TREATIES are tricky, especially multilateral ones. Take the case of the United Nations Charter, a multilateral treaty by another name. Many developing countries which signed up thought they were in for a treat but ended being tricked. Of the some 200 countries in the world, 193 are members of the UN General Assembly, UNGA as it has come to be called. UNGA is at most a paper tiger; its resolutions do not have the force of law.
Another less represented body in the UN — the Security Council — which houses the rich and powerful five of the world — has made sure that only the UNSC’s resolutions have the force of law. Five nations — US, Britain, France, Russia and China — decide what is good or not good for the world. Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die, as the English poet Lord Tennyson put it.
Trick never fails to stare down the face of the poor and powerless nations. The fate of of the most persecuted people of the world — the Rohingya — is an abject lesson of this. Malaysia has been making a case for UN intervention for years and yet the UNSC members who have vested interests in Myanmar are preventing any action being taken against the genocidal military regime. There are some things money can buy.
Malaysia needs to tread carefully when it comes to ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); for though it comes clothed in human rights language we must assert our sovereign right to manage our affairs as we see fit. We must not allow Western dictates to trump our customs and values. Proponents of the human rights movement market ICERD and other ideas as “universal”. But “universal” from whose point of view? Why should what the West sees as good for them be universally good for all? In fact, it might even be dangerous.
If the West cannot get its way, it uses human rights language to effect regime change. The destruction of Iraq is the most blatant example of this. Iran is now facing the gunsight of the US. Another regime change may just be around the corner. Sadly, what perhaps may have begun with good intentions is now being used by the rich and powerful nations as a tool for a new form of imperialism.
What is good for the Whites in Washington need not necessarily be good for the Persians. Might should never be allowed to be right. Democracy teaches us that votes change governments, not bullets or sanctions. The UNSC members must not just speak democracy, they must also “do” democracy.
ICERD is not the only path to promote human rights. Other roads lead to Rome too. What is needed is for Malaysia to explore other ways to implement human rights practices that are Federal Constitution-friendly instead of being bound by big power agenda. ICERD comes in one size, and with strings attached at that. But countries come in many hues and shapes. No one size must be made to fit all.