By Kumar David –
This is in Q&A style where UNHRC stands for the Human Rights Council sessions in progress, and post-Geneva refers to the next few years when the effect of decisions will unfold. Qq, a Central Committee member of the Mongolian CP, is my luscious interlocutor, and Kd is yours faithfully.
Qq: Can you tell our party what will happen to the resolution against Sri Lanka that the US has moved at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva?
Kd: Please let me correct you on one point straightaway. This is not a resolution against Sri Lanka; it is against the present government. The consensus is that the resolution will pass. It was thought that UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s hard-hitting 74-point report was a guide to what the resolution will contain, but the final version shows that the US has softened its hard line because our government will not concede two points; International investigation and implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment (13A) to the Constitution which established provincial devolution.
Qq: So now this investigative body is to be appointed by the Lanka government.
Kd: This was the big confrontation between our government and Ms Pilay. She rejected local processes because “National mechanisms have consistently failed to establish the truth and achieve justice”. If the US had accepted this, the inquiry process would have been internationally led and not under the control of President Rajapakse. The US first agreed with Ms Pillay, but it then shifted its position and proposed a local investigation. Who will appoint Panel Members, set terms of reference, protect witnesses, etc? If this is the final decision it could be manipulated by the government to do a whitewash.
Qq: Can you tell us the main points in Ms Pillay’s (UN Human Rights Commissioner) report?
Kd: OK, the main points are as follows. It was a 74-point submission some people called it a bombshell.
a) An international inquiry mechanism to investigate alleged violation of international human rights and humanitarian law and monitor domestic accountability processes.
b) Finalise laws dealing with incitement to hatred, witness protection . . . criminalise enforced disappearances (what are colloquially called white-van incidents and abductions.
c) Repeal Prevention of Terrorism Act; lift regulations which allow arbitrary detention.
d) Arrest, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks on minorities, media and rights activists.
e) Demilitarise the North and East and reduced militarism nationally.
Qq: Why does your government not agree to implement these measures?
Kd: The biggest worry for the government is that an international investigation cannot be manipulated by the President and Defence Secretary. The findings will be open-ended; a worst case scenario may be that top people in the regime and military are found guilty of wrong doing. There is possibility of indictment for war-crimes or lesser offences. The LTTE’s, shooting of fleeing civilians and other crimes will also be proved. There is another reason why the government opposes a probe; the electoral and emotional base of the government is Singhala-Buddhist. This base will not allow compromise with demands (a, b, d, and e). President Rajapakse’s insistence on not allowing any probe of the military and his chest-beating preparedness for the electric-chair, denote a hard-line response.
Qq: So what does the modified resolution say?
Kd: In the latest draft the US has given up the demand for an international inquiry and accepted an inquiry conducted by the Sri Lankan government. The key is clause 2; the Lankan government would be wise to accept this trade-off. It is Clause 2, not Clause 8 which provides for the Human Rights Commission, Ms Pilay’s organisation only to monitor and supervise the proceedings that is overriding.
Quote Clause 2: “Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka: to implement the recommendations made in the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner, and also calls upon the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable; to hold accountable those responsible for such violations; to end continuing incidents of human rights violations and abuses in Sri Lanka; and to implement the recommendations made in the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner”. End Quote.
Qq: What has the Tamil National Alliance been doing these months?
Kd: The TNA is openly working with the US, India, UK and EU on human rights and political settlement. If there is a political settlement, realism dictates that the TNA will compromise on accountability. It will not enter a Parliamentary Select Committee till the President makes commitments. Nevertheless if a political settlement is clinched past human rights violations become secondary.
Qq: What is the position of the Northern Provincial Council?
Kd: The government is obstructing the Provincial Administration and attempting to turn devolution into a failure. This is a dangerous game; if the Tamils are robbed of the opportunity to stretch themselves and prosper, there is no reason why they should opt for a united country. They will return to a secessionist frame of mind. The UNHRC will not probe these matters since they are political not human rights issues.
Qq: What about the possibility of sanctions?
Kd: Sanctions can be averted if the government agrees to implement the resolution. However this will anger its Sinhala-Buddhist base and powerful figures like Defence Secretary Gotabahaya. With provincial elections round the corner, and presidential and parliamentary polls due, I don’t see how the regime can refrain from playing its usual communal card. Nevertheless, wiser counsel is telling our government to accept the deal in its own interests, set up a local mechanism, play the usual games, and produce a report to its liking, but at the time of writing the government is adopting a confrontational stance. This is where the concept of a ‘post-Geneva’ period comes in. I see escalating disagreements in ‘post-Geneva’. There will be no sanctions initially, but if standoff deepens, the screw will be turned.
Qq: What is India’s real plan and motive?
Kd: Frankly I have a negative opinion of Delhi at the moment. The Indian government is clueless; it has no clear policy on the Sri Lanka issue; it lives from day to day and gets pushed around this way and that by the Sri Lanka Government, the TNA, Tamil Nadu and other forces. If Delhi had had clear perspectives all these years things would not have gone so far out of control. As the regional power, it is India not the US that should be leading the UNHRC process towards a resolution.
Qq: Is India committed to devolution and the Thirteenth Amendment?
Kd: You have asked a sensitive question. I have concerns about India’s commitment to 13A and devolution. Delhi repeats 13A like a rote learned formula since it is stuck with this position historically. But does it actually care any longer? After 25 years (from 1987) genuine interest and commitment have waned. If Mody comes to power he will bother even less about 13A and devolution; after all the BJP was not the original architect. Tamil Nadu will keep the matter alive since the political parties need punching bags to clobber each other at election time.
Qq: One final question; what is the US game plan?
Kd: That’s the fundamental question, that’s the key. I do not agree with the reasons that others give for why the US is taking a tough line. Four reasons are usually given but none of them is important enough in isolation. First, a small matter, American public and Congressional opinion about justice and human rights has to be assuaged. Second, again not a big point is the pressure brought by the Tamil diaspora in Britain and Canada. Third, Washington, like Delhi, is fed up with Colombo’s insolence and untruths and wants to teach the upstarts a lesson; but again it is unlikely that the foreign policy of world powers is made in response to pique.
A fourth more substantial reason is the strategic factor. Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean, sea routes, proximity to India and a great and growing Chinese strategic and economic threat. But there is no Chinese military presence in the Indian Ocean, nor will there be for another quarter century; China does not have a blue water fleet. Nor will the UNHRC fracas help in this respect; it is more likely to push Colombo closer to China. On the economic side too Lanka is not a big factor in China’s great global outreach; Africa, Central Asia and South America matter much more. Therefore I consider this too to be a subsidiary and not a fundamental reason.
This brings me to a hypothesis, which includes all of the above but only as factors. The perspective is as follows. It appears that the Americans are putting in motion a process of regime change which will deliver results some years down the road. After they watered down the resolution it seems the timescale has been extended. If our government rejects the resolution, Clause 8 will be beefed up to override the by then inoperative Clause 2. Otherwise the screws will be turned when the government begins to manipulate the local investigation it has been “called upon” to establish. For the reasons that I mentioned previously I think the government will interfere with the investigation.
In any case, why I think the Americans want regime change? I think they reckon the Rajapakse Regime is headed for instability in the coming years; the relationship with the North is deteriorating and there is no political solution in sight, Muslims are alienated, and the rapport with India may worsen after the Indian elections. Most serious, the political scene in the south shows growing fault lines on economy, autocracy and democracy issues. Maybe Washington would like to nip snowballing instability and autocracy in the bud and encourage a more “normal” liberal democratic alternative.