JAKARTA— Heads of state from Afghanistan to Australia gathered on the resort island of Bali Thursday for the opening of the fifth Bali Democracy Forum. Tensions in Syria and criticism of the United Nations Security Council are the hot topics of the day - as were scathing comments by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Debate at Thursday’s forum centered on the relationship between democratic principles and global peace and stability.
Referring to the protracted conflict in Syria, the Indonesian president emphasized the obligations of the international community.
“In the case where central authority fails to protect their own citizens, we are left with the question as to who should protect them. In my opinion, the international community should step in to prevent further humanitarian tragedies, to fulfill its responsibility to protect," he said. "On the one hand, such steps should fully respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country concerned."
But the president and several other leaders, also criticized the exclusivity of the U.N. Security Council.
Given the U.N.’s failure to end the humanitarian conflict in Syria, forum participants agree the United Nations must play a more effective and more multilateral role, in settling conflicts.
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak reminded leaders not to lose sight of rights abuses in North Korea, emphasizing the moral role of the global community in the oft-described rogue state.
But rejecting what he saw as rhetoric, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad argued that contemporary democracy leaves little to emulate.
“In practice, democracy has turned into the rule of the minority [over the majority] and most of the people are deprived of the rights to play a determining role in the fundamental decision of the society," he said.
Ahmadinejad - whose own re-election in 2009 was accompanied by accusations of fraud - drew on the recent U.S. presidential election to argue that a capitalist elite is hijacking democracy.
“Elections, which is one of the manifestations of people's will, has become a battleground for the capitalists and an excuse for hefty spending. That is why many of the independent and pure-hearted elements don't get a chance to be part of governance," he said. "Justice, freedom and human dignity have all been sacrificed for the interest of a group of minorities."
This is Ahmadinejad’s first time at the event, which is focused on promoting peace and democracy in the region and globally.
Other high-profile leaders in attendance include Thai Prime Minster Yingluck Sinawatra, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pallay.