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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

We are glad we are on the UN Security Council. Let’s build on this.

By Rama Ramanathan (Proham Secretariat)

On Tuesday evening, about two hundred people, ranging from retired distinguished civil servants to first year students, gathered to listen and respond to four distinguished experts discuss Malaysia’s appointment to the Security Council of the United Nations.

The meeting, one of several events organized or co-organized by Proham during Human Rights week 2014, began at 8.30 pm on Tuesday 09 December, 2014, in Brickfields Asia College, Petaling Jaya campus. It was moderated by Proham Secretary General Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, was.

Here are some highlights of the meeting.

DATUK KUTHUBUL ZAMAN, the Chairman of Proham, said the UN was created in order to prevent recurrence of the atrocities of World War II, and that the strategy adopted from its birth was to establish a new standard of individual protection under international law.

He used the words of Professor Louis Bruno Sohn to convey the magnitude of what happened at the birth of the UN in 1945:

“Just as the French revolution ended the divine rights of kings, the human rights revolution which began at the San Francisco conference of the United Nations has deprived sovereign states of the lordly privilege of being the sole possessor of rights under international law. States have had to concede . . . that individuals are no longer mere objects, mere pawns in the hands of the states.”

MICHELLE GYLES-MCDONNOUGH, the UN Resident Coordinator in Malaysia, said the Security Council will have to monitor and address over 400 ongoing conflicts, of which twenty are called wars and over forty are categorized as highly violent.

She said that subsequent to the outstanding global development results achieved through the processes around the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, the UN is developing a new set of goals. Inputs from over five million people worldwide have resulted in the following prioritized list of areas in which to set goals: education; healthcare; jobs; honest government; reduction of violent crime; food; water and sanitation; gender equality; care for those who can’t work, and freedom from discrimination.

DATUK SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH, CEO of Malaysia’s Global Movement of Moderates Foundation drew the attention to the challenges of the conflicts faced by humans around the world, and to the challenges of working with other nations.

He said Malaysia, as it did during its past membership of the UN Security Council, must navigate carefully in order to make a useful contribution. He also drew attention to the challenge of entrenched inequality in the Security Council, for it includes five permanent members with veto rights.

He added that Malaysia has many ‘international’ subjects on its own agenda. These include claims over the Spratleys islands, Rohingya seeking asylum in Malaysia, advocacy for Palestinian rights, etc. He said the moderation Malaysia wishes to model in the UN must also be exhibited domestically in matters as diverse as constituency delineation, countering corruption, addressing with security threats such as those springing from supporters of ISIL/ISIS and engaging Civil Society Organizations.

DATUK AMBIGA SREENIVASAN, co-chair of Negara-ku read three extracts from UN documents describing why Malaysia recommended itself for a seat on the Security Council and for the Human Rights Council (2006).

1. “Malaysia stresses the importance of human security and thematic issues on the Council’s agenda such as women, peace, security, children, armed conflict, working methods and peace keeping. It highlights the relevance of the concept of moderation . . . as a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious country, Malaysia showcases the benefits of the practice of moderation in maintaining peace, stability and unity. And as a country where moderate Islam is the largest practiced religion, Malaysia believes it has a role to play in contributing to the Council’s thinking on how to tackle radicalization in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.”

2. “The respect that the Malaysian government has for each individual’s rights is clearly manifested in the fact that free, fair and peaceful general elections have been held consistently without fail since independence for the people to elect their representatives to the various branches of government within the nation’s democratic system. Another manifestation of the importance that the government attaches to the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms is the promotion of a free media including in cyberspace as well as the encouragement of vibrant and active civil societies.”

3. “As a nation with a multi-ethnic and multi religious society, Malaysia is confident that its experience in managing a plural society would bring an important dimension to the work of the new Human Rights Council. Malaysia recognizes that the stability of any multi-ethnic society depends on a spirit of mutual tolerance and respect for diversity which is based on an inclusive and responsive political and legal system which balances civil and political rights such as the freedom of expression and opinion and the wider needs of such society.”

She listed several recent events in Malaysia which make much of above untrue; she urged all present to hold the government to the expressed ideals and to provide feedback to elected representatives that if they don’t hold to the ideals, they will lose votes. She added that she was very proud of the role Malaysia has gained in the UN, and of our exemplary contribution to international peace-keeping.

She credited Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for pushing through the Peaceful Assembly Act, though many agitated against it. She noted that now peaceful protests are even facilitated by the police, and that the Prime Minister’s decision has been vindicated.

Due to many questions from the floor, the meeting did not end till 11.10 pm – though and many stayed behind for photo opportunities.

The meeting ended on a high note thanks to an impromptu speech by MR RAJASINGHAM, Founder/President of Brickfields Asia College and sponsor of the event.

He said six of the ten action areas Ms McDonnough listed were on his personal list of goals. He emotively urged students to care for their neighbours, to ‘get along’, and to recognize that each person can set limits on how much power is exerted over him or her.

Overall, THREE KEY MESSAGES emerged.

Firstly, we must model at home what we want to model for the world.

Secondly, if we want to participate actively in the international arena, we must have a positive attitude towards criticism.

Thirdly, we should focus on becoming better, not on how similar or different we are than other nations.

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