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Mahathir Mohamad embraces human rights?

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Mahathir Mohamad embraces human rights"We, the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and such other crimes as contained in the relevant international laws and conventions do hereby petition (the commission) to act on our petition pertaining to the various injustices committed against us."

These were the words of a memorandum submitted to the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal on February 7. The petitioners (some accounts put the number at 17) were mainly from the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Lebanon. Among them, former Baghdad university lecturer Ali Shalah Qaissi, a victim of electric torture at Abu Ghraib and Walid Salah, a Palestinian doctor from the occupied territories. The accused: President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister John Howard.

The present Malaysian government has been wrong-footed by the efforts of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to set up this tribunal, but not overly so. They are only too familiar with Mahathir’s extra-curricular activities. Cunningly, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar claimed the tribunal was an expression of democracy in action. In a statement which must have grated with some in the West, Mr Hamid called it "(An) independent tribunal. Let them take the initiative which is within their rights as citizens of Malaysia… it is nice to see freedom being exercised."

No one can doubt that such tribunals have their place, even as haphazard legal instruments. Convened in public settings by non-government officials, these tribunals have the potential to sway public opinion and spur debate. They can do little else, having no legal authority or power to enforce penalties.

There are echoes of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal in this new War Crimes Tribunal, though Russell's Tribunal was unusual for its intellectual calibre, and criticised for its seemingly contradictory assembly of intellectuals. Convened in 1967 in Copenhagen and Stockholm by Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, it was in equal parts praised and pilloried. Some saw it as an exposé of alleged American war crimes in Vietnam; others, such as then Secretary of State Dean Rusk saw it as a game played by "a 94-year-old English Professor."

Despite Rusk’s nonchalance, the administration of then president Lyndon Johnson was privately worried by it. Swedish Prime Minister Erlander was told in Bonn by Walt Rostow, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, on April 25, 1967, "The burden of newspaper stories on you at this time would be heavy and that, in fact, this kind of story helps prolong the [Vietnam] war."

The problem with this trial is that it is doing nothing that is not already taking place. The World Tribunal on Iraq, through a series of 20 hearings held in cities from Barcelona to Tunis, delivered its 'Declaration of Conscience' in Istanbul in June 2005. Mahathir, it seems, hopes to reinvent the wheel, and a rickety one at that. From Malaysia, he will be preaching to the converted, both within the country and through the Islamic world.

Mahathir Mohamad embraces human rightsThe unconverted, notably the non-Malays, will continue to remain unconvinced, perhaps even experiencing a sort-of schadenfreude over the invasion of an Islamic nation. Malaysia’s racial fault-lines remain clear to anyone who cares to observe the different responses to the Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003: Al-Jazeera and official government programming dominated Malay restaurants and shops; CNN and Fox stole the show in Chinese eating houses and Indian sari outlets.

Then there is the issue of legal propriety. During his long stint as Prime Minister, Mahathir was never troubled by such tedious concepts as the rule of law. Showing his inventiveness, he happily led the charge against Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim in 1997 on trumped up charges of sodomy and treason. Now Mahathir chairs the commission responsible for feeding the nine-member tribunal the cases.

His rhetoric is admirable: "We of the commission look upon these (cases) as a human tragedy, not confined to any particular race, religion, creed or faith," he told an audience of a thousand on February 7th this year. He sees the tribunal as cathartic, one that will go some way towards "assuaging the pain that has been suffered by so many people in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere".

Whatever the merits of this body, it is hardly likely to come close to the work of those who staffed the Russell tribunal. There are no equivalent Isaac Deutschers, nor Russells, nor Sartres. The tribubal is composed of largely unknown Malay legal experts, although the presence of Abdul Kadir Sulaiman, a former judge of Malaysia’s High Court does give a veneer of respectability. Foreign appointees, it is promised, will enrich the tribunal, but it remains to be seen who will front up. The judgements, needless to say, will be predictable.



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Existing comments

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is not perfect, and maybe even far from it. And maybe he was perceived to have not carried out human rights issues while he were a Prime Minister of Malaysia.

But lets not kill the messenger but realise on the message. War crimes are still crimes.

While there are numerous documentaries, films, articles on September 11 glorifying the victims, there almost no one who wants to stand out for the thousands of Iraqis that are being killed or persecuted, mostly illegally in their own country, by a foreign force. And this still continues.

In Afghanistan, thousands more are killed and never spoken of and these are so called "effort against terrorism"?

While the US and its allies commits to the atrocities which are already unjustifiable, someone needs to keep in check that they can also be made responsible for their actions.

What is the UN doing on this matter? What are other Arab countries doing to help stop the infighting amongst Palestines?

The War Crimes Tribunal brings us a message. That not only white caucasian murders in developed countries are crimes. A crime is a crime and should be judged like anything else. In the face of silent and inactions from the world, at least theres someone willing to speak up and take the brunt.

Should Al Gore's message be of Global Warming be ignored just because he did not really fight for it while he was in power?

Khalid | 06 March 2007  

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