In the midst of simmering global tensions, the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in New York staged many of the adversaries. These included 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 headlines.
US president Trump projected a forlorn figure, a far cry from the menacing and bombastic speeches previously delivered at the forum.
Perhaps he was absorbed in the impending danger of impeachment he faces in coming weeks.
British prime minister Johnson had to rush back after the courts found he violated the law by proroguing parliament. Brexit could prove to be his political nemesis.
And Egypt’s al-Sisi senses the beginning of the end as another uprising erupts against his illegitimate rule.
There seems to be a shift in the rhetoric at this year’s UNGA, one from obsequiousness by some “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, 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.
Turkish president Erdogan rightly 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.
Malaysian 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 in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries, and to guarantee the security of free oil flow from each Persian Gulf country.
He alluded to disruptive American interference in the region, hinting that such interference had inflamed the Muslim East with wars of extremism, fanaticism, terrorism and occupation.
In an impassioned speech Pakistani PM Imran Khan launched an extraordinary attack on his Indian counterpart, prime minister Modi, warning of a “bloodbath” when India lifts its curfew in Indian-occupied 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 states would reverberate far beyond their borders. He gave a history of the RSS, the progenitor of Modi’s BJP, the ruling 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 leaders called for reform of the United Nations, particularly the extraordinary powers through 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 Security Council become the executive branch of the UNGA. Only then will the UN cease being a tool for the oppressors.
There can be grave consequences resisting coercion by the West and for taking such a stance against 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 all countries of the world on an equitable footing, were to sanction the use of force against a member state that has violated the UN Charter or international Law.
Further, it should only be the UNGA that should sanction trade embargo and control global institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The UNSC, dominated by the victors of the Second World War—the US, France, Britain and Russia—plus China, will never willingly acquiesce to forego incarcerating, bullying, invading, bombing and occupying other countries and peoples.
Uighurs, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine immediately come to mind.
They will not allow any reforms or structural changes to the United Nations that will abolish their absolute control of the world body. It is time for courageous, smaller states 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, South Africa.