KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government has gone back on a decision to ratify a UN anti-discrimination convention, according to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office.
“The government will continue to defend the federal constitution, which contains the social contract agreed upon by the representatives of all races during the formation of this nation,” read the statement.
The Mahathir Mohamad-led administration had originally vowed to ratify all UN conventions at the UN General Assembly in September, including the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
The change of heart “will damage Malaysia’s reputation among international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that thought human rights would take a higher priority under the new government,” Prof. James Chin, an expert on Malaysian affairs at the Asia Institute in Australia, told Arab News.
Malaysia is among a small number of countries, including North Korea, Myanmar, Brunei, South Sudan and a few small island-nations in the Pacific, which have neither signed nor ratified the treaty.
Chin said this will embolden right-wing Malay groups and pressure the government to drop plans to reform repressive laws.
“They’ll now double down on the racist ideology of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay supremacy),” he added.
The issue of ethnic homogeneity, dubbed “Bumiputra,” has long been a sensitive topic and a pretext for nationalists to push for a more right-wing political agenda.
Indeed, nationalists have intensified campaigns against ICERD in recent months. The Malaysia Islamic Party and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) recently staged anti-ICERD protests and social media campaigns under the pretext of safeguarding ethnic and religious principles.
Last week, UMNO President Zahid Hamidi, who is currently facing numerous corruption charges, said ratifying ICERD would be “a new form of colonialism” that could “jeopardize racial harmony.”
Right-wing groups claim that by signing ICERD, ethnic Malays, who constitute slightly more than half the country’s population, may no longer enjoy “Bumiputra” rights and privileges.
Chin said the treaty will not affect national agendas, adding: “These groups are lying to the public.”
He said: “Don’t forget that 90 percent of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, have signed ICERD.”