By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Article 2(4) of the UN Charter reads as follows. ‘All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations (UN). The accepted exceptions to this article are when the UN Security Council authorizes military action or when it is in self-defense under Article 51 of the charter.’
Nevertheless, the reality is different. Powerful nations act without remorse or shame, disregarding the UN Charter when it suits their interests.
History is strewn with instances of powerful nations acting in contravention of article 2(4) with impunity.
Such interventions are usually justified based on promoting democracy, upholding human rights, R2P, etc. On other occasions, both overt and covert interventions are justified simply as ‘geopolitical realities,’ a more polite form for muscle power, with little or no regard for the sovereign status of small and less powerful nations.
It is worthwhile to examine three incidents that took place within the first 30 days of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) taking his oath of office.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s special envoy arrived in Colombo unannounced and uninvited on the day after GR took his oaths at Ruwanwelisaya. Whether a meeting was requested or demanded is not known. What can be fathomed is, a meeting with the Head of State sworn in a day earlier was taken for granted. He carried a personal invitation from Modi for GR to visit India. Jaishankar tweeted a “warm meeting” immediately afterward. He also unilaterally announced, GR would travel to India on November 29 on his first overseas visit. The accepted diplomatic practice of simultaneous announcements from both countries was ignored.
GR was greeted on arrival in Delhi with the usual fanfare, pomp, and pageantry. Lines of credit for USD 450 million for Infrastructure Development and dealing with terrorism-related issues were offered. That was the sweetener.
The promised Resolution of the Tamil Nadu fishermen poachers’ issue in February 2015 was renewed once again. Meanwhile, northern waters will continue to be bottom trawled. It reflects India’s scant regard for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Periodic release of both arrested Tamil Nadu fishermen and fishing vessels has only encouraged the fishermen to continue their trade unabated and the Indian government to do nothing about it.
Then came the démarche. Prime Minister Modi stated, “I am confident, the Government of Sri Lanka will carry forward the process of reconciliation to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, peace, and respect.” He also stated, “The process of reconciliation includes implementation of the 13th Amendment.”
All this coming from the chief architect of Hindutva supremacy. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the single largest party represented in the Lok Sabha (Indian lower house). Out of 303 or 56% of the total MPs, it has only one Muslim MP, having fielded just six candidates. Just under a month earlier, the BPJ rammed through the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Reorganization Act of 2019, revoking the special status granted to J&K under Article 370 in the Indian Constitution. Both regions became Union Territories of India from October 31, 2019.
Based on Modi’s own track record, does he have the right to take the moral high ground? His concerns for Sri Lanka’s Tamil citizens notwithstanding, the public expression of such sentiments rather than during a one on one meeting or bi-lateral discussions is a display of muscle power.
GR, to his credit, did state publicly of his inability to implement some provisions of the 13th Amendment “against the wishes of the majority (Sinhala) community.” His remark, “No Sinhala will say, don’t develop the area, or don’t give jobs, but political issues are different” was forthright and factual. His advice to the Indians to “stop whining about the Chinese footprint and invest more in Sri Lanka” was unprecedented and brilliant.
Two State solution in British Conservative Party manifesto
The text on page 53 of the manifesto where Sri Lanka is mentioned is as follows. “We are proud of our peace-building and humanitarian efforts around the world, particularly in war-torn or divided societies, and of our record in helping to reduce global poverty. We will continue to support international initiatives to achieve reconciliation, stability, and justice across the world and in current or former conflict zones such as Cyprus, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East, where we maintain our support for a two-state solution.”
Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London immediately sought clarification from the Conservative Party. Deputy Chairman Paul Scully provided a lame explanation. “The two-state line in that section was intended to refer only to the Israel-Palestine situation in the Middle East (as is stated policy). The commitment to Sri Lanka and Cyprus were simply about continuing existing efforts to support peace and reconciliation in divided societies.”
Some in the UK, including a group of persons in the Conservative party identifying themselves as friends of Sri Lanka, has gone to great pains to promote Deputy Chairman Scully’s explanation. A bizarre theory of the comma between the words Sri Lanka and the Middle East in the text making a distinction between Sri Lanka and the Middle East is being promoted, a tale fit for Chinese sporting ponytails.
A manifesto is the Bible of any political party before an election. It is meant to be read, proofread and reread before publication and release. The fact, the two-state solution part was missed by different layers of proofreaders speaks volumes of the professionalism of those responsible. If not, it must be assumed, parties with vested interests managed to smuggle it in at the final stages.
The explanation notwithstanding, no apology has been made by the Conservative Party leadership to the Sri Lankan State nor to the thousands of British Sinhalese and Muslims in the UK. Some of them are party supporters. Bias for British Tamils was further established in Boris Johnson’s message on the eve of elections. Starting with ‘Vannakam,’ in the 1.20 minutes video clip, he thanked the British Tamil community for all they do for the country. He made promises for the future after he gets Brexit done, before concluding with ‘Nandri.’
A similar propaganda 2.10 minutes video clip by the Labor Party Shadow Chancellor John McDonald spoke of an attempt at genocide against the Tamils and the brutal oppression against the Tamils.
With Boris Johnson’s electoral victory, Brexit is a foregone conclusion. The day is not too far away when the UK will have its own problems over a two-State or even three State solution.
The Conservative and Labor parties and the British government have, for decades, strived to undermine the Sri Lankan state. The British government refused to disclose the contents of British Military Attaché Lt. Col. Anton Gash’s confidential reports. It would have enabled Sri Lanka to counter UNHRC allegations of 40,000 deaths in the closing stages of the Vanni campaign is a case in point.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s directive to the Foreign Ministry to abstain from voting during the United Nations’ non-binding Resolution on Chagos Island was unforgivable. Failure to vote with the Non-Aligned group and the African states responsible for sponsoring the Resolution could have consequences.
It would be prudent for the new government to undertake a complete review of Sri Lanka’s relations with the UK. A sizable volume of Sri Lankan exports is destined to the UK, thus eliminating the option of downgrading relations. In such a backdrop, different policy options must be explored with a view of changing Britain’s attitudes and countering the Tamil diaspora issue globally in general and the UK in particular.
The Swiss Affair
The bizarre case of a local recruit at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo being abducted by a group of men, interrogated, sexually abused, and then released has many strange twists and turns.
Local media has adequately reported the incident, and further narration of details is unnecessary. However, once again, a few instances when the Swiss have acted in a manner totally unacceptable in the conduct of diplomacy and Sri Lanka’s excessive indulgence need be highlighted.
The abduction supposedly having taken place on November 25 was first reported after 48 hours not by the employee but by the Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock to the Prime Minister and not the Foreign Relations Minister. The Swiss Embassy and, by extension, the Swiss government then obstructed the investigation by local authorities till December 8, a full 14 days after the abduction by harboring the abductee inside the Swiss Embassy. She was made available only after a court order. Meanwhile, the Swiss government had the temerity to demand permission to airlift its employee and her family to Switzerland without local immigration formalities due to her so-called serious medical condition. The gravity of her condition had been established by Swiss medical authorities after an examination via Skype!
It now transpires the whole episode had not taken place. GR has said so during his meeting with Ambassador Mock on December 16. Having exonerated the Swiss Embassy, he advised Ambassador Mock to “distance itself from the Garnier’s allegations.” He has further stated, “we can not find fault with the initial reaction of the Swiss Embassy since it had a duty to stand by its employee.”
The Ambassador arranged a Skype medical examination with Swiss doctors for the abductee. However, he failed to arrange for a competent Swiss Police official to speak to the abductee and verify her complaint before rushing off to lodge a complaint with the Prime Minister. He has shown extremely poor judgment for a Head of Mission.
The government has failed to request an explanation from Ambassador Mock of discrepancies between several versions of the abduction given by the abductee to the CID and his complaint on November 27.
In a surprise move, GR received the Swiss Ambassador and even informed him, the Swiss were not under suspicion. It would have been appropriate for GR to decline to receive the Ambassador till the matter has been cleared up. He could have been directed to deal with the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Relations Minister. That is what any self-respecting country would do.
The issue had been reported in the New York Times. The government, even at this late stage, must consider a response by way of the Right of Reply and place facts in the international domain. To remain silent would be a repetition of the pathetic media handling during the 30 years civil war when the LTTE clearly won the global publicity war.
Besides these three issues, the Foreign Relations Ministry is also currently grappling with several other issues. A decision is required whether to appeal Brigadier Priyanka Fernando’s conviction in a British court? How is the forthcoming UNHRC review in March to be handled? Will Sri Lanka seek the abrogation of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 as claimed before Presidential elections or request a revision, a more doable proposition?
Meanwhile, A delegation led by Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha was in Egypt last week. The External Affairs Ministry initiative of reviving Bilateral Political Consultations after several decades is most commendable. Sri Lanka must reengage with the Non-Aligned group and African block.
A fundamental requisite at this stage is the clear understanding of the role to be played by the Foreign Relations Ministry in the country’s foreign affairs. It must be the premier ministry responsible for conducting international relations and the epicenter of policy formulation based on directives from the Head of State.
The first contact point for foreign diplomats being the Foreign Relations Ministry, unfettered access to the Head of State and Prime Minister, is best avoided as in most other countries.
It is essential, the Minister for Foreign Relations, to be involved in all dealings with foreign governments and Colombo based foreign diplomats, unlike in the case of the Swiss fiasco.
Advisors and actors in other ministries will only create multiple centers handling foreign relations. It is a weakness bound to be capitalized by Colombo based Ambassadors as observed in recent years.
The golden rule in the conduct of any successful relationship is mutual respect.
That said, others will respect Sri Lanka only if it conducts itself with self-respect.