By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“You serve them well
I’m not surprised
You’re of their kin
You’re of their kind
The story’s told
With facts and lies
You own the world
So never mind”
–Leonard Cohen, ‘Never Mind’
It is difficult to predict how things will look in the rearview mirror, but it is perfectly possible that when I look back I shall regard October 1st 2015 as the most shameful day in Sri Lankan history in my lifetime. That was the day that Sri Lanka co-sponsored the Geneva resolution.
As the UK Permanent Representative explicitly stated when addressing the Human Rights Council on Oct 1st, the US-UK resolution is firmly founded upon Zeid al Hussein’s report. As Zeid al Hussein made amply clear in his video statement to the Council a day earlier, Sept 30th, his report contains at its core, the conclusion that war crimes, system crimes, of such magnitude and extent, were committed during our war that our judicial mechanism does not have the capacity to deal with them! Thus Zeid’s Report damns our Just War of self-defense, territorial reunification and liberation from terrorism. This Report is the foundation of the US resolution which Sri Lanka embraced. No decent edifice can be erected upon such a warped foundation. Nothing good can come from such poisoned fruit.
The US resolution is based on the need to implement the recommendations of Zeid’s Report and to report back to the council on the progress of implementation. The Government of Sri Lanka has actually joined in welcoming Zeid’s dishonest, dangerous text and has promised to implement it. Sri Lanka has placed a noose around its neck as if it were a garland of flowers!
To adapt Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent adaptation of an old joke (“if it walks like a terrorist, if it talks like a terrorist, if it squawks like a terrorist, it is a terrorist”), if it talks like a hybrid court, if it walks like a hybrid court, it is a hybrid court. The resolution affirms the need for Commonwealth and foreign judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and investigators in the Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the new Office of the Special Counsel (read ‘Special prosecutor’) promised by Foreign Minister Samaraweera. That’s not a Sri Lankan mechanism; that’s a joint mechanism.
This special court is a Trojan horse and if we make the mistake the Trojans did, which was to open a breach in their city walls and roll the strange looking contraption in, the foreigners – judges, prosecutors, defense counsel and investigators–will drop out of its underbelly at night and overrun our system.
In other words, those who went through untold hardship and made untold sacrifices to rid this country from the dragon of terrorism will be investigated, prosecuted and judged for their pains—and by foreigners together with collaborationist Sri Lankans. Those who rid the nation and the region of “the Pol Pot of South Asia” to use the words of Pulitzer prize winning New York Times journalist John F Burns, are going to be given the joint special tribunal treatment that the UN and Kampuchea have given Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge!
Our government has agreed to non-retention i.e. the purging of all those in the military who may be “credibly implicated” through “an independent administrative mechanism”, of serious violations of human rights. That means that they do not have to be proven guilty in a court of law. That also doesn’t mean only the human rights of innocent, non-combatant civilians. That means that if a member of the military is credibly implicated by an independent administrative mechanism of the serious violation of the human rights of a Black Tiger, he will no longer be retained in the armed forces!
This is the model the US adopted in Iraq after they invaded and occupied it: the disastrous de-Baathification of the Iraqi armed forces. Sri Lanka, a nation that triumphed over terrorism and preserved its sovereignty, and the Sri Lankan military that defeated one of the toughest irregular fighting forces on the planet, are now voluntarily submitting to the treatment that a defeated, invaded, occupied nation and military receive at the hands of its conquerors. We won a war, but we are being treated, are letting ourselves be treated, and are actually welcoming our treatment as if we lost the war. Today, the Tigers in France and Germany and those who march with tiger flags in London and Toronto must feel as if they won and we lost. What a moral inversion! What treason!
Morally and ethically, that’s the lowest point that the Sri Lankan state has descended to in my lifetime. It is certainly the lowest point that any Sri Lankan government has descended to.
None of this was inevitable. The Government had other options. If it says this abject surrender was the best deal it could have got for this country despite its political capital as a newly elected pro-western administration, then it does not deserve to stand.
This government could have easily refrained from embracing Zeid al Hussein’s dastardly, toxic report. Instead it could have presented the final report of the International advisory committee to the Paranagama Commission, authored by Sir Desmond de Silva. It could have asked the Council for time to study the Zeid report and requested the Council to study the Sri Lankan counter-report.
It could have leveraged the anti-terrorist global atmosphere currently prevalent due to the ISIS threat, and pointed out that we should not be punished for having defeated a dangerous threat, and that the consequences of terrorism are visible before our very eyes in the Middle East today, and that the only thing that prevented Sri Lankan from being another Syria, Libya or Iraq is that we defeated terrorism.
The Sri Lankan government could have “kicked the can down the road” till the next session and used that time to undertake a credible purely domestic process as recommended by the LLRC as well as the Paranagama-Desmond de Silva Report.
The Government chose not to do so and chose instead to embrace the Zeid Report and the US-UK resolution which is based upon it. As the philosophers remind us, choice is the expression of character. The Govt. didn’t even try to negotiate the best possible deal for Sri Lanka. What the Wickremesinghe Government has done is enact in Geneva the diplomatic equivalent of the outrageous CFA and Chandrika’s ghastly PTOMS.
The adoption of the US resolution with the enthusiastic co-sponsorship of Sri Lanka means that the American eagle will now have its talons gouging deep in the entrails of the Sri Lankan state, its institutions and institutional processes and its society. We have agreed to be turned into a “banana republic”.
Of course the Government, while being primarily responsible for the treacherous sellout in Geneva, is not the only player that is culpable. The ghastly, disgraceful October 1st 2015 outcome at the UNHRC was not inevitable.
It was not inevitable, firstly, because, as stated above, the new government had plenty of other options.
It was not inevitable, secondly, because as the Oct 1st 2015 US Resolution clearly states in its preambular paragraph 3, it is based upon the UNHRC resolutions of 2012, 2013 and 2014, while it also states that the OISL report flowed directly from the resolution of 2014. This is accurate.
There is no mention whatsoever of the UNHRC Resolution of May 2009 because that was a clear cut victory for Sri Lanka and gave no purchase or traction for the US moves against us. In short the US resolution and the Zeid Report were in no way traceable to 2009 but were on a continuum with and were made possible by, the serial defeats incurred by the Rajapaksa administration in Geneva in 2012-2014. The Rajapaksa administration need not have dismantled the victory of May 26-27, 2009 in Geneva, which was a Great Wall in defense of this country, its sovereignty, its military, and the historical and international verdict of the just character of our war of liberation.
Therefore, while the Wickremesinghe government is primarily responsible for the Geneva 2015 disaster, secondarily responsible is the Rajapaksa administration which managed through a March of Folly in foreign policy and diplomacy in the post war years (especially its second term), to throw away the near two thirds majority in the Council which we obtained in May 2009, representing the massive global coalition we had built there, a mere six years ago.
Morally however, the Rajapaksa administration is far less culpable than the Wickremesinghe one, because there is a world of difference between, one the one hand, folly based on the weaknesses of arrogant ignorance and sheer incompetence, and on the other, conscious capitulation, witting collaborationism and cold-blooded treason.