Malaysia backtracks on anti-discrimination convention

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks at the National University of Singapore in this November 13, 2018 photo. Mahathir's government has backtracked on a decision to ratify a UN anti-discrimination convention. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 24 November 2018

Malaysia backtracks on anti-discrimination convention

  • The Mahathir Mohamad-led administration had originally vowed to ratify all UN conventions at the UN General Assembly in September
  • Australian professor says Malaysia's wavering stand will embolden right-wing Malay groups and pressure the government to drop plans to reform repressive laws

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.”


Sanders attacked for past praise of communist regimes

Updated 26 February 2020

Sanders attacked for past praise of communist regimes

  • Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg all seized on visits Sanders made to the USSR, the Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua and Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1980s
  • Joe Biden: He (Sanders) seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America

WASHINGTON: Bernie Sanders’ past praise of communist regimes like Cuba and the Soviet Union has come back to haunt him, his rivals for the Democratic White House nomination seeking to paint the frontrunner as a friend of left-wing dictators.
Fellow Democratic hopefuls Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg all seized on visits Sanders made to the USSR, the Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua and Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1980s as evidence he is a threat to the US democratic and capitalist system.
Sanders, who describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” was pressed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program on Sunday about positive comments he made three decades ago about communist states, particularly his statement that Castro had vastly improved education and health care in Cuba.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” the 78-year-old politician said.
“When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?“
Biden, who Sanders has edged out as the 2020 Democratic frontrunner, fired back:
“Make no mistake: Bernie Sanders’ comments on Fidel Castro are a part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments across the globe,” the centrist former vice president said in a statement.
“He seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America.”
Buttigieg compared Sanders to President Donald Trump who he said has “cozied up to dictators,” adding the country needs a leader “who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad.”
With Sanders in pole position heading into South Carolina’s primary this weekend, the controversy offers his rivals a precious chance to halt his momentum when they clash on the debate stage later on Tuesday.
Sanders’ alignment with the far left in US politics has always left him vulnerable to attack; Trump and other Republicans have branded him a “communist.”
But his Cuba comments have come to the forefront in the fight for voter support in Florida, home to a large Cuban-American population strongly opposed to Castro’s regime and holding substantial political sway in the southern state.
Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, targeted that electorate as he tweeted that Castro “left a dark legacy of forced labor camps, religious repression, widespread poverty, firing squads, and the murder of thousands of his own people.”
“But sure, Bernie, let’s talk about his literacy program,” Bloomberg said.
Sanders’ denies any support for dictators. Critics say his record suggests otherwise.
As mayor of the small city of Burlington, Vermont, he visited Nicaragua in 1985 and afterward hailed Daniel Ortega’s revolution against the Central American country’s landowner elite.
That was a view commonly held among the American left, especially as the administration of Ronald Reagan supported the right-wing Nicaraguan Contra fighters accused of numerous terror-like atrocities.
In 1988 Sanders visited Russia seeking to establish a sister-city pact with Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow.
It was hardly unique: there were several dozen US-USSR sister city relationships at the time, according to Sister Cities International.
Upon his return, Sanders applauded Russian gains in health care, while adding they were 10 years behind the United States.
He said his hosts were friendly and spoke honestly about problems, especially in housing and struggling industries.
He offered no praise of the government and communist system, and noted Russians very much liked Reagan, who had just days earlier held a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which Sanders called “a major step forward for humanity.”
Likewise after visiting Cuba in 1989, Sanders praised its achievements in education and health care, calling Castro’s revolution “profound,” but also noting the lack of political freedoms.
“The question is how you bring both economic and political freedom together in one society,” he said at the time, according to the Rutland Daily Herald.
Sanders’ position echoes that of president Barack Obama, who reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, with Biden as his vice president.
Obama said on a landmark 2016 Havana visit that the government “should be congratulated” for its achievements in education and health care — while criticizing its human rights violations and communist-rooted economy which he said was “not working.”
Sanders told “60 Minutes” that his support for certain achievements in communist countries did not make him a friend of repressive leaders.
“I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator,” he said, referring to Trump’s friendship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Whether that carries with Cuban voters in Florida remains an open question.