51 Ideas for a Better Malaysia – #3

Prologue: I was tagged by Walski of myAsylum about a week ago to participate in this blogger initiative started by Nizam Bashir. The idea behind this initiative is to come up with 51 ideas on how to make a better Malaysia, with one blogger posting one idea per week. The first post started, of course, with Nizam himself, which he tagged next to Walski. This week, it is my turn to come up with:

IDEA #3: Educate Malaysians on Human Rights

This, at first glance, would seem like nothing. After all, who doesn’t know what human rights are, right? We all know that we’re free to speak, free to express ourselves, free to walk and talk and buy things, free to work, free to earn, free to..whatever. We all know that.

But that’s not what I mean. To randomly pick an analogy that would be easy to grasp my idea of “educate”: I am a non-Muslim. But I KNOW what Islam is. I know it’s a religion in which Allah is the Almighty, that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is/was the last true prophet, and that the Quran is the holy book in Islam.

But to educate me about Islam, is quite something else. It is to teach me about the teachings of Islam. It is to allow me to understand it more deeply. It is to allow me the privilege of seeing the beauty of Islam the way Muslims see it. And by educating me, you are also teaching me to respect Islam.

And that, is what I propose we do with Human Rights in Malaysia. It is not enough that we know we can walk and talk and everything else, we must also be informed about what it really is, what laws bind us, what laws discriminate us, what laws do not conform to human rights, and what we as the people should know, and how it is influential in our everyday lives.

Recognising the problem

First and foremost, we as Malaysians must know what it is that is guaranteed as our basic rights as humans and citizens of Malaysia. This can be found in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not many of us know that.

When we talk about human rights, there is this funny misconception that it is “western” and so is not suitable for our country, which is “eastern” in culture. Then there are other skewed beliefs of the declaration, like “if we allow for human rights, there will be anarchy”, or “what about the sensitivities of people”, or “Malaysia doesn’t need this”.

All these views betray a lack of understanding for what is true human rights, and what human rights activists have been fighting for. And this is where educating the public becomes so important in disspelling these myths.

How do we do this

There are many, and I mean MANY, human rights groups in Malaysia. SUARAM is just one of them. And if I may say so myself, I think they’re doing a pretty good job. Just not too long ago, SUARAM organised roadshows and workshops, opening them to the public, so as the public may get to know more about what rights they have, and why they are so important.

And roadshows like these are always a good way to start. Get the community involved: the local townhall, the local school, the local church or masjid or temple. Don’t think that just the teachers, the students, or the educated need to know what human rights are. The makcik who sells cendol at your favourite stall should know about her rights. The uncle who sells you newspapers should know about his rights. The retired old man across the street who lives his days smoking out in his garden needs to know about his rights. Get them involved.

And there’s always school. Taking cue from Walski, our fundamental human rights should be taught in schools, possibly in Civil Education. It’s not enough to learn “Pendidikan Moral”, that incidentally the Muslim students forego. It’s not enough to be “moral”. We need to teach our children that we have our rights, and others have their rights. And that we need to respect their rights the way we want them to respect ours.

The media, and I mean the mainstream media, has a huge part to play in educating society. Much as some people have come to distrust the papers, it is highly naive to think that the papers carry no more weight. Given, in this day and time, the Internet is reaching out to more and more people. But the media is not called “mass media” for no good reason. It is supposed to be a media “for the masses”. And that’s why the media has to be roped in to help disseminate information about our rights.

The media can help by publishing articles and columns that touch on explaining our rights. Tell them what they have, and what they should be grateful for. Then tell them what they don’t have, and why. Teach them about the laws of the country. Don’t just go “The ISA is draconian and against human rights”, and expect them to clap their hands. Explain the law to them. Tell them what it does. (Added: And THIS article is a good start. Let’s have more of this forthcoming.)

To educate means to get people to understand.


It is important that we all know, knowledge is power. And with it, comes a deeper understanding for what is happening around us.

From learning about human rights, we learn that we need to respect our neighbours by not walking into the garden in our undies, in the same way we expect them to respect us by not wearing shoes into our houses.

We learn that when we don’t agree with something, we don’t shoot that person down, but rather we sit and have respectful dialogue. We learn that if after the dialogue we still cannot agree with each other, we don’t label them traitors of our kind, simply because they think differently.

We learn to respect dissenting views as a part of life, and a crucial part of growing.

And is that not what is fundamental in forming a united Malaysia?

Epilogue: Next person tagged for this initiative is Crankster of Crankshafted. Great place to visit, plenty of good writing, and you can expect a good idea coming from her, which is due next Sunday, 21/09/2008.

**Footnote: I wrote this piece before the ISA arrests and show-cause letters on Friday. Today, I have more reason to believe that the public needs to know what their basic rights are, and how certain laws completely disregard those rights. The ISA, which allows for indefinite detention without trial, tramples on both Articles 9 and 10 of the Declaration, which states that no one should be subject to arbitruary detention/arrest, and that everyone has a right to fair and public trial.

