By Izeth Hussain –
Operative paragraphs 10 and 10(b) of the US-led Resolution reads “requests the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR):
(b) To undertake a comprehensive investigations into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and to establish facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability with assistance from relevant experts and special procedure mandate holders”.
When I first read the above I mistakenly thought that not much more was envisaged than some token action by the OHCHR. It turns out, on the contrary, that the OHCHR is being mandated to take full-scale action towards international investigation of alleged war crimes etc. The reason for my initial mistake was that it seemed to me inherently absurd that the mandate was being given on so serious a matter, not by the UN Security Council or by the General Assembly, but by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. I must explain for the benefit of the average reader who is not familiar with the world of diplomacy that the post of Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva is a relatively minor post. The reason for this is that nothing really important for the world transpires at the UN in Geneva unlike at the UN in New York. The action on human rights in Geneva has been confined for the most part to shaming errant Governments into correcting their evil ways.
Apart from all that, it is now quite clear that OHCHRC has no mandate to take on the responsibilities assigned to it under the US-led Resolution. This point was made by the Indian and other delegations, and we now have an informative article by Neville Laduwahetty in the Island of April 1. This must be seen in a perspective going back to the Panel of Experts set up by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2011. It was made out at that time that the PoE was no more than a body set up to advise the Secretary General, and should therefore be of no concern at all to Sri Lanka and other countries. Later, I and doubtless others as well pointed to the process whereby the Report of the Panel of Experts came to be given the imprimatur of the UN. It seemed clear that the Western big-shot powers had been engaged in an exercise to circumvent the UN General Assembly where they did not have a majority, and the Security Council where the Chinese and Russian vetoes would go against them. It is the same process that has been at work at Geneva, a process that is thoroughly inimical to the sovereignty of weak states. Perhaps this should be taken up by the Non-Aligned member states that are represented at New York.
The British Role
The first US-led Resolution, which envisaged no immediate action and in effect provided a year’s reprieve for the Government, was a diplomatic triumph for the Government, unless we choose to believe that this that and the other factor were operative behind the Resolution but never the Government’s diplomacy! Credit should be given for that triumph above all to Foreign Minister G.L.Peiris. But the triumph was a short-lived one, and the Resolution finally adopted was a serious defeat for the Government. However, there were a couple of mitigating factors. The votes for the Resolution were 23 while the votes against and the abstentions totaled 24. It would be absurd to say that we won the vote, but it is true that the votes for the Resolution were in a minority. Above all, India abstained, and furthermore it voted against operative para 10. India has more importance for our ethnic problem than all the other countries of the globe put together. The Government’s diplomacy surely counted in the Indian abstention also.
What led to the reversal? An important factor would have been the Government’s horrible record in reneging on commitments. The widespread expectation would have been that the Government would use the year’s reprieve to shilly-shally over moving towards a lasting political solution and ethnic reonciliation. But it is generally understood that at Geneva the most important determinants behind the votes are not really human rights and all that but the changing configurations of power in the international arena. What really counted finally was Britain’s determination to push through a Resolution with munching crunching power in it. And what lay behind that British determination was the power of the Tamil expatriate lobby.
Here we come to what looks like a new factor in our ethnic imbroglio that requires scrupulous analysis. In 2009 the Government troops annihilated the LTTE internally, but externally the rump LTTE has continued to function. It would probably be a mistake to equate the entirety of the expatriate Tamils with the rump LTTE, and the Government may be acting precipitately in proscribing certain Tamil groups. It remains however that any power that the expatriate Tamils are able to exercise has to come to a substantial extent from the money power of the LTTE. As Minister G.L.Peiris put it in the interview he gave to the Ceylon Today Sunday of March 30, the financial resources that the LTTE formerly spent in funding the war is now spent in exercising influence.
That influence is exercised mostly in the western countries whose Governments must understand one fact above all about the LTTE: it cannot be expected to be satisfied with anything less than Eelam, or at the very least a confederal arrangement that would amount to a de facto Eelam. The reason for this is historical. It can be argued that after the insensate violence against the Tamils from 1977 to 1983 the Tamils had no alternative to taking up arms against the State. But the prolongation of the war after 1994 was mainly due to the intransigence of the LTTE. It rejected all the handsome offers of devolution from 1995 to 2000, and it made a farce of the peace process, all in the expectation that it could establish Eelam through military victory. It is estimated that around 100,000 died during the 30-year war, the majority of them being Tamils. If a lasting political solution can be worked out on the basis of 13A plus a fully functioning democracy, and ethnic reconciliation takes hold as has to be expected, the LTTE will stand condemned for the deaths of scores of thousands of innocent Tamils. It cannot therefore reconcile itself to anything less than Eelam. Its immediate tactic will probably to keep the ethnic imbroglio going.
The US Role
Public attention is coming to be focused on one question, a very perplexing question for the public: why is it that the US, the sole super-power with vast responsibilities and interests, is giving so much attention to Sri Lanka, a small and weak country with no resources that are worth coveting, with no power worth bothering about in the international arena, a country furthermore where violations of human rights are not so horrendous as in some other countries? Many members of the public may jump to the conclusion that what the US really wants is a base in Trinco. If so, I don’t see why it should go about it in so devious a way, alienating the Sri Lankan public in the process. I have never believed – for reasons that I cannot go into here – that the US has ever wanted a base in Trinco.
I would stand by the analysis I made in my article Ban Ki-moon conspiracy in the Island of May 2, 2011. Sri Lanka has a special significance as the immediate neighbour of India, a country that can be regarded as a regional great power and that is going to emerge as a great power. The US had for many years wanted a special relationship with India, and the West as a whole would want India to be on their side to counter-balance both China and the Soviet Union. Against this background, the US and the West have wanted to help India solve the ethnic problem, as a contribution towards the evolution of a new world order. A glitch has occurred – I refer to the Indian abstention – but I believe that if India insists the West will ultimately go along with it on our ethnic problem.
However, I would now answer the question, Why is Sri Lanka being given such importance internationally? In a way significantly different from the way I did in 2011. I would now give a very special importance to ethnic problems in the international context. In the last century the great black ideologue W.E.B. du Bois wrote that the greatest problem of the twentieth century would turn out to be the problem of the colour line. It is an arguable point. I would say that the greatest problem of the twenty first century will turn out to be the problem of minorities – ethnic, racial, religious, cultural minorities – in their struggle against majorities. The underlying reason for this, I believe, is that economic development is taking place on a global scale, and with it there is a revolution of rising expectations which makes minorities no longer satisfied to remain in their socio-economic niches in a traditional ethnic division of labour. The crux of the problem is that minorities too want to go up the socio-economic ladder, and that brings then into rivalry and conflict with the majorities. It is a process that is taking place on a global scale. The importance that is being given to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem has to be seen in this global context.
Both the draft Resolution and the final one adopted in Geneva were US-led. It raises the following question: Why is the giant US bullying the dwarf Sri Lanka? Let us acknowledge the fact that although the US has done much good for humanity, it has also established itself as the world’s most excruciating pain in the anatomy. Minister Peiris’ answer to the question – in that Sunday paper interview – was that Sri Lanka is a soft target. It was the thesis of Emmanuel Todd in his brilliant and insightful book After Empire that since the US has been declining militarily, it wants to give the impression of strength by attacking military dwarfs such as Iraq. It is time for the Davids of the world to get together with their slingshots. We must rejuvenate the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Indian Role
Why did India abstain? I believe that I can be very brief in providing the answers as they don’t admit of much controversy. Firstly, India gives priority to solving the ethnic problem over human rights and investigations into war crimes. India knows that the latter will envenom ethnic relations and make movement towards a political solution more difficult. Secondly the Resolution will allow the West too intrusive a role in Sri Lanka. That will be incompatible with Sri Lanka being in India’s legitimate sphere of influence – – though of course India will diplomatically eschew such language.