysia to remove Article 153 from the Federal Constitution and deprive the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak of their special privileges (in education, public sector employment, business permits and licences), forcing them to compete on equal terms with the other races.

In addition to Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, the government has also implemented affirmative action policies specific to Malaysia that have been in existence since pre-independence to ensure that the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak are given a level playing field to compete on equal terms with the other races as the country develops. According to legal experts, ICERD does not prohibit government intervention to implement special measures in order to promote social equality and economic justice, as it is essential for sustainable growth in every country.

Specifically, Article 1 (4) of ICERD states: “Special measures taken for the sole purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups or individuals requiring such protection as may be necessary in order to ensure such groups or individuals equal treatment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, shall not be deemed racial discrimination, provided, however, that such measures do not, as a consequence, lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups and that they shall not be continued after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved.”

We can conclude from the provision of Article 1 (4) of ICERD that Article 153 of our Federal Constitution is not inconsistent with the aims of ICERD since it seeks to bring about effective or substantive equality, and not merely formal or superficial equality. In addition, the government has also assured the Malaysian public that Article 153 of our Federal Constitution will not be abolished.

ICERD is also not against the religion of Islam as those who are opposed to ICERD have argued. In fact, the majority of Muslim countries have ratified ICERD including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Turkey and Egypt. Out of the 57 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries, 55 have ratified or acceded to ICERD, with only Malaysia and Brunei not having done so.

That being said, G25 supports the government’s pledge for institutional reforms to lay the foundation for a just and accountable administration of the country. We hope that once the dust has settled and the intent and provisions of ICERD are made clearer to the public, Malaysia’s accession to ICERD can be reviewed once more.

We urge all groups and individuals who are opposed to the accession of ICERD to read its articles in full to fully understand that it will not affect the Malay rights as entrenched in Article 153 of our Federal Constitution. Nor will it affect the special position of Islam as the official religion of the federation as provided for under Article 3 (1) of our Federal Constitution. We ask that these groups remind their Muslim supporters that racism, violence and vulgarity have no place in Islam, nor in our #MalaysiaBaru.

The essence of Islam is peace, compassion and justice and it is in that spirit that G25 will work with other civil society groups to keep open the dialogue on ICERD and other international treaties with a view to educating the public on the merits and advantages of adopting them in Malaysia.

G25 is a movement of eminent Malay moderates.