By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The major challenges Sri Lanka faces in Geneva this month are threefold: the possibility of a vote and losing that vote; the possibility of getting fewer votes or losing that vote by a larger margin than a year ago in March 2012; the possibility of an unfair or imbalanced compromise which is actually a capitulation, which affects our vital interests such as national sovereignty.
I hope that it is possible for Sri Lanka to ward off these dangers, but I confess I am rather pessimistic, just as I was in the run-up to the vote in March 2012. I hope that we do not get fewer votes than last year, where in March 2012 we saw a reversal of the dramatic diplomatic victory we had obtained in the same diplomatic arena, the UNHRC, in late May 2009. I hope that the vote does not give our enemies—the Tamil Eelam separatist networks in the Diaspora and Tamil Nadu—evidence that our international standing is growing weaker by the year.
I do not think it fair to place the blame on our permanent representation or the SL delegation in Geneva, because how they perform depends to a large measure upon the options they have been provided by Colombo. Be it politicians or officials, what is crucial is that they speak with credibility so as to convince the members of the Council. However the wicket they have to bat on is not a good one, due to the fundamental miscalculations of our policymakers.
As I advocated on the public record last April, the government should learn from how Myanmar slipped out of a far worse situation by liberalising, by opening up and democratising more. Instead, with the impeachment the Sri Lankan government went in the opposite direction.
The government must not assume that world public opinion is gullible or that every administration in the world community is like them and responds to the same material incentives and disincentives.
The government must learn to communicate successfully outside their cultural comfort zone, because the international system is based, by definition, on universal global norms and values, and this is even more so in United Nations bodies such as the Human Rights Council.
The government must know that its crude propaganda and denials have no currency outside their borders and probably outside their vote base. A lie or denial however loudly repeated has no credibility and the government must know that credibility is vital in winning over the international community.
The government must know to listen to early warning signals and not shoot the messenger. The government must ask itself why those who voted for us in 2009 are either voting against us or abstaining. If those who voted against us in 2009 or 2012 abstain, then that is a moral victory for us, but when those who voted for us in 2009 abstain in 2012 or 2013, it is a shift away from us and cannot be understood as a moral victory in any sense.
The government must know to seek the opinion and advice of its friends and patiently construct or reconstruct our international support. The government must understand that its aggressively unilateral domestic actions have external ramifications.
The government must realise that we cannot even get the support of Asia, the Non-Aligned Movement and the larger Third world, if we do not have the support of India, and that with an actively hostile Tamil Nadu in play, the only way we can win back India’s support is by strengthening Delhi’s hand so it can balance off Tamil Nadu. This can only be done by fast-tracking a political solution to the Tamil issue through a successful negotiation with the elected representatives of the Tamil people, mainly the TNA, on the basis of implementing the arrangements for devolution already embedded in our Constitution. There is no Non-Aligned option for Sri Lanka without India; no Indian option without settling with the Tamils; no settlement with the Tamils without devolution and the TNA.
If we lose a vote by a larger margin this March than we did the last time in 2012, it will show our growing weakness and isolation. If on the other hand, while there is nothing wrong with a balanced compromise, if instead we capitulate and surrender a portion of our national sovereignty, then we are in a different kind of danger.
The worst thing that could happen is the setting up of an international inquiry, but even the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Sri Lanka would mean a whole new ball game. In any case these repeated resolutions and defeats suffered by Sri Lanka at voting time, constitute a gradual encirclement and choking of the State. It is not yet the end-game but these are all steps that will lead to such an endgame. There are moves against Sri Lanka on several routes: the UN S-G’s PoE (Darusman) and Charles Petrie reports in New York and their follow-ups, the several votes in Geneva, the campaign over the Commonwealth summit, and the most serious of all, the build-up in Tamil Nadu and across the Indian political spectrum about Sri Lanka which will see a new ball game during and after India’s general election of 2014.
When all these tracks of the multi-track strategy converge, someday, perhaps sooner rather than later, we will find ourselves in a diplomatic Elephant Pass or worse, a diplomatic Nandikadal. When they forced us out of Elephant Pass in 2000, did Prabhakaran and the LTTE think that they would be encircled in Nandikadal before the passage of a decade?