24 August, 2019

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Running With The Hare And Hunting With The Hounds

By M A Sumanthiran –

M A Sumanthiran

Many ask me what I think of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. My response has always been somewhat apologetic, as I’ve struggled to ascertain whether such a policy even exists. We are constantly forced to contend with Sri Lanka’s irresponsible international statements, riddled with contradictory positions and unsubstantiated facts.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha’s recent statement at the 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council was an altogether unsurprising continuation of this trend.

Contraction and inconsistency

First, the Ambassador’s principled position contradicts Sri Lanka’s own track record at the Council.  Ambassador Aryasinha observes that the ‘selective’ adoption of country-specific resolutions in the Council is ‘a tool that exploits human rights for political purposes’. Yet the Ambassador’s own argument has been selectively applied by this government, since Sri Lanka—under this very government—has been happy to support numerous country-specific resolutions in the past.

During the 7th Session of the Council in March 2008, a resolution on the ‘Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar’ was adopted without a vote. Sri Lanka held the Vice Presidency at the Council during this time and supported the resolution. The resolution expressed its ‘deep concern at the situation of human rights in Myanmar, including the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations…and the failure of the Government of Myanmar to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of these violations’ (emphasis mine).

During the 13th Session of the Council in March 2010, Sri Lanka co-sponsored a resolution against Israel titled ‘The grave human rights violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’. The resolution specifically called for ‘the immediate international protection for the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law’ (emphasis mine). Sri Lanka was not even a voting member of the Council during this session. Yet it thought it fit to endorse this country-specific resolution.

It once again co-sponsored a resolution against Israel at the 16th Session of the Council in March 2011. The resolution expresses grave concern at ‘the continuing Israeli settlement and related activities, in violation of international law, including the expansion of settlements, the expropriation of land…and the construction of bypass roads, which change the physical character and demographic composition of the occupied territories’ (emphasis mine).

It is not my intention in this article to compare and contrast the human rights practices of Myanmar and Israel with our own in Sri Lanka; let my emphasis on certain key words in those resolutions speak for itself.  However, it is clear that this government has rightly endorsed international scrutiny of domestic human rights practices in the past.

Notwithstanding such a track record, the government now cries foul when its own record is rightly scrutinised. It complains of unfair treatment, as other countries with equally questionable records appear to escape scrutiny. Yet such questions of fairness do not arise when laws are violated. A man accused of murder cannot complain that his prosecution is unjust merely because another murderer escapes prosecution. If that were the case, no court in Sri Lanka could legitimately try anyone, given the gross impunity enjoyed by some. Mr. Mohan Pieris is accused of flagrantly abusing his power to withdraw indictments against government officials during his tenure as Attorney-General. Can others accused of the same crimes now claim that their cases are unjust? Not even he would think so.

False and unsubstantiated facts and figures

Second, Ambassador Aryasinha’s statement is replete with either unsubstantiated or wholly false facts and figures. He makes a number of statistical claims relating to post-war progress; the most curious of which remain the institution of legal proceedings against 194 ex-combatants, the establishment of a centralized, comprehensive database of detainees which allegedly enables next-of-kin to receive details of detainees, the estimate of only 7,896 conflict related deaths, and the reduction of military presence in the Jaffna peninsula to 13,200 personnel.

The day-to-day testimonies and the lived experience of the Tamil and Muslim communities in the North and East paint a contrasting picture. In December 2012, 45 persons in Jaffna were arrested and detained without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and related regulations. Despite repeated requests, the government has refused to disclose information on the total number of similar detainees held in various detention facilities in the country. The relatives of most of these detainees still complain that they are unable to obtain any information on their detained loved-ones. Moreover, estimates of civilian deaths emerging from the communities themselves suggest that a much larger number is missing or deceased.  Meanwhile, 16 of the 19 divisions constituting the Sri Lankan Army are deployed in the North and the East. Hence it is certain that over a hundred thousand military personnel remain in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Ambassador Aryasinha also alleges that significant progress had been achieved in implementing the recommendations of the LLRC. He insinuates this by referring to plans to establish the Fourth Land Commission and to the recent initiative under the new Land Circular No.2013/01. The government is in the process of establishing a Fourth Land Commission in order to circumvent its constitutional responsibility to establish a National Land Commission (NLC) under the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The LLRC very clearly recommends expediting the appointment of the NLC which has constitutional powers to formulate national policies on land. Yet this ‘Fourth’ Land Commission the Ambassador speaks of, in reality, refers to the fourth in a series of Land Commissions established in 1927, 1956 and 1985 respectively. The last two of these Commissions were established under the Commissions of Inquiry Act of 1948 with mandates to recommend policies on land, but certainly not to formulate such policies. The Ambassador also claims that the government launched a new programme in May 2013 to resolve issues pertaining to state land in the Northern and Eastern provinces. He claims that a notice issued by the Land Commissioner in this regard has been widely circulated in all three languages in order to inform the public of this initiative. Yet the government’s own progress report on the implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations, dated 26 February 2013, claims that the programme was launched on 31 January 2013 and that a communication campaign covering 75 DS Divisions would be completed on 31 March 2013. It appears that the Ambassador has recycled old information in order to create an impression amongst the international community that fresh initiatives are being carried out and that further time is needed to yield results. These all-too-familiar dilatory tactics aim to conceal the gross lack of progress in implementing the LLRC’s recommendations, which were first published in December 2011.

Loss of credibility

In any event, the government’s credibility with respect to factual claims made in Geneva has remained in serious doubt for some time. To illustrate this credibility gap, one need only consider Mr. Mohan Pieris’ statement on 9 November 2011 at the 47th Session of the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva when he was Legal Advisor to the Cabinet. Responding to a question on the whereabouts of missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, Mr. Pieris claimed that the journalist was alive and was seeking asylum in a foreign country. This information was naturally relevant to the ongoing habeas corpus case filed by Mr. Ekneligoda’s wife to ascertain his whereabouts. Accordingly, on 5 June 2012, Mr. Pieris was compelled to give evidence at the Magistrate Court in Homagama to explain his statement in Geneva. Mr. Pieris testified in court that his statement was based on hearsay evidence and claimed that he did not remember what the source of his information was. He thereafter admitted in court that he had no information on whether Mr. Ekneligoda was alive. In the context of such irresponsible statements at UN fora, the most recent set of spurious claims should come as no surprise.

What emerges from the Ambassador’s recent statement in Geneva is confirmation that Sri Lanka will continue to mislead, deceive and contradict itself at international fora. The government has been quick to defend itself by spraying retorts of ‘hypocrisy’, ‘subjectivity’ and ‘political motivation’ at its accusers. Yet it too is an easy target for those very labels. These contractions and falsities have undoubtedly resulted in a loss of credibility in the international sphere. Hence even supporters of this government would agree that its recent record in foreign affairs and international diplomacy is a source of embarrassment.

The Sri Lankan government may lack the competence to devise a sophisticated foreign policy. Yet the Sri Lankan State should not rule out the possibility of adopting a value-laden approach to international affairs. Simple values such as consistency, sincerity and fidelity to the truth ought to be the hallmarks of Sri Lanka’s international engagement. Those who represent the State overseas should not forsake their duty to uphold these values.

The author, M. A. Sumanthiran (B.Sc, LL.M) is a Member of Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a senior practicing lawyer, prominent Constitutional and Public Law expert and civil rights advocate.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Why can’t Dayan write under his name, without giving copy to Tigers.

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      “we are all for communal harmony, we have no problem with tamils”

      *a tamil says something against the govt.*

      “YOU BLOODY TIGER”

      the hypocrisy is strong in this one…

    • 0
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      hurts to learn that others are too capable of writing? :D

  • 0
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    Hello !!!!!!!!!! Mr. Talkshop, enough of your gibberish

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    In fairness to Mrs.Sandya Eknelligoda and her children it is crucial that the affair be brought to a closure. Perhaps Mr Aryasinhe is aspiring to the position of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice.Bensen

  • 0
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    A Tiger sympathizer is righting about Human rights.

    If you don’t like Sri Lankan record why do you stay as a MP ?

    Why do you get others to write articles promoting you ?

  • 0
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    It is all over this blog that TNA wants Sumanthiran to become the TNA leader once Sampanthan steps down.

  • 0
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    Mr. Abraham Sumanthiran says , the government now cries foul when its own record is rightly scrutinised. It complains of unfair treatment, .

    To be fare with the government, the government has asked the UN, Ban-ki-Moon, Darusman, Channel-4 and all these people to present the credible evidence, and an investigation would be done. But the Ban-ki-Moon/Darusman setup is unable to furnish any information that is helpful. It has even agreed to keep any such sources out of the public eye for the next decade!!!!!!!!

    Mr. Sumanthiran has no seat in the North. Abraham S is a national-list member. He might win a seat in Colombo if he comes from a party without a racist label. He should join MR, become Foreign Minister and do a Kadirgamar. After all, GLPeiris who has to carry a whole suitcase of medications wherever he goes, now neds a rest and shown that he cannot carry the onerous task.
    Unlike the spineless Chandrika and her defense secy, Gothabaya is a capable defence secy and he will prove Abraham S the needed protection against neo-LTTE snipers.

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      “Gothabaya is a capable defence secy and he will prove Abraham S the needed protection against neo-LTTE snipers..”

      Virtual threat to Sumanthiran?

      “Mr. Abraham Sumanthiran says …”

      Why don’t you call the President of Sri Lanka, Percy Rajapakse, son of Don Alwin Rajapakse??

    • 0
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      Well said the last part.

      If TNA agrees to a compromise from the Vadukodai resolution, LTTE will not remain silent.

  • 0
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    Get over sir.. LTTE is history.. you are just trying hard to keep LTTE objectives alive.. sad..

    • 0
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      Do you lot even read what people wrote on here or do you just post the same comment regardless?

    • 0
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      Who knows LTTE may be back!

      I said may be.

      If LTTE comes back who will be its first victims?

      From 1975 to 1991 LTTE killed only Tamil politicians. First North Indian and Sinhala politicians were targeted only after 1991.

      Government has to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the LTTE.

      • 0
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        Muliyawaikkal

        “Who knows LTTE may be back!”

        Only when India revives it. Or if Gota wants to prevent IPKF Mark 2 invasion.

  • 0
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    The ranting & raving set dont rest on Sunday?

    • 0
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      No, sadly. We do it because we love the country not because we’re paid (with holidays!) to do it ;)

  • 0
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    Very well reasoned out piece. Whatever
    personal epithets are thrown at M.A.
    Sumanthiran, I would only go by what
    he has written. He deserves praise for
    saying what he has said without fear and
    intimidation.

    For those who want to persecute him, any
    gibberish is alright. Why not challenge
    any of the facts he has highlighted. Don’t
    be clouded by that LTTE and Tamil phobia.

    That is the worst trait of our patriots. They
    look at one’s race and religion, not what is
    right and wrong. Little wonder, such irrationality
    survives.

    • 0
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      Tamils are always excellent in defining and explaining every thing in their terms.

      • 0
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        JimSofty

        “Tamils are always excellent in defining and explaining every thing in their terms.”

        The way the Sinhala/Buddhists have defined their race as Aryans, Vijaya’s descendants, people of one nation, Sinhala/Buddhists nation building,………exclusive Sinhala/Buddhist state institutions and armed forces, their brand of war crimes and corruption and so on.

  • 0
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    It is very difficult for Sinhala nationalists to absorb find truth and clear evidences. They even don’t believe that over 100,000 Sinhala youths and innocent people were deposited by their own forces. Our President Rajapakse is the first man who accused Sri lankan forces as war criminals and human right abusers in 1989-90. For his betrayal of the nation he was promoted as a President of Sri Lanka. Let openly tell who betrayed your country to Western powers?

  • 0
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    Some of the commentators here would benefit by:

    Text of a presentation as part of the Global Asia Institute Speaker Series (2010), National University of Singapore, Prof John Richardson, http://groundviews.org/2010/11/05/prospects-for-post-conflict-reconciliation-and-development-in-sri-lanka-can-singapore-be-used-as-a-model/

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      Someone needs to remind the President of the suggestion to him by Prof Richardson.

    • 0
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      Singapore is a city – state created by the British Colonial master. The only way singapore can stay as a state is by economically developing it. Otherwise, people leave it and city state goes to extinction.

      Sri Lanka is a small country with thousands of years old civilization.

      • 0
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        JimSofty

        “Sri Lanka is a small country with thousands of years old civilization.”

        Aryan Sinhala/Buddhist civilisation mostly built by South Indians and by their technology.

        By the way the island is populated by Kallthonies from north and south India. Sinhala/Buddhist are closely related to South Indian Tamils.

  • 0
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    The confusion in our Foreign Policy project is well exposed in Geneva
    in the past two years. We have had a host of Ambassadors heading our delegation with two Ministers openly fighting as to who is the team leader there. One wonders if any other delegation is accused of as much false figures and mendacity as ours has been discovered, as Mr Sumanthiran notes. We have enough fighting among ourselves, while others watch, there is little time to spend on focussing on meeting allegations from the UNHR and the global community. It is a continuing Comedy of Errors mishandled from Colombo is the only common denominator.

    Senguttuvan

  • 0
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    All of these men whom Sri Lankan Tamils have produced apart from the odd one or two politicians have been rogues as far as their community have been concerned. That is why Sri Lankan Tamils are in this predicament today, without anything and no where to go both literally and metaphorically speaking. It is fair to state that the Sri Lankan Tamils are basically nomads in their own land especially in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

  • 0
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    Sri Lanka foreign policy is not an issue for Sri Lankan Tamils and other minority community living in that country. What matters most to all minority communities and especially Sri Lankan Tamils in the north and east of the country is how the world and especially India views them. That is what matters most, nothing else matters in practical reality.

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      How India Sees Tamils depends on what Tamil nadu politicians want. Tamilnadu lives on tribalism and and why Tamilnadu is anti-Hindi ?

      Overseas Living Tamils prefer to call Sri Lanka their home than to call Tamilnadu their motherland because it is a stinky and primitive state.

      Otherwise, why tamils die for Sri Lanka when their motherland is nearby ?

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        JimSofty

        Sinhala/Buddhist too prefer to call Sri Lanka their home than to call Tamilnadu/Bihar their motherland because their state of parochial mindset believe that they are cleverer than descendants of their ancestors.

        Due to Sinhala/Buddhists’ inferiority complex they are also scared of Indians.

  • 0
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    This man is talking shop. Which country plays a straight bat in foreign policy? Look at our big neighour India or the big power USA.They all adjust to situations. The subject is beyond you Suman. Come to some arrangement with the Sinhalese and think of the general welfare of Tamils and Sinhalese and others, Not this high flown ideas. What human rights Chum when a section of Tamils are not allowed to enter temples and use wells and are beaten up.Look at the beam in your eye before looking far.

  • 0
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    Sumanthiran is correct in what he says. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is incoherent and Ambassador Ravinath Ariyasingha has lost credibility. You cannot blame Ariyasingha who is desparately trying to defend a poor brief. The lack of a firm and credible policy is merely a reflection of the lack of the government’s ability to formulate one. That too is understandable since this all powerful President changes his position every day and has no qualms about being recognized as deceitful as long as he can say he is doing it in the national interest. I remember Ariyasingha in the 1980s as a earnest and idealistic young TV presenter and he must now find it extremely difficult to present the case on behalf of this government without personal internal conflict. In my view the cause for Sri Lanka’s incoherent behaviour in international fora is a direct consequence of the dictatorial nature of this Presidency and it’s impetuousness. Dictatorial behaviour will always breed ‘yes men’ and no one will express an opinion due to fear of upsetting the ‘lokka’.

  • 0
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    The TNA appears very good at contradictory positions as well.

    Do they stand against separatism or is a separate state their goal? Their leader seems to vacillate between the two. Some MPs openly state they want a Kosovo.

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      spotlight

      “The TNA appears very good at contradictory positions as well.”

      Just like Dayan’s positions, he holds many opposing positions all at the same time.

  • 0
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    Do the countries to which the TNA runs to get ‘justice’ practice consistent foreign policy?

  • 0
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    Yes, Foreign Policy and culture are every one’s expertise. There is a difference between foreign policy/relations and and foreign affairs (as practised). Only practitioners know the latter. Others are arm chair theorists.

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    The solution is easy. If the Sinhala speaking Buddhist descendants of the Hindu Tamil Pandyan Pricesses selectively brought by Vijaya want a Sinhala Buddhist State for themselves, let them have it. But let the Tamil speaking descendants of the same Tamil Hindu Pandyan Princesses also have a Tamil Hindu State. Why should the sibblings grudge it?

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