Adam Adli on Human Rights and Politics in Malaysia

June 22, 2015

Adam Adli on Human Rights and Politics in Malaysia

by Deborah Augustin

Adam Adli Abdul Halim first made headlines in 2011 when he lowered a flag depicting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at a protest demanding academic freedom, when he was a student at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI).

Since then, Adam has been repeatedly arrested for his involvement in various civil society causes. In May 2013, he was charged under the Sedition Act for a speech he made at a post-general election forum urging Malaysians to take to the streets to protest the widely contested elections results.

Adam Adli2Adam Adli with his parents

He was then sentenced to a year in jail on September 19, 2014, by far the harshest sentence meted out by the courts since the beginning of the ongoing sedition dragnet. Yet, he remains unfazed. Currently out on bail before his appeal hearing on 25 June, Adam has been in Geneva over the last week for an advocacy trip during the 29th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to bring awareness to the ongoing crackdown on civil liberties in Malaysia.

Deborah Augustin spoke to him.

Adam Adli

You are in Geneva ahead of your trial on June 25 to appeal a one-year sentence under the Sedition Act. But the incident that led to this trial (the May 13 forum) is not the first time you have been arrested. What started your involvement in social causes, and what keeps you involved despite the great risk?

I believe that this country deserves a better chance; the people deserve a greater opportunity. We have been living under the same regime for many generations for the last 57 years. Change is definitely needed. We can’t progress if we don’t take a leap of faith.

The price for change is always expensive. And I believe it is my generation’s responsibility to make it happen; a better, new Malaysia where everyone can finally enjoy being a citizen. And that is why I am willing to take the risk. I don’t want to regret not doing anything in the future while I could.

Did you ever think your activism would take you to the UN in Geneva? And what are you hoping to get out of this trip?

I never really expected that my work and activism would take me here (Geneva). But this is not in any way to be treated as a vacation.

The trip to Geneva is a process and an effort, not a reward. The real fight is at home. The real reward is to see a liberated country.

My hope is that this trip will personally give me new experiences and broaden my views on the activism and fight that we have been involved in. To gain more understanding on how much more we need to do to achieve our goal, and to open up more possibilities to keep the struggle going.

I also got the chance to meet more of my species (i.e. people who’ve been involved in political and social struggle). It is eye opening to see just how much more we need to do to help more people who are being oppressed in so many ways all over the world. We are not alone.

On June 18, you delivered an oral statement on behalf of Forum Asia at an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Opinion and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association. When did you know you were going to do this, and what was it like to do that?

I was told by our colleagues in London a few months ago that there was an opportunity for me to push our agenda forward, meaning the Sedition Act, political oppression, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression in Geneva, and it will be a great help to the struggle. I knew that my case would be submitted orally by Aliran and Suaram by Bala Chelliah [lead coordinator in Geneva of Suaram International], but then I was told by Forum Asia that I would be given the opportunity to also speak at the same event on behalf of them.

The oral submission was a good experience. I have no experience in this, and I’m grateful that Forum Asia entrusted me with the responsibility. I did not only speak for myself, but I also spoke for other people who are being oppressed, especially in South East Asia. I may have never met them, but I’m glad that I got to chip in to help them with their cause.

What have been some of the highlights of your trip in Geneva?

The highlights, apart from the submission to the Human Rights Council, would be the side event where three panelists from Malaysia, Kar Fai, Nurul Nuha and myself, along with Forum Asia’s John Liu, talked about the ongoing situation of dreedom of assembly and freedom of expression in Malaysia. Malaysian cases were cited at the Interactive Dialogue at the UN more than once (as Yasmin Masidi from Empower also spoke about Malaysia). The international community is now more aware of Malaysia’s human rights issues.

adamadli_geneva_220615_tmiYou’ve been meeting with desk officers, and representatives of international NGOs in Geneva to talk about the state of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Malaysia. Who have you met, and what have your meetings been like?

I have met representatives from many countries like the EU, UK, Indonesia, and also organisations like Article 19 to brief them on the situation in Malaysia. I also got the chance to meet and interact with Maina Kiai and David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression and Opinion and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association.

