For some Malaysians, International Human Rights Day passed uneventfully recently. There was no cause for celebration.
In fact, the day only served as a grim reminder, particularly to the vulnerable and marginalised, that their basic rights have been ignored, if not completely erased.
The Orang Asli and other indigenous peoples in our midst, for instance, bear the burden of having their right to their cultures and native customary land transgressed upon. They are often not consulted when development projects that encroach on their land are planned and executed.
Worse, the destruction of their land through indiscriminate logging brings about a loss of their livelihoods and the natural habitat, interfering with their lifestyle and causing floods.
To be sure, these indigenous peoples, who are the guardians of our environment, serve as an essential bulwark against human intervention that would rob the future generation of planet Earth, which is still liveable. They should not be thanked in an unsavoury way for saving the environment.
Manual workers are another group of people who are often exposed to occupational hazards owing to a low level of work safety.
Construction workers come to mind, as some employers do not provide enough work safety precautions on physical sites. As a result, there have been cases of workers falling off buildings under construction or pinned by a fallen crane.
Workers, especially migrants, in other sectors also fall victim to exploitation of various kinds by their employers. Not only are their rights to a safe working environment denied, they are often underpaid and overworked.
Healthcare is a basic right, and yet many Malaysians find themselves having to wait in a long queue for a doctor’s appointment. A few might even succumb to their illness while waiting. This is because many public hospitals are crowded, suffer from inadequate facilities, healthcare providers and government funds, as well as overworked doctors.
Adding to their woes is the fact that contract doctors, who are essential frontline personnel in public hospitals, work tirelessly and yet are uncertain about their career future. Some have already left the government service as a result.
Having more private hospitals may not solve the problem. The lure of better pay and benefits has seen a migration of government doctors to the private hospitals, depriving public hospital patients of an adequate supply of doctors and specialists.
This is apart from the fact that treatment at private hospitals is priced beyond the reach of the needy and the lower-income group. So, the needy and others of a similar social background have no choice but to rely on public hospitals for medical treatment.
Medical tourism may well assure profits to private hospitals, but it also helps to maintain the high prices of private healthcare.
Uneven development by region or political consideration indicates that certain segments of the population are denied their democratic right to adequate development. This can take the form of development concentrating in urban and industrialised centres such as the Klang Valley as opposed to Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak.
Denying opposition MPs development funds that are equal to the amount allocated to government MPs would only mean that the former’s constituencies are deprived of their right to proper development funded by taxpayers.
Certain government policies that have an ethnic bias cause particular members of our society to be deprived of the opportunity to improve their living standards and the possibility of moving up the social ladder.
Some others do not get a break to gain upward social mobility because their political inclinations are not aligned with that of the ruling elite, even though they have the ‘right’ skin colour.
Indeed, some members of the larger Malaysian family are given treatment that befits stepchildren, which is unjust.
Being ordinary Malaysians doesn’t help either when compared to the elite in society. The pandemic, in particular, has shown us that double standards were employed in the enforcement of theCovid rules. The common people’s right to justice is violated.
Cynics would venture to say that even in crimes, the guilty do not get equal punishment, as it apparently depends on how much you steal and who does the stealing.
Two important values that are central to the notion of human rights are dignity and equality.
The rights of Malaysians are denied when their dignity as humans is trampled upon and equality compromised. – The Malaysian Insight