The UN General Assembly opened last week with an electrifying speech by President Dilma Rousseff who slammed US cyber-snooping activities with President Barack Obama in the audience.
INTERNET spying by the US government became a major issue at the United Nations General Assembly last week when political leaders heard a blistering attack by the Brazilian president who was visibly angry about how her country and her own office have been targets of cyber-snooping activities.
She called the US action a breach of international law, a grave violation of human rights and civil liberties, and a disrespect for national sovereignty.
It was condemnation in the strongest terms at the highest political forum in the world, with UN and commercial TV stations beaming the speech live.
The surveillance issue, which has caused ripples with continuous revelations in the media emerging from whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s files, has now reached the UN.
And in the most spectacular fashion. It was an extraordinary scene when President Dilma Rousseff gave the opening speech among the government leaders gathered for the annual General Assembly.
Traditionally, Brazil’s president speaks first, followed by the US president. Thus, Barack Obama could not avoid hearing her speech.
Many had expected Rousseff to touch on the Internet spying issue, since she had strongly criticised the US when the media broke the news on specific instances of US Internet surveillance on the Brazilian President’s office, other departments, including the Brazilian Mission to the UN, and the national oil company Petrobas. She recently cancelled a state visit to Washington.
But her speech and performance was far beyond what was anticipated. With the atmosphere electrifying in the packed hall of leaders, the Brazilian president cut out the usual diplomatic niceties while addressing one of the most sensitive issues to have emerged globally in recent years.
She called it “a matter of great importance and gravity ... the global network of electronic espionage that has caused indignation and repudiation in public opinion around the world.”
Rousseff described the Internet spying as creating “a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty”.
She started by laying the foundation of her argument: “A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation.
“The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country. The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained.”
She said she fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and thus has to uncompromisingly defend the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of her country.
“In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among nations,” she added.
Her speech touched on three actions. First, Brazil had asked the US for explanations, apologies and guarantees that such procedures will never be repeated.
Second, Brazil is planning actions to defend itself from the spying. It will “adopt legislation, technologies and mechanisms to protect us from the illegal interception of communications and data”.
Third, she proposed international action, saying: “Information and telecommunication technologies cannot be the new battlefield between states. Time is ripe to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war, through espionage, sabotage, and attacks against systems and infrastructure of other countries.”
Stating that the UN must play a leading role to regulate the conduct of states with regard to these technologies, she called for the setting up of “a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet and to ensure the effective protection of data that travels through the web”.
She proposed multilateral mechanisms for the worldwide network, based on the principles of freedom of expression, privacy and human rights; open, multilateral and democratic governance; universality; cultural diversity; and neutrality of the network, guided only by technical and ethical criteria, with no restrictions allowed on political, commercial, religious grounds.
Delegates who hoped that Obama would respond were disappointed. He did not refer to the Brazilian president’s address made only a few minutes before.
He made only a passing reference to the issue, saying: “we are reviewing the way we gather intelligence.”
Rousseff’s speech came at the right time and venue, since people worldwide have been increasingly troubled or outraged by the extent of cyber-spying revealed by the media.
The issue is even more serious for developing countries. Media reports indicate that there are double standards, with the US spying programme requiring a special court procedure for opening data on individual US citizens, while there is no such procedure for residents outside the US, and thus the surveillance is comprehensive for the world outside the US, with the citizens, companies and government offices all being targets.
Moreover, the media reports show that the US actions do not stop at surveillance. There are also schemes to engage in cyber actions or attacks.
Rousseff’s speech at the UN indicates Brazil plans follow-up moves in the UN for setting up a multilateral system to regulate the use and misuse of the Internet. This would be a timely international response to the recent revelations.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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Flawed perception remembering Heroes and Zeroes
THIS is not another comment about Chin Peng but a reflection on how two Special Branch officers, both of Chinese descent, fought against him. It is also a timely reminder to many of us who have not heard about them, or simply forgotten about these heroes in our midst.
It is also about the thousands of Chinese civilians who lost their lives because of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), a reality which many have forgotten or, worse, chosen to ignore.
There is a terribly flawed perception that the fight against the CPM was simply a bitter battle between the Chinese-dominated movement and the Malay-majority soldiers and police.
The two Malaysians who dedicated their lives to fighting the communists were the late Tan Sri Too Chee Chew, or better known as CC Too to his Special Branch colleagues; and Aloysius Chin, the former Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police and Deputy Director of Special Branch (Operations) at Bukit Aman.
Too was highly regarded as the master of psychological warfare and counter-insurgency and his deep knowledge of the CPM helped the authorities to fight the guerrillas. In fact, he was widely acknowledged as one of the world’s top experts on psy-war as head of Bukit Aman’s psychological warfare desk from 1956 to 1983.
In the words of his long-time friend, Lim Cheng Leng, who wrote his biography, “CC Too could read the communist mind like a communist.”
The web of intrigue of how friends can become foes is exemplified in Too’s relationship with Kuantan-born Eu Chooi Yip, the communist mastermind in Singapore. Eu was Too’s special friend and Raffles College mate, but the two ended up as foes in different arenas.
