This of course is not the real reason why the Malaysian Government has refused in the past three decades to ratify the two International Human Rights Covenants - the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant of Social, Economic and Cultural Rights - as Malaysia should have no qualms about ratification of these two international covenants if the human rights in these two covenants are already embedded in the Malaysian Constitution.
The real reason why the Malaysian Government has refused to ratify the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, although Malaysia voted for the Covenant in the United Nations General Assembly in December 1966, is because the Malaysia Government is afraid to subject its human rights record to international scrutiny as the Covenant provides for a mechanism to deal with complaints against human rights violations by states.
1998 has been designated the International Human Rights Year for governments, peoples and organisations all over the world to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to celebrate the progress in human rights which had been chalked up in the previous half century and to decide on a new strategy to further promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the new millennium. The 1998 Human Rights Year started from December 10, 1997 and will culminate on December 10, 1998.
The Malaysian Government has been especially mute as far as the 1998 Human Rights Year celebrations as concerned. The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had publicly questioned the universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even more pertinent, 1998 is shaping up to be a very black year for human rights, democracy and the rule of law for Malaysia.
Malaysians see a great retrogression of human rights this year, whether in the indiscriminate use of the Internal Security Act against dissent, the clampdown on the fundamental right to peaceful assembly to express the people’s legitimate concerns, the serious erosion of limited press freedoms, or the manifest injustices in the cases of Lim Guan Eng and Anwar Ibrahim, with the latter the victim of a trial and conviction by media for serious allegations in complete disregard of the fundamental principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
There is in fact the danger of further backsliding of human rights in Malaysia with fears that there might be a major crackdown against human rights and the fundamental liberties of freedom of speech and assembly after next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Malaysians wonder whether the government has suspended various actions against human rights at the moment because the authorities want to get APEC out of the way and if so, the pertinent question is: What is going to happen after APEC?