By Malinda Seneviratne –
US Ambassador Michele Sison got it wrong. Addressing a media briefing following the UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka, Sison dismissed allegations that the US-backed resolution was ‘against’ Sri Lanka. In other words it was ‘for’ Sri Lanka, she implies.
Now if the Government of Sri Lanka, which represents the people of Sri Lanka, thinks a resolution is ‘for’ the country, it would not oppose it. The main opposition parties blame the government for putting the country in a position where such a resolution could be tabled and approved, have not exactly endorsed the document. Only the Tamil National Alliance has openly cheered the resolution. The TNA, one time mouthpiece of a terrorist organization which continues to let pro-LTTE elements or LTTE-remnants to dictate party policy, is but a regional political entity whose sway is limited to just one province.
For Sison to imply that she knows better than Sri Lankan what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans is unadulterated condescension. From any other diplomat it would deserve the tag ‘unbecoming’, but she’s the representative of a country that has the word ‘ugly’ stuck on diplomacy and diplomat. She got it wrong, but that’s not a surprise then.
It must be mentioned that the USA didn’t cover itself in glory when other resolutions were debated, in particular five resolutions condemning Israel (the USA was the sole ‘nay-sayer’) and the Pakistan-led resolution on drone attacks which sailed through over the objections of the USA, Britain, France and a handful of other members who interestingly had voted against (yes) Sri Lanka. The USA objected to ‘the singling out of Isreal’, even though not too many hours before it put its full weight on ‘singling out Sri Lanka’.
Sison got it wrong, but British Prime Minister David Cameron did not. Cameron said ‘the UNHRC decision on Sri Lanka is a victory for its people’. He got the wording right. His reasoning was off the mark and in that he was quite ‘Sisonic’.
It was a victory for Sri Lanka but not in the sense that Government spokesman mean ‘victory’. The vote was a defeat, never mind that the US got one less than half the voting members to vote ‘yes’. It is less than consolation to count each abstained vote as a ‘no’. It was a victory, again in a consolation kind of way, that Sri Lanka, given the massive mismatch vis-à-vis the USA managed to have 12 countries support her, including China and Russia, not counting out the fact that there were political blocs to contend with.
It was also consolation that India abstained, but too much should not be made of India’s position since the Indian ‘explanation of position’ demanded rejection and not ‘hands-off’. A perusal of the Congress Party’s election manifesto would reveal the truth of India’s oft-uttered assertions of ‘friendly relations’ with Sri Lanka. The Bharathiya Janathan Party is no better since it is talking ‘Monroe Doctrine’ these days with obvious reference to Sri Lanka’s ties with Pakistan, China and Russia. These three countries backed Sri Lanka to the hilt. Their statements were unambiguous and not compromised by the kind of pernicious meddling India is known for.
But Cameron got it right because any process which reveals friend as well as enemy is a significant positive. The vote revealed that India is no friend. The vote revealed that Pakistan, China and Russia are solidly on Sri Lanka’s side. The vote revealed that there is absolutely no point in going beyond general courtesies in relations with the USA, UK, France and India; placating will not purchase a ‘back-off’.
The bigger victory is that the government is now forced to acknowledge all this but especially the fact that its own survival and that of the country is dependent on the people standing as one. The government must realize that such unity as necessary to meet the obvious threats articulated in Geneva cannot be obtained without rectifying institutional, constitutional and policy-related flaws that are patently anti-people. Without redressing general grievances that are of economic and political nature, the government cannot count on continued support that is the final and most effective bulwark against meddling of any kind from the likes of Washington and London.
That ‘truth’ is political and pertinent. ‘Geneva’ has produced it. In that sense and that sense only, David Cameron, side-kick to Barack Obama though he is, is quite spot-on. There’s ‘victory’ that counts in all this, subject to the caveat ‘if recognized, digested and acted upon’.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com