The ICERD Outrage | Malaysiakini
Special Report


Malaysia is one of only two Muslim-majority countries in the world that have not ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

On 23 Nov 2018, the Pakatan Harapan government decided against acceding to ICERD after weeks of racially and religiously charged protests.

ICERD was initiated by the United Nations (UN) in 1965 to deal with global racial intolerance but in Malaysia, it was perceived as a threat to bumiputera special privileges (Article 153) and Islam.


Countries are allowed to ratify ICERD with reservations, which works like a caveat. Some countries have made reservations so that the convention would not supersede their constitution.

Some of these countries include the US, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Nepal and Jamaica. Here are some examples:

Given the examples, Malaysia can ratify ICERD with similar reservations to put to rest concerns that it would affect the Federal Constitution.

A reservation can be rejected if two-thirds of countries that have ratified ICERD disagree with it, but this has never happened before and it is highly unlikely to get objections from two-thirds of 179 countries.

Ideal vs reality:

On paper, ICERD is intended to be binding but the UN has not been able to properly enforce the convention as there is no enforcement body.

For example, the Romani people lodged complaints against Slovakia for discrimination and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found the country had violated ICERD.

The committee provided recommendations but Slovakia claimed they were non-binding and ignored them.[1]

The committee also produces an annual report, in which it had previously criticised certain aspects of syariah in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran and provided recommendations but it was up to the countries to decide on further action.[2]

Nevertheless, ICERD has served as a guiding principle for countries drafting anti-discrimination laws.

Are you an informed citizen?

Apart from ICERD, some political leaders have also suggested that the remaining five UN human rights conventions which Malaysia have not ratified are threats to the country.

Do you agree? Before you decide, remember to read what they are all about.

Tell us what you think

  • Did Putrajaya make the right decision not to ratify ICERD?

  • Should Malaysia ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)?

  • Should Malaysia ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED)?

  • Should Malaysia ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)?

  • Should Malaysia ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)?

  • Should Malaysia ratify International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW)?


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