PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is not disheartened by the refusal of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to attend its rally here tomorrow.
Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail said Mahathir “has his heart in the right place” regarding human rights issues.
He said Putrajaya’s stance in combating corruption, addressing poverty and revamping the state of education were excellent examples of this.
He said all these were also aspects of human rights.
“The prime minister is a political strategist extraordinaire. It would be better for everyone not to take everything at face value.
“He has helped out in so many aspects of human rights since May 9,” he told FMT.
Pakatan Harapan swept into power by defeating the Barisan Nasional in the 14th general election on May 9.
Mahathir earlier today asked how he could show up as Putrajaya will not ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) while Suhakam is in favour of doing so.
“I decided that we will not accept ICERD. Suhakam wants to accept ICERD.
“So, how can I go?” asked the Pakatan Harapan chairman after chairing the PH Presidential Council meeting at Menara Yayasan Selangor earlier today.
Razali said he had to be “realistic” given the opposition to Putrajaya signing the international rights treaty, which today saw a 50,000-strong rally in the city centre against its ratification.
Razali said he had “expected” Mahathir to give this Suhakam event the miss given his government’s stance on ICERD.
He, however, sent him an invite to be the keynote speaker and launch the event, which was scheduled for today but was postponed till tomorrow due to concerns of security risks.
The Suhakam event originally listed Mahathir as launching the event and delivering the keynote address, while chief secretary to the government Ismail Bakar was scheduled to speak.
The anti-ICERD rally took place at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur from 2pm to 6pm today.
The Suhakam event would have been held from 9am to 3pm at Padang Timur near here if it was held today as originally planned.
It will now be held at the same time and place tomorrow. Dewan Rakyat speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof is expected to replace Mahathir as the keynote speaker.
Mahathir today said the reason why the Suhakam event was advised to be held tomorrow was because of a lack of police personnel to monitor both the Suhakam event and the anti-ICERD rally at the same time.
The move by Mahathir to snub the event was met with scrutiny by some, including Ambiga Sreenevasan, a prominent human rights activist and president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam).
Ambiga previously questioned the move to postpone the Suhakam event as well, which Suhakam has since said makes it seem like Putrajaya was influenced by “pressure tactics and extremism”.
The debate over the ICERD followed a speech by Mahathir at the United Nations General Assembly in September, where he said his government would ratify remaining human rights conventions endorsed by the world body.
Specifically, the ICERD obliges parties to eliminate racial discrimination in all forms including in public institutions as well as in government policies, the issue at the heart of the opposition from Malay groups.
These groups said ratifying the ICERD would undermine the special position of the Malays, including provisions to allow quotas in public institutions, as spelled out in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.
They also opposed the ICERD’s timeline on member countries to end affirmative action programmes, which they said would be the death knell for Malaysia’s decades-old policy protecting Malay rights.
The anti-ICERD rally went on without a hitch today.
Mahathir later took to driving around the city centre to see how the situation was like after the rally ended at 6pm.