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Thursday, 6 March 2014


on the Foundations of Human Rights: Challenges & Opportunities for Malaysia

Date:                            March 17, 2014 (MON)

Time:                            8.30pm (Coffee served at 8pm)
Venue                           Dignity International A-2-7 Pusat Perdagangan Seksyen 8,
                                    Jalan Sg Jernih 8/1, Petaling Jaya (Tel 03-79310741)
Guest Speaker:        

Datuk Shad Faruqi, Proham Hon Member & Emeritus Prof of Law at UITM and author of book Document of Destiny, The Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia (Star:2008)

Other Speakers            

Tan Sri Simon Sipaun (Proham Chairman)

Datuk Kuthbul Zaman Bukhari (Proham Exco member)

Panel Moderator: Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham)

In conjunction with Proham AGM (2014), Proham is happy to announce a special talk and discussion on this very important and sensitive theme of great importance to Malaysian society. We are in a challenging period in Malaysian society over various intolerant speeches and actions from a number of groups.

There is therefore a need for a fresh reflection. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak called by national reconciliation, the Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim called for national consensus. It does not matter what word we describe this healing and bridge building process but what is crucial is that we need a new paradigm for harmony in Malaysian society

Recently Prof Shad Faruqi wrote in the Star his views on ‘Walking the Harmony line’ (Satr Feb 6, 2014 pg 21) called for a drafting of a carefully crafted Declaration on Religious and Racial Harmony. This is a timely call as the Federal government has said it will table a National Harmony Act and the National Unity Consultative Council is undertaking a national level dialogue on national unity.
Therefore the Proham evening will explore the possibility of developing a human rights approach for the promotion and protection of religious freedom on the one hand and also to fight racial and ethnic discrimination on the other.

The United Nations has development Universal declarations and conventions on this theme. These have be enhanced by regional declarations like the Cairo Declaration, the Asean Human Rights Declaration including the OIC sponsored Resolution 16/18 on Combating intolerance all of which Malaysia has endorsed.

Findings of this Proham evening talk and discussion will be documented as a report and submitted to the National Unity Consultative Council as our recommendations.

Participation is by registration (Limited seats) : by March 14, 2014.

Walking the harmony line
by shad saleem faruqi
National reconciliation cannot be accomplished by the force of law alone because the law is not a magic wand.

TAN SRI Lee Lam Thye, deputy chairman of the National Unity Consultative Council, has supported the call for the National Harmony Bill to foster harmony, understanding and mutual respect among the various races and religions of this country.
 His call is worthy of support. Religious and racial harmony is vital for peace, progress and prosperity in every nation, especially a multi-racial and multi-religious one like ours.

In the post-2013 General Election milieu, the dominance of primordial feelings has become so pronounced that wide-ranging, sustained action is necessary to cool down the temperatures, combat prejudices born out of ignorance and restore social cohesion.

An extremist minority, emboldened by official inertia, is holding the rest of the nation to ransom.
The proposal for a new law can rely on many model pieces of legislation. Across the Causeway, they have the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, 1990. It permits a restraining order against any act that will cause ill feelings between different religious groups. Breaching the order is an offence.

The United Kingdom has a Race Relations Act 1976 and the Public Order Act 1986. Canada has a Canadian Race Relations Foundation Act 1991 and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.
Whatever model we follow, I hope that the minimum substantive content of the new law will be to provide for an impartial, cross-cultural institution that monitors race and religious relations, facilitates inter-religious and inter-racial communications and promotes effective race relations training.

The Board, Council or Foundation should have the power to administer caution to all offenders, attempt conciliation in contentious situations and file criminal reports if conciliation fails.

The law should criminalise all racially inflammatory materials. Specifically, “hate speech” should be prohibited.
The National Harmony Bill should be drafted after engagement with all interested sectors of society. A Parliamentary Select Committee should be established to facilitate consultation with experts.

Support for the Bill must, however, be accompanied by awareness that religious and ethnic disputes are notoriously difficult to resolve. Northern Ireland, India, Lebanon, Occupied Palestine, Cyprus and Sudan are tragic examples.

National reconciliation cannot be accomplished by the force of law alone. The law is not a magic wand. It is not an alchemy that will set everything right. Its undoubted power to shape society has some limits.

First, laws must be backed by the moral and conventional precepts of society. If in a particular area, these vital, non-legal precepts are lacking, then social engineering through the law is unlikely to succeed. If a law is out of fit with the social context of society, its impact is likely to be marginal.

The challenge of the lawmaker then is to generate and sustain the background consensus and moral support that makes law effective.

Second, good people do not generally need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people generally find ways to circumvent the laws. This raises the issue of political will to enforce firmly and fairly against the weak as well as the strong the standards set by the law. Though sanctions are not the only means of ensuring compliance, the bite that sanctions carry plays a significant role in generating a new social morality.

Third, laws are as good as the people who interpret, administer and enforce them. If enforcement is lax or is selective, the law does more harm than good. In Malaysia’s case, for example, there is no shortage of laws against religious and racial hatred.

The Penal Code in sections 298, 298A and 505B; the Sedition Act; the Communications and Multimedia Act in section 233; and the Printing Presses and Publications Act in section 7 arm the state with sufficient power to prosecute inflammatory speech and actions.

Fourth, law is a communication system, and hence subject to similar problems of transmission and reception of messages as any other communication system. Unknown laws are ineffective laws. The problem of legal illiteracy is always a challenge.

Securing religious and racial harmony requires a holistic approach.

Let us begin by drafting a carefully crafted Declaration on Religious and Racial Harmony. The Declaration, though judicially non-binding, will serve as a basis for reflection on the state of religious harmony and on the steps we can take to deepen our ties and understanding with each other.

We must adopt a multi-layered approach for prevention. The education system must nurture tolerance, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue.

Educators and students must both be taught that differences within and between societies should be neither feared nor repressed, but cherished as a precious asset of humanity.

Political leaders, media personalities and community chiefs must condemn hate crimes and hate speech immediately, strongly, publicly and consistently. They must send out messages of tolerance and restraint.
The media must promote multilateralism and dialogue. It must devote a few hours a week to programmes that build bridges across divides.

On our part, we ordinary citizens need to be more humble and accommodating towards each other. We need to recognise that disagreements are entirely natural. As Marcus Aurelius said: “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

To be truly objective, we must be subjective from the other person’s point of view. We must step into his shoes; see the world through his eyes; feel his pain and note his concerns.

Showing love and understanding for others, especially those who are different from us, and from whom we expect nothing, isn’t that what religion is also about?

> Shad Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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