COMMENTARY, March 26 — Prior to backpedalling on the ratification of the anti-racial discrimination convention ICERD, Putrajaya said it would first tackle the low-hanging fruits before attempting to educate the public on the more contentious conventions.
These low-hanging fruits included human rights conventions that would be hard to refuse, such as ICPPED that deals with enforced disappearance, the Convention Against Torture, and presumably the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
After all, what rational person would approve of torture, and the international crimes covered by ICC: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression?
Now we sadly know the answer: the same persons who would approve of racial discrimination, and rejected ICERD.
In the past few months, critics — including those in the Opposition — have ramped up their rejection of the Rome Statute, by attempting to portray Putrajaya as turning its back on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) in acceding to the treaty.
Most recently, Umno’s Kepala Batas MP Datuk Seri Reezal Merican brought up the issue of the Agong’s assent in the Dewan Rakyat.
This is despite Wisma Putra already updating YDPA Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah as recently as two weeks ago.
Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah had said then that such criticisms were “made without basic understanding in laws and the Constitution,” and it rings even more true today.
The ministry’s lengthy statement explaining the situation, as decreed by the Agong himself, seems to have been ignored by critics of the Rome Statute:
1. The Agong cannot be held responsible for the four core international crimes covered by the statute — that responsibility lies with the prime minister and the Cabinet.
2. The Constitution states that any ratification of international instruments involving foreign affairs does not require the assent of the Conference of Rulers, and falls under the executive powers of Putrajaya.
3. The Cabinet will still update the Agong on the ratification, in respect of the principles of Constitutional Monarchy.
In short, the question of the Agong and his power is moot. The only reason critics are trying to deny Malaysians their human rights is simply for political expediency, by falsely painting a picture of disobedience towards the Malay rulers.
But critics have been emboldened, simply because of Putrajaya’s pusillanimity when it decided not to ratify ICERD in the near future, just because of the noise made by the Islamist lobby.
The lobby knew that if it twists Putrajaya’s hands hard enough, it would capitulate. Which is the exact same reason Putrajaya now finds itself in this trap when it comes to the Rome Statute.
If Putrajaya again fails to stand its ground, it is only natural that we see more of the same; denying Malaysians their rights — from civil and political rights, to migrant workers’ rights, to their social and economic rights, what more their right to not be racially discriminated.