FOR several weeks, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) has been the subject of many discussions and events and it has taken up much space in the media. There have been conflicting views and statements, and a reader has asked for a simple explanation as to what Icerd is all about.
Each country has its own laws. This would be fine if a country and its citizens have no impact whatsoever beyond its borders.
But trade, investments and other activities are not confined within each country.
Such transnational dealings are on the rise and over time, it became clear that there was a need to harmonise the laws of the different countries. This has resulted in the formulation of international conventions.
These conventions are designed to enable uniformity in the laws of the various countries because we live in a borderless world. And some of the conventions, including Icerd, are meant to promote certain universal humanitarian values.
However, a storm broke after it was announced that Malaysia planned to ratify Icerd.
Instead of Malaysians putting in effort to understand and discuss the issue in an informed and rational way, the announcement was exploited by certain people for political mileage and to pursue their own agenda.
Icerd was adopted and opened for signature and ratification by a December 1965 United Nations General Assembly resolution. The convention came into force in January 1969.
Its essence and objective is set out in the opening paragraph: “Considering that the Charter of the United Nations is based on the principles of the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings, and that all Member States have pledged themselves to take joint and separate action, in cooperation with the Organization, for the achievement of one of the purposes of the United Nations which is to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”
Icerd takes into account the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set out therein, without distinction of any kind, in particular as to race, colour or national origin”.
However, the convention does not in any way override the laws of any country. It contains merely recommendations that a country may adopt if it chooses to.
In our country, the Federal Constitution is supreme. The convention would not override any provision in our Constitution unless our Parliament chooses to amend or delete any article in the Constitution.
In fact, our Parliament can choose to do so anytime; it does not have to be prompted by an international convention.
Relevant to Icerd is Article 153 of the Constitution, which is titled “Reservation of quotas in respect of services, permits, etc, for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak”.
Article 153 (1) reads as follows: “It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article.”
Icerd does not touch on the position of the Rulers, Malay as the national language, and Islam as the “religion of the Federation”.
However, some of our politicians, especially those who are not in power, have the ability to twist and conceal the truth and distort everything in their attempts to capitalise on racial and religious sensitivities.
Of course, our leaders have decided not to ratify the convention. However, in the unlikely event that Malaysia does at some time ratify Icerd, there is such a thing as making a “reservation”.
This means that Malaysia can make it a condition that Article 153 or any other article of our Constitution or any other law will remain as it is in its present or modified form.
So it only requires some basic knowledge of these principles to know the actual position regarding Icerd. One cannot imagine that those behind the anti-Icerd protests and agitation do not know this. If they are indeed ignorant, then it is the electorate who chose such ignorant leaders who must take responsibility and bear the consequences.