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Malaysia, Merdeka and the Rohingya ‘problem’ — Zoe Randhawa

AUGUST 31 — This Hari Kebangsaan, I am feeling a mix of emotions. I am proud of our country and proud to play my small part as a citizen to work towards a better Malaysia.

Yet, I cannot shake an image I saw on social media yesterday. The image was of a man who was part of a group of Rohingya that had protested outside the Myanmar Embassy. He had been arrested by police for 'illegal assembly' and was in tears.

I can't begin to understand or know of his situation. But, we do know many Rohingya arrive in Malaysia fleeing violence and persecution. Often they arrive without proper documentation and struggle to survive, with no access to legal employment, healthcare and education.

As upsetting as that image of the helpless, crying man was, even more gut wrenching were the comments by my fellow citizens.

One prominent writer and Suhakam Human Rights Award recipient commented that these foreigners were just causing trouble and traffic jams. They needed to respect local customs. She urged for locals who had helped them organise the protest to be arrested.

Such attitudes show us how far we still need to go in developing a truly empathetic and compassionate society, with a comprehensive understanding of how we can progress together.

We now share this country with millions of foreigners, both legal and illegal. They work in jobs that most Malaysians would never take up, often in exploitative conditions. Not only is their exploitation morally wrong, but it creates an impoverished, disempowered underclass of people in the country. Poverty and powerlessness are key drivers of crime and anti-social behaviour.

A core human rights principle is the acknowledgement that the denial of fundamental rights is a catalyst for instability.

It is to the benefit of society as a whole, Malaysians and non-Malaysians, to provide these people with basic rights.

The right to assemble peacefully is one of these core human rights. The right to freedom of expression is a core human right. If people are denied these rights, they feel trapped in situations with no legitimate and legal avenues to air their grievances.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is recognised as a guiding document for our own Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act, begins with the most simple of preambles:

"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world... disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."

This document recognises that human rights are inalienable. They cannot be denied because a person is a foreigner, a refugee, poor or sick.

While the Peaceful Assembly Act continues to deny the right to peaceful assembly to foreign nationals, a respect and complete understanding of human rights can only boost our progress towards a more united, prosperous and secure nation.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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