27 September, 2020

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Geneva Withdrawal: As Namaste Turns Nasty & Coronavirus Attacks Markets

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Last Monday, Modi’s India ‘bowed to the divine in’ (Namaste) Trump. The namaste turned nasty even before President Trump left India after his whirlwind trip. Deadly serious Hindu-Muslim clashes broke out in New Delhi. Trump returned home furious, blaming the  media for exaggerating (as he sees it) the coronavirus threat and triggering stock market collapses in the US and around the world. In Geneva, Dinesh Gunawardena, Sri Lanka’s first Foreign Minister with a leftist pedigree, tried to land as softly as possible his government’s decision to withdraw its predecessor’s co-sponsorship of the UNHRC resolutions on postwar accountability. 

In one long week, South Asia saw the brash new Modi-Trump chumminess, and the world watched the global sweep of the coronavirus and the market carnage it caused. For the markets, it was the worst week since the 2008 recession. The wheels did not come off because the markets have been performing at record levels after Christmas until now.  Sri Lanka’s withdrawal in Geneva is lighter than a pin prick in the scheme of things, but it was a big move for the new government and a pointer about the direction that it is still trying to establish.      

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been in office for over 100 days. But the government has been in a virtual holding mode, waiting for the parliamentary elections and a constitutionally ambitious two-thirds majority. As Executive President, Mr. Rajapaksa should be able to govern with any parliament under the Jayewardene constitution. That was the whole point of every word that JRJ uttered on the matter. The last government foundered because of the inability of two (or one and a half) parties and their leaders did not know how to cohabit. It is a different situation now, with one governing party having two heads, one in parliament and the other at the executive. 

Politically the two are united by family, so any attempt to drive a wedge between them will only cause grief to those who push the wedge. Functionally, it is a different story with as many ropes as there are hands behind the two leaders. The political unity manifests itself quite robustly in the single-minded purpose to win the parliamentary election, and win it two-thirds big. Don’t waste time looking at the other party, the new Divided National Party and its never-ending tomfooleries. On the other hand, the new government’s only discernible purpose and direction is about winning the parliamentary election. The withdrawal in Geneva fits four square into that strategy.        

At the same time, the government would appear to have wanted to avoid a full-throated withdrawal. It was a soft landing, as I said at the outset. Dinesh Gunawardena was quite unlike his fiery father and father of Sri Lankan Marxism, Philip Gunawardena. He was even more unlike his predecessor, the yahapalana government’s first Foreign Minister, Mangal Samaraweera, exaggerator par excellence. It was he who led the co-sponsoring in Geneva, in 2015, promising the sun and the moon to Sri Lankans and the fellow sponsors. Sirisena knew it, but the new government is trying to wash off his hands saying that nobody told him anything because the cabinet that he led took him to be a simpleton. The performance of the previous government fell far short of the promise, but there were significant achievements, such as the creation of the Office on Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations.       

Resolution 30/1 of 2015 and its annual successors were both the code and the slogan in the Rajapaksa presidential campaign, along with the promise to withdraw from the co-sponsorship. Much will be made of last week’s withdrawal in the upcoming parliamentary election. Election rhetoric about the withdrawal will be quite loud and perhaps even obnoxious in contrast to the measured tone that Dinesh Gunawardena used in his speech in Geneva.    

Not Convinced

While withdrawing from co-sponsorship of the Resolution, Mr. Gunawardena affirmed Sri Lanka commitment “to achieving the goals set by the people of Sri Lanka on accountability and human rights, towards sustainable peace and reconciliation.” And to that end, the Foreign Minister said that the government will appoint a new “Commission of Inquiry (COI) headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, to review the reports of previous Sri Lankan COIs … assess the status of implementation of their recommendations and to propose deliverable measures to implement them keeping in line with the new Government’s policy.”

