Can Mahathir succeed in eight months to revitalize NAM where Mandela, Mbeki and all the other NAM Chairmen had failed for over a decade?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Saturday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has "vowed" in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he will give up all government and party posts when he retires later this year and also not seek re-election to Parliament.

The AP report said this was the first time that Mahathir ruled out retaining any formal political role since he announced plans to retire last year.

This raises the question whether Mahathir can succeed in eight months to revitalize the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) where Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and other "giants" of the Third World who had served as NAM Chairmen in the past had failed for over a decade?

This is because Mahathir's tenure as Chairman of NAM, which is by virtue of his position as Prime Minister of Malaysia, the host nation for the 13th NAM Summit, would also have to end when he relinquishes the office as Prime Minister in October this year - passing the NAM baton together with the Malaysian premiership to his successor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

This would also be the case of the Chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) which would be taken over by Malaysia on the occasion of the OIC Summit in Putrajaya from Oct. 23 - 25, 2003, where Mahathir's tenure as the "head" of the OIC would be even shorter - probably for about a week before he steps down as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia after more than 22 years in the office.

A lot of hopes had been placed on Mahahtir to "revitalize" NAM, which is in a comatose stage if not dead as some would claim, but as Mahathir has at most eight months as Chairman of NAM, how could he possibly succed to "revitalize" NAM where Mandela, Mbeki and all the other NAM Chairmen had failed for over a decade?

Foreign Minister, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar had expressed confidence that the 13th NAM Summit would be able to produce an impressive Final Document - :the "Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Continuing the Revitalisation of the NAM".

The title is an euphemism - begging the question as to how there could be "continuing the revitalization" of NAM when there had been no "revitalization" in the first place?

The crisis faced by NAM is more critical and fundamental - it is not even about "continuing relevance", never mind "continuing revitalization" - as what it is confronted with is no less than the challenge of whether it could be relevant again in the new century to the hopes and aspirations of the majority of humanity on the planet.

Hopes that the 13th NAM Summit could be relevant again were simply dashed when the press reported that as a result of the outcome of the meeting of the senior officials in the political committee, leaders of the NAM summit would endorse the atrocious human rights record of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe by condemning the unilateral imposition of targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe by several countries.

If these reports prove to be true, and the Final Document at the end of the 13th NAM Summit is regarded as a defence and apologia for a regime which has one of the worst human records in the world, then the 13th NAM in Kuala Lumpur would enter the pantheon of international infamy - and totally part company with the 1955 Afro-Asian Bandung Conference.

It was only three days ago that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and lawyers, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, condemned the Zimbabwe government's arrest on Monday of a High Court judge, Judge Benjamin Paradza, who had previously handed down decisions that were unpalatable to Mugabe.

Cumaraswamy described Paradza's arrest as "one in a series of institutional and personal attacks on the judiciary and its independent judges over the past two years, which have resulted in the resignations of several senior judges and which have left Zimbabwe's rule of law in tatters".

By arresting a judge a few days before the 13th NAM Summit, Mugabe had shown utter contempt for NAM and Malaysia. If the 13th NAM Summit is going to reward Mugabe for his latest assault on the rule of law in Zimbabwe, then NAM has forfeited all moral high ground to preach justice, freedom, democracy and good governance!

Last June, Amnesty International published a special report entitled "Zimbabwe: The toll of impunity" which documented serious human rights violations by Mugabe over the past two years, including extrajudicial executions, torture, denial of the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly.

At the end of last year, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum released figures of about 58 politically-motivated killings and over 1,050 cases of torture in 2002 alone.

Instead of rewarding and endorsing the gross human rights violations and attack on the rule of law in Zimbabwe, which would make NAM an international laughing stock of the 21st century, the 13th NAM Summit should dispatch a NAM Human Rights Commission of Inquiry to visit and investigate into the human rights situation in the country.

Otherwise, the 13th NAM Summit should remove all reference to human rights in its Final Document as it has no understanding, concern, respect or right to talk about human rights.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman