Liberal Ideas

Liberalism, as the name implies, is the fundamental belief in a political ideal where individuals are free to pursue their own goals in their own ways provided they do not infringe on the equal liberty of others. But what are the basic principles of liberalism and liberal democracy exactly?

Human rights

Firstly, there is a commitment to fundamental human rights. Human rights are rights that the individual deserves to enjoy as a human being and member of a society. They protect the individual as well as the freedom and dignity of that individual. Respect for human rights is essential to social stability and peace while human rights abuses breed resentment, hatred and unrest.

Fundamental human rights, for example, are the right to human dignity, life, freedom from slavery, freedom of religion, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of association and so forth.

The right to freedom from slavery is an absolute right that cannot be limited. But what about freedom of expression? A famous example of a limitation here is that one cannot allow people to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. Doing so would cause a panic and people would get hurt trying to get out. However, liberals are usually very much against limiting freedom of expression, or censorship, because it is often used by governments to suppress people and views that differ from what the government wants people to believe or say.

Equality

Of particular importance among the fundamental human rights is the right to equality. As with other fundamental rights, there is debate about what exactly equality means. All liberals will agree that equality means there can be no discrimination. In a court of law, for example, there can be no discrimination on the grounds of race (black or white) or gender (male or female) or religion (Christian or Muslim). There are still places where, for example, what a woman has to say in a court counts only half as much as what a man has to say. This is clearly unequal treatment.

But does equality also mean that everyone must get the same salary or live in the same kind of house? Liberals will say ‘no’, but will demand that all people must have the same opportunities to improve their lives – therefore liberals the emphasize to improving education for all. Liberals, in short, believe in equality before the law and equality of opportunity.

Rule of Law

Without the rule of law, constitutions and laws are meaningless. The most basic idea underlying the principle of rule of law is that law is supreme. It is law that rules and nothing else. In a liberal democratic society, law is made through the joint decision of democratically elected representatives of the people, not by the arbitrary decision of any single individual or group that happens to possess power.

As such rule of law imposes order. You can only be punished if you break the law. Law must apply equally to all (equality under the law). If it doesn’t, law itself is arbitrary – which would contradict the principle of rule of law. Rule of law also requires enforcement of the law.

Not just the citizens, but government, officials, lawmakers must abide by the law. A key aspect of rule of law is the limitation of power so that even a democratically elected official or leader cannot abuse his/her power without facing a possible prosecution or imprisonment. Rule of law ensures such limitation of power through a required separation of executive, legislative and judiciary powers. As a result, judicial independence is possible.

Beyond equal enforcement of the law, rule of law also protects minorities against discrimination and prevents preferential treatment for certain individuals or groups. When everyone is treated equally under the law, there cannot be any special favour or discrimination imposed through law.

Rule of law, also termed “government under law”, cannot exist in tyrannies or in totalitarian states because they do not allow equality under the law and judicial independence.

Individual freedom

The basis for these liberal beliefs is the importance liberals attach to the individual and his/her rights and responsibilities. Every single person is important. Liberals believe that people must decide for themselves and not be told what to do all the time. They must be free to lead the life they want to lead, provided that in doing so they do not limit someone else’s freedom. In other words, your right to swing your arms freely stops where you start hitting someone.

This belief in individual liberty underlies all the other principles listed already. In addition, liberalism demands tolerance of various opinions and, most difficult of all, of opinions that are different from our own. A famous writer once said: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Private property

Liberals take the idea of individual freedom and individual rights also into the area of economics. In fact, historically speaking, the concept of property rights was the very basis of individual freedom and individual rights.

Firstly, there is the principle that people can own property. At its most basic, this means that each person owns him or herself and therefore cannot be owned by someone else, that is, no one can be a slave. Such a free person can own other property: clothes, books, furniture, land, houses, cars and even ideas, so-called intellectual property.

Secondly, owners of property must also be able to come together peacefully and sell their property and buy other people’s property freely. This is only possible in an economically free environment.

Economic Freedom

Economic freedom consists of a number of ingredients, the most important being personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to enter and compete in markets and protection of people and property from aggression by others.

With economic freedom, consumers can choose what they consider the best for themselves while individuals are free to set up businesses or engage in lawful international trade and companies are free to compete in a fair manner.

When people are free and free markets exist, everyone benefits. The overall effect is an increase in wealth and well-being. Empirical studies show that the wealthiest countries are countries with high levels of economic freedom while the poorest states are usually those with little or no economic freedom. They also show a positive correlation in which countries with higher levels of economic freedom enjoy higher employment rates.

Governments can reduce economic freedom through high taxation and regulation which narrow the scope for individual choice and voluntary exchange. They can also undermine economic freedom by limiting entry into certain occupations and business activities.

On the contrary, a state that pursues a liberal market policy that favours economic freedom will try to keep barriers to local and international trade such as duties and tariffs at the minimum or even at zero percent where appropriate. It also treats citizens equally when it comes to trade benefits and economic opportunities.

Eventually, economic freedom and market economy benefit not only traders and corporations but also consumers. In a free market environment, producers or suppliers have to compete on quality, price and service to win customers who have the freedom to choose from a wide variety of choice.

Governments can improve economic freedom by
• Establishing legal structures that provide for the even-handed enforcement of contracts and the protection of individuals and their property against violence, coercion and fraud.
• Allowing citizens access to sound money
• Refraining from activities that interfere with personal choice, voluntary exchange and the freedom of individuals and businesses to compete.

Economies with a high level of economic freedom are called market economies.

Liberal Democracy

Strictly speaking, democracy is not one of liberalism’s core values, but adding them up, liberal democracy becomes the only political system under which these values can really exist. The term is essentially the combination between liberalism and democracy. At the core of liberalism is individual freedom and protection of that freedom. Democracy alone simply means majority rule, which in practice can mean tyranny by a majority. As such, a majority could pass laws that puts ethic minorities at disadvantage.

In a liberal democracy, there are safeguards to protect minorities through a constitutional procedure and due democratic process. This means that when it comes to passing a bill, special provisions that exist for minorities must be considered. The majority cannot pass a law that benefist them but that will infringe on the rights of minorities. If they do, the latter can, for instance, appeal to the constitutional court.

A liberal democracy observes the rule of law, which limits the power of the state and ensures judicial independence. It employs a system of constitutional checks and balances to enable public scrutiny of government actions and to ensure that a government does not have absolute power to do whatever it pleases.

A liberal democracy prizes pluralism and tolerance. It sees dissent and disagreement as being normal and even as something positive. A majority might be right or wrong. If it is wrong, it is the process of open discussion and debate between people of different convictions and opinions that can put things right. Without discussion, there is no way to find out what people want and what better solutions there might be.

SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON RIGHT TO EDUCATION ENDS VISIT TO MALAYSIA

Attached is a copy of the report of the Special Rapportuer on the Right to Education in Malaysia, dated 29 March 2009, based on a visit from 5-13 February 2007.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, issued the following statement on 13 February 2007:

“Vernor Muñoz Villalobos in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, carried out an official visit in Malaysia from 5 to 14 February 2007. He visited Kuala Lumpur, Kota Bharu (Kelantan), Kuching (Sarawak) and in 40 different meetings he interacted with over 150 persons, from Government officials to teachers, students, parents, Trade Union representatives and civil society groups. The Special Rapporteur expresses his thanks to the Government for this opportunity to meet with the relevant public authorities. He regrets, however, not having had the occasion to meet either the Minister of Education or the Minister of Higher Education.

“The Special Rapporteur notes the Government’s important investment in education in support of economic growth and development and welcomes its proclaimed goal to achieve a “world class” education. However, he believes that there is a need to strengthen educational institutions which will permit the mainstreaming of human rights in all aspects of national life. This would facilitate the building of a citizenship model which is committed to the understanding and the realisation of human rights. In order to reach this goal, the Special Rapporteur encourages the adoption of an overall human rights approach. To that end the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government ratify the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. He also recommends that national legislation be modified in order to comply with international standards. For example, the Special Rapporteur notes with concern that the “Universities and Colleges Act – 1971” in its articles 15 and 16, curtails the right to freedom of association and expression and other civil and political rights of University students, and believes that the Government should consider repealing these provisions.

