PETALING JAYA: The government's decision to withdraw from ratifying the Rome Statute gives a troubling impression that the country is ruled by racial and religious sentiments, says the G25 group of eminent Malays.
"This is the second time that the government has done a U-turn, the first being the withdrawal from its decision to accede to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd).
"This is troubling because it creates the impression that Malaysia is ruled by racial and religious sentiments, not by universal standards of justice," G25 said in a statement on Sunday (April 7).
On Friday (April 5), Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the Cabinet had decided not to ratify the international treaty that covers serious crimes and crimes against humanity.
The G25 group also expressed disappointment that the government had bowed to dissenting pressure to pull out of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) soon after acceding to it.
"It brings to question the new government's commitment to reforms," it added.
The group, which was formed in 2014, said it could not understand why there were concerns that the statute would place the Malay Rulers and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at risk of being subjected to international law when they are constitutional monarchs ruling on the advice of the government.
It also noted that the ICC was the "court of last resort" if the country is unable or unwilling to charge individuals for international crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.
"On the other hand, if any sultan is responsible for a serious crime, he will be brought to justice under our national law.
"There is no need to refer the matter to the ICC as our royal families have no immunity from criminal charges, unlike some countries which exempt their royalty from criminal punishments," the group added.
G25 said there must be better understanding of the Rome Statute among Malaysians, urging the government to encourage further discussions and debates on the issue at all levels of society through forums and the media.
After which, the group said that the matter can be brought up to Parliament for a final decision on whether to accede to, or to reject the treaty.
"It is true that some policy changes may be tough for some groups to accept, but when the majority have spoken through a proper parliamentary process, they must accept that decision," G25 added.
On March 4, Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah had initially signed the Instrument of Accession to the ICC.
Prior to that, Saifuddin had informed Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah on the Cabinet's decision to agree to the Rome Statute of the ICC on Feb 15.
The decision received mixed reactions, with many expressing concerns over ICC's impact on the Rulers' power and Malay privileges, including from Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim.
On Thursday (April 4), Opposition leader Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob filed a Private Member's Bill in Parliament urging the Federal Government to also withdraw from the Rome Statute.
On Friday (April 5), a visibly upset Dr Mahathir announced that the government had decided to make a U-turn on the Rome Statute due to pressure from parties politicising the issue.
The Rome Statute of the ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based international court that prosecutes perpetrators who commit genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression.
Established in 2002, it is also dubbed the "court of last resort" as the ICC only comes into play when a government is unwilling or unable to prosecute individuals of any of those crimes.
As of March 18, there were 122 countries that are party to the Rome Statute.
Some countries that have not acceded to the statute include the United States, China, Russia and India.