7 Comments on “51 Ideas for a Better Malaysia – #3”

  1. walski69 says:

    Very well put.

    Incidentally, the non-observance of several articles (in addition to the two you’ve mention) in as far as Malaysian law goes, is the main reason why the UDHR has not been, and cannot be, ratified by the Malaysian government.

    What I do find amusing sometimes is how certain quarters call for protecting their human rights, by necessarily curtailing the rights of others. In addition to education about human rights, it also has to do with another important precept – respect – something that has been on the steady decline in Malaysia.

    We have a long ways to go yet, but every journey begins with the willingness to take that first step, and the courage to continue. And the Cynical Optimist in me thinks that we’ll get there… eventually.
    With your cynical optimism, my naive idealism, plus a whole lot of others out there, we’ll get there.

  2. bangmalaysia says:

    Excellent idea Michelle. Human Rights education starts from the young. We need to educate them to respect the dignity of others.

    By the way I have taken up the initiative by setting up the blog Human Resource Center Malaysia at:

    I hope it’ll be a good repository of HR books and materials. I need ideas from you to make it the best worldwide. Thanks.

    PS: I certainly would not mind opening access of this blog to you if you have materials to post. N Zealand is very progressive on HR. I attended a conference on HR in Auckland once and they are lightyears ahead of Malaysia on HR.
    Have had a look at the site. I think the idea behind it is great. If I do have anything on Human Rights that I could contribute, I’ll just email it to you, no sweat. Meanwhile, thanks for taking up the initiative.

  3. bangmalaysia says:

    Thanks Mich,

    I guess human rights is something that both of us hold dearly.

    I am also trying to write some simple books on human rights for primary school kids and on on SUHAKAM, the HR Commission of Malaysia, how effective it is in promoting and protecting HR in Malaysia.

    BTW just to share something with you. I met Mrs Mary Robinson in Geneva some years ago while attending a UNCHR meeting. She was the UN HR Commissioner at that time. Her greatest concern for Malaysia is the discriminatory practices here. We had a long discussion and someday if I meet you, we can discuss further.

    You said: I am also trying to write some simple books on human rights for primary school kids..

    Me: Oh, that’s such a great idea! Let me know if there’s any way at all that I can be part of that!

    You said: ..someday if I meet you, we can discuss further.

    Me: That would be great.

  4. jeff says:

    The day when umno-BN is toppled from federal government by the voters will signal a new dawn has arrived in Malaysia, then all the rotten policy can be corrected, Malaysians will have the opportunity to enjoy equality , liberty and justice. Until that time, basic rights of Malaysians will never be upheld and respected.

  5. Anti-ISA says:


    In order to make the poor ordinary citizens aware of their contitutional rights, in Venezuela, articles of their constitutional rights are printed on the flipside of food packets found in sundry shops.

    This is people power in action.

    It IS a brilliant idea. And it’s one sure-fire way of getting to the masses, the ordinary people.

  6. Anti-ISA says:

    It’s from this very inspiring movie,
    John Pilger’s award-winning War on Democracy.

    Found here:


    Mayber you could get other ideas from this movie too.

    “War on Democracy” is currently sitting at home. Will take the time to watch it once I have the chance. Thanks for the heads-up.

  7. Anti-ISA says:

    Please support the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007, H.R. 275, without any amendments that would hinder its ability to prevent U.S. Internet technology companies from cooperating with repressive governments attempting to limit freedom of expression and access to information.

    Governments are now making Internet and technology companies allies in their effort to censor and repress the Internet. For example, the Chinese Government pressured Yahoo! to turn over to its police the names of political dissidents who use the company’s e-mail service. One such dissident, journalist Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being identified by Yahoo!. China convinced Microsoft to shut down Internet blogs in which Chinese users were criticizing their government, and persuaded Google to censor its search engine results.

    As it now stands, H.R. 275 would help ensure that the Internet remains an open forum for free expression in every part of the world, and help American companies resist pressure from foreign governments to compromise their U.S. values of free speech. Specifically, I ask you to protect the key provisions of the Act, which prohibit U.S. companies from locating personally identifiable information in a country that represses freedom of expression and resist providing repressive governments with personally identifiable information of users (except for legitimate law enforcement purposes).

    Internet companies have an invaluable role to play in the realization of freedom of expression and information. To help ensure that U.S. companies operating in repressive countries can influence the development of the Internet in a positive way, they must operate on a higher standard than do local providers. Thus far, the leading U.S. companies are not doing so. Their task of standing up to repressive governments is more difficult, though, without clear rules of the road and strong engagement from the U.S. Government.

    This bill helps companies stand up by requiring them to tell the U.S. government what terms they are using to filter, limit or affect search results based on a request or policy of a foreign government, and the content they are removing or blocking. This transparency is essential if we are to combat restrictions on freedom of expression around the world.

    There will be increased scrutiny of abuses to freedom of expression and access to information in China, and around the world. At this critical time, we call on the U.S. Government to demonstrate leadership in ensuring U.S. companies are not a party to censorship, but are truly a force for greater Internet freedom in the world.

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