It was a sombre September 16 as I spent my time following the Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu or “red shirt” rally via online news portals and the sharing of photos and videos on social media. There was one specific video that struck me, a lady in her very angry tone saying, “Enough is enough. Babi is babi!” Some said I should not be too shocked with the racist hate speeches and all the hatred messages. Well, I am all for the right to peaceful assembly, but racist hate speech has absolutely no place in our society. Some sincerely believe that skin color no longer matters. But there are also some believing the other extreme, that racism is at the root of nearly every problem.
Is racism really alive in this country? I am not sure if I should understand the September 16 event as a sign that frustration has reached its peak and was boiling over, because the boiling point could also be “manufactured”. It could simply be our perception. Having said that, I am going to discuss the “Bersih 4 vs ‘red shirt’” issue from a social movement perspective.
It is that time of the year again, when various human rights annual reports are launched all over the world. Malaysia, too, will be scrutinised on its human rights report cards. Last week, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) launched its annual report 2014. The report highlighted Putrajaya’s inconsistency in dealing with the rise of racial and religious hate speech and with dissenting opinions. Similarly in the just-released 2014 human rights report by the US State Department, it has underscored Putrajaya’s restrictions on freedom of speech and expression as among the worrying trends in the country.
Suaram recorded a total of 14 cases of deaths in police custody in 2014 alone. Up to June this year, it recorded nine such cases. Looking at the numbers, one can only predict there does not appear to be any sign of decreasing. Last Friday, the Faculty of Law in the University of Malaya (UM) hosted a human rights event. A joint campaign for Malaysia’s accession to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) by the Human Rights Council of Malaysia (Suhakam), Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM), Bar Council Malaysia, Suaram and Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) was launched. What is laudable is that, for the very first time, various stakeholders from diverse backgrounds partnered up under this collective effort for a common goal.
No matter how much you love writing, there will be times when you are desperate for inspiration. And sometimes, the inspiration could come from the most unlikely of sources. Last week, I received a call from a friend in Sarawak. He suggested that maybe it was timely to write about the role of an academic and also academic freedom. But I told him that I had highlighted issues related to academic freedom numerous times in the past. Hence, I am not sure if this would be a good idea, as the readers might get bored. A few days passed and here I am. I changed my mind and I decided to take stock and consider what an academic really is. I visualised that the academic of the future would be known as more of a thought leader or professional thinker, rather than someone who is tied to an institution. A career that is built along these lines could actually open up more space for freedom of thought. At the same time, it would allow for more opportunities to initiate work that would eventually contribute to society. More importantly, it would allow for a much deeper understanding of actual problems in practice.
This is the CSO statement that was delivered to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Economic Planning, Dato’ Seri Wahid Omar at the SDGs Symposium on 23 February 2016.
Following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the global development agenda at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, more than 20 civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malaysia met on three occasions since October 2015 to reflect on the relevance of SDGs to the country.
We recognise that under the principle of leaving no one behind, the SDGs integrate human rights and development in a balanced, inclusive and ecologically sustainable way.
We note that the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) and the SDGs share some common policy and program focus. With that, the 17 goals, 169 targets and the many indicators identified will guide a clear direction for both policy and delivery in Malaysia’s development program.
We recognise the gaps and shortcomings in the Government’s development planning, priorities and implementation. However, many of these gaps could be addressed through the SDGs over the next 15 years between 2016 -2030.
Dissent is one of the central elements of democracy. But when such dissenting voices start to make the leaders feel threatened, they normally opt for an offensive approach – that is, by labelling a person a traitor. But, we have to recognise that constructive criticism against one’s government is not sedition, rather, according to the American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, dissent is the highest form of patriotism. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) faces continuous calls for political and legislative reforms, particularly since the 2008 general election, where they lost the two-thirds majority in Parliament. These pressures come from not only the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), but also from the civil society that has been expanding ever since. Since then, more warnings have become visible of the leadership’s anxiety about these appeals for greater freedom and democracy in the country.
Growing cases of child abuse and negligence in Malaysia are becoming a serious issue for the government and the general public. Just recently in Butterworth, the father of a 7-year-old girl who was found abandoned and abused in an apartment was charged under Section 31(1)(a) of the Child Act 2001. However, it is not an issue of child abuse alone. These cases also highlight another significant problem: the enormous amount of stress that the people living in poverty feel in their daily struggle to make ends meet. In many cases, the parents might be financially unstable or poorly educated. Such forms of scarcity could then lead to abusive behaviour. Similarly, homelessness is another great concern that affects thousands of people across the country. The awful part is that people who are homeless are generally blamed for their homelessness. The public typically perceive homeless people as lazy. The fact is, the presence of homelessness in the city indicates the failure of government to provide adequate social welfare for the poor. In recent years, various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social groups have been stepping up to provide assistance in terms of food, clothing, medicine and so on to homeless people.
Lawyers don’t march every day. But if they march, then something must be very wrong. That was what the then-chairman of the Bar Council Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said during the “Walk for Justice” by the lawyers in 2007. What Ambiga said was right. Unfortunately after seven years, lawyers once again have no option but to march again. Why are people prepared to protest or march for a cause? It is a question that has intrigued not only the academic community but also the general public. The heart of every protest originates from grievances. It could be feelings of injustice, inequality or relative deprivation. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly”. Certainly this time around, amidst the “crazy” numbers of arrests made under the Sedition Act in this year alone, would you not want to protest?