The single biggest challenge of the 13th NAM Summit is to rediscover its relevance in the 21st century and one test is whether it would make a greater impact than the global people power manifested in last weekend of world-wide anti-war protests and marches

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday): Malaysian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, the incoming head of the Malaysian National Secretariat for NAM, said yesterday that questions of the relevancy of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) should be set aside in favour of work on its revitalization.

This is putting the cart before the horse as the single biggest challenge of the 13th NAM Summit beginning in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow is to rediscover its relevance in the 21st century.

One test of NAM's relevance in contemporary times is whether the 13th NAM Summit would make a greater impact than the global people power manifested last weekend when up to 30 million people - including around 6 million in Europe - in more than 600 towns and cities around the world protested and marched against war in Iraq.

For over a decade, despite three NAM Summits in Indonesia (1992), Colombia (1995) and South Africa (1998), the Non-Aligned Movement had not been able to rediscover its relevance after the end of Cold War and the era of bi-polar global politics - despite repeated calls for a new relevance, revitalisation and even "renaissance", summit after summit.

This is why the 13th NAM Summit, normally held once in three years, is being held five years after the 12th Durban NAM Summit. Bangladesh, which was to host the 13th NAM Summit in 2001, withdrew its offer to play host on 16th October 2001, prompting an Indian newspaper editorial to comment at the decision: "It (Dhaka) made out that NAM was dead and it would not be worthwhile for it to hold its funeral".

The time in the sixties and seventies when there would be a queue of countries wanting to host the NAM summit, as it lent so much prestige and the chance of becoming so to speak the president and spokesman of the movement for three years in between two summits, was no more.

Jordan, which next offered to host the 13th NAM Summit in July 2002 after the Bangladesh withdrawal, also cancelled its plans to host the summit in April last year. Malaysia was requested, and agreed, at the Ministerial Meeting of the NAM Co-ordinating Bureau in Durban in April last year to save the day and host the twice-delayed 13th NAM Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

The president of the International Movement for a Just World (Just) Dr Chandra Muzaffar has suggested that NAM must open communication channels with global peace movements and Europe as the anti-war movement taking place today was very important to ensure world peace.

After last weekend's phenomenal global people's power through the world-wide anti-war protests and marches, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad called on NGOs throughout the world to mobilize the people to demonstrate and influence their governments to protest against the possibility of US-led attack on Iraq.

The other NAM leaders must share the same sentiments as Mahathir, but the crucial question is whether NGOs in the NAM member states would be allowed to peacefully moblise their people to demonstrate and influence their governments in the cause of peace, freedom, justice, democracy and good governance?

In fact, one of the greatest flaws of the 13th NAM Summit, as with all other NAM summits, is the lack of a parallel NGOs conference to allow for input by civil society organizations to qualitatively participate in the NAM processes - as has become the norm in all major international conferences.

If NAM is to be relevant again, it must be able to project a new meaning and purpose for the non-alignment movement - not to be aligned to war, injustice, violations of democracy and human rights.

The 13th NAM Summit must speak loud and clear, not only on the issues of the impending US war on Iraq and international terrorism, but also on justice, freedom, democracy and good governance in the NAM countries.

As the 13th NAM Summit is being held in Malaysia, this must mean that the heads of states and governments attending the NAM Summit must stand up against one of the most blatant injustices in the country and call for the immediate release of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from incarceration and an end to his political persecution.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman