The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has questioned the lack of public engagement by the new government in the drafting of three new racial harmony and anti-discrimination bills it plans to table in October.
Referring to the Anti-Discrimination Bill, the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill and the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, Suhakam chairperson Razali Ismail urged the Pakatan Harapan administration not to repeat the actions of the previous regime in rushing the bills through Parliament.
He said it was surprising that a government, which had been touting openness and transparency, had not sought to consult the necessary stakeholders or the public on these matters.
"Despite the new government’s claims of commitment to openness and transparency that are central pillars of effective governance, the Pakatan Harapan government, not unlike its predecessor, has not demonstrated any step to institutionalise a framework for meaningful public engagement in law-making.
"Suhakam is surprised that the minister has ignored the need for public and stakeholder consultations on these proposed laws," Razali said in a statement today.
He was referring to the announcement by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of religious affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa that the three bills are being drafted and will be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat.
Mujahid had stated that the laws would be aimed at protecting Islam and other religions, among others.
To this, Razali stated that it was important for the new government to consider all the necessary conditions needed to ensure racial and religious harmony in the country.
He further questioned if the proposed laws would include active measures to remove existing causes of discrimination in Malaysia, citing racial discrimination in the education sector as an example.
"It is commendable that the government appears to be taking steps to address the rising extremist sentiments in Malaysia, but these laws must fully consider the necessary conditions for racial and religious harmony, which are moderation and tolerance.
"For Suhakam, there has been no opportunity to consider the compatibility of the proposed legislation with human rights norms, which is at odds with the government’s promise to make 'Malaysia’s human rights record respected by the world' (Promise 26 in Harapan manifesto).
"Suhakam reiterates that the public should be invited to give feedback on the draft bills through online or other platforms for a fixed duration as in the case of many democracies around the world," Razali added.