“Since the educational policies promote ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, there should be an implementation of policies geared to generating equal opportunities across the board for the different groups which make up the population: Bumiputera, Chinese and Indians. For example, it has been reported by NGOs that there are disparities in the number of state schools for the Chinese population, despite the fact that this population has increased significantly in the last decades.

“The Indigenous Populations constitute another section which encounters difficulties in the realization of its right to education. The Iban community for example, suffers from extremely high drop-out rates. These populations are unable to compete successfully for access to higher education and the education centres provided for them are inadequate in number and quality. The indigenous cultures embody part of the heritage of the nation; the Government should therefore develop culturally sensitive educational programmes designed to preserve the history, languages and traditions of these peoples. To reach these goals, the Special Rapporteur recommends the establishment of a body within the Ministry of Education which would be responsible for attending to the educational needs of the indigenous peoples.

“The Special Rapporteur was briefed on the recent educational policy whereby Mathematics and Science are taught in English. Though the introduction of a foreign language represents a positive initiative, he was also informed that students and teachers alike in the rural areas are struggling because their mastery of the language is not sufficient. The cognitive development of students is thereby jeopardized. Several teachers expressed despair at not being able to meet the expectations of the Government. The Special Rapporteur therefore recommends that the competent authorities assess the implementation of that policy in order to take action to support adequately this way of teaching.

“For many years, Malaysia has been a destination country for migration and has openly welcomed migrants in its midst. However, thousands of undocumented children of foreign origin are not able to enjoy their human right to education. The Right to Education is one of the human rights that the Government of Malaysia committed itself to when it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so the Rapporteur would recommend that it adopts measures to ensure this right to these children, whatever their legal status.

“As far as school life is concerned, the Rapporteur learned from the students and the teachers themselves that corporal punishment in schools remains a current practice. This disciplinary measure is expressly prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Ministry of Education should therefore strengthen its efforts to eradicate it. In addition, the Special Rapporteur was informed that students are not involved in the decision making process on matters that concern them, as stipulated by the Convention.

“Malaysia has almost achieved gender parity in the enrolment of its students. However, the Special Rapporteur notes that it must improve its educational policies regarding the rights of the girl child, adolescents and women, through affirmative action designed to have a more decisive impact the labour market and economic life of the nation. In order to achieve this, the Special Rapporteur recommends to include gender studies and human rights education in the curricula of the teacher training courses. It would also be desirable to include a human rights perspective in the “Blue Print” the educational programme for the coming years, as part of the efforts in reducing the gap between rural and urban areas. Malaysia would therefore need to withdraw the reservations it has made to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The Special Rapporteur believes that the Government must urgently develop and use qualitative and quantitative indicators, disaggregated according to gender, age, ethnic group, disabilities, and collect data in developing educational programmes which can enable every person to enjoy his or her rights.

“The Special Rapporteur firmly believes that Malaysia has the resources to respond creatively and comprehensively to all the challenges it faces. He considers that the rich diversity of its population is one of the main assets it possesses to generate good educational practices, and that its historical tradition, its vision of the future and the wealth of its diverse cultures can enable it to become a pivotal link between the East and the West which will contribute to regional development and to understanding between peoples”.

S’gor to withdraw appeal in dispute with Temuans

By Gan Pei Ling (thenutgraph)

SHAH ALAM, 22 April 2009: The Selangor government will withdraw its appeal to the Federal Court over the Sagong Tasi case involving the Temuan tribe’s land rights.

In a statement today, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said the decision was made at state executive councilor (exco)’s meeting today.

He said the state legal advisor would inform the Federal Court tomorrow of the state government’s intention to withdraw the case.

