Blair has no right to lecture on the rule of law

By Inayat Bunglawala | Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, has been lecturing Russia on the need to respect Ukrainian and Georgian sovereignty. He doesn’t seem to realise how incongruous this sounds to much of the world, given Britain’s own disregard of international law.

In a similar vein, our former prime minister, Tony Blair, also caused wry smiles earlier this month when he visited Malaysia to give the Universiti Malaya’s 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah lecture on Upholding the Rule of Law: A Reflection.

Blair argued that this means “rules and procedures that are transparent, and rules of evidence that make sense and are fair. These basic principles apply universally and without them, the rule of law means little or nothing.”

As you can imagine, the topic Blair sought to address was a source of both amusement and disbelief among the Malaysians.

This is what the vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, had to say: “It is quite obvious from casual observation that someone who has been known to have misled others, including the country’s parliament, has lost the moral authority to preach about the rule of law and good governance … One wonders then what ‘basic principles’ Blair had in mind when he gave an almost unconditional support for the unilateral decision to invade Iraq against the wishes of the international community and without the approval of the UN … Indeed, as late as April 2006, when an eminent British former law lord attacked Guantanamo Bay as ‘a stain on American justice’, Blair reportedly refused to follow suit. According to Lord Steyn, who just retired from Britain’s highest court: ‘While our government condones Guantanamo Bay, the world is perplexed about our approach to the rule of law. You may ask: how will it help in regard to the continuing outrage at Guantanamo Bay for our government now to condemn it. The answer is that it would at last be a powerful signal to the world that Britain supports the international rule of law.’”

The former Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, was characteristically blunt: “It is disgusting to see this criminal of the highest order being welcomed in Malaysia and worse still to talk on the rule of law when he broke all international laws and the laws of his own country by deliberately lying and sending young British soldiers to die in a war of aggression.”

Mahathir added that: “Saddam has been hanged, Karadzic was recently arrested, but this man goes around the world, lecturing on the rule of law.”

Roger Tan, a member of the Malaysian Bar Council, asked if, “by supporting and participating in the 2003 United States-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, I wonder whether Britain, being the world’s oldest democracy, still possesses moral authority in a comity of nations to lecture on the principle of rule of law.”

I visited the official Tony Blair website to read his own account of what had transpired in Malaysia. Unfortunately, I could find no mention made of the trip.