In addition, the government “will also address other outstanding concerns and introduce institutional reforms where necessary, in a manner consistent with … (and) implement policies rooted in the Government’s commitment to the people by advancing individual and collective rights and protections under the law, ensuring justice and reconciliation and addressing the concerns of vulnerable sections of society.” Lastly, the Minister assured that Sri Lanka will “remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

In response, Michelle Bachelet, the Secretary-General and High Commissioner of the UNHRC, would appear to have quietly rebuffed the new government’s fresh promises. Specifically, the UN agency is “not convinced with the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry to address Sri Lanka’s human rights issues.” Ms. Bachelet expressed concern that the “very different approach” taken by the new government “to the commitments previously made in the resolution (which) risks setting back efforts to advance reconciliation, accountability and human rights. She urged the government “to preserve and build upon the gains which have been made over the last few years … (and) to ensure the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) and the Office of Reparations (OR) are provided with political and resource support. “The families of missing persons from all communities, the High Commissioner said, “deserve justice and redress.” 

It is noted that in his second intervention, following the High Commissioner, Minister Gunawardena confirmed that the OMP and OR offices will be allowed to continue with their work. It would be interesting to see how the government’s civilizational school of supporters will respond to this concession by the government. But it also shows, however softly the government may have executed its withdrawal, the withdrawal symptoms are not going anywhere.   

Sovereignty and Human Rights

Writing from his diplomatically free and politically untethered current position, Dayan Jayatilleka has called the government’s move in Geneva “Right Cause, Wrong Tactics.” Dr. Jayatilleka is critical of the obvious failure of the government, going by Minister Gunawardena’s speech, to commit to implement the recommendations of the two COIs (the LLRC and the Paranagama Commission) appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) during his second term as President. The failure of the MR Administration to implement these recommendations was one of the reasons for Mr. Rajapaksa’s defeat in 2015, and the principal reason for the sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 (2015) by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. Why another commission to revisit the LLRC and other recommendations? That is the question.      

Beyond making specific criticisms and recounting at his usual length the postwar diplomatic battles since he led the Sri Lankan forces in Geneva, in 2009, Dayan Jayatilleka provides a succinct formulation of the principles linking international system, national sovereignty, domestic politics and human rights imperatives, which his old colleagues in the new government, as well as the new permanent representative designate to Geneva would do well to learn from. To paraphrase, the international system is essentially an inter-state system in which commitments made by a country’s state should not be unilaterally changed merely because there is a change in government after elections. National sovereignty is the defining value for a state. Democracy, on the other hand, is predicated on popular sovereignty. Lastly, to quote DJ, “for the United Nations, UNHRC, UNESCO and most UN/UN-affiliated organisations, the highest values are universal human values, such as human rights.” Well said, Sir, and I could not help thinking that Dayan Jayatilleka can do real justice to his obvious knowledge and occasional brilliance when he is not in the pay of a government. 

The main task for the government at the UNHRC and at home is, therefore, to find a way “to balance and accommodate these four legitimate principles,” in a practical way. The obviously missing dimension in this formulation is the matter of the ‘minorities’ who constitute Sri Lanka’s plurality along with their majority co-existence. A part of the primary task would be to include the minorities, their representatives, in finding the balance between Sri Lanka’s international commitments and credibility, national sovereignty, popular democracy, and human rights imperatives. And a homegrown process of national reconciliation, considering that the leaders of the present government privilege anything homegrown over anything alien, will not at all be comprehensive if it does not include the minorities and their representatives in that very process.

In his speech in Geneva, Minister Gunawardena asserted that his “government is committed to examining issues afresh, to forge ahead with its agenda for ‘prosperity through security and development’, and to find home-grown solutions to overcome contemporary challenges in the best interest of all Sri Lankans.” But he gave no indication how the government will balance Sri Lanka’s international commitments on human rights and national sovereignty, or how it will involve the minorities in its homegrown efforts. It was left to High Commissioner Bachelet to remind the government delegation that “the State must work for all its people and the needs of all communities, particularly the minorities, must be acknowledged and addressed.”