“The state government believes in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and will continue to treat the Orang Asli community with the respect they deserve and that should have been accorded to them from the very beginning,” he said.

He expressed hope that the Selangor government’s decision would help address the problems faced by the Orang Asli.

The Sagong Tasi case, which has been in the courts since 2000, involves the 1995 acquisition of 38 acres of the Temuan’s customary lands at Bukit Tampoi, Dengkil for the construction of a highway to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

In 1996, seven Temuans including Sagong Tasi sued the federal and Selangor governments, construction firm United Engineers (M) Bhd, and the Malaysian Highway Authority for their loss of land and dwellings as a result of the government’s acquisition of their land.

Sagong Tasi in 2005 at a Human Rights Day event (Pic courtesy of Suaram)
http://www.thenutgr aph.com/user_ uploads/images/ 2009/04/22/ 220409-SagongTas iMAIN.jpg

In 2002, the Shah Alam High Court ruled that the Temuans were unlawfully evicted from their ancestral lands, located in central Selangor.

Additionally, High Court Judge Mohd Noor Ahmad ordered all four defendants to compensate the Temuan plaintiffs for the loss of their land in what was a historical ruling.

http://malaysiakini .com/news/ 11089

The four defendants then appealed to the Court of Appeal. But in 2005, Court of Appeal judges Ariffin Zakaria, Gopal Sri Ram and Nik Hashim Nik Abdul Rahman unanimously upheld the High Court ruling.

http://malaysiakini .com/news/ 40579

Moreover, the Court of Appeal increased the compensation for the Temuans by including both their gazetted and non-gazetted land, compared to the High Court decision that asked for compensation to be paid for the gazetted areas only.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas hailed the Selangor government decision as “morally and politically correct and just”.

“It is a logical conclusion to the position taken by the Pakatan Rakyat government on Orang Asli land rights issues,” he said in a phone interview.

He added that the Barisan Nasional government did not ever do the same while it was in control of the state government.

Nicholas said the Selangor government’s decision set an important benchmark for other state governments and agencies in dealing with the Orang Asli.

Task force

Khalid also said in the statement today that the state has formed an Orang Asli Land Taskforce to protect the propriety rights of indigenous communities.

The taskforce, to be launched on 4 May, will address land-related issues after taking into account the concerns raised in the 2005 Court of Appeal judgment regarding the gazette of Orang Asli land.

Nicholas, who is involved in the taskforce, said it would be able to address bureaucratic obstacles that the Orang Asli face when trying to claim their rights over native customary land.

Selangor exco for tourism, consumer affairs and environment Elizabeth Wong said the taskforce’s priority would be to identify customary land that have not yet been approved or gazetted by the state government.

“This is the most difficult issue to tackle but it is the most fundamental [for the Orang Asli],” she told The Nut Graph, adding that the taskforce would consult the historical records in the land district offices and the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli. It would also collaborate with historians, she said.

She said the taskforce hoped to resolve pending issues amicably in three months.

Orang Asli in Kampung Rembai, Selangor

http://www.thenutgr aph.com/user_ uploads/images/ 2009/04/22/ OrangAsli- by%20Azdla% 20at%20Flickr. jpg

Khalid’s media officer Arfa’eza Aziz said the state did not want to take an adversarial approach and go to court every time there was a land dispute with the Orang Asli.

She said the taskforce would help the state settle these issues administratively.

The taskforce, which had its first meeting on 16 April 2009, comprise mainly Orang Asli representatives, and is chaired by a member of the community.

“Elected state representatives who have Orang Asli in their constituency will also be involved in the taskforce,” Wong said.

She added that the taskforce would work closely with an already established land taskforce co-chaired by Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong and Datuk Dr Prof Nik Md Zain.

Arfa’eza said there were about 14,000 Orang Asli in Selangor, mainly from the Temuan and Mahmeri tribes.

Eli talks about the Orang Asli, not photographs

By Neville Spykerman

SHAH ALAM, April 22- Elizabeth Wong avoided the simmering controversy over the circulation of semi-nude photographs of her and chose to focus on work during her first post executive council press conference today.

