Saturday, June 14, 2014

NUCC proposals smack of doublespeak

MalaysianBy Kua Kia Soong
The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) has drafted a few bills to be submitted to the government: the National Harmony Bill, the National Unity Bill and the National Unity and Integration Commission Bill.
While the attempt at curing a widely recognised Malaysian malaise is laudable, I wonder if the originators of these bills are avoiding the problem they are trying to solve. The clue to this lack of clarity of purpose is seen in the fluffy names given to the bills.

Judging from the explanation at a “town hall meeting” I attended, the confused thinking seems to arise from the Prime Minister’s noted reference to the “Chinese tsunami” at the GE13. If that is the case, the originators of the bills, like the Prime Minister, do not seem to know what the people want. Nor do they understand the root cause of the problem they claim to be addressing.
The bills are clearly aimed at combating the problems widely recognised by the world community at least since the Second World War: racism, racial discrimination, prejudice and intolerance. The UK has the Equality Act 2010, the purpose of which is to align the Race Relations Act with European Human Rights legislation and to extend protection to groups not previously covered, namely, to cover age, disability, gender, religion, belief and sexual orientation.
So why has the NUCC not drafted an Equality Act? Instead, it names the bills with imprecise Orwellian terms like “National Harmony” and “National Unity”, which have been rendered meaningless through decades of BN doublespeak. Well, at the “town hall meeting” we were told that this was because of “the recognition of Malaysian realpolitik”. In other words, Umno wouldn’t like a piece of legislation to be called “Equality Act”.
Sunzi’s famous wisdom is instructive here: “If you know your adversaries and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles.” If you don’t, you have lost before you even started.
It is not surprising that Perkasa and other Gongos (government NGOs) object to legislation framed in terms of “equality” because “incitement to racial hatred” would be considered a criminal offence within the scope of such an act.
Under the UK Equality Act, actions are considered to be direct discrimination when “someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic”. The British Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 makes publication of materials that incited racial hatred an arrestable offence. These include:
· Deliberately provoking hatred against a racial group;
· Distributing racist material to the public;
· Making inflammatory public speeches;
· Creating racist websites on the Internet;
· Inciting inflammatory rumours about an individual or ethnic group in order to spread racial discontent.
The UK Public Order Act 1986 defines racial hatred as “hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnic origins”. Section 21 of the act makes it an offence to publish or distribute material which is “threatening or abusive or insulting if intended to stir up racial hatred”.
“Hate crimes” cover intimidation, threats, property damage, assault, murder or such other criminal offence. They are a type of crime in which the perpetrator sends a message to the victim about his right to belong to that society. Hate crimes violate the principle of equality between people and deny their right to achieve full human dignity and to realise their full potential.
umno melayu
Appeasing Umno

The negative impact of hate crimes on the greater community cannot be overemphasised. When the powers that be appear to sanction such crimes by their silence, they perpetuate the acceptance of discrimination against specific groups in society, setting the scene for even more such inhuman attacks.
In the apparent attempt to appease Umno, the NUCC is trying to reinvent the legislative wheel.
The UK has an Equality and Human Rights Commission. For a population of more than 56 million, this commission has just 10 commissioners.
In Malaysia, we already have a National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam). We should extend its jurisdiction to incorporate an Equality Commission. After all, equality is an intrinsic part of human rights.
Its work would be to encourage greater integration and better ethnic relations and to use legal powers to help eradicate racial discrimination and harassment. Thus, its ambit would cover racist stereotyping in textbooks and the press as well as racial discrimination in the public sphere, employment, education, social services and advertisements.
Such an independent commission should be empowered to issue codes of practice and be invested with powers to conduct formal investigations and to serve notices to furnish information or documents in order to enforce the law. It would then be up to the Malaysian courts to decide on the legality or illegality of such institutions in Malaysian society since 1971, for example, the Bumiputera-only policy at UiTM and other public institutions, the quota system and its implementation, the discounts for Bumiputeras in various economic transactions and other blatant acts of racial discrimination.
Because of the reluctance to face the question of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance squarely, the NUCC has proposed instead a new “National Unity & Integration Commission” with 30 commissioners. Thus, for our population of 28 million, we will have 37 commissioners when we include Suhakam’s seven commissioners. No wonder the country is going bankrupt…
Now, why do we need 30 commissioners? I posed this question at the town hall meeting. The answer I got was that it was “assumed” that the 30 members of the NUCC would assume the posts of “National Unity & Integration” commissioners once the bill is passed. How presumptuous!
The NUCC members should acquaint themselves with such time-honoured criteria as the United Nations’ “Paris principles” and its inclusive and transparent selection and appointment process guaranteeing independence and pluralism:
“The composition of the national institution and the appointment of its members, whether by means of an election or otherwise, shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the promotion and protection of human rights, particularly by powers which will enable effective cooperation to be established with, or through the presence of, representatives of:
(a) Non-governmental organizations responsible for human rights and efforts to combat racial discrimination, trade unions, concerned social and professional organizations, for example, associations of lawyers, doctors, journalists and eminent scientists;
(b) Trends in philosophical or religious thought;
(c) Universities and qualified experts;
(d) Parliament;
(e) Government departments (if these are included, their representatives should participate in the deliberations only in an advisory capacity).”
Time to rein in the racists
Clearly, far right racial supremacists who rail about the dominance of their “race” should be reined in by an Equality & Human Rights Commission and dealt with under an Equality Act. Thus, the Umno leaders who were inciting racial hatred and calling for “Chinese blood” at the Jalan Raja Muda Stadium in 1987 before Operation Lalang would have been the prime offenders under such a law. So would the mob that organised the “cow head” protest over the relocation of a Hindu temple in 2009, and the mob that threatened to burn the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in 2000 and the even more recent mob that wanted to burn down the DAP headquarters.
When pogroms do occur, such as in May 13, 1969 or the Kampung Medan incident in 2001, the culprits responsible should be swiftly apprehended and charged with murder rather than have the incidents covered up as “race riots”.
Finally, for an administration to convince Malaysians that it is genuinely keen to institute reforms for better ethnic relations and equality, our country should immediately initiate moves to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR). Failure to do so will only arouse suspicion that this BN government is merely doing window dressing after their disastrous showing at the 13th general election.
To take Malaysia out of the dark ages and into 21st century developed status, the NUCC needs to address the main issues of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance in our society and to propose appropriate legislation and institutions to resolve these problems. As we have seen, failure to do so results in fluffily clad bills which merely serve to glamourise an insincere regime.
Dr Kua Kia Soong is an advisor for Suaram