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Drafting of Race Relations Act will be guided by Federal Constitution, says Syed Hamid

Syed Hamid said the Act is still in the drafting stage

PUTRAJAYA, 18 Sept 2008: The Race Relations Act that the Home Affairs and the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministries will be drafting will be guided by the Federal Constitution which states that all persons are equal before the law.

Minister of Home Affairs Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said this when asked whether the proposed Act would be anti-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, and whether it would feasible in Malaysia given constraints like the New Economic Policy and the special position of Malays.

“Whatever law we do, the constitution is our principal guideline. Under the constitution we cannot discriminate,” he told reporters after his ministry’s monthly gathering this morning.

He said there should not be speculation on what the proposed Act would contain as its drafting was only at the preliminary stage.

“Don’t think ahead when we are not there yet. Until we have the draft ready, it is all speculative.”

Article 8 (1) of the Federal Constitution states that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.” Article 8 (2) allows for a caveat under Article 153 which safeguards the special position of the Malays and natives of any Sabah and Sarawak.

Syed Hamid said officers from his and the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry would start discussions on the draft before a paper is prepared for the Cabinet.

He said the cabinet had agreed on the necessity of having a law to govern race relations.

The Home Affairs Ministry had to be involved because sensitive racial issues were able to spark off social unrest, he added.

Asked about the scope of the act, he said: “Generally, when we talk about a race relations act, the idea is to create an environment of good relations between the races on the basis of our different cultures and religions. It is to recognise that our strength is based on our diversity.

“At the same time, whatever issue that goes against racial harmony or that questions racial issues to the point that it disrupts unity, these are the things that we can take action against to prevent inter-racial conflict,” Syed Hamid said.

On punitive measures and enforcement of the Act, Syed Hamid said the drafters will look at race relations laws in other countries and gather views from civil society.

“We won’t work in a vacuum. We’ll have ways to obtain people’s feedback.”

He said the Act should not aim to punish only but include positive ways to build race relations.

The Cabinet agreed on 10 Sept to proceed with the drafting of a Race Relations Act and this was announced by MCA Youth chief and Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai on 14 Sept.

It follows public furore over the Internal Security Act arrests of Seputeh Member of Parliament (MP) Teresa Kok and Sin Chew Daily reporter Tan Hoon Cheng on 12 Sept for allegedly raising matters pertaining to race and religion, and for stroking tensions between the races, respectively. Tan was released a day later, and Syed Hamid later claimed that she was detained for her own safety. End of Article

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