Reporters who sought her comments after the press conference about the pictures were instead told to read her statement which had been issued to the press last week.

The Bukit Lanjan assemblyman had previously offered to resign from all posts but accepted an offer by the state to return to work after two months of leave.

She added her lawyers would be speaking to police over new pictures of her sleeping fully clothed which had appeared in a blog.

Earlier the state heath, environment and tourism councillor jointly announced the launch of the Orang Asli Task Force on May 4, to resolve disputes with the indigenous community amicably, with the Selangor mentri besar.

“We do not want to take an adversarial approach and go to court each time there is a land dispute with the Orang Asli but settle administratively. ” said the former environmentalist.

Wong said the new task force which includes experts and members of the community will resolve disputes over land rights and development for the 14,000 strong indigenous community from the Temuan and Mahmeri tribes.

“The Orang Asli cannot get everything they want but the task force has been given three months to settle outstanding disputes.”

Meanwhile Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim today also announced Selangor was withdrawing the state’s appeal to the Federal Court in the Sagong Tasi case which involves compensation to the Temuan tribes whose land was acquired for development, in 1995.

The respondents in the case are Orang Asli Sagong Tasi and six others and involves their customary rights over a 15.32ha plot in Kampung Bukit Tampoi, Dengkil which was acquired for a highway.

In 2005 the Court of Appeal had upheld a decision of the Shah Alam High Court which declared Sagong Tasi and six others as customary owners of the land and declared their constitutional rights had been violated.

The court gave an order for them to be paid market value as prescribed under the Land Acquisition Act 1960 and also ordered United Engineers (M) Bhd and the Malaysian Highway Authority to pay damages to the Orang Asli for trespassing on the land.

Both parties and the Selangor government had appealed against the decision which had been pending in the Federal court.

Khalid said the state legal advisor will inform the Federal Court on it’s decision to withdraw from the case tomorrow.

He said the state intends to address all the problems of the Orang Asli who have been marginalized from mainstream development.

“We believe the rights of the Orang Asli should be protected and will continue to treat the community with the respect they deserve and which should have been accorded to them from the very beginning.”

Short film Training titled Ampang Speaks Through Video Clip

Poster 1
The Youth and Sport Committee of the Selangor Govenment together with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty invite you to attend short film training titled “Ampang Speaks Through Video Clip”.
The main objective is to engage young people to develop skill for citizen journalism and to get involved and understand their own community. Participants will have a chance to report and express their views such as “how people struggling for their life”, ‘the teenager voice in Ampang”.

The workshop is designed for 3 days over 3 weekends which will be from 11am to 5pm on 7, 14 and 21 June 2009. Participants must bring their own handphone, digital camera or home video camera and laptops. Desktops will be provided for those without laptops but have access to desktops at home or office.

We expect around 30 participants to attend the workshop. Each participant will come up with a video clip of not more than 5-7 minutes. Those video clips will be shown at the premier screening in Ampang on 18 July 2009 at 8pm.

Agenda for the workshop is as follows.

DAY 1: Pre-production
-Objective
-target audience
-budget
-research
-script/treatment
-production schedule/timeline
-interviewees/actors
-locations
-equipments
-crew: producer, director, cameraperson/DOP, Sound, Light, Art Director, Gaffer, AD, PM, PA

Summary: Find out what stories you want to tell, why and to who. Bring back a story to work on next week.

DAY 2: Production
-Composition of shots/mise-en-scene
-Sound
-lighting

Summary: How to use your handphone/ digital camera/ home camera to shoot for best effect for the story’s purpose.

DAY 3: Post- production
Editing- offline, online
Sound mix
Special Effects
Subtitling
Distribution – film screenings, dvd, online.

Summary: How to convert what you shoot to something that can be edited in the computer, how to edit, export and upload it online.

