KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has urged the government to "accede and comply" with the six unratified human rights conventions, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd).
Chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail (pic) said while the government has to develop a strong domestic legal framework before pursuing ratification of any international agreements, they had to take a first step.
"It is incumbent upon the government to take the courageous first step to accede and live up to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's promise to have Malaysia respected internationally for its human rights record. We have not forgotten this promise.
"Of course governments do not exist in a vacuum and are buffeted by conflicting demands of their constituencies, interest groups and other variables," he said during a Suhakam event with the press on Thursday (Feb 21).
Malaysia has only signed, with reservations, three out of nine human rights conventions.
Razali also said the assumption that human rights was a Western agenda was incorrect.
"People fear change, especially if they believe they are not ready and that change will disadvantage them. It is when this occurs that people react strongly without trying even to understand a different perspective," he said.
Razali also said Suhakam's acceptance by the past government was no more than a "necessary evil" needed for international reckoning or domestically, as a halfway house in Malaysia.
The debate over Icerd erupted after a speech by Dr Mahathir at the UN General Assembly in September last year where he said the Pakatan Harapan government would ratify the remaining human rights conventions endorsed by the world body.
However, the government made a U-turn on this promise after several parties had vocally opposed Icerd, saying it contravened the Federal Constitution, particularly Article 153, which touches on the special rights of the Malays and the bumiputra community in the country.
The Icerd is a United Nations convention that commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races.
Malaysia is one of only 14 countries in the world that have yet to ratify Icerd, along with the likes of North Korea, Myanmar and South Sudan.