The only hint about how the government plans to engage the minorities came in Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s interviews in India. The government will wait till the Provincial Council elections are over and then ‘deal with’ whoever is elected from the northern and eastern provinces. Then what about those who will be elected from these provinces in the parliamentary elections, not mention the MPs from north and east who are already in parliament? The government is also trying to create alternative Tamil and Muslim representatives to the TNA and the main Muslim parties who were associated with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. 

The government already seems to have a lock on some of the political parties and potential representatives from the plantation Tamil communities. It might be looking to create similar divisions within the Sri Lankan Tamil and Muslim political formations. Regardless of the fact such machinations are more likely to boomerang than succeed, such an approach is unworthy of, and counterproductive to, any serious and genuine effort towards reconciliation. It is unworthy as well of the promises and commitments that Dinesh Gunawardena gave in Geneva, even though they were diluted from what were given by Mangala Samaraweera in 2015.  

To put it bluntly, there is no alternative way out for the government but to directly and continuously talk with the TNA on all matters pertaining to the UNHRC resolutions. The need is all the more imperative after the withdrawal in Geneva. There is no need to wait for the parliamentary or provincial council elections. And the engagement must continue after the elections. It may be that after those elections, the government may have to deal with more than the TNA representatives, asserting less than their moderate positions. 

The government has indicated that it is not going to do anything that is not acceptable to the Sinhalese people. But it cannot determine what it can do without talking with Tamil political leaders. And there is much that can be done by a government that is honest and sincere without risking a blowback from the Sinhalese. Our long post-independence history shows that blowbacks occur only when orchestrated by governments which do not want to do anything that is reconciliatory. Either it is time that this deception is stopped, or it is time to acknowledge that the annual pilgrimage to Geneva will continue even after this year’s withdrawal.   

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    Rajan Phillips has written well. It is an opportunity for this President to lead the way. There will be no better opportunity to clear up once-and-for-all the mess in which the ‘war’ ended. We the people are more likely to accept honest and sincere acknowledgements from this President than anyone else. Of course hard truths will have to be faced, and confronted. If we fluff this opportunity, the curse of Nandikadal will hang over Sri Lanka for generations. The Sinhalese (and the rest) know that there are questions to be answered. GR knows where the skeletons are hidden. Are we all ready to take this chance?

    • 11
      0

      Sri Lankan politics is very strange. When the politician is inside the country and if the election is close, Sri Lanka turns into a Sinhala-Buddhist country. During other times and when the politician is outside the country, Sri Lanka turns into a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multicultural country.

    • 2
      5

      Tamils are cursed for ever. War did not ends up in a mess. The mess is only the parliament. Chase them out and get some who has what is called SELF RESPECT to go infront of voters. They lie and get votes after that what they do is scold the previous govt and do the same kind of legalized – robberies

      • 5
        0

        JD
        “Chase them out.”.Who?
        The Elected representatives of the Tamils.
        Parachute Tamil quillings like Douglas D’s and Angajan R’s without any SELF RESPECT among Tamils and rely on them to get votes to fool Geneva on missing persons and human rights reconciliation etc., because Sinhala Buddhist majority is unhappy about Tamils being treated as equals.

    • 0
      0

      We can all dream.
      “Directorate of Military Intelligence to obtain copies of files on highly sensitive investigations conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department, authoritative sources told Colombo Telegraph.”

      “Case files pertaining to the murder of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, the assassination of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, the abduction of Prageeth Ekneligoda and the case involving the abduction and murder of 11 boys by a navy intelligence gang among others have already been copied and removed from the CID, Colombo Telegraph reliably learns.”

      “Sending a clear signal to the judiciary, the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has launched social service programmes with the main accused in a major arms trafficking case and notorious ex-army major Nissanka Senadhipathi.
      Senadhipathi and eight others have been served indictments by the Attorney General on multiple charges of gun-running and corruption, with trial set to begin by May 2020. Senadhipathi is the main suspect in the case. He evaded arrest late last year, by fleeing to Singapore for “medical treatment” the night before he was to be taken into custody.”

