In the midst of simmering global tensions in this year’s 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in New York staged many of the adversaries including Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Narendra Modi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Imran Khan, Boris Johnson and Abdel Fattah el Sisi. A notable absentee was Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu who is fighting for his political life in order to avert a prison sentence for corruption.
The theme at the UNGA was to address multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion, but it was the threat of war in the Muslim (Middle) East and the Subcontinent that was the main focus and dominated the headlines.
American president Trump projected a forlorn figure, a far cry from the menacing and bombastic speeches previously delivered at the forum. Perhaps he was absorbed of the impending danger of impeachment he faces in the coming weeks. British prime minister Johnson had to rush back after the courts found that he violated the law for proroguing parliament. Brexit could prove to be his political nemesis. And Egypt’s Sisi senses the beginning of his end as another uprising erupts against his illegitimate rule.
There seems to be a shift in the rhetoric at this years UNGA, one from obsequiousness by some of the “Third” world leaders, not only exposing the hypocrisy and double standards of the dominant Western countries but accusing them, and the United Nations, of failing to uphold international law and prevent war, the UN’s raison d’ etre.
In his address USA president Trump barely touched on the main conference theme instead lambasting Iran’s “menacing behaviour ..fuelling the tragic wars in Syria and Yemen .. and the attack on the Saudi oil refineries”. No evidence was provided. The biggest gap in Trump’s address, of course, was his deafening silence on climate change.
Turkey’s president Erdogan asked : “Where are the borders of the State of Israel? Is it the 1948 borders, the 1967 borders, or is there any other border?”, adding that Israel’s seizure of Palestinian territories is not legitimate. He produced a map showing just how Israel, non-existent in 1947, colonised Palestine and expelled its people.
Malaysia’s PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad also castigated the Zionist entity, stating that the creation of Israel by seizing Palestinian land and expelling its 90 per cent Arab population is the root cause of terrorism. “Since then, wars have been fought in many countries, many related to the creation of Israel. And now we have terrorism when there was none before, or at least none on the present scale.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in contrast to Trump, called for a commitment to signed international deals, dialogue and cooperation to achieve regional peace and stability without any interference into the internal affairs of neighbouring countries, and to guarantee the security of free oil flow from each gulf country.
He alluded to the disruptive American interference in the region, hinting that such American interference had inflamed the Muslim East with wars of extremism, fanaticism, terrorism and occupation.
In an impassioned speech Pakistan’s Imran Khan launched an extraordinary attack on his Indian counterpart, prime minister Modi, warning of a “bloodbath”when India lifts its curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir, currently facing an unprecedented security lockdown with 900,000 troops for nearly two month. He warned that any all-out conflict between the two nuclear-armed nations would reverberate far beyond their borders. He gave a history of the RSS, the progenitor of Modi’s BJP party, calling it a terrorist group that admired Hitler and Mussolini.
On the side-lines of the UNGA the leaders of Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia agreed to jointly fight the rising global trend of Islamophobia, mainly in the West, and to launch an English TV channel dedicated to confronting the challenges posed by Islamophobia. They also discussed ways to enhance cooperation on regional and global developments.
A number of other national leaders called for the reform of the United Nations, particularly the extraordinary powers through the veto of the five permanent members at the UN Security Council (UNSC). South Africa’s call for additional African seats simply entrenches and reinforces the lopsided system. The veto must be abolished, and the UNSC become the executive branch of the UNGA. Only then will the UN cease being a tool for the stronger, richer powers.
There can be grave consequences resisting coercion by the West and for taking such a stance against the hegemonic powers, such as the economic blockade faced by Cuba, Venezuela and Iran. There will be destabilisation, turmoil, destruction and attempts to overthrow governments as happened in Egypt and Turkey.
It is time that only the UN General Assembly, which comprises of all the world’s nations on an equitable footing, were to sanction the use of force against a member state who have violated the UN Charter or international Law. Further, it should only be the UNGA that should sanction a trade embargo and control global institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The UNSC, dominated by China, and the victors of World War 2, the USA, France, Britain and Russia and its allies, will never willingly acquiesce to forego incarcerating, bullying, invading, bombing and occupying the Uighurs, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, Kashmir or Palestine. They will not allow any reforms or structural changes to the United Nations that will relinquish their absolute control of the world body. It is time for courageous, smaller nations to unite in their demand for a more effective, equitable and just world body.
Dr Firoz Osman is an executive member of the Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in Gauteng.