By Laksiri Fernando –
It is quite unlikely that the US will back down without proposing a resolution on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva this March, irrespective of the Sri Lankan government making some last minute ‘defence overtures’ and the Minister of Foreign Affairs arguing that ‘repeated resolutions are counterproductive and will further polarize the country.’ What is not yet clear, however, is whether such a resolution would directly call for a high profile ‘international’ investigation on war crimes or not.
If such an international investigation is called for and acted upon, Sri Lanka would be in a real fix, because such an investigation would probably unravel many skeletons in the Rajapaksa cupboard and not just the identification of individual war criminals or the acts of violation of this or that international humanitarian law. Depending on the composition, such an investigation also might purposely target the regime and such things are not uncommon in international power politics.
It is however unlikely that the US wants to go to that extent, at this stage, without a viable regime alternative in Sri Lanka and also the Chinese backing of the current regime. It is also a fact that the US was firmly behind the Rajapaksa administration in crushing the LTTE, although they proposed some last minute adjustments to the war effort, to which the regime did not listen. That is the stage of the war that they particularly want to investigate.
The US bargain on Sri Lanka appears to be not merely in the arena of human rights although that is one of their main concerns. This does not mean that the US is completely hypocritical or its intentions can merely be characterized by the adage of imperialism. They do have human rights concerns and that is part and parcel of their foreign policy for a very long time now, beginning with the Cold War period. In dealing with a country like Sri Lanka, if there are no major strategic interests’ involved, soft issues like human rights might take some priority, allowing the relevant State Department officials to deal with them accordingly. In addition in the case of Sri Lanka, the US commitment to eliminate terrorism of all forms or in many forms was involved after the 9/11 which had to be uneasily balanced with their concerns for the Tamils as a minority in the country.
Therefore, after the defeat of the LTTE, they may have genuine concerns on improving the conditions and safeguarding the rights of the Tamil civilians and political parties like the TNA. That is their conscience especially under the Obama administration. Just to say that ‘we have done all what is humanly possible’ might not work. However, to picture the US efforts as purely ‘imperialist’ is quite erroneous and even archaic even from a leftist or a ‘Third World’ point of view. The Tamil issue or human rights in general have been part of their major concerns in dealing with Sri Lanka for a long period. An added ingredient to this situation is the new wave of anti-Christian activities going on in Sri Lanka, particularly aftermath of the end of the war, without stern or any action taken by the government in curtailing them, even if the regime is not directly complicit.
There are of course other strategic reasons emerging out of Sri Lanka’s steady shift towards China and clearly moving away from the present US ally in the region, India. It is not merely a question of Sri Lanka’s economic links with China for which US might not have any grumble or even encourage them. The US itself is comfortable in dealing with China in the economic sphere or emerging as an economic giant. The concerns are mainly over the increasing defence overtures between the two countries given the strategic importance of Sri Lanka particularly in Sea Lanes and situated South of India. Following the traditions of Monroe thinking, the US would like to see Sri Lanka remains within the Indian orbit. This is not new but traditional. I have seen the letters and messages from Ronald Regan (through the then Ambassador Ernest Corea) to President J. R. Jayewardene in late 1980s, advising him to cooperate with India on the issues of the Tamil question and other matters such as Trincomalee.
There is a close convergence between the US interests and the Indian interests in the region particularly given the China factor, which Sri Lanka cannot easily ignore. After the end of the war, the Indian expectation was not only for Sri Lanka to implement the 13A, but also to resurrect the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement which has a considerable defence dimension. The most worrying on the part of India or the US was Sri Lanka’s ‘triumphalism’ with the emerging China connection. Of course the added factor is the pressure from Tamil Nadu on the Indian central government, largely overlapping on ethnic solidarity and human rights issues. This has also been a period where the strategic alliances between the US and India became closer and closer. The initial resolution on Sri Lanka in 2009 was not mooted by the US but by the others. Then there was a lull, and only in 2012 that the US came into the scene in full force and India eventually following suit.