Everyday, we will have multiple meetings with many people. It has to be real quick, straight to the point. No time to waste.

How do you plan on continuing the campaign for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Malaysia?

Now that I have a better understanding on the mechanism and tools provided by not just the UN but also many other bodies and organisations, I can make use of them to push forward our agenda and campaign, as well as to promote and publicise them. With the networks we developed during the trip, we can now look forward to more possibilities in the future.

In Geneva, during a side event on Malaysia, you said that the campaign against the Sedition Act, Universities and University Colleges Act and Peaceful Assembly Act are not issues that affect people’s livelihoods, people feel they don’t affect them. What do you say to someone who thinks that?

It is true that human rights issues like freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are not bread and butter issues. Many people think that it’s not their problem, and they can live without concern for these issues.

But one day, if society stays reluctant in defending these people who’ve been voicing out on behalf of them, and all these human rights defenders are sent to jail, forced into exile, etc.; when things finally get worse and affect their daily lives (like corruption that leads to price hikes and inflation, mass poverty etc.), we will be left with nobody to speak on our behalf anymore.

You will be arriving in Malaysia a day before your appeal trial, how are you feeling about the trial?

It will be the mention for my appeal. I will stay as calm as ever. It’s almost part of my life already, going to the courts.

What do you hope for Malaysia in the next five years?

I pray that we will not have to face the same situation as we are having today, where democratic space for ideas to be debated is restricted and speeches are deemed as subversive activities.

I’m hoping for at least a society that can embrace the reality that we have differences in language, culture, political views, and religion, but we are after all, a Bangsa Malaysia. We’ve done this in the past; we can do this again, once more. – June 22, 2015.

China at the Crossroads

June 17, 2015

Elliot School of International Affairs @ The George Washington University, Washington DC:Lecture by Dr. David Shambaugh–China at the Crossroads

Published on May 1, 2015

Professor  Dr.David Shambaugh discusses China’s political future and the reform challenges faced by the ruling Communist party.

CSIS on China

Understanding British History through its Monarchy

June 14, 2015

Understanding British History through its Monarchy

Listen to Dr. David Strarkey on the subject of Monarchy. May we reflect on our own Monarchy and history. More than the biographies of the kings and queens of England, this lecture is an in depth examination of what the English monarchy has meant, in terms of the expression of the individual, the Mother of Parliaments, Magna Carta, the laws of England and the land of England. The importance of the rich heritage of the Anglo Saxon kings is featured but it does not stop there. This is the history of ideas and ideals.–Din Merican



Not Good News for Najib

June 3, 2015

Obama learns more about Malaysian Politics –Not Good News for Najib

by John R. Mallot at

COMMENT: On June 1, US President Barack Obama met a number of young leaders fromjohn malott Southeast Asia at the White House. At the end of his prepared remarks, he asked for questions. And first at bat was Malaysia’s own Yeo Bee Yin, a member of the Selangor State Assembly.

Yeo asked him, “What is your view on democracy in Malaysia, with the recent jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, and the crackdown on the opposition?” Malaysiakini’s report on Obama’s response to Yeo’s question said that the President was “beating around the bush,” and that he continued “to shy away from criticising the Malaysian government” for jailing Anwar. For her part, Yeo astutely told Malaysiakini that Obama’s response was “perhaps diplomatically and politically correct.

However, as a nation that prides itself on its democracy, I did hope that the President would speak more strongly against such abuse of power.” The transcript of the president’s remarks has now been released. So we can read exactly what Obama said during his 90-minute meeting with these young Southeast Asian leaders, not just about Anwar and Malaysia, but also about democracy, human rights, religious and racial equality, and good governance in Southeast Asia as a whole.

As a former diplomat whose job was to study official statements word by word – and as a former ambassador to Malaysia, where you always had to read between the lines in the government-controlled newspapers to discern the truth – I have taken a look at what Obama had to say. And it is not good news for Obama’s golfing buddy, Najib Razak.

First, Obama said that “Malaysia has a history of democracy that has to be preserved.”  To use the words, “has to be preserved” means that he recognises that Malaysia’s democracy is now in jeopardy. And indeed, it is.

