Two big rallies set on same day

(The Star) – This weekend, two major gatherings will take place in the Klang Valley, with both sides rallying to uphold human rights in their own context.

As the anti-Icerd (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) protesters gather in downtown Kuala Lumpur at Dataran Merdeka to celebrate the non-ratification of the United Nations covenant, in Padang Timur, Petaling Jaya, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will be the chief guest in a celebration of universal human rights.

The event in Petaling Jaya, which the organisers contend was planned three months ago, is organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

The coalition of Malay NGOs Ummah, the key organiser of the anti-Icerd rally, however, said they were not aware of the event in Petaling Jaya.

The anti-Icerd rally will begin at 2pm and end at 6pm that day. Suhakam’s Human Rights Day gathering is expected to begin at 9am in the morning and end at 3pm.

Organisers of both gatherings, which have been given the greenlight by the authorities, say they welcome everyone to join.

At the same time, both sides are also calling for the other to call off their Saturday event.

In terms of people participation, the anti-Icerd rally is expected to outnumber the event in Petaling Jaya.

Ummah secretariat chief Ami­nuddin Yahya is expecting half a million participants. Umno, PAS and other Malay-rights NGOs have said they will bring in the numbers.

In a development that is likely to help boost the numbers, the PAS-led Kelantan state government has declared Sunday a public holiday to allow anti-Icerd protesters to attend the event.

Terengganu, also run by PAS, is expected to follow suit.

In contrast, although expecting the Prime Minister and the whole Cabinet along with civil servants and the public, Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph expects about only 3,000 people to attend the celebration in Petaling Jaya.

Padang Timur, however, can accommodate about 10,000 people at one time, said Petaling Jaya City Council.

Suhakam claimed it had planned the event months ago.

Its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said that coincidentally, the date given by the Prime Minister’s Office is Dec 8, which just happened to fall on the same date as the anti-Icerd rally in Kuala Lumpur.

Razali said the event that is open to the public is being held to mark Human Rights Day, universally celebrated on Dec 10.

“The attendance of the Prime Minister is pertinent as not many world leaders will attend a celebration of human rights in a public gathering.

“We could only get the PM (to attend) on Dec 8. I can’t help it if people are putting the two (anti-Icerd rally with Umno and PAS, and Human Rights Day event by Suhakam) together.

“This is a different Malaysia and we need to sensitise Malaysians on the need for human rights. We now have a healthy modicum of human rights, although we have not reached the ideal state and we should celebrate it.

“This is not a rally to complain to the government – this is a celebration of human rights in this country,” said Razali.

Joseph, who is in charge of the event, said it is important to note the event is not a pro-Icerd rally and is being held in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a historic document adopted by the United Nations.

“This is not a pro-Icerd rally. As a member of the United Nations, all countries, including Malaysia, declared their aspirations that they too believe in human rights standards.

“We planned our event three months ago, before the issue of Icerd cropped up. Ours is a pro-human rights rally. We initially wanted to hold it at Dataran Merdeka but we settled for Padang Timur and we arranged the permit from the authorities one month ago,” he said.

Joseph said invitations to all parliamentarians – both Pakatan Harapan and opposition – were sent out a month ago.

He also said there is space for both rallies to take place on the same day, albeit both claiming they are for human rights in a different context.

“Suhakam champions human rights and the rights of the other group, but human rights do not give you a free pass to rally with violence and to go against the rights of others,” said Joseph.

In response, anti-Icerd organiser Aminuddin said it would be better if Suhakam called off its event.

“Come and support us instead,” he said.

Icerd became a bone of contention recently when the Pakatan government mooted to ratify the UN covenant, but the opposition parties Umno and PAS said it went against Article 153 of the Federal Consti­tution which upheld the rights of the bumiputra. The government on Nov 23 decided it would not ratify Icerd.