Responding to the opinion piece by Azril Mohd Amin, the founder of Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (CENTHRA) – “How to not deepen divisions, spread misunderstanding” published in New Straits Times on April 2 2021, Pusat KOMAS welcomes CENTHRA’s optimism and interpretation of the findings reported in the “Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report 2020” that racism and discrimination, while existent, are not serious or widespread in Malaysia. At Pusat KOMAS we are ever hopeful that the situation of racism and racial discrimination in Malaysia is not as serious or widespread as articulated by CENTHRA.

We are appalled by the author’s opinion piece which downplayed the incidences of racial discrimination reported in KOMAS latest “Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report 2020”. The author attributed the incidences of racial discrimination reported to be based on unhealthy degree of hypersensitivity and the actual situation on the ground is not as serious or widespread. Additionally, the author claimed that human rights non-governmental organizations tend to create offense through overly dramatic interpretations of otherwise innocuous events, in the absence of commonly accepted standards in the human rights arena, aimed to exorcise dysfunction from the society.

However, we would like to remind the author that the documentation of human rights violations though small in the lens of the author is an absolute necessity. There should not be any attempt to downplay violations of human rights, and in this case, incidences of racial discrimination. It is therefore imperative for us to consciously combat the issue of racism no matter how big or small the incident is like what the late Nelson Mandela said, “If there is one lesson we can learn from the struggle against racism, in our country as well as yours, it is that racism must be consciously combatted, and not discreetly tolerated”.

The documentation and reporting incidences of racial discrimination is vital in the work of human rights as it constitute a primary tool to record and analyse information, present findings of monitoring, express concern about a human rights problem, engage in dialogue and advocate with authorities, and propose recommendations for corrective action.

Reporting what has happened in a country or a specific human rights incident is, therefore, a crucial step for the development of strategies to address the growing issue of racism and racial discrimination. In this sense, the “Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report 2020” provided an overview of the different trends of racial discrimination in Malaysia such as racial and religious politics, racism in parliament, racial and religious incitement, racism in education, racism in social media, xenophobic behaviours and racism in other sectors which needs to be strategically addressed. In fact, the trends reported in this report were found to be recurring since the inception of KOMAS first Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report in 2015.

Furthermore, we would like to clarify that the incidences of racial discrimination highlighted by the report were based on international accepted definition of racial discrimination which is defined as:

“any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.

It is also important to also give nuances to the different chapters of the “Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report 2020” specifically on the efforts to promote national unity and incidences of racial discrimination and racism in Malaysia. We agree with the author that the labelling of every attempt to state racial or ethnicity-related concerns as instantly racist, will inevitably deepen divisions and spread misunderstanding, so does selective interpretation of the contents of the report.

As such, we hope that the “Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report 2020” could serve as an important document to move the nation forward to achieve high standards of national unity that was dreamt by our forefathers and generations before us. Sweeping the incidences of racial discrimination under the carpet would not resolve the issue of national unity in Malaysia. If the author strongly believes that there is no racism in Malaysia, let us celebrate the diversity in Malaysia. However, if the author feels that racism is an issue that needs to be addressed, he is welcomed to use the report to combat the growing threat of racism. It is now time for us to collate our energy and efforts to defeat the scourge of racism that affects each and every one of us Malaysians.

Statement issued by:
Dr. Ryan Chua
Programme Director of Pusat KOMAS