Anwar's forceful UN address: Multilateralism reboot crucial in combating violence, inequality, and climate change

UNITED NATIONS, New York: Malaysia's Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, delivered his first address before the UN General Assembly on Friday. 

His message, both to global and domestic audiences, was clear: Malaysia will not tolerate conflict, violence, or disharmony, whether within its own borders or in other nations.

Anwar's challenge in addressing the 78th session of the UN General Assembly was to defend multilateralism in an increasingly polarised world and amplify Malaysia's voice in urging countries, particularly major economies, to unite in addressing global crises, all in pursuit of peace in accordance with the UN Charter and international law.

The prime minister took 16 minutes to deliver Malaysia's national statement, one he delivered with strong conviction and clarity, and it was well received by delegates.

Clad in Baju Melayu, sampin and songkok, Anwar commenced his address in Bahasa Malaysia, extending a "Salam Malaysia Madani" greeting to the assembly before switching to English.


Speaking on the UN's role, which has faced criticism regarding its function, Anwar unequivocally said the organisation is being "cast aside" by major powers aspiring to attain "greater international status" through "smaller, supposedly more efficacious platforms."

This shift, he argued, is giving rise to "minilateralism" instead of the multilateral cooperation advocated by world leaders during their speeches this week.

"As the powers that be continue to pay lip service to the imperative of multilateralism, we see the emergence of minilateralism instead, effectively becoming fragmented configurations of power."

Noteworthy, the United States President Joe Biden was the only head of state from the five per- manent members of the UN Se- curity Council to address the General Assembly, underscoring the UN's challenges in preserving its position as the go-to multi- lateral forum for addressing glob- al issues.

ALSO READ: UNGA78: In a world of doubt, the UN gathers: Rebuilding trust or fading into irrelevance?

Anwar harkened back to the establishment of the General Assembly nearly 80 years ago, emphasising that it was founded in the aftermath of a catastrophic world war, with the intention of preventing such horrors from recurring.

"A profound and audacious decision was made to make the General Assembly the central forum for deliberation, policymaking, and representation within the United Nations.

"A decision that manifested no less than the very strength and courage of our convictions. By giving equal voice to the sovereign nations of the world, the founders of the UN pursued a vision of a more democratic world, predicated on the dictates of equity and justice."

This, he noted, was a vision that consigned to the past the predations of the strong over the weak, of the rich and powerful over the poor and marginalised, and of the big powers over the rest.

However, Anwar lamented that this vision has been "utterly shattered to pieces", as major powers increasingly sideline the UN.

As the world's only truly universal global organisation, the UN is the foremost forum to address issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone.

Fighting hate, discrimination, racism and inequality is at the core of United Nations principles and the Organisation's work. It is enshrined in the UN founding Charter, in the international human rights framework and in the UN collective efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

In recent times, critics argue that the UN and the assembly's effectiveness in addressing global challenges fall short when compared to regional organisations like North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Group of 20, the BRICS group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which often wield more influence and decision-making power.


Anwar also emphasised the consequences of major power ri- valries, especially for smaller na- tions in conflict-ridden regions.

He said though great powers at odds with each other often claim not to impose binary choices, many nations feel cornered into such choices.

The consequences of this, he warned, could plunge the world into a state where the masses lack representation, where a few wield disproportionate influence, and the many harbour resentment.

"The lofty ideals and principles enshrined in the UN Charter call upon nations to resolve their disputes through peaceful means, and refrain from  the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state," he said.


On Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Anwar implored for a concerted multilateral effort, spearheaded by the UN, to bring a resolution to this protracted crisis.

"We condemn unequivocally the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This conflict in Ukraine, for example, underscores the imperative to make peace and settle differences amicably through negotiations.

"Nevertheless, time is not on our side, and owing to the protracted failure to deal with this Russian-Ukraine crisis, I urge for a concerted multilateral effort led by the UN to resolve this.

"We cannot choose our neighbours, but we can choose to live in peace with them. And peace cannot happen without the cessation of hostilities by all parties.

"It is imperative for all parties to return to dialogue and resolve their differences through the negotiation table."

The ripple effects of the Ukraine conflict, Anwar noted, have reverberated worldwide, resulting in soaring food prices, shortages, hunger, malnutrition, and despair.

He drew parallels with other conflicts, such as those in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where forced migrations compound the challenges of refugees and statelessness.


Anwar also drew attention to the "flagrant hypocrisy" surrounding the issue of Palestine.

He urged the international community to condemn the atrocities inflicted upon Palestinians, emphasising the stark contrast between their vocal condemnation of human rights violations, injustice, and abusive regimes and the situation in Palestine.

"In the Middle East, the politics of dispossession persist relentlessly, with the construction of more illegal settlements, depriving Palestinians of land that rightfully belongs to them. This constitutes a grave breach of international law."

Anwar further stressed that these actions pose an insurmountable obstacle to a two-state solution and perpetuate ongoing violence in the region.


Addressing the situation in Afghanistan, Anwar affirmed Malaysia's stance on the need for Afghan authorities to reverse their exclusionary and discrim- inatory policies against women and girls.

Denying their right to education, he said, not only goes against the teachings of Islam but also violates the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and the multilateral framework of human rights.

"They are also profoundly detrimental to the future of Afghanistan," he warned.