Second, Obama said that “democracy is not just about holding elections.” He said it is also about “how open, transparent, and accountable the government is between elections.” But as we all know, UMNO’s leaders arrogantly say that once elected, they can do whatever they want for the next five years. (And as we all know, the elections that brought them to power in the first place were neither free nor fair.)

Educating Obama


Third, Obama said that to make democracy work, it is essential to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and the right to assemble peacefully. Najib’s Malaysia fails strongly on all these counts.

Fourth, Obama said that people must have the right to say what they think. He cited George Washington and the criticism he endured and said you must respect the rights of people who disagree with you, no matter what they say. Yet in Najib’s Malaysia, people who disagree will be arrested, jailed, and charged with sedition.

Fifth, Obama said that one of the most important principles for him has always been to treat everyone fairly. Obama said, “The one thing I know is that countries that divide themselves on racial or religious lines, they do not succeed… That’s rule number one… I think one of the most important things is to put an end to discrimination against people because of what they look like or what their faith is.” Yet Najib and UMNO are desperately trying to stay in power by appealing to the basest and most racist and religious instincts of the voters.

So what does all this mean? It shows that Obama finally has shown that he has some understanding of the real situation in Malaysia. Hopefully Obama will no longer “drink Najib’s Kool-Aid.” But Obama is not there yet. I fear that he still is giving Najib the benefit of the doubt. We all have to “educate” him and help him understand the truth about Najib and the regime that he leads.

I think the key task now is for the Malaysian people – and for friends of Malaysia in the US – to hold Obama’s feet to the fire. To educate him. To show him that the Najib regime does not live up to the standards of democracy, political freedom, and racial and religious quality that Obama espoused so well in his meeting with the young ASEAN leaders.

JOHN R MALOTT is former United States Ambassador to Malaysia. He resides Alexandria. VA, just across the Potomac from Washington D.C. He maintains a keen interest in ASEAN, especially Malaysia and Vietnam and Japan

New World Order– Henry A. Kissinger Sums Up His Philosophy

June 1, 2015

NY Times Book Review

New World Order: Kissinger’s Philosophy

kakutaniGiven the multiplying foreign policy emergencies in the headlines, from the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to the face-off between Russia and Ukraine, the subject of Henry Kissinger’s new book, “World Order,” could not be more timely. However the reader may regard the author’s own historical baggage, the book puts the problems of today’s world and America’s role in that increasingly interconnected and increasingly riven world into useful — and often illuminating — context.

Mr. Kissinger, now 91, strides briskly from century to century, continent to continent, examining the alliances and divisions that have defined Europe over the centuries, the fallout from the disintegration of nation-states like Syria and Iraq, and China’s developing relationship with the rest of Asia and the West. At its best, his writing functions like a powerful zoom lens, opening out to give us a panoramic appreciation of larger historical trends and patterns, then zeroing in on small details and anecdotes that vividly illustrate his theories.

This book is less concerned than Mr. Kissinger’s earlier ones — including “Diplomacy” (1994), which this volume draws upon heavily at times — with spinning or with rationalizing his own policy-making record as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under President Richard M. Nixon. Still, there are troubling passages: the handful of pages dealing with Vietnam, for instance, will remind many readers of Mr. Kissinger’s disingenuousness on that subject. Once again, he sidesteps questions about decisions that he and Mr. Nixon made that prolonged and expanded the war, as well as their devastating consequences.

As for Mr. Kissinger’s descriptions of prominent acquaintances or colleagues, they tend toward the anodyne or ingratiating. He doesn’t provide a plausible explanation for why he supported the invasion of Iraq, a position that weirdly aligned him more with Wilsonian neo-conservatives eager to export democracy than with realists like his former associate Brent Scowcroft, who presciently warned of the dangers of implementing regime change in Iraq.

Instead, Mr. Kissinger talks vaguely about his respect and affection for President George W. Bush, praising him for guiding the country “with courage, dignity and conviction in an unsteady time.” Mr. Kissinger also plays down his role as an informal, outside adviser to the George W. Bush White House. (In his 2006 book, “State of Denial,” Bob Woodward wrote that Mr. Kissinger had “a powerful, largely invisible influence” on that administration’s foreign policy, and met regularly with Vice President Dick Cheney.)