      Just two of many.

  • 6
    0

    Congratulations on another brilliant essay, Rajan Philips!!! I hope that someone with serious intent for the good of Lanka will translate this for the benefit of the buffoons who hold the reigns of power and explain to them what this means, and what the prognosis is, for failure to recognize that there is a softer art to reconciliation.

    I couldn’t suppress a chuckle when I read this brilliant para by RP:
    “Lastly, to quote DJ, “for the United Nations, UNHRC, UNESCO and most UN/UN-affiliated organisations, the highest values are universal human values, such as human rights.” Well said, Sir, and I could not help thinking that Dayan Jayatilleka can do real justice to his obvious knowledge and occasional brilliance when he is not in the pay of a government. ”

    Our hero Dyan J might do well to reflect on this and redeem himself while he is still on “this side of the grass” – oftentimes he is too busy being smug, because of his proclivity to babble from both sides of his alimentary canal and therefore to miss the wood for the trees.

  • 6
    8

    Tamil political leaders (not Tamils) are stupider than I thought. Let us assume Tamils were given (or acquired) this dump of a fake state called “Tamil Eelam.” What then, what happens next? Would any country recognize the place as legitimate, given the LTTE’s history of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and political assassinations (most notably R. Gandhi). With no recognition, there would be little trade. Without trade, the people are limited to subsistence farming. So in the end, “Tamil Eelam” would resemble North Korea. You can be sure, none of the koti Tamil diaspora would raise their kids in this place. Tamils need to forget about this whole UNHRC thing. Forget about war crimes and reparations. The way things stand right now, Tamils either integrate into mainstream (majority) Sinhalese society or leave the island altogether. Doing anything else will accomplish nothing.

    • 7
      4

      Chingkalla Kurangu then why did you flee to London? For the good life? Then sit there and enjoy it instead of enjoying it and then from the comfort of your armchair in some dilapidated London flat in Croydon , start posting anti Thamizh racist comments, aiding and abetting the structural genocide of the native Eezham Thamizh

      • 5
        7

        Sankaram Sarma aka Pandi Kutti,

        I see you have learned some fancy English. “Aiding and abetting the structural genocide.” Not bad for a thal thel dishwasher in Sydney. Did your new boss Rudrakumaran in Manhattan teach you that? Ask him to teach you “population dynamics” and “demographic shift” next. So you will know what happens to your tin hut in Batticaloa when the Muslims become the majority.

        • 6
          3

          Idiotic goose I no Pandi Kutti or Mattu kutti or Nai kutti. I was first Rohan to you then Johnpillai to you and now Pandi Kutti.

        • 5
          4

          Hello Chingkallam ? How is life in London? Please build a tin hut for me in Batticaloa and I will build you a pig sty in Kandy

  • 7
    1

    Rajan Phillips,

    1.” The government has indicated that it is not going to do anything that is not acceptable to the Sinhalese people. But it cannot determine what it can do without talking with Tamil political leaders. “

    2.” And there is much that can be done by a government that is honest and sincere without risking a blowback from the Sinhalese. “

    3. “Our long post-independence history shows that blowbacks occur only when orchestrated by governments which do not want to do anything that is reconciliatory. “

    4.” Either it is time that this deception is stopped, or it is time to acknowledge that the annual pilgrimage to Geneva will continue even after this year’s withdrawal. “

    Thanks for your article.

    What you need to understand is that Para-Sinhala have been brainwashed for a long time, regarding the Para-Tamils, as Paras, foreigners, strangers from India, and for a section of the Para-Sinhala, reconciliation is a cop out, especially for the Para-Monks who claim to follow the distorted Buddhism, called Buddha-Agama, “Buddha’s Religion “, and getting the Para-Sinhala imbeciles prostrate to them.

    What you are missing in your article is the role of the Para-monks their hegemony. The monks figure that reconciliation will dilute their hegemony, contrary to Buddha’s teachings.