Islam, Apostasy and ‘Erdoğanists’ In Malaysia

[Originally published in Hürriyet Daily News]

KUALA LUMPUR – It is my first time in this fascinating city, and I just hope that it won’t be the last. Thanks to the invitation from Malaysian Think Tank, a pioneering organization dedicated to popularize classical liberal ideas in Malaysian society, I had the chance to come here all the way down from Istanbul. And I was impressed by not just Malaysia’s common tourist attractions (gorgeous nature, great food, and diverse society) but also for the lessons it tells us about the interaction between Islam and modernity.
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Tanah adat: Majlis Peguam puji k’jaan S’gor tarik balik rayuan

Malaysiakini
Majlis Peguam Malaysia mengalu-alukan keputusan Kerajaan Negeri Selangor menarik balik rayuan ke Mahkamah Persekutuan terhadap kes Sagong Tasi yang membabitkan pengambilan 38.477 ekar tanah adat kaum Temuan di Bukit Tampoi, Dengkil pada tahun 1995.

“Kami prihatin bahawa walaupun Orang Asli adalah masyarakat yang sangat bernilai, mereka adalah kumpulan masyarakat yang telah diabaikan sekian lama,” kata Presidennya, Ragunath Kesavan.

“Majoriti Orang Asli tidak dapat menikmati sepenuhnya hak-hak asasi mereka kerana tradisi, adat dan nilai mereka sedang dihakiskan.

“Amalan tanda dan cakap-cakap kosong yang ditawarkan kepada masyarakat ini harus dihentikan.

“Kaedah bagaimana negara ini melayan keperluan-keperluan dan hak-hak masyarakat ini mencerminkan komitmen kita kepada demokrasi dan hak-hak asasi manusia,” katanya dalam satu kenyataan hari ini.

Sehubungan itu, majlis tersebut menyeru supaya kerajaan persekutuan dan kerajaan negeri serta Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli mengambil tindakan segera untuk menunaikan tanggungjawab fidusiari mereka untuk menghormati, mendukung dan melindungi kebajikan dan hak-hak Orang Asli.

“Sejajar dengan Pengisytiharan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu Mengenai Hak-Hak Orang Asal 2007, dan tidak bertindak bertentangan dengan hak-hak tersebut,” katanya.

Usul Majlis Peguam

Majlis itu juga menyeru kerajaan persekutuan dan kerajaan negeri supaya mengiktiraf, melindungi dan menjamin secara rasmi hak-hak Orang Asli ke atas tanah adat mereka di seluruh negara dengan mewartakan tanah adat sebagai kawasan tanah simpanan Orang Asli.

“Dan jika perlu meminda undang-undang tanah negara ini bagi memastikan tujuan tersebut dapat dicapai,” katanya.

Baru-baru ini, Majlis Peguam telah mengemukakan satu usul berkaitan hak-hak masyarakat Orang Asli di Mesyuarat Agung-nya kali ke-63 yang telah diterima dan diluluskan sebulat suara oleh Badan Peguam Malaysia.

Selaras dengan usul tersebut, Majlis Peguam menyokong penubuhan sebuah jawatankuasa bersama oleh kumpulan masyarakat Orang Asli yang bertujuan untuk memantau isu-isu berkaitan masyarakat Orang Asli dan kami komited untuk menjadi sekutu kepada inisiatif ini.

“Kami difahamkan bahawa kerajaan negeri Selangor juga telah menubuhkan satu Badan Bertindak Tanah Orang Asli Selangor dan usaha seperti ini wajar dipuji.

“Kami akan cuba mengadakan pertemuan dan perbincangan dengan badan ini tidak berapa lama lagi dan kami berharap Kerajaan Negeri Selangor akan meneruskan usaha melindungi hak dan kepentingan masyarakat Orang Asli di seluruh Negeri Selangor.

“Majlis Peguam mengulangi sokongan dan kesediaan membantu kerajaan persekutuan dan (kerajaan) negeri dalam menjayakan usaha seperti ini yang sewajarnya menjadi sebahagian daripada tanggungjawab Kerajaan terhadap rakyat.