“Wrong to insinuate call for independence referendum as advocating for lawlessness”

Robert Pei

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KUCHING, Jan 16: Sabah Sarawak Rights Australia New Zealand (SSRANZ) president Robert Pei asserts that a PKR leader is mistaken in insinuating that calling for an independence referendum by nationalists amounts to advocating ‘for lawlessness, hostilities and violent confrontation will be counter-productive and may even blemish the good cause’.

According to Pei in a press statement today, he has followed closely public statements made by various nationalist groups including the State Reform Party (Star) and its president Lina Soo but has not heard or read of her or any one promoting the unlawful approaches alleged by the PKR member.

“It appears that the politician was over exaggerating the situation by speciously associating referendums with violence and chaos. An academic study by Matt Qvortrup in 2015 on independence referendums showed that out of 56 referendums since WW2, war broke out in only six cases. But it does not follow that holding a referendum will lead to political unrest (https://journals.openedition.org/rfcb/366).

“His reported comment that there were no independence referendum in the USA in 1788 was also factually wrong. A referendum was held in Massachusetts in 1788 when voters were consulted on whether they wanted to give up their independence and join the newly minted United States (https://journals.openedition.org/rfcb/366),” according to Pei.

The Melbourne-based lawyer opined it is lawful and reasonable for Sarawakians to call for the exercise of their inalienable right to self-determination which even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has acknowledged in public.

“If the rest of the federal government adopts PM Mahathir’s liberal view it should honourably agree to Sarawak independence whether the state government makes a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) or conducts a favourable referendum on the question,” Pei asserted.

He reminded politicians, especially lawyers, that the right to self-determination is a universally recognised legal right which was recently re-affirmed by the International Court of Justice in the Chagos Island Case on 25 February 2019 and enshrined in UN Resolution 1514 since 1945.

He argued that Malaysia was not a federation formed with the free and unfettered consent of the Sarawak and Sabah people given in a referendum to choose between independence and the proposed federation before the two colonies were handed over to Malaya in 1963.

“This was because the British colonial government had in breach of UN General Assembly Resolution (GAR) 1514 and 1541, twice unlawfully denied the Sarawak and Sabah people the opportunity to vote on the issue despite nationalist demands.”

The first occasion of denial was using the Cobbold Commission to legitimise the federation proposal with an inquiry into the people’s wishes instead of holding a referendum. The second occasion was when the UK agreed to the Manila Accord condition for a UN assessment of the people’s wishes on Malaysia without a referendum.

He noted that before 1963, the British government held independence referendums in Caribbean and African colonies and its other colonial territories. In 1962, Singapore held its own referendum on federation with Malaya (71 per cent approved). In 1964, the UK government held an independence referendum in Malta (90 per cent approved).

“The denial of a referendum to Sarawak and Sabah was clearly in violation of UN resolutions on independence of colonies,” Pei asserted.

He suggested that before continuing with ‘MA63 (the Malaysia Agreement 1963) negotiations’, the Sarawak government should first confirm by a court application to decide the question whether MA63 as a international agreement was validly made in compliance with treaty-making rules including the fundamental rule that only independent sovereign states (with exceptions) have capacity to make treaties or agreements with each other.

“It is an indisputable fact that both Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) were not sovereign states but colonies when MA63 was signed. They were not competent to make MA63 and the agreement was therefore null and void from the beginning and not enforceable as it was not a binding agreement made between independent states. No amount of ‘negotiating’ or amending can revive a dead treaty. For this reason Malaysia must be seen as an illegal de facto union.”

Pei proposed that the upcoming state elections would be the best time for a pro-independence party to seek a mandate from the people by giving an undertaking that on being elected the new government, it will hold a referendum to determine the issue of Sarawak remaining or exiting the federation for independence or simply declaring UDI if they prefer this way out.

He pointed out Sarawak STAR Reform Party and the Parti Bumiputra Kenyalang have already published their policies and approach to achieving Sarawak independence.

“Sarawakians now see that they have been cheated to give up independence for integration of their country into the Malayan Federation with promises of security and development which the late PM Tunku Abdul Rahman declared was a principal objective justifying the formation.

“Since this objective has failed, the people are rightfully seeking the alternative of full independence to manage and develop their own country financed with their own abundant natural resources,” claimed Pei.

He called on the state government to respect Sarawakians’ strong desire for independence by letting them freely decide on the independence issue.

“A properly conducted UN supervised referendum would overcome the question of UDI if the Sarawak government is unwilling to go down that path.

“This would also finally comply with UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 to obtain the free consent of the people on choosing independence or federation with Malaya.” — DayakDaily