THE government has spoken. Malaysia will not ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), keeping us on the list of 14 countries that, in the language of the United Nations, did not express their consent to the treaty.
It would be nice to say we are in exalted company but among the other 13 are North Korea, Myanmar and South Sudan.
The first is a sabre-rattling hermit kingdom ruled by a dynasty of dictators. Despite being led by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the second shrugs off persistent allegations of atrocities against the Rohingya people.
The third gained independence in 2011 but two years later plunged into a devastating civil war that hopefully has ended for good with the signing of a power-sharing agreement in August.
Apart from Brunei and the Caribbean island of Dominica, the rest on the list are island countries in the Pacific Ocean.
Malaysia has very little in common with these nations, and yet, like them, we have decided that ICERD is not for us.
“The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, which contains a social contract that has been agreed upon by all races during the formation of the country,” said the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday.
But the single-paragraph statement did not explain the change of heart since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had spoken at the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept 28.
In his speech, the Prime Minister said the new Malaysia would “firmly espouse” the principles promoted by the UN.
He mentioned truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability as well as sustainability.
“It is within this context that the new government of Malaysia has pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights,” he added.
ICERD is one of those nine core instruments, three of which Malaysia has ratified.
But even without the government saying it, it is obvious that the reversal has to do with mounting opposition to the ratification, fuelled by claims that the requirements of ICERD will jeopardise the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, as provided under Article 153 of the Constitution.
There is also the accusation that the treaty is part of a Freemason agenda to “destroy religion, race and country”.
The political heat over the issue shot up when Umno and PAS said their members would join an anti-ICERD rally at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 8.
Now that the government has made it clear that the ratification would not happen, the rally organisers said the event would still proceed but as a celebration and not a protest.
The organisers were quick to declare the decision not to ratify ICERD as a triumph of the rakyat in pressuring the government.
But perhaps there are a few other things to celebrate.
The rally should also be an occasion to applaud the victory of fear-mongering and obfuscation over calm and rational public discourse.
On Dec 8, let us join hands and give thanks to the idea that those who create the loudest and most threatening noises, regardless of substance and accuracy, are most likely to win the day.
And while we are at it, why not salute those who prefer to talk about conspiracies and phantom dangers instead of debating what we actually can or cannot do based on what is in the Constitution and ICERD?
In addition, we ought to commemorate the fact that in Malaysia, the easiest way to score political points is to deem certain matters as sensitive and non-negotiable and to attack those who want to address these matters, never mind that the future of the country may well be at stake.
Most of all, we should pat ourselves on the back for taking one step forward and two steps back.
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