Two viewpoints on envoys' walkout

The following two contrasting viewpoints appeared in Malaysiakini of 15 and 16 September 2005

Disrespectful envoys should leave

By Sulaiman Rejab (September 15, 2005)

I was appalled to read about British High Commissioner Bruce Cleghorn and Hungarian Ambassador Tomas Toth staging a walkout when former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad was delivering his speech at a human rights conference.
It was unbecoming for senior diplomats like Cleghorn and Toth to show such disrespect to Mahathir, a senior statesman and respected figure worldwide.
For doing so, I am suggesting without the slightest hesitation that the government order Cleghorn and Toth to leave the country immediately.
If one followed Mahathir’s speech, one can only agree with him. He had consistently opposed the American and British invasion of Iraq, even while serving as prime minister.
Why didn’t Cleghorn or Toth walk out on Mahathir when the latter said the same thing when he was prime minister? Did they lack the courage to do it then?
It becomes more and more evident now that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction as claimed by the US and Britain.
So, was Cleghorn’s decision to walk out in the middle of Dr Mahathir’s speech an admission of guilt?
Whatever their reasons may be, showing disrespect for Mahathir should not be tolerated by any Malaysian worth his or her salt. I am saddened by the fact that the government, politicians and pressure groups have decided to maintain their silence over the issue.
The Foreign Ministry should have summoned the two diplomats and reprimanded them for their action. It should have been done promptly and spontaneously because the government's views on the invasion of Iraq is the same with Dr Mahathir's.
Having failed to do that, Wisma Putra should now put pressure on Cleghorn and Toth to apologise to Mahathir publicly, or leave. The latter will be a better option as they have inflicted irreversible damage to their reputations as diplomats.

Envoys were doing their job

By MB (September 16, 2005)

I read with a smile Sulaiman Rejab’s breathless demand that British and Hungarian diplomats apologise for walking out during a recent speech by former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Living in Malaysia and reading its sycophantic media, I can see how one might honestly hold Sulaiman’s view of Mahathir as “a senior statesman and respected figure worldwide.”
In fact, viewed from an international perspective, “senior” is the only accurate part of that statement.
High Commissioner Bruce Cleghorn and Ambassador Tomas Toth did precisely what they are paid to do: defend the good name of the countries they serve.
Whether or not we agree with Mahathir’s criticism of Western governments, we must understand that foreign diplomats come to Malaysia for the purpose of advocating on behalf of their countries.
As for the absurd suggestion that the Foreign Ministry “reprimand” the two diplomats for doing their jobs, perhaps Sulaiman is unaware that foreign diplomats actually work for their own countries and not for the Malaysian government.
They are under no obligation to accept the abusive rambling of a former prime minister.
In fact, as a former premier, Mahathir does not speak officially for the Malaysian government anyway – something the Foreign Ministry might be wise to point out.


British envoy walks out on Mahathir rights speech

From Reuters of Friday September 9, 2005
By Barani Krishnan

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 - Britain's envoy to Malaysia walked out in disgust on a speech by former premier Mahathir Mohamad on Friday after he used a human-rights conference to accuse Britain and its U.S. ally of murdering Iraqis.
Bruce Cleghorn left the conference room in Kuala Lumpur after Mahathir, an outspoken and veteran critic of the West's approach to human rights, said British and U.S. policies had killed more Iraqis than former ruler Saddam Hussein was ever accused of.
"Unfortunately I found myself listening to abuse and misrepresentation about my country. I therefore left," High Commissioner Cleghorn said in a statement.
Mahathir, whom critics accuse of abusing civil rights during his time in office, told the conference that before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.N. economic sanctions had led to the death of around 500,000 infants there.
"At the time this was happening where were the people who were concerned with human rights?" he added. "Did they expose the abusers of Britain and America? Did they protest against their own government? No. It is because they, the enemy, are killed."
Britain and Washington then launched their invasion on false pretences, breaking international laws on human rights, he said, going on to describe U.S. and British bombers as murderers.
"The British and American bomber pilots came, unopposed, safe and cosy in their state-of-the-art aircraft, pressing buttons to drop bombs, to kill and maim real people who were their targets, just targets," he said.
A few other diplomats also walked out on the speech, witnesses said. The U.S. embassy had decided on Thursday not to send its delegate to listen to Mahathir's speech, in line with some human rights groups who also boycotted the speech.
But Mahathir, who sits on a global committee backing Saddam's defence at his upcoming trial, was unrepentant.
"As much as they have the right to criticise me, they should also give me the right to criticise them," said the 80-year-old, who was criticised by some Western governments in the late 1990s over the jailing of his former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.
"But if you don't want to hear my criticisms of them, then you are denying my right to speak up."
Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore also walked out on a dinner hosted by Mahathir during a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, after saluting rights activists supporting Anwar.