By Izeth Hussain –
It should be obvious that the Government has scored a tremendous victory in Geneva. Of course the final vote on the US draft Resolution is yet to come, but I don’t expect any serious reversals. The crucial facts are these: there will be no setting up of a mechanism for international investigations into war crimes and there will be no sanctions against Sri Lanka, both of which had been widely and confidently anticipated. The Tamil diaspora has rejected the draft Resolution, and the TNA has sent its emissaries to Delhi, which can be taken as meaning that the Tamil disappointment with developments in Geneva is comprehensive. So, the blitzkrieg that was to blow Sri Lanka to bits has turned out to be a damp squib.
How was what looks very much like a SL Government triumph achieved? Information about that is not in the public domain. My guess is that there were two factors behind the triumph. One is that India – which as I have argued in earlier articles can be expected to have decisive clout with the US in matters relating to Sri Lanka – got the US to dilute the draft Resolution so that there will be nothing smacking of the punitive against Sri Lanka for another year. The other is the power of the argument – which the Government has taken to emphasizing in recent weeks – that investigations into war crimes will make impossible the spirit of mutual accommodation that is required for progress towards a political solution and ethnic reonciliation, and therefore the investigations will have to be postponed until after the process of ethnic reconciliation takes hold. In this connection I must quote what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said about one of the reasons why the post-apartheid regime did not resort to anything like the Nuremburg trials: “It would also have been counterproductive to devote years to hearing about events that, by their nature, arouse very strong feelings. It would have rocked the boat massively and for too long”. It is beyond my comprehension why the good Archbishop came to support the call for international investigations in the case of Sri Lanka.
However the triumph, if indeed it turns out to be a definitive triumph after the final vote on the US Resolution, is only of a provisional order. In effect Sri Lanka is being put on probation for a year, after which punitive action could follow if SLG fails to take certain measures. Furthermore the range of action required of Sri Lanka has been considerably widened. It now includes action against attacks on the religious minorities, which could possibly become a very big problem by the end of another year. No one can be quite sure what the situation might be by March 2015. We seem to be witnessing the emergence, in addition to the ethnic imbroglio, of yet another one, the Geneva imbroglio. In this situation we must try, just as in the case of the ethnic imbroglio, to get at the fundamentals of the Geneva imbroglio.
I stand by the analysis that I made in my article The Ban Ki-moon Conspiracy in the Island of May 2, 2011. I postulated a benign conspiracy in which the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was no more than a puppet obeying the orders of his US master, a conspiracy in which the leaders were the US, Britain – since the British poodle follows wherever the American juggernaut goes – and India. That the leader was the US has been shown by the fact that it is the US that is the prime mover of the anti-Sri lanka Resolution at the UNHRC. That Britain has a special role was shown by the antics of Prime Minister Cameron when he was here for the Commonwealth Summit. As for India’s involvement, it seemed far-fetched and irresponsible speculation on my part, but my thesis seemed to receive spectacular substantiation when later India unexpectedly voted for the anti-Sri Lanka Resolution and did so in the following year as well, going against its own explicit policy of never supporting country specific Resolutions.
The purpose of the benign conspiracy was, I argued, two-fold. The US and the West as a whole want to promote a new world order based on democracy with a special focus on human rights, because they genuinely believe that that is the most effective specific for a really satisfactory new world order. Their helping to resolve SL’s Tamil ethnic problem is part of the promotion of a new world order. But I argued also that the promotion of a new world order is not an entirely benign affair because the obverse side of the new world order is the new imperialism. On this I will make some observations further down in this article. The other part of the purpose is to help India solve the Tamil ethnic problem, which for India is far more important than the promotion of a new world order. That is why the questions of investigations into war crimes and sanctions have been relegated to the background: they would spoil the climate for ethnic accommodation and solutions.
I believe that contrary to appearances it is India, not the US, which is the main actor in the drama that is being enacted in Geneva, and that in the last resort the West – though it is not there to serve the purposes of India – will defer to India’s wishes on Sri Lanka. One reason for this is that India has a legitimate, and indeed vital, interest in what happens to the SL Tamils because of the fall-out in Tamil Nadu. Another is that since India is an emerging great power and is already a regional power, we can expect a general recognition that Sri Lanka is India’s turf – on which point I have to make some clarifications.
It is not an invariant law in international relations that the weaker neighbours of a regional power or a great power are recognized as the latter’s turf. All sorts of variables can enter into the equation. China had to contend with the extreme hostility of the entire West and the Soviet Union and therefore could not establish its sphere of influence, claiming that any of its neighbours is its turf. On the other hand the US enunciated the Monroe Doctrine in the nineteenth century whereby it would not interfere in the affairs of Europe while the latter in reciprocity would not interfere in the affairs of Latin America. The result was that the entirety of Latin America became the US’s turf. In the early sixties of the last century the Soviet Union stationed missiles in Cuba and almost ignited a full-scale nuclear war. The resolution of the crisis was through the withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba and the US’s reciprocal withdrawal of its missiles from Turkey, in recognition of the principle that neither must push its power right up to the borders of the other and that each had the right to its turf. At present the US is going against that principle in the Ukraine, in a fit of bellicose idiocy to which the US has too often been prone. In the case of India all the powerful countries of our time want India to be on their side, which means that it is free to establish its turf where it can. There is also the immensely important geographical fact that Sri Lanka is India’s only neighbour to the south, and that it is indefensible against India. I am going into all these details about “turf” because it seems to me of crucial importance to understand that India can wield decisive power for or against Sri Lanka with the West.
I come now to the obverse side of the new world order which is the new imperialism. In my last article I wrote, “On the other hand, the issue of war crimes investigations probably matters little or nothing to India, except as an instrument of pressure. It could matter much more for the US as it could serve the purposes of American imperialism – I will explain this point later”. In an unusually perceptive comment one of my readers has asked why the US has been so much concerned about Sri Lanka. My answer, which I had in mind when I wrote the sentence quoted above, is this: the American Empire has been in serious decline, it can no longer take on any really powerful country in military conflict, and therefore to show that it is still the mightiest world power it picks quarrels with militarily insignificant countries, such as Iraq, and ravages them. It is the thesis argued in a brilliant book by Emmanuel Todd, After Empire, first published in 2002. The US interest in Sri Lanka could have sinister implications. It is certainly a subject requiring in-depth examination.
I feel that our Tamils should do some rethinking about the usefulness of the UNHRC for their purposes. It is quite understandable, indeed inevitable, that they should have recourse in one way or another to the UNHRC, but they shouldn’t have too high expectations about what can be accomplished through it. The most significant fact about the UNHRC is that the decision-makers there are all representatives of Governments. The human rights movement has become, after 1945, a mighty redoubtable revolutionary force, expressing the thrust towards a better life of the peoples of the world. But human rights are for the most part what have to be extorted from unwilling governments by the peoples of the world. Most third world governments are allergic to human rights while the Western ones are lukewarm about them. Consequently, the determinants behind the decisions made at the UNHRC are not human rights but politics and the configurations of power. We have had a striking illustration of that fact in the US draft Resolution.
What should we do about the US Resolution when it is finally presented? It has increased the number of issues on which our Government could be called to account, which entails a diminution of our sovereignty. That could represent a process whereby weak countries such as Sri Lanka are left with hardly any sovereignty worth speaking about, all in the name of a new world order. But the obverse side of that is the new imperialism, and what that could mean was brought home to us by the savage horror visited on Iraq by the imperialist American aggressor. We should therefore reject the Resolution in toto, but we must be able to do that without harming ourselves. I believe that might be possible if we make a real success of 13A and move in an increasingly democratic direction, setting in motion a process of organic growth that could lead to a political solution and ethnic reconciliation. We can then give to the intrusive interfering foreign busybodies the sage advice given by Woody Allen in the film The Front to the members of the Committee investigating un-American activities: “You can all go and **** yourselves”.