PETALING JAYA, 28 May 2009: For the first time in its annual human rights report for Malaysia, Amnesty International (AI) has highlighted racial discrimination as one of several human rights violations in the country.
The 2009 report said that racial discrimination was institutionalised in Malaysia, particularly in government-backed affirmative action policies for bumiputeras such as the New Economic Policy, in land ownership, employment and education.
Compiled by the AI headquarters in London, the report cited the example of the outcry in response to Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim’s proposal to open up 10% of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) places to non-Malay Malaysians.
It also noted that UiTM has been opened only to Malay Malaysians for the last five decades.
“These policies have resulted in the exclusion of the poor from minority groups from enjoying equal opportunities,” said AI Malaysia campaign coordinator K Shan during a press conference today.
Control over dissent
The AI report also said that the government continued to tighten control over dissent, and curtailed the right to freedom of expression and religion.
The reported cited the examples of bloggers Syed Azidi Syed (better known as Kickdefella) and Raja Petra Kamarudin who were detained under the Sedition Act. The Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) was also invoked to suspend Tamil daily Makkal Osai‘s publishing permit in April 2008.
Also noted was the authority’s threat to revoke the publishing permit for Catholic newspaper The Herald for using the word “Allah” under the PPPA in May 2008.
“The PPPA needs to be repealed to allow for more media freedom,” said Shan.
AI executive director Nora Murat also called on the government to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) and implement the recommendations made by Suhakam in their 2003 report titled Review of the ISA 1960.
“We also urge the government to remove all conditions imposed on the Hindraf leaders upon their release (from ISA detention),” said Shan.
Politicisation of religion
The AI report also noted that the politicisation of religion markedly increased in 2008.
“People continued to face barriers to conversion from Islam,” it noted.
It documented the case of Kamariah Ali, who was sentenced to two year’s jail by the syariah court for renouncing Islam.
The report also noted that “no action was taken” against protesters who disrupted a Bar Council forum on conversion issues in August 2008.
The report noted the continuing discrimination against asylum seekers and refugees who are treated as illegal foreigners, citing widespread abuse by Rela.
Suhakam commissioner Dr Denison Jayasooria, who was also present at the press conference, said Malaysian politicians lacked the political will to respond to these issues even though substantial studies have been done.
Whatever the political leaders may utter, we don’t expect much changes. In fact, more likely [they will] ignore whatever international human rights abuses there are, just like in Myanmar.
Fikri Roslan says
Well, different countries may have different perspective about human right. So far the country is aman dan makmur; and the rakyat is grateful for the many actions by government. How come there are a lot of people who would like to consider Malaysia as their second home if we are not practicing human rights?
If only the UMNO led government begin to respects and respond positively to such findings, this country will be paradise on Earth.
We need to continue international pressure to shame the government and BN politicians in order to force the changes. The ratchet need to be wound one more knob.
We need to keep up with the times; starting first by taking race out of our institutions of learning.
Why do we still need an ethnic protectionism as we do in some government schools and colleges/universities, for example in UiTM, MRSM, Tengku Kurshiah Kolej, Malay College Kuala Kangsar, the vernacular schools, as well as the Sekolah Ugamas.
While some of these institutions, like UiTM and MRSM have opened their doors slightly to non-bumiputeras, the fundamental premise operating entry is still race. Of course race is not the only way we retain and facilitate racialization, we also use thinly veiled criteria such as religion and language. My point here is we need to look at our institutions critically and ask ourselves, are they perpetuating racial divisions by the nature of their policy and how they operate? If a school provides good education, it should be good for all and therefore open to all.
As for positive discrimination, it should work on a minority percentage of the student population rather than having the majority slice. For example, UiTM can still practice positive discrimination, but it should be the other way around; 10-30% entry reserved for the underprivileged. And we need to be clear that race or ethnicity does not equate under privilege.
We need to have socio-economic criteria to determine the underprivileged for eligibility. The current application of race to determine eligibility for positive discrimination doesn’t discriminate enough in favor of those who truly need it and instead works towards a divisive politics base on race while neglecting the structural inequalities perpetrated by class that exists across racial boundaries.
We can and should still have the practice of positive discrimination, but it should be to help the socio-economic disadvantaged get an equal footing in education, while at the same time, keeping in mind that how we represent quotas in the student population can work to encouraged or stifle competition.
And, I imagine, that this would just be the beginning in a long series of actions needed to dismantle the acceptability of racial discourses in everyday formal practice, be they real or perceived.