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Govt must act now to end racism

KUALA LUMPUR, 17 April 2009: Race-based policies and political parties have been undermining Malaysia’s commitment to an international declaration the country adopted eight years ago against racial discrimination.

In light of this, 44 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have called on the government to fulfill its international obligations to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA).

The DDPA was adopted at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in 2001. Its progress and implementation worldwide is up for review for the first time at the Durban Review Conference (DRC) in Geneva, Switzerland from 20-24 April.

“It’s time to move on, 52 years since colonisation. Race-based policy must go,” said Pusat Komas director Jerald Joseph in an e-mail interview.

Pusat Komas was among the 44 NGOs that signed a collective statement released on 15 April on the matter. The others included Amnesty International Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia, Centre for Independent Journalism, and International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific).

A delegation representing the NGOs had earlier that day held a meeting with Misran Karmain, Senior Undersecretary from the Department of Multilateral Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Wisma Putra.

During the meeting, the delegation called upon the Malaysian government, particularly the relevant implementing state agencies, to uphold its commitment to the DDPA and DRC by ensuring a dialogue with civil society after the review process.

Jerald, in the interview, said despite the commitments made at the conference in 2001, there has been little progress in the implementation of the DDPA in Malaysia and in ending policies that were discriminatory.

In the statement, the NGOs said the NEP was originally introduced in 1970 to reduce poverty. However, it has been politicised and selectively used by the government to promote “majoritarian ethno-nationalism” and race chauvinism.

This, the statement noted, has resulted in systematic discrimination, exclusion and polarisation between Malay Malaysians and non-Malay Malaysians.

In addition, the dominance of race-based political parties in the Malaysian political system has promoted ethnocentrism and undermined nation-building efforts.

Hence, the statement urged the government to ratify the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Cerd) immediately to demonstrate their political will to weed out racism.

The Durban Review Conference should accelerate the pace of action-orientated programmes to combat racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. The rejection of race-based ideologies in the last general elections, the statement said, should only serve to prove the point that the Malaysian government must act now on these issues.

“We cannot wait another eight years of non-action on the DDPA,” stressed Jerald, who is one of the three NGO representatives at the upcoming review. The other two are IWRAW Asia Pacific programme officer Wathsla Naidu, and Malaysian Dalit Network coordinator Maneyvanan Velue.

The government delegration will be represented by the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations in Geneva.

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