Sri Lanka’s Options
This does not mean that whatever the US would bring, would carry through. This has not happened in the past particularly in the case of Palestine in the UNHRC or in UNESCO. However, the question is whether Sri Lanka would have such a clout or sympathy like Palestine at present, or Sri Lanka would be in a position to defeat a resolution against the country like in 2009. The strategy of the regime appears to be different or ambivalent; trying to appease the West as much as possible (a la GL Pieris) while at the same time trying to circumvent and defeat a resolution through allies and friends (a la DJ but minus DJ). Of course one can argue that the ‘double strategy’ is more diplomatic than one or the other in isolation. Whatever the pros and cons, the ultimate casualty would be the human rights in the country themselves.
When can Sri Lanka or its regime/s could face human rights responsibilities squarely and honestly and deal with them at the UNHRC accordingly? On the matters of human rights and minority issues, China (or even Cuba) is not a proper partner for Sri Lanka. The worst still would be the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East or Africa, not to speak of Russia on its human rights or minority rights record. These are the claimed allies of the Rajapaksa regime.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka or any other small country in the region couldn’t be blamed for moving towards China for aid, trade or loans because the US or the West or India cannot or would not supply such assistance as China does at this stage. This is also a part of their right to development in the economic and social sphere. China is an emerging economic giant which no one could stop in the forthcoming future. Even an alternative regime to the present government in Sri Lanka may have to take this reality into consideration or otherwise any such future regime might not survive for long. However, Sri Lanka also should not completely rely on China even on economic matters as some the deals could be detrimental as revealed in Myanmar.
Sri Lanka also could not or should not ignore the US or the countries in the West as they are the powers that control the international system including the UN to a great extent. The other two main entities are the IMF and the World Bank. It is a long way for China and its possible allies to wield such power in the international system. By that time, even China might be different on the issues of human rights and democracy. Even in recent times, China has asked Sri Lanka to follow the accepted human rights norms and improve the HR conditions. That is what they do in their own country of course within certain historical and political limitations.
It is quite wrong and even dangerous for Sri Lanka to gamble between the competing major powers in an insidious way. International politics is different to local politics and the repercussions would be unmistakably severe. This is why a firm non-aligned policy is necessary for a country like Sri Lanka, firmly associating with its major neighbor, India. More than a balanced foreign policy to wade off any undue international pressure what Sri Lanka needs is a genuine human rights policy that can attract required support from all concerned parties in the international system. In the final analysis, China may not have an abiding interest in defending Sri Lanka in the international arena on the question of alleged war crime charges, whether they are completely true or not.
Apart from the US, there are several other countries which are active in bringing a resolution on Sri Lanka. Canada is one and the UK is another; and the EU also might be active at present in this venture like in the past. There are of course, internal political imperatives emerging from the pressures of the Tamil Diaspora communities for Canada or the UK or the EU countries to vociferously pursue such a line. But their genuine human rights concerns cannot be ignored just attributing hegemonic reasons or highlighting that they were past colonial powers. This kind of an approach stems from a complete cynical view on human rights. The Diaspora political influences are part of the present day global reality that no one can ignore.
There is of course a major gap between the East (including Africa) and the West in approaching human rights, mixed up with power politics, cultural differences, issues of sovereignty or mere misunderstandings; although they all agree verbally at least about the universality of human rights. Closer to what we discuss here, the Western approach might be called rather ‘offensive’ while the Asian approach is characterized always by ‘defensive’ postures. Sri Lanka at present is a classic example of this Asian approach. Apart from this defensiveness, there are still several inbuilt reasons to neglect or even reject human rights as valid concerns in many Asian countries. The reasons are built in within our socio-political systems however democratic our countries may be overtly or formerly. This is the case in Sri Lanka and also in India, apart from other countries.
