The State is already a shining example of racial and religious harmony in the country but human rights bodies believe that the State Government can take it one step further by implementing the principles of non-discrimination in the administration of the State.
A close-door roundtable discussion, jointly organised by Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Komas) and Suhakam, was held on Thursday, which aimed to engage stakeholders in the State Government to promote the implementation of the ICERD principles.
Organisers hoped the engagement could be treated as a commitment by the State Government to present itself a model government in eradicating race-based politics and reduce racial discrimination in Malaysia.
Malaysia is one of 15 out of 175 United Nations member countries that are not yet party to the ICERD, including North Korea, Myanmar and a dozen authoritarian countries.
Of the seven UN treaties, Malaysia has ratified three, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (CRPD).
Suhakam, however, believes that the country is ready to ratify the ICERD, although it has had to deal with many issues concerning racial and religious discriminations.
While this may still take time and political will on the part of the Federal Government, the commission and other human rights organisations believe that engagements with the State Government and all local stakeholders on the ground are important.
"We understand that the Federal Government may take its time to ratify. But while waiting for that, we want to engage with the State Government and all stakeholders to push the principles of non-discrimination on the ground.
"We want to go to communities and say that despite our different identities, ethnicities and religions we can all come together as Malaysians," said Suhakam Commissioner Jerald Joseph.
He acknowledged that Sabah has already embraced the international standards of non-discrimination by virtue of the racial and religious harmony enjoyed by the people.
However, he said the State can still move forward in promoting the agenda, and hopefully would inspire the Federal Government to eventually ratify the convention.
Following the first roundtable discussion, Joseph said organisers will continue to engage with many more partners in the State to combat all forms of racial and religious discrimination.
KOMAS chairs the ICERD working group in the country and has worked with the Federal Government through the Department of National Unity and Integration in the Prime Minister's Department by calling for the ratification of the convention.
The ratification of ICERD and its implementation is essential to ensure that the Malaysian Government honours its obligations as a member of the UN, and strives to achieve a higher standard by developing a nation built on the principles of equality, respect and acceptance of all citizens.
Malaysia is also a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Also present were Datuk Godfrey Gregory Jitol, also a Suhakam Commissioner, Komas Programme Coordinator Ryan Chua, Prof Dato Dr Teo Kok Seong, and Senior Fellow of the Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. - Leonard Alaza