Colombo Telegraph

Alistair Burt Has Spoken, We Hear

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

British Under Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Alistair Burt has spoken. He has spoken for Britain, a country he describes as ‘a candid friend of Sri Lanka’. In the classic, hold-the-hand-and-rap-knuckles mode, Burt has clearly stated that Britain will continue to back anti-Sri Lankan moves at the UNHRC sessions later this month in Geneva. ‘In the country’s best interest,’ of course. ‘Being friendly,’ of course.

Burt was speaking on the topic of ‘Sri Lanka – 2013 and Beyond’ at a seminar organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations. Minister of External Affairs, G.L. Peiris, in his impromptu response to the prepared speech by Burt made some valid points. Peiris asked, politely, why this ‘candid friendship’ expressed in relation to other countries (he was obviously referring to Isreal) was being selectively ‘applied’. Israel, as everyone knows, has in no uncertain terms told the UNHRC where to get off (as in, ‘we won’t let you get “in”’). Sri Lanka, on the other hand, engages with the UNHRC, takes note of resolutions and participates respectfully in periodic reviews, unlike Israel.

Burt talked of the need ‘to see individuals brought to justice in particular cases of violent attack, it simply cannot be right for the accused to be walking free’. Prof Peiris has been diplomatic to a fault. He could have said ‘How come you don’t surrender to the Haig, along with your entire Cabinet, Queen and PM downwards?’ That would be for perpetrating and aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

Prof Peiris also pointed out the dangers of using a broad brush in talking about countries with very different cultures, histories and political contexts, and moreover, if comparisons are made, the strange reluctance to unreservedly applaud the vast strides Sri Lanka has taken post-conflict. In general, post-conflict progress is mentioned because it has to be, but is always followed by unfair and shrill shop-talk about accountability with little or no knowledge of realities faced by Sri Lanka in executing a military assault on the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit. Britain has never ever exercised the kind of restraint Sri Lanka demonstrated in dealing with ‘enemies’. Britain is yet to compensate Sri Lanka for the violence it unleashed on citizen, culture and soil of this island. The loot stayed in Britain. Burt is a beneficiary of plunder. Scot-free and rich!

Burt is out of order. Is Peiris ‘in order’ though? It is no secret that the big boys and girls of the international community consistently play favorites in international forums. Where ‘crisis’ is needed, crisis will be manufactured, this we know. Where faulting helps, fault will be manufactured. Mountains will be made of molehills. The problem is that Sri Lanka is not Isreal, for Israel has the USA by its whatnots if we were to go by the number of times Uncle Sam played Israel’s one-true-friend at the UN.

That’s the small problem though. The big problem is that the Government sweats more over Geneva than over Thambuttegama, Paranthan and Kattankudy. There’s progress, yes. LLRC recommendations are being implemented, yes. If it is ridiculous to say that there were no human rights violations in the last stages of the conflict, it is even sillier to say that all that was ‘policy’, true. Still, it is important for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans to come clean for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans.

It’s not about Burt or Blake (that’s ‘Robert the Meddler from the USA’). It is easy to dismiss them and their loose-tongued drivel. The difficult thing is to desist from doing the easy thing. Easy things, plural, for ‘development’ and ‘progress in rehabilitation, reconstruction, re-settlement, de-mining etc.,’ laudable as they are, are less difficult than dealing with the anger, loss, betrayal and that which is unpardonable. Tamil political parties have played safe, refusing to come clean on their acts of omission and commission with respect to crimes against humanity. The Government should not wait on them to make the first move.

This year, the Government goes to Geneva knowing well that its (so-called) friends will spare no efforts to insult and humiliate. The Government is putting on a brave front. There’s something missing though. It is called ‘Moral High(er) Ground’. Moral high ground is a relative term and can be asserted by undressing the likes of Burt. The higher moral ground is obtained by a clean conscience. It requires humility. It requires penitence. It requires punishing those whose errant behavior made it easier for the Burts of the West to piddle on Sri Lanka.

King Dutugemunu suffered from insomnia after defeating Elara. He confessed to the fact. There was no shame. That was a war fought under different rules. This was different. The enemy was a ruthless terrorist that was holding some 300,000 people hostage. Extreme restraint was shown and that is easily established. But humans err. And some humans err to extents that are not pardonable. Such things happen and it is unfortunate but perhaps unavoidable. The guilty have to be named. Punished. That is not ‘betrayal’, for turning away is betrayal of all citizens and everything that is wholesome and laudable in our society, our history and heritage. Do it, and the Burts of the West can howl as loud as they want, but the Government will have the full backing of all the people on either side of this ‘Geneva’ and all ‘Genevas’ to follow. This and this alone (no, not China or Russia) is what will make the difference.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation and his articles can be found at 

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