The offensive approach of the West may be quite offensive to us, perhaps emerging out of their long standing hegemonic status in international or world affairs. But that cannot be a valid reason to completely disregard them as imperialist or colonialist, or reject human rights that ‘they’ advocate – of course if we consider human rights to be important principles and requirements in our political life or day to day activities. Why on earth we have left the monopoly of human rights to the West in that case?
Let us face some facts and raise some questions before making judgments on countries that criticise us on human rights. I am raising these three symbolic questions to the majority Sinhala community as I am a member of that community. (1) Have we been correct particularly after independence in 1948 in treating the Tamils and other minority communities on the excuse that they were given some advantages under colonialism? (2) Haven’t we been complicit in creating conditions for the emergence of terrorism in this country through such policies and allowing the extremist sections to physically abuse and harm the Tamil community in violence (not to speak of a pogrom) such as July 1983? (3) Have we made genuine efforts to reconcile and correct the past after defeating the LTTE, as there was no other apparent option by then?
The human rights issues in Sri Lanka, which are raised by the international community, are not confined to the Tamil community or the minorities alone. They relate to the freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the right to life of all, among other issues. Even the issues of corruption or extortion or even waste are related to human rights deprivation. Human rights cannot be ensued without good governance which is terribly lacking at present in the country.
The right to life undoubtedly is the most grossly violated human right in Sri Lanka not only by the state but also by the non-state parties in different waves of violence particularly since 1971. Even if this spiral of violence is temporarily halted after the defeat of the LTTE, the impulses have again surfaced in different forms due to impunity accorded to the violators of the past who apparently live comfortably in society if not amongst the powers that be.
In facing the much talked about ‘Geneva resolution,’ the key issue this time obviously is the investigation of alleged war crimes at the last stages of the war. The importance of investigating such allegations is not to castigate the country or demean the war effort against terrorism, but to take necessary measures to curtail the occurrence of such violations in the future. This is particularly important as large numbers of soldiers are still stationed in the North. There can be past violators or potential violators among them. This does not mean that all soldiers or their commanders are violators or culpable for the past violations. But the perpetrators should be punished after fair investigations.
The impunity in one sphere is also an impunity or encouragement in other spheres. The hesitation on the part of the government in investigating them credibly and independently is the most questionable. Independent and impartial investigation into alleged war crimes cannot be a barrier for a truthful ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission,’ if the government genuinely wants to set up in addition. The important step on the part of the government would be to appoint an Independent Commission with the participation of International Members to investigate the alleged crimes during the last stages of the war before going to Geneva in March.
Justice Lanka / January 27, 2014
I think SL government’s problem is it’s everything about win vs. loss not about right vs. wrong. It is all about their concern about appearance of weakness to play politics in the local election cycles. What they fail to see is if you do the righteous things, you will win both internally and externally without having to do things to please either.
ruwan / January 28, 2014
very well said !
Pol Arakku / January 27, 2014
“If such an international investigation is called for and acted upon, Sri Lanka would be in a real fix”
Oh yes, last week your friend Dayan jaatilleke also lectured in Colombo that the “sky will fall down” in March. So is the concern of Kumar Rupesinghe, Jehan perera and Rajiva Wijesinha – all real patriots.
Their advice is to form a taskforce headed by them, sidelining the MFA. Hell will freeze over before that happens.
What to do? If the sky does fall down we will try and tear through the clouds. In the meantime, you can keep the advice safe in a locked box.
jansee / January 27, 2014
I agree with you that all the mentioned “patriots” are scheming to pick-on the regime. Hail Gotabaya Rajapaksa, our saviour and he needs you as his assistant to tear through the clouds and lift Lanka to a safe haven.
Thiru / January 27, 2014
Impartial International Investigation is a must:
I want to know what happened to the hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamils trapped in Vanni, who pleaded with the UN personnel not to go, happened.
Were the denied food, medicine, water and shelter?
How did the 147,000 innocent Tamils die and their bodies disposed of using mobile incinerators from China?
How were the surrenders raped and executed?
Before I know the truth I can’t rest in peace when the time comes.