In a 2005 essay, Mr. Kissinger wrote that “victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy” for the United States in Iraq; in this book, he writes that seeking to implement American values “by military occupation in a part of the world where they had no historical roots” proved “beyond what the American public would support and what Iraqi society could accommodate.”


In this book’s most compelling sections, Mr. Kissinger uses his realpolitik lens (with its emphasis on balance of power, linkage and triangular diplomacy) as a revealing prism by which to look at, say, the roots of World War I and the sources of conflict in the modern Middle East. He similarly uses his knowledge of various countries’ historical proclivities and their self-image over the centuries as a frame of reference for current developments like the Arab Spring and America’s increasingly ambivalent role on the world stage.

Mr. Kissinger’s sketches of historical figures like Talleyrand and Cardinal Richelieu remind us of his gifts as a portraitist while fleshing out his belief in the ability of great leaders to sway — or at least moderate — the course of history. He also provides a succinct summary of his long-held views on the destabilizing dangers of revolution: The French Revolution, he writes, “demonstrated how internal changes within societies are able to shake the international equilibrium more profoundly than aggression from abroad,” a lesson underscored by the upheavals of the 20th century, from Russia to Iran.

Known in the Nixon White House for his backstage maneuvering (and back channel diplomacy), Mr. Kissinger delivers some shrewd analysis here of the role that psychology can play (both in the case of individual leaders and entire countries) in foreign policy. He writes as well about how patterns of history often repeat themselves. For instance, of Russia, he asserts that “it has started more wars than any other contemporary major power, but it has also thwarted dominion of Europe by a single power,” holding fast against both Napoleon and Hitler; at the same time, he notes, it has undergone tidal rhythms of expansionism that have remained extraordinarily consistent “from Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin.”

The model for world order that Mr. Kissinger repeatedly returns to is the so-called Westphalian peace, negotiated in Europe at the end of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-48 at a time when conditions in Europe, he says, roughly approximated those of the contemporary world: “a multiplicity of political units, none powerful enough to defeat all the others, many adhering to contradictory philosophies and internal practices, in search of neutral rules to regulate their conduct and mitigate conflict.”

Old forms of hierarchical deference, he says, were quietly discarded by the dozens of battle-hardened, battle-weary parties (“the delegations, demanding absolute equality, devised a process of entering the sites of negotiations through individual doors, requiring the construction of many entrances”). And a set of straightforward ideas was embraced, most notably the recognition that the state — not the empire, dynasty or religious belief — was “the building block of European order,” and the establishment of state sovereignty (“the right of each signatory to choose its own domestic structure and religious orientation free from intervention”).

The principle of balance of power (ensuring that no country augmented its strength to a point where it threatened to achieve hegemony) became a key to maintaining equilibrium in the Westphalian system, Mr. Kissinger says, even though it would often be “maligned as a system of cynical power manipulation, indifferent to moral claims” (charges that would frequently be made by critics of Mr. Kissinger’s own policy making).

Sometimes, in this volume, Mr. Kissinger assumes the role of history professor. In that sense, “World Order” brings his career full circle, back to the doctoral dissertation about the 19th-century statesmanship of Metternich and Castlereagh that he wrote six decades ago at Harvard and that contained all the seeds of his doctrine of realpolitik, now well-known.

As he’s done in earlier writings, Mr. Kissinger argues here that there are two main schools of American foreign policy: the realist school (based on national interests and geostrategic concerns, and exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt) and the idealist school (based on a sense of moral mission, and exemplified by Woodrow Wilson).

Mr. Kissinger, renowned as a practitioner of realpolitik, often sounds as if he were mouthing platitudes when he tries to articulate the importance of the idealistic strain in American diplomacy. (“There is a special character to a nation that proclaims as war aims not only to punish its enemies but to improve the lives of their people.”) He is way more persuasive when dissecting the dangers of the Wilsonian urge to “base world order on the compatibility of domestic institutions reflecting the American example” and the perils of failing to analyze “the cultural and geopolitical configuration of other regions and the dedication and resourcefulness of adversaries opposing American interests and values.”

