VoiceOut: UM Law Society Asks Government To ‘Reconsider ICERD’


On the 23rd of November 2018, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement announcing that Malaysia would NOT ratify the International Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The announcement came after days of protest by certain quarters of the Malaysian community opposing the ratification.

In fact, political parties such as UMNO and PAS had made known that their members would hold a rally on the 8th of December protesting ICERD.

However, while the announcement of the non-ratification of ICERD might quell the unrest made by the protesting parties, it is apparent that the government’s decision is disappointing, to say the least.

This sentiment is shared by the Law Society of the University of Malaya – aka the UM Law Society.

In their latest press release, the society;

highlights the importance of ratifying ICERD and our perspective on the issue as law students from the University of Malaya which we believe is of grave importance to be imparted, for the public to be able to discern different opinions regarding the matter.

Here’s what they wrote.

To read the full pdf click here.

Here are some MAJOR key points from their statement.

In their article, The UM Law Society is gravely concerned with the decision by the government to succumb to pressures from certain sects of the rakyat and not ratify ICERD

In fact, an overwhelming 89.1% of student in the University Malaya Law Faculty actually supported the ratification of ICERD.

But why? Well, here were their arguments.

  • While ICERD main function is to combat racial discrimination, it actually allows for extensive definition.

Under ICERD, all signatories – meaning people who sign the treaty – are called on to;

take all necessary measures to prevent all manifestations of racial, religious and national hatred

But like most, international treaties, ICERD also allows for wide definition under Article 1.

Article 1 allows each State – which in our case is Malaysia – to define what is and is not considered racial discrimination. Now this includes the difference in citizenship status and as well as the provision for special measures.

  • ICERD does NOT infringe Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution


In the past few days, the main argument given by parties opposing the ratification of ICERD is that it infringes Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution.

Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution basically outlines special provisions. These provisions are given to the Malay community and also natives of Sabah and Sarawak. It includes special quotas permits and services.

However, the UM Law Society argues that this is not the case!

In their article, they explicitly explain that ICERD actually provides exceptions. It states that;

Article 1(4) of ICERD permits “special measures”, which includes affirmative action or positive discrimination and it is backed by Article 2(2) of the same convention

Hence, it argues that ICERD posses no threat to Article 153.

  • It forces our Government to do things…Or does it?

Now, there has been a huge misconception among the Malaysian public that ratifying ICERD essentially forces our Government into action.

ICERD is not like this. We repeat, NOT LIKE THIS!

But the truth is, international treaties DO NOT have such awesome powers.

In the Federal Constitution;

it does not contain any provision which clearly states that international law shall be deemed part of the law of the land

In layman’s terms, just because something is part of international law does not make it Malaysian law. Moreover,

Article 74(1) of the Federal Constitution…Parliament has the power to make laws inclusive of external affairs as well as the power to implement and operate them domestically.

This means only Parliament has the power to decide whether a particular law would apply in Malaysia.

Aside from that, Malaysia has several cases that clearly states that international law will not form part of local law unless Parliament decides otherwise.

In 2017 the Court of Appeal also held that international treaties do not form part of the law in Malaysia. Unless, of course, such treaties have been incorporated into the municipal law.

Therefore, all the fuss that ratifying ICERD will touch sensitive issues like Article 153 is just empty fear-mongering.

What is important is to realize that, the fundamental liberties that ICERD champions are in line with our Federal Constitution.


As a country with people of various races and religions, it is only just that we ratify a convention to uphold our promise of equal rights to all.

In the end, what the UM Law Society is stating is that;

  • Firmly deny that the ratification of the ICERD can undermine the supremacy of our Constitution;
  • Ratification of the ICERD…should be celebrated as a positive step to the protection of all citizens of Malaysia from inequality and discrimination;
  • The ratification of the ICERD should not be a tool abused by certain parties for their political mileage, and most importantly

We urge the government to reconsider the non-ratification of the ICERD. And implore them to appreciate the purity of intentions behind the said convention.

What do you think about the non-ratification of ICERD??