By Syahnaz binti Khariul Anwar
The General Debate of the 74th session of the United Nation’s General Assembly (UNGA) was held in New York from 24 th to 30 th September 2019 (‘UN General Assembly’, 2019). One of the world leaders that took part in delivering the country’s statement was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia. It has been his second time standing before the international eyes since his return to the political arena in 2018, and his speech continued from where he left in the previous UNGA’s session. Overall, his speech during the 74th UNGA session touched on the economy, social and political spheres which comprised of Veto Power, Israel – The Origin of Terrorism, Climate Change and Catastrophise, Trade, Sanctions and Capitalism, and the way for United Nation to move forward (“Speech text”, 2019).
In his previous speech during the 73rd UNGA session, he began with the New Malaysia empowerment of democracy that embodies the spirit of the year’s theme of “Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies”. He continued with the trade war between powerful countries, new social values that erode nations’ stability and terrorism within the political sphere, specifically mentioning of the sufferings of the Palestine and Rakhine people. He touched briefly on environmentally sustainable development by mentioning on the national’s oil palm sustainable production before ending with a high note on calling the reformation of the veto power within the UN organization (“Speech text” 2018).
This year, the theme of the General Assembly is “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”, and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wasted no time in calling once again for the reformation of the veto power which is seen as a treat to the human right’s principle as well as an erosion to the global democracy. Again, he condemned the occupancy of the Israelis on the Palestine’s land due to the unlawfulness as well as the devious engineering hatred towards Muslim and Islam of terrorism globally. Citing again the Rakhine’s massacre in Myanmar, the invasion and occupancy of Jammu and Kashmir. He spoke of the climate change and trade, sanctions and capitalism. Although the UN has contributed fairly to the health, education and social security improvement, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad believes that the UN should play a much more active role in re-establishing failed governments. Again, as his previous speech, he urged for UN to move forward by reinstating of the original purpose of the UN (New Straits Times, September 28,2019).
Drawing similarities between both speeches, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had focused on the importance of strengthening democracy and democratizing the international system (Tharoor, 2018). As the year before, his speech during the 74th UNGA once again drew the international attention on the various issues brought up, from the sharp criticism of the UN failures in preventing wars ((‘UN General Assembly’, 2019).; ‘Malaysian PM’, 2019) to the on-going conflict in Jammu and Kashmir (‘Malaysain PM says”, 2019; ‘Malaysian PM raises”, 2019; ‘Malaysian UN Speech’ 2019). However, these criticisms did not go without any backlash from the global public. The silence on the mistreatment of the Uyghurs in China is seen as a move of not wanting to upset China, Malaysia’s biggest trading partner (‘Silence on Urghur’, 2019) with exports worth RM13.3 billion (DoSM, 2019). Unlike Israel and Myanmar whom Malaysia has no direct trading ties with the former and bilateral trade volume of only RM4.4 billion in 2018 with the later, Dr Mahathir has no reservation in using strong words against the occupation of Palestine and the genocide of the Rohingya people. Interestingly, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad did not seem to mind in upsetting India, one of Malaysia’s biggest oil palm exporters by raising the conflict issue in Jammu and Kashmir. Having to defend himself following the trending #BoycottMalaysia backlash among the Indians, Dr Mahathir said it was in line with Malaysia’s policy of resolving conflicts with non-violence approach.
Being Asia’s most senior statesman, Mahathir’s wisdom and knowledge are sought by world leaders. Yet, despite Dr Mahathir’s fiery speech on championing human rights at the global stage, much is left to ponder of the UN human rights instruments that are yet to be ratified by Malaysia, having only ratified 3 out of 9 core international human rights treaties (OHCHR, 2019). Little was touched on the theme’s quality education, whereas climate action was touched on the surface, in contrast with the promotion of Malaysia’s oil palm industry – an industry that is increasingly shunned by Western countries due to its environmental damage of deforestation. Maybe it’s time for Malaysia to place greater prioritization on the country’s own national policies in responding to globalization challenges, and followed by offering a new fresh insight to the world in achieving a better and more sustainable future for all.
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