  • 7
    1

    Rajan Phillips,

    “In Geneva, Dinesh Gunawardena, Sri Lanka’s first Foreign Minister with a leftist pedigree, tried to land as softly as possible his government’s decision to withdraw its predecessor’s co-sponsorship of the UNHRC resolutions on postwar accountability. “

    By sheer “luck”, the timing for withdrawal was great, as everybody was occupied with the coronavirus, stock market crash and Trumps fiasco in India.

    When other wake up, it will be old news. The withdrawal was indeed a soft landing. Did anybody else notice this this week ?

  • 8
    1

    “Our long post-independence history shows that blowbacks occur only when orchestrated by governments which do not want to do anything that is reconciliatory.”

    Any SL government will never give up this cheap shot until Indians step in again to recharge a depleting political situation.

    Indians will aggressively act only if Chinese overtake mega projects in SL.

    SL needs Chinese only if alternative funding channels are blocked or delayed to kick start any mega projects.

  • 3
    0

    Another Commission of Inquiry [COI ] Inquiry eh? to review reports of previous Srilankan COI……

    Perhaps the Human Rights Commissioner should have asked how many COII were appointed since 1948 .S. Pinto Jayawardena could let us know how these COII were used in the past to buy Time. Srilankans Gvernments past and present had mastered the Theory of Time long before Prof: Stephen Hawking!

  • 4
    0

    America set to end the longest war in its history as it signs peace deal with Taliban, shows that blowbacks occur only when orchestrated by governments which do not want to do anything that is reconciliatory , representatives, from all party tamil muslim christian sinhalese flowerish the image in the front of the world.

  • 2
    2

    Mr. Rajan phillipsEven in Europe elections have DOMINO EFFECTS, HINDUSTHANIS were suffering under the CNGRESS GOVT because they are very accommodating people. But, they found what was happening to their APNA DESH. Now MODI is turning those upside down. India would have turned upside down
    Now the same thing must happen in Srilanka. Instead, the president has told I am the president for them too and I help them too.

  • 1
    5

    Glad to hear Mr Rajan Phillips is in to Shares . .
    That was a big hair cut .. Isn’t it .. Mate
    .But it is not over yet, I think , although the Dow is down nearly 4000 Points..

    You should have read the writing on the wall at the end of last year and collected the gains and parked in Fixed Interest and Bonds like that big Investor . Trumpy’s mate who lasted only 10 days as an Advisor has done according to his announcement after crash.

    Anyway Boralugoda Lion Pup did a fabulous job by pointing out the re emergence of that ugly Terrorism on our Patch, thanks to the mild measures which Mangala Samare and his UNP Boss introduced to prevent Terrorism and protect the National Security of the Nation.

    Trumpy and Modi I am sure would not disagree with what the Lion Pup said in Geneva.

    BTW wonder what happened to that USD 4000 Million which Mangala Samare promised to bring in to the country after they won the Government?.

    Is Suren Surendran still has it invested in the Footsie ?
    Or it in Fixed Interest?..

  • 4
    4

    Terrorism virus introduced to Sri Lanka by Demalu and Muslims is deadlier than any other virus. Demala terrorism virus killed tens and thousands of Native Sinhalayo for three decades until Rajapakse regime found the right medicine to eradicate that in 2009. Ten years later another new virus called Muslim terrorism attacked and killed about three hundred and injured about five hundred civilians due to incapability of ‘Jadapalana’ Government to take preventive measures. Native Sinhalayo are wondering whether they will ever be able to live without becoming the victims of these two viruses again?

  • 0
    0

    General Withdrawal speach and the reply of UNHRC deeply disappointed and concerned of decision to withdrawal, & accountabilty from by the majoratarian itself is habouring the virus is Genuine proof in the geneva meeting

  • 0
    0

    Rajan mate,

    May be we just dont to reconcile with you lot. After all, there is a limit to mollycoddlying minorities no?

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