Rattaran / January 27, 2014
They were used as human shield by the cowardly Tiger terrorists and in trying to escape they were shot by the coward Pirkaharan’s goons.
How come you did not know this. Thaka Thiru?
jansee / January 27, 2014
Oh, we came to know that Prabhakaran and the LTTE held Tamils as human shields and we also came to know that the SL regime murdered thousands of Tamils under the disguise of a humanitarian operation. Hospitals were bombed and chemical weapons were used. Prabhakaran held civilians as human shields but the regime murdered those who surrendered waving a white flag, after being given an undertaking by the president. A cheat and a liar that he is, who is the real coward here?
Leelawathie / January 28, 2014
Prabakaran used tamil civilians as human shields.
Now MR uses the entire population as human shields to run his tyranny, far abusive politics making each and every citizen a life long indebted, looting all the resources of the public, comforting their pvt lives.
Poor folks that are away from FACTS AND FIGURES about the ongoing issues are caught by Rajapakse tactics. If elections are called, these gullible, brainwashed masses will vote Rajapakse henchmen in to power – latter is due to lack of information based on on going issues.
Bedrock Barney / January 28, 2014
In the event that there isn’t a “Impartial International Investigation”(indeed this will be a new species of investigation as all known international investigations have had an angle), I thought I’d answer some of your questions.
(1)Some of the “the hundreds of thousands” of Tamils in the Vanni ended up in IDP camps, some were incinerated by Mobile burners from China, some escaped to India and some died due to the fighting
(2) They were rugularly deinied food shelter and water by both the GOSL tropps and the LTTE.
(3) Is this 147 OOO different to the ” hundreds of thousands” in the first question. If so the death oll is now approaching half a million.
(4) Some of those who surrendered were raped(if female) and then executed.
War, as they say, is hell.
Now that I have answered some of your questions perhaps you can rest in peace?
MHA / January 29, 2014
The only reply to such nonsense is when did you break your way out of the cargo container of heroin. You are surely hallucinating. The things you say are nothing more than stories.
Vibhushana / January 27, 2014
Hello there Laksiri.
My understanding is that the Human Rights council routinely demand countries for investigations. Most are turned down. Although if some members of the HR ouncil feel the situation is dire they refer it to the security council. Its only the UN Security Council that can impose an investigation.
There are few things that make it unlikely for it to go beyond the HR council. China and Russia will demand their own strict criteria met before venturing further with simple nonsense. Furthermore this is a conflict that ended 4 years ago. No one will want to create a problem when there is none.
Why then MR acting as if sky about to fall down? The cynic in me thinks he is playing to the gallery considering elections are around the corner. The US is simply asking MR to implement his own LLRC. Why is this so hard?
I suspect the LLRC recommends things like Freedom of Information act. I dont somehow think MR is ready for open and transparent govt yet.
Dr Laksiri Fernando / January 27, 2014
Yes, a proper international investigation on war crimes is a matter for the Security Council or the International Criminal Court. However, a resolution can request Sri Lanka to investigate the alleged war crimes (i.e. what is mentioned in the Darusman report and also the LLRC) and recommend the HR Commissioner/Office to technically assist and oversee (!). But what David Cameron said in Colombo was something far beyond, whether he really meant it or not. These all are politicians! I did mention that “it is however unlikely that the US wants to go to that extent.”
As for “MR acting as if sky about to fall down” is not merely about elections, in my judgment. It is a strategy to demonize human rights as an international conspiracy also realizing what might come next. Yes, so far the US was simply asking MR to implement LLRC. But in the new resolution, they may change the main focus on war crime investigations.
GambaraAththo / January 27, 2014
Congrats to your article. I always respect your views.
But what prompted me to comment on is
a) If US or other powerful candidates are genuinely interested in war crimes to be investigated on lanken state independently – why have the US failed yet to interview – Sharendara Silva, SF, Gotta and the ones who were on the front running ?
b) And why do they the CW countries pay blind eyes in terms of the CW chairmanship awarded to MR (anyone with sanity would never agree with a man alleged war crimes to allow the chairmanship, but they paid it a blind eye – why)
c) Those who followed it closely, are very clear that the impeachment against FORMER CJ Dr. SB was not fair but a revengeful act knowing clearly that she would always NOT agree with their agendas.. nevertheless to CW president to ignore it fully and support MR admin to continue with all MR agendas are not comprehensible to many
Dr Laksiri Fernando / January 28, 2014
a) I don’t think, they consider the regime as such was involved in war crimes. Even I don’t think so. But lapses, blind eyes or even cover ups are obvious or at issue. At the same time, dealing with alleged crimes, the US may not want to do anything unilaterally, so they have not questioned the people you have mentioned. Accountability is the popular term that they use. Curtailing terrorism is still a major agenda for the US and others. As I write this, there is a major conference going on in Sydney on “Global Security and Terrorism.”
b) The same goes for the CW and awarding Chair to MR or SL. In addition, constructive engagement is one that they try to use, right or wrong. That is one reason why David Cameron participated at CHOGM in Colombo.
c) Yes, I agree that CW should have acted more firmly on the issue of impeachment because independence of the judiciary is one of the core values of the CW. After they decided to have CHOGM in Colombo, they were mechanically following the procedures neglecting principled issues. CW like many multilateral organizations are imperfect to say the least. Apart from the CW, the role of our own opposition on the issue of impeachment was hopeless, in my opinion.
There is one key conclusion based on the above and others. Struggle for human rights or democracy is basically an internal matter. No one can wait for solutions like Manna to fall from the skies. Too much reliance on international pressure or intervention is self-defeating for the Tamils or the Sinhalese or all.
Navin / January 28, 2014
I believe UNHRC has the power to refer a country to ICC (even if the country is not a signatory to Rome statute).
People peddling war crimes investigations are not after MR/GR types. The objective is to prove that Tamils as a people have been and is being persecuted by Sri Lanka (Sinhala majority) state THUS justify an autonomic region with considerable independence (perhaps modeled on LTTE ISGA principles) for the N/E.
If US was genuinely concerned about human rights in Sri Lanka would they team up with shady characters like Visvanathan Rudrakumaran and Anandhi Sasitharan? Dr. Laksiri, could you honestly tell me that had these people shared the same connections they have with LTTE with Al-Qaeda, that US will NOT consider them legitimate targets for drone attacks?
JimSofty / January 28, 2014
How come Open and transparent govts have NSA like organizations. That is only the very top of the ICEBURG ?
Our system is good. but, the democracy that special interest groups,in Sri Lanka, are asking is not affordable implementable to a country.
If it changes further, country will fail.
JimSofty / January 28, 2014
Recently, UN questioned Vatican for Child -sexual abuse cases all over the world.
In that sense, Darusman report and the report written for Vatican were very different. I don’t think Darusman report is an important report it is only a study report.
MHA / January 29, 2014
The Darusman report was a grade school level report, based on plagiarized LTTE propaganda pamphlets and urban legends. You have to actually go to Sri Lanka and dig up facts to write a report with.
JimSofty / January 28, 2014
Power politics is certain.
But, Genuine concerns ?; whose genuine concerns and for what purpose ?
Western system is failing. Only thing they had was money. Now, they are going bankrupt, at the end they will not have anything. They destroyed every thing including their european culture, environment and even their population numbers are going down below the sustainable levels.
Now, they want others also to get destroyed.
People who don’t think about the long term repercussions can ask for these non-sustainable and destructive changes.
US has internationalized the dollar and they want their culture also to spread every where. for what purpose ?
that is to sink the whole world when they sink.
Mallaiyuran / January 28, 2014
I do not think the Rule of Law side is clearly dealt with here. Employment, education, right to utilise public places…. it is shame the way the government’s senior official behavior. This is far beyond corruption. The situation is government officials can do anything anywhere. Even the Chief Justice won’t be able to stand in front of them if they like to do something. They can do drugs, rape, gambling, murder…. fully covered impunity for them on anything. When Mangala attempted to report the loss of his Laptop, everybody knows what happened. There was only few bottles of drinks and a Laptop was at Mangala’s home for a poor thief to steal? Is that why he took the Laptop? Fake election to keep the power, meddling with the country” prime law the Constitution…….. there is no limit.
The only way for Sinhalese to get out of the cocoon they weaved around them is to eagerly wait for an International Investigation.
NAK / January 29, 2014
The US, it appears, is simply posturing to scare and force Sri Lanka to give the northern Tamil separatists what they couldn’t achieve through armed struggle which the US and the west (not so)covertly supported.
The best US and west can do is to impose unilateral Sanctions on Sri Lanka which India may not be in favour.
Even if they still do it, it will be a shameful act for them to have to resort to such an act against a small country like Sri Lanka.
Dr. Laksiri must be thanked here for admitting to Vibhushana that UNHRC resolution will not be worth the piece of paper its written and finally end up in the waste bin at the UN Security council.
This, neither Dr.Laksiri nor Dr.Dayan Say in clear terms in their articles.
As for MR, He is using it to the fullest for politiking pretending the sky is about to fall.
kali / January 29, 2014
I disagree with you when you say International Pressure is a Mixture of Power Politics and Genuine Concern for the following reasons.
The intentional Machinery is a very slow process when it comes to delivering Justice because there are so many variables.
It is a bit like the equation
Y= M(X) + C
Dependent and independent variables.
It is a bit unfair to say that Britain and the USA helped Mahintha to defeat the LTTE and I don’t buy that. Any weapon that was supplied to Sri Lanka by these two countries were for defensive purposes and not to be used for offensive purposes.
I have also heard GOSL saying that US Government advised Sri Lankan military to use Cluster Bombs which is a load of Rubbish and I don’t buy that and you only have to look at the contradiction of GOSL.
One minute GOSL are saying that they never used cluster bombs and the next minute they are saying that they were advised by USA to use it. So take your pick as to whether or not it was used.
For me the only Nation that supplied Sri Lanka with the offensive Weapons including Chemical Weapons was the Traitor INDIA for a variety of reasons and that is why India has so far shielded Sri Lanka from being taken to the HAGUE for fear of being found out. There was no doubt the use of Chemical Weapons swung the War for GOSL and the pictures of the charred bodies of the LTTE carders reminded me of the pictures from Halabja when Sadam gassed the Kurds.
The Question of Mixture of Power Politics and Genuine Concern is in the following ratio 70% Genuine Concern 30% Power Politics. We all know it took 7 long years to bring Milosevic to justice despite the Russian( The Slavic Brothers ) Opposition Russia being a Super Power at the time.
So the Question of any Chinese opposition is a red herring and I would say it is a Constant (C) in the equation. Again when we have a change at the top in India with a BJP Government with the Iron Lady wielding considerable influence the Chinese influence can be ignored as China has more to gain from siding with India rather than Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka will be in for a battering and March 2014 is the beginning of the
end for MR. But who can blame MR for refusing to meet what the International Community are asking for because 1) He has a lot to hide 2) He is a Born Racist and he will not give an inch to the Tamils. 3) It will interfere with his programme of Colonisation and that is why he is ruling by deception trying to fool the World.
The World is no longer prepared to be fooled and you can see that from the overtures they are making to the Members of the LTTE and are treating Sri Lanka as two separate Nations.
Meeting of Anananthi by Mr.Rapp , Miss. Sison and now the visit of Mrs.Biswal all going to the North to meet them.
For us Tamils the best is yet to come and once we have secured the means to protect our Separate Identity , Religion and Culture and after MR is out of the way ( because he cannot be part of Reconciliation ) we can begin to build bridges to our Sinhalese Brethren and heal the Wound.