Focusing on democracy and development, the awards this year also recognised the contributions of the late Khoo Khay Jin, a social activist and former lecturer in Anthropology and Sociology at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang, who died of cancer in December 2011.
Khoo is remembered best for his efforts in eradicating poverty in Sabah and Sarawak by helping to improve employment and equity, as well as his contributions to democratising and developing the nation.
Receiving the award on his behalf was his son, Wu Chen. The Malaysian Bar Council's award was received by its president, Lim Chee Wee (left).
Past recipients of the award since its inception in 1998 include Marina Mahathir, Razali Ismail, Dr Raj Abdul Karim, the Malaysian Federation of Family Planning Associations, the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Royal Malaysian Police.
"Set up as a statutory body under the Legal Profession Act 1976, the Malaysian Bar has admirably fulfilled its role as a defender of human rights and the public interest.
History of opposition to draconian laws
"Its history has been marked by opposition to legislation that is draconian and against the interests of justice," said United Nations Malaysia resident coordinator Kamal Malholtra.
Kamal said the UN Day was established to highlight the ideals and impact of the UN, and also marks the anniversary of the 1945 establishment of the UN Charter.
"Democracy is one of the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the UN, as it is inextricably linked with the three pillars of the UN's work - peace and security; economic development; and the rule of law and respect for human rights," he said.
However, priority was usually given to the first two pillars, with the third often neglected.
"Democracy is crucial to the realisation of a free and just society, as it provides an environment for the protection and effective fulfilment of human rights. These are key values in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
With the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals fast approaching, Kamal added, efforts should be further intensified to ensure poverty was eradicated, democratic transitions in developing countries continued and economic growth continued to grow worldwide.
- The Malay Mai