He, however, said Malaysia remains deeply concerned with the dire humanitarian situation in the country.

This is especially so given that the country is grappling with its third consecutive year of drought and a devastating locust infestation that severely undermined wheat harvests.

"Malaysia is committed to continue its existing people-to-people relations with Afghanistan, including through the provision of humanitarian aid."


On the continued post-coup violence and instability in Myanmar, Anwar called on Myanmar to immediately implement the  Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) five-point consensus towards achieving peace and stability in the country.

"The continued atrocities must end.  We are deeply horrified by the current situation, which  is among Southeast Asia's most biggest strategic and humanitarian challenges in recent years.

"The barbarism and depravity inflicted upon the people of Myanmar is indefensible, and goes against the values and principles shared by the peoples in the region and globally," he said.

Once again, he underscored the vital role of the international community and the UN, urging their continuous support and the maintenance of unwavering pressure on the military authorities to reverse their course.

"Asean is navigating the rivalry between major powers in the Asia Pacific. Malaysia believes that any strategy undertaken should neither start nor exacerbate a race for dominance.

"Instead, such strategies should contribute to peace and stability, security and prosperity in the region."


Anwar called on developed nations to fulfil their commitment to mobilise US$100 billion annually to support climate ambitions in developing countries, while recognising that trillions of dollars per annum will be needed in the near future.

"Discussions on climate change in the absence of equity, justice, and the necessary means to assist and empower countries to undertake greater climate action is an exercise in futility," he said.

Scientists have confirmed that the world has just experienced its hottest summer in history.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gravely declared that, "Climate breakdown has begun."

Anwar said Malaysia itself has been grappling with escalating adverse impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, sea level increases, intensified monsoons, and erratic weather patterns, all of which have disrupted livelihoods and degraded local ecosystems.

"As such, we have not a moment to lose," he said.

He noted that Malaysia is doing its part by formulating low-carbon and renewable energy roadmaps to implement both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

"The recently launched National Energy Transition Roadmap will play a pivotal role in helping us achieve our Nationally Determined Contributions and pave the way toward our net-zero aspirations."


Anwar called for drastic, systemic reform, a total reset of the global institutions that impact people's lives.

He cautioned that failing to undertake such reforms would exacerbate inequality, further dividing nations and populations.

"The 2023 SDG report has confirmed that we are falling behind, with nearly a third of the targets either at the state of inertia or worse, regressing," he said.

"The global economy is also projected to continue to be weighed down by geopolitical uncertainties, supply chain disruptions, increase in commodity prices, as well as challenging financial conditions."

This, Anwar said, has widened the gap between economic growth and income, leading to a continuous disparity.

"As the growth in incomes fail to match economic growth, households became burdened with debt. We now have the super-rich living side by side with the ultra-poor.

"The contrast lies starkly in the things that matter: food on the table, shelter, access to quality education, health care."


Anwar also raised concern about a disturbing trend described as a "new form of racism," characterised by xenophobia, negative profiling, and stereotyping of Muslims.

He noted that this trend is manifesting itself in a troubling rise in hatred, intolerance, and acts of violence against Muslims and their religious sanctities, prompting worldwide condemnation.

"We are appalled by the legitimisation of these acts under the feeble defence of human rights.

"Quran burnings are nothing but a clear Islamophobic act intended to incite hatred."

Anwar said failing to take decisive action in the face of such blatant provocations against a religion represents a profound irresponsibility and conveys a dangerous message to humanity.

"We must embody the values of acceptance, tolerance and mutual respect. We must promote inter-cultural, inter-civilisation, and inter-religious understanding and cooperation.

"We must unite our faiths in common cause to promote understanding and goodwill among our peoples, and strengthen peace and harmony among nations."


Anwar acknowledged that these are "indeed tall orders" but underscored that these challenges are the very reason leaders convene at forums like the UN.

"I truly believe that no challenge, however formidable, is insurmountable if we secure the collective commitment of this global community, the member states of this august Institution.

"What we need is trust and the conviction to make the world a better place, the will to work together on a platform of consensus and solidarity."


Anwar went to elaborate on his "Malaysia Madani" vision, saying that it stands on core values deemed essential in fostering a harmonious, flourishing, and peaceful society: compassion, re- spect, trust, innovation, prosper- ity, and sustainability.

He said these principles and moral values would extend to Malaysia's interactions with oth- er nations.

"Whether it is within the G7, G20, G77, APEC, or the world's largest free trade agreement, it is undeniable that multilateral collaboration stands as the sine qua non for any effective and sustainable resolution to the multitude of crises currently afflicting our world.

"In this regard, it bears stressing that Malaysia's commitment to the UN and the multilateral system is borne out of the strong conviction that all countries, no matter how big or small, rich or poor, strong or weak, have a common responsibility towards creating a better world for tomorrow."

Anwar concluded on an optimistic note, asserting, "The world and our future in it are shaped by our vision and collec- tive efforts. Malaysia firmly believes that we can achieve this through greater trust and strengthened multilateralism.

"The UN has the potential to guide us from despondency to a brighter future, from uncertainty to optimism, and from vulnerability to resilience."

 NST specialist writer Tharanya Arumugam is a 2023 fellow of the United Nations Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship.

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