KUALA LUMPUR – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad triggered a diplomatic walkout from a human rights conference in Malaysia’s capital last week when he accused the United States and Britain of killing innocent civilians in Iraq. According to Agence France Press, Mahathir told an audience of some 350 diplomats and human rights activists that the invasion was made on false pretenses, and the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction "was a lie."
British High Commissioner Bruce Cleghorn, one of the diplomats who left, said he "was not prepared to listen to a tirade of abuse and misrepresentation of his country and its foreign policy." Hungarian Ambassador Tamas Toth also walked out in protest, saying his country was part of the "coalition of the willing." The U.S. embassy said none of its officials attended the conference, sponsored by the government-backed National Human Rights Commission, but that it was preparing a response to Mahathir’s allegations.
"Who are the terrorists? The people below who were bombed or the bombers. Whose rights have been snatched away?" Mahathir asked. "But the people whose hands are soaked in the blood of the innocents, the blood of the Iraqis … the people who ignored international law and mounted military attacks, have these people a right to question human rights in our country?"
During his two-decade tenure, which ended in 2003, Mahathir was regularly criticized over human rights issues. At a press conference after his remarks, he defended his record, saying he had used Malaysia’s draconian internal security laws only "sparingly."