What would you rate Sarawak’s level of awareness on human rights?
By Patricia Hului
Nelson Mandela once said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
During Sarawak’s first ever Festival of Rights themed ‘Human Rights for All’ held in conjunction with International Human Rights Day, representatives from three NGOs shared their thoughts on the level of awareness on human rights in Sarawak.
Gwen Lee from Amnesty International Malaysia observed that Malaysians were slowly gathering awareness on current issues.
“If you look at social media nowadays, people are more likely to talk about social issues, rights and so on,” she said.
Looking at her younger friends who were becoming more opinionated in what they wanted to see happen in Malaysia, Lee said that people were becoming more informed due to a wider range of alternative media such as Malaysiakini compared to traditional mainstream media.
“The technology does help us get more information and listening to different opinions.”
She opined that while human rights awareness in Malaysia as a whole was getting better, there was still room for improvement.
For starters, Lee pointed out that Malaysia did not incorporate human rights education.
“We don’t have human rights education in school. If we have human rights education in school, the awareness will rise very quickly.”
Simon Siah from Lawyer Kamek 4 Change opined that although the technology is here, many in rural Sarawak do not have access to it.
“If we do not go there and tell them or their family members who read about human rights on online media do not tell them, they would not know.”
Still, he found that awareness on human rights among Sarawakians was increasing.
For instance, Siah observed that a lot of NGOS in Sarawak for civil rights movements have been starting up the last five years.
“To me, Sarawak now is like the Arab Spring when it comes to human rights. (But) To put it mildly, we are still shy,” he said.
Siah pointed out the difference between human and legal rights.
“Human rights are rights accorded to you the moment that you were conceived while legal rights are rights created by the government.
“I believe there is nothing to be afraid of because that right which you have are God-given rights. If you don’t practice it and it is there for you, it is useless.”
On a scale of one to five, how much did Siah rate Sarawakians’ awareness on human rights?
He answered, “The whole of Sarawak I would give 2, and for town areas such as Kuching, Sibu and Miri I would give a ‘4’. The awareness is really there, you can see it from their faces.”
SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang, however, did not share Lee and Siah’s optimism.
Since its inception five years ago, SAVE Rivers has experienced its own ups and down in voicing the rights of indigenous people in Sarawak especially in the Baram areas.
According to Peter, the level of awareness on human rights for overall Sarawak was still low although those in the urban areas might be more informed.
“When you talk to people in town, they would know everything about human rights, but they are comfortable where they are.”
Organised by the Civil Society Project coalition, the festivals featured both international and local NGOs included Purple Lily, Ikram Sarawak, Sarawak Aids Concern Society, Lawyers Kamek 4 Change, Rise of Sarawak Efforts, Save Rivers and Teori Timur, Society for Rights of Indigenous People of Sarawak, Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia (JOAS), Sisters United and Pertubuhan Kebajikan Sinar Harapan.
Readers, what would you rate Sarawak’s level of awareness on human rights on a scale of one to five?