By Annabelle Lee | Malaysiakini

A human rights activist has urged Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his government to be less “ultra-sensitive” and more firm in seeing through human rights reforms including signing international treaties.

At a forum in the capital today, Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) director Edmund Bon commended Pakatan Harapan’s more consultative approach to governance as compared to BN.

However, he remarked that the government had become “ultra-sensitive” to public opinion and right-wing groups which led to it backtracking on signing UN treaties like the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“This new government is so ultra-sensitive that a little bit of social media (uproar) makes them backtrack on certain decisions taken.

“[…] (if you backtrack,) you are not going to please the right-wing groups because they are going to attack you anyway.

“And you’re not going to please the human rights groups because the promises were already made,” he said during the forum (below) themed, “How can civil society defend democratic space in authoritarian countries?” organised by the World Movement for Democracy.

There was still a lot of hope for Harapan, but Bon opined that patience for its slow pace of human rights reforms was wearing thin.

“We have an ‘authoritarian’ prime minister who has promised to sign up to six (international) treaties.

“Perhaps he can be a bit more authoritarian on human rights reforms,” quipped Bon.

In his address to the 73rd UN General Assembly last year, Mahathir had promised that Malaysia would ratify “all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights”.

Bon, a lawyer and formerly Malaysia’s representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), also remarked that Harapan needed all civil servants on board in order to successfully implement its human rights agenda.

He was particularly concerned about the condescending way in which civil servants have been described in public statements by members of the government.

“The language that is coming out of this government is that the civil servants are sabotaging us, civil servants are corrupt.

“When you say that openly regarding the civil servants, and then you go into the office, you will face civil servants who do not want to work with you.

“[…] of course there are civil servants who may not be very good but there are certain strategies and ways you can manage civil servants,” said Bon.

Since taking office last May, Mahathir has repeatedly chastised civil servants for being prone to corruption, having communication problems and even attempting to sabotage the Harapan government.