TO THE LAUNCH OF A WEEK OF CELEBRATIONS IN CONJUCTION WITH
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2014
INTERFAITH PANEL DISCUSSION
“HARMONY IN DIVERSITY: A HUMAN RIGHTS BASED APPROACH”
Date: Monday, 8 December 2014
Time: 9.00 a.m. – 13.00 pm
Venue: Auditorium, level 2, Institut Integriti Malaysia
The United Nations Country Team in Malaysia, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), the Bar Council Malaysia and the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM) are jointly hosting a number of events in conjunction with Human Rights Day. The aim is to organise a week of activities to enhance awareness and understanding on human rights. This week of activities resonates with the theme for Human Rights Day 2014; “Human Rights 365” and encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that human rights are an entitlement for each one of us, everywhere, at all times.
As a part of the launch of the week of activities, an Interfaith Panel is organized. The Panel themed ‘Harmony in diversity, a Human Rights Based Approach’ will host four panellists representing the main faiths in the country. Each panellist will offer a perspective, through the lens of their faith, on how to secure lasting harmony between people and communities in a religiously and ethnically diverse country like Malaysia, and the opportunities to address related challenges and move forward on a strong foundation of respect for and protection of human rights.
Arrival of Guests
Opening and Welcoming Remarks
Official launch of Human Rights Week
Interfaith Panel ; ‘Harmony in Diversity, a Human Rights Based Approach’
Interfaith Panel Discussion “Harmony in Diversity: A Human Rights Based Approach”
8 December 2014 (Monday)
Institute Integrity Malaysia (IIM)
Hon'ble Minister, Datuk Paul Low
Our distinguished Moderator and Penallists
Dear and honourable guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Clearly, this has indeed been a great Dialogue! It is my honour and pleasure to give the closing address at the conclusion of this fruitful discussion. First and foremost, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) is very pleased to be one of the co-organisers of this important Panel Discussion to commemorate this year’s Human Rights Day -- which, as you know, actually falls on 10 December. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) as the key organiser for this event, as well as our other partners, the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), PROHAM, and the Bar Council for their joint effort in making today’s event a success.
- On behalf of these partner agencies, I wish to extend my appreciation to the moderator, panellists as well as fellow participants for your valuable contributions in today’s panel discussion. The theme “Harmony in Diversity: A Human Rights Based Approach” has proven to be a very interesting and enlightening topic for this special event.
- In today’s panel discussion we have witnessed a positive and constructive and interaction between people of different religious traditions. It has enabled the panellists to exchange views, and the participants to share their reflections, on the topic which is highly pertinent in the context of a nation like Malaysia that has to face the challenge of preserving national harmony among its ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse communities.
- I concur with what had been said by the Hon'ble Minister, Senator Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan, in his speech this morning that “recognition and appreciation of the religious, social networking and cultural diversities of the various communities in Malaysia would promote greater tolerance, respect the and observance for human rights."
- May I also take this opportunity to thank the Minister not only for his keynote remarks but also for staying on to attend the Dialogue. This is a clear commitment to his new-found vocation as a Minister whose folio also includes human rights. We in SUHAKAM have always prided ourselves in our independence and, as some of you may know and appreciate, have fought hard to maintain this position in spite of the challenges facing us. It is very re-assuring to hear from Datuk Paul that "Suhakam is not a puppet; it is an independent Commission".
Ladies and gentlemen,
- As we all are aware, and had been stated many a time repeatedly: human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. These fundamental principles apply to all human beings, at all times irrespective of gender, nationality, race, religion and culture. Given the diversity of our people, we can ill afford to disregard these principles, in order to preserve social unity and harmony amongst our different communities, groups, and faiths in our beloved country.
- Buiding on this basis, we should always remind ourselves that defending diversity should go hand in hand with due respect for human dignity of other individuals or groups.
- Living in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious country, we all need to play our respective role in promoting mutual understanding out of these differences. An important platform to achieve this is through inter-faith dialogue, such as we are having today.
- An open and meaningful inter-faith dialogue will promote better appreciation and acceptance of religious diversity among all groups in society, as despite differences of beliefs, there is an underlying message of tolerance among all religions. This needs to be strenthened and nurtured at every opportunity. Indeed, I would venture to say that for a pluralistic society like Malaysia, we need to go beyond tolerance, for while tolerance was the foundation stone upon which the Malayan and then the Malaysian nation was built, tolerance alone would not provide the indispensable glue that will bind our various communities together into a cohesive, strong and resilient nation. We need to go beyond tolerance to forge respect and understanding out of our socio-cultural and religious, as well political differences, that wil allow us to exercise our freedom of expression in a mutually respectful and understanding atmosphere.
- I have always believed in, and have from time to time while in Suhakam, called for inter-faith dialogue for which I often got into trouble with some people. Often the robust response from those who are opposed to such a dialogue is: "what is there to dialogue about?" I'll leave it to you all to respond to that. As far as Suhakam and I are concerned such dialogues should have started a long time ago.
- However, in engaging in these dialogues, I should like to emphasise an important point here, and that is: freedom of expression, has to be understood in the positive way as one of the essential elements of a democratic and pluralistic country. It should NOT be misused or abused as an approach that promotes religious intolerance and bigotry, or worse still, incitement to religious or racial hatred in our society.
- In this pluralistic society of ours, all stakeholders have the duty to protect the rights of other individuals or groups against any form of act that promotes religious and racial hatred or ill-feelings or violence.
- It is important for us to respect the fundamental right of all citizens to freely profess and practise their religions as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as well as Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.
- While legal redress could serve as one of the ways to overcome religious and racial intolerance, our discussion today also demonstrated the need for a much broader set of policy measures to preserve harmony, through among others, interfaith dialogues, as well as education for tolerance and respect for diversity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
- I am sure all of you have been inspired and benefited a lot from today’s panel discussion, particularly from the various perspectives on ways to address challenges and to maintain sustainable harmony among all groups and communities in a religiously and ethnically diverse country like Malaysia.
- Let me conclude by thanking our Moderator, Dato Saifuddin - who has been very cool and balanced in his approach. I would also like to sincerely thank our distinguished panellists for their invaluable contribution in sharing their knowledge and experiences from their different perspectives in an atmosphere that was open and candid, yet respectful, the very epitome of tolerance and understanding that we have been talking about today. I also wish to thank all of you for your participation in today’s forum, which I hope will be followed up with many more forums so that civilized discussion or discourse would become an acceptable or normal way of our life as a society, and of resolving our differences whenever they occur.
- Thank you very much for your participation.