After March The Noose Likely To Tighten Around The Necks Of The Sri Lanka Military Hierarchy
All eyes are on Geneva. Only 3 weeks are left for the opening of 25th Sessions of the UNHRC. The 25th Sessions of the UNHCR is scheduled to be held from March 03 – 28 at Palais des Nations, Geneva.
It is now certain the US will move its 3rd resolution against Sri Lanka calling for an international investigation against war crimes, crimes against humanity committed by Sri Lanka during the last phases of the war in May, 2009. It is likely Britain and Canada might co-sponsor the resolution. This resolution has been necessitated due to the failure on the part of the Sri Lankan government to implement the resolutions passed in 2012 and 2013 by an overwhelming majority of members.
The US resolution adopted by the UNHCR on March 21, 2013 was more aggressive than the one passed in 2012. The March 2012 resolution only called on Sri Lanka to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the LLRC and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans. The resolution adopted in March, 2013 signified a hardening of the international community’s stance on human rights issues in Sri Lanka. There was a shift away from a focus on reconciliation to a focus on accountability for past human rights violations and war crimes.
The 2013 resolution noted the call made by the UN High Commissioner for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The resolution also stated that it “Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner, and also calls upon the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law as applicable.”
Sri Lankan government response
The response by the Sri Lankan government is one of ridicule, sarcasm, contempt and defiance. It openly declared that Sri Lanka was not bound by the resolution. Sri Lanka may be technically right to claim resolutions are non-binding, but there are political and economic consequences for taking that stand globally. The UN Charter encourages member states to comply with UN conventions and protocols. Being the main UN Agency concerned with human rights the discussions held by the Council as well as its resolutions carry great weight on issues relating to human rights.
The problem with Sri Lanka is its dilly dallying over full implementation of the LLRC recommendations. Mahinda Rajapaksa lacks the will and the commitment to bring about genuine reconciliation. He doesn’t believe in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual multi – religious and multi-cultural Sri Lanka. He doesn’t believe in equality before the law, due process, diversity and democratic pluralism that places limits on state authority.
On an ideological plane, he is no different from the likes of Wimal Weerawansa (NFF) Champika Ranawake and Udaya Gammanpilla (JHU) and Gunadasa Amarasekera (PMM). They all believe in a monolithic Sinhala – Buddhist state where there is no place for national minorities. They are in the forefront in their demand that the government rejects the LLRC report, abolish Section 13 A and ditch Provincial Council system. It is no accident Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed former Western Provincial Councillor and Deputy Secretary of the JHU Udaