By Charles Santiago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--“There’s no national interest here, only national embarrassment”: this popped into my mind as I sat contemplating International Human Rights Day.

These powerful words are not just relevant to a convicted felon but the country as a whole. And I say this with a lot of pain.

We have lost a robust nation; we have Malaysians wanting to leave and never return.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob launched “Keluarga Malaysia” in his inaugural speech after taking over the top job in the country.

He invited Malaysians to set aside their differences and come together to lift Malaysia to greater heights and help realise the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.

At the very core of this initiative is the melting down of racial, religious and ethnic boundaries.

Few months down the line Ismail Sabri crooned about Bumiputera-owned businesses at the front and centre of shopping malls.

He thumped his chest when Malaysia was selected to be on the United Nations Human Rights Council although it’s not a report card on good behaviour.

And true enough, we have the police investigating themselves in cases involving deaths in lock-ups. This recent initiative is sold to us as an effort to revamp the force’s integrity and image.

We didn’t allow for debate in Parliament on Pandora Papers, even though prominent Malaysians were named.

While Keluarga Malaysia specifically focuses on coordinating aid delivery to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, no thought has been given about those suffering the financial consequences of cancer. There is no effort to set-up a National Cancer Fund.

The welfare of its people must be central to every government. Human rights is about basic rights and freedom that belong to all of us who make up Malaysian society.

But top leaders make announcements that pit us against one another as they are race-based.

We have no respect for the rights of those who are the most vulnerable in our society: the Orang Asli, refugees, migrants, stateless persons, homeless people and those from the LGBT community.

It’s demotivating but I also see new leaders emerging from non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations. I see their passion and dedication. I see efforts at shifting perspectives through engagements and conversations.

And through it all I see a glimmer of hope for Malaysia. Holding on to that hope, I wish everyone a happy International Human Rights Day.

*Charles Santiago is Klang MP and a founding member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)*