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Human rights and the Malaysian constitution examined through the lens of the Internal Security Act 1960

CollectionsConstitutions and Human Rights in a Global Age Symposium : An Asia-Pacific Perspective (2001)
Title: Human rights and the Malaysian constitution examined through the lens of the Internal Security Act 1960
Author(s): Tan, Poh-Ling
Keywords: Malaysian Constitution
human rights
ethnic and religious identity
Internal Security Act 1960
Date published: 2001
Publisher: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Division of Pacific and Asia History, The Australian National University.
[Introduction]: With its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, Malaysia is typical of countries in South-East Asia. Although there are 16 major ethnic groups and 48 minor ethnic groups in the country, official statistics list the main people groups are the Malays and indigenous people (65.1%) Chinese (26%) and Indians (7.7%). The country's pluralist society arises both from a slow filtering of people probably from south western China into south east Asia dating from 2500 BC and policies of the British colonisers in the mid-19th century. Among the factors which sets this country apart from its neighbours is that the ethnic and religious identity of the Malays, its main group, is enshrined in the Constitution. The constitutional definition of this group as persons who profess the religion of Islam, habitually speak the Malay language and conform to Malay custom is evidence that Islam is considered an integral part of the Malay persona and a questioning of one part is considered an attack on the other, leading to a heightened sensitivity. In addition, this main group does not form an overwhelming majority of the population. In spite of the relative balance between groups, communalism is a distinct factor in the nations political and economic institutions. The ruling coalition, known as the Alliance in early years and the Barisan Nasional in later years comprises the United Malaysian National Organisation (UMNO), their Chinese and Indian partners, and a number of small (and weak) political parties. Despite UMNOs role as the leader of this ostensibly multi-ethnic coalition, it is frequently at the forefront of communal politicking.5 Riots in Kuala Lumpur, the nations capital city, and elsewhere in 1969 mark a low in communal relations. Coinciding with other parts of the Muslim world, the 1970s saw the re-assertion of Islamic thought in Malaysia. Islamic institutions such as the Bank Islam and the International Islamic University were set up in 1983. From time to time calls by the opposition Partai Islam (PAS) for the setting of an Islamic state are heard. Through an analysis of the ISA the paper shows how executive acts have cast a pall over all of the human rights mentioned in the Constitution. This paper refers to the original purpose of the ISA and contrasts this with the characterisation of present detainees. It outlines the legislative scheme and examines the lack of safeguards within the Act. This paper concludes that the ISA is unlikely to be repealed, although this Act is now unacceptable to many groups within Malaysia. Until informed debate takes place to resolve old and new tensions within this pluralist society, the observation of human rights will continue to be superficial as will be the practice of constitutionalism.
ISBN: 909524262


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