Aloysius Chin also dedicated his life to fight the CPM and I had the privilege of meeting Chin, who wrote the book The Communist Party of Malaya: The Inside Story, which reveals the various tactics used by the CPM during different periods in their attempts to overthrow the government.
Malaysians have never had much fondness for serious history books. Worse, their views of historic events are often shaped by the movies they have watched.
Unfortunately, movie producers, armed with what is called poetic licence, often dramatise events to make their movies much more interesting.
Who can fault them as they have to sell their movies?
But we really need to read up more about the events during the Emergency era, especially the assassinations of Special Branch personnel and the many ordinary policemen, who were mostly Chinese.
The CPM’s biggest hatred was directed at the Chinese policemen, who were regarded as “running dogs” as far as Chin Peng was concerned.
The reality was that these Chinese policemen were the biggest fear of the CPM as many had sacrificed their lives to infiltrate the movement, posing as communists in the jungle.
It would have been impossible for the Malay policemen to pose as CPM fighters, even if there were senior Malay CPM leaders, because of the predominantly Chinese make-up of the guerrillas. It was these dedicated Chinese officers who bravely gave up their lives for the nation.
Between 1974 and 1978 alone, at least 23 Chinese SB officers were shot and killed by the CPM, according to reports.
In one instance, a Chinese police clerk attached to the Special Branch in Kuala Lumpur was mistaken for an officer and was shot on his way home.
The CPM targets included a number of Chinese informers, who provided crucial information, as well as Chinese civilians.
One recorded case which showed how cruel the communists could be was the murder of the pregnant wife of a Special Branch Chinese officer at Jalan Imbi as the couple walked out of a restaurant.
This was the work of Chin Peng’s mobile hit squads. The assassination of the Perak CPO Tan Sri Koo Chong Kong on Nov 13, 1975, in Ipoh was carried out by two CPM killers from the 1st Mobile Squad who posed as students, wearing white school uniforms, near the Anderson School.
Other members of the same squad went to Singapore in 1976, shortly before Chinese New Year, in an attempt to kill the republic’s commissioner of police, Tan Sri Tan Teik Khim, but they were nabbed.
Another notable figure in our Malaysian history is Tan Sri Yuen Yuet Leng, a former Special Branch officer who spent most of his life being hunted down by the communists during and after the Emergency years, as one news report described him.
Yuen was shot in the chest in Grik back in 1951 in an encounter with the CPM and the communists even tried to kidnap his daughter while he was Perak police chief, so much so he had to send her to the United Kingdom in the 1970s for her safety.
Their top targets included former IGP Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim who was killed in 1974 and the Chief of the Armed Forces Staff Tan Sri Ibrahim Ismail who faced three attempts to kill him.
The CPM targets also included many active grassroots MCA leaders. After all, at the Baling talks in 1955, the government side was represented by Tunku Abdul Rahman, David Marshall, the Chief Minister of Singapore, and Sir Tan Cheng Lock of the MCA. The CPM was represented by Chin Peng, Chen Tian, and Abdul Rashid Maidin.
The talks broke down after two days – the deadlock was simple with Chin Peng wanting legal recognition for the CPM while the Government demanded the dissolution of the CPM, or, in short, their surrender.
In a research paper, Dr Cheah Boon Kheng wrote that as of June 1957, “a total of 1,700 Chinese civilians were killed against 318 Malays, 226 Indians, 106 Europeans, 69 aborigines and 37 others.”
At the end of the Emergency, the final toll was as follows – 1,865 in the security forces killed and 2,560 wounded, 4,000 civilians killed and 800 missing, and 1,346 in the police force killed and 1,601 wounded.
The figures, quoted by Dr Cheah, a renowned CPM expert, were taken from Brian Stewart’s Smashing Terrorism in Malayan Emergency.
The fact is this – many innocent Chinese lives were taken by the CPM, and the killings continued even after the Emergency ended in 1960.
Anthony Short, in his book The Communist Insurrection in Malaya, 1948-1960, also wrote that the Chinese civilians suffered the highest casualties in the fight with the CPM.
At Chin Peng’s funeral wake in Bangkok, some of his old comrades put on a brave front to say they fought for revolution.
But they must have been let down by China, which they looked up to, because in the end, it was Beijing which first down-graded its ties with CPM and eventually stopped funding them entirely when it forged diplomatic relations with Kuala Lumpur.
And today, China is a communist nation in name only as its elites and people openly flout their wealth and compete for the trappings of a capitalistic society along with its ills, including corruption.
The CPM said they wanted to fight the Japanese and the British but in the end, faced with the resistance of the Malay majority, the people they killed the most were Chinese civilians and the policemen.
And let us not also forget the indigenous people of the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak who served in the security forces and were renowned for their jungle tracking skills. They too suffered many casualties.
Among our forgotten heroes are some who were awarded the highest bravery awards. The point here is that all laid down their lives for the country as Malaysians.
These are the facts of history. There’s no need to be bleary-eyed because, in the end, we should let the realities and the facts sink in.
Chin Peng, a hero or zero?
Chin Peng's remains couldn't be interred in his Sitiawan hometown to be cremated in Bangkok instead.