When efforts to export democratic American ideas of order have fallen short, Mr. Kissinger argues, the country has frequently responded by abruptly retreating, resulting in a pattern that has risked “extremes of overextension and disillusioned withdrawal.” Three times in two generations — in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — he adds, “the United States abandoned wars midstream as inadequately transformative or as misconceived.” With the volatility of the world today, he writes, it is crucial for the United States to stay engaged on the world stage as a “balancer” in places like the Middle East and Asia, especially at a time when Europe seems to be turning inward.

There has always been a dark, almost Spenglerian cast to Mr. Kissinger’s thinking, and he sees ominous signs today of a descent back into a Hobbesian state of nature — in the bedlam overtaking Syria and Iraq, where “no common rules other than the law of superior force” seem to hold; in the spread of weapons of mass destruction and “the persistence of genocidal practices”; and in the Wild West of cyberspace, which has “revolutionized vulnerabilities.”

In fact, he says, we are “insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order,” at this moment in history when “chaos threatens side by side with unprecedented interdependence.”

Rohingya boat people: Myanmar’s shame

May 24, 2015

Phnom Penh

Rohingya boat people

Myanmar’s shame

Poverity, politics and despair are forcing thousands of Rohingyas to flee Myanmar. The authorities remain woefully indifferent to their plight

Since 2012 all the Rohingya villages and camps have been totally cut off from predominantly Rakhine towns like Sittwe. This has made it almost impossible for inhabitants to make a decent living. Tall wire fences are now being erected, completing their isolation. One Rohingyan says he used to have a good taxi business in Sittwe. Now he uses his motorcycle to carry a few customers in a small village. He makes about one-third of the money he used to. Most Rohingyas are farmers or fishermen. The former cannot return to their fields; the latter have few boats left and are driven away from fishing grounds by Rakhines if they manage to get out to sea.

The local authorities insist that this forced isolation is for the Rohingyas’ own good, to protect them from further attacks. Rohingyas, however, see it as the culmination of a long-standing policy of apartheid, depriving them of the last benefits that they enjoyed living among Rakhines. No Rohingya student, for instance, has been allowed into the university at Sittwe during the last three years. They are not allowed into the township hospitals unless it is a life-and-death situation. “It’s really inhumane stuff,” says an aid worker.

Any hopes among Rohingyas that the country’s turn to quasi-civilian rule in 2011 after decades of military dictatorship might improve their lot have evaporated. While life is improving for many others in Myanmar, it is not for Rohingyas. They are unwitting victims of a deadly political game for control of what some Burmese proclaim to be the “New Myanmar”. Thus, for instance, while the rest of the country is preparing for a general election in November—the first democratic one in a quarter-century—a sleight of hand involving their voting documents has effectively deprived Rohingyas of the right to participate. Last year, during the first national census for years, Rohingyas were only allowed to register as “Bengalis”. In protest, most of them boycotted the count.

The government is pandering to a growing anti-Muslim hysteria in the country. Such sentiment has been encouraged by hardliners in the army and the ruling party who calculate that humiliating the millions of Muslims in Myanmar plays well with many Buddhist Burmese. It is often supported by the more chauvinist Buddhist monks as well. The hardliners have an election to win; they believe that playing to anti-Muslim feeling might give them an advantage over the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party.

Even Ms Suu Kyi, however, a Nobel peace-prize winner who campaigns relentlessly for human rights and the rule of law, has been loth to stand up for the human rights of Rohingyas. For some of her supporters, this has been extremely disappointing. Her low-key response has made it easier for the government virtually to ignore the boat-people crisis. By May 19th there had been no mention of it in the government-run Global New Light of Myanmar, an English-language newspaper. Rohingyas are not technically “citizens”, so the government feels that it can wash its hands of the problem.

Clearly ministers feel that they have no wider moral or humanitarian obligation to people whose families have lived and worked here for, in many cases, over a century. In the face of such callous indifference from all quarters in Myanmar, it is hardly surprising that so many thousands are taking to the sea. Unless the situation changes, the only guarantee is that even more will try to flee at the start of the next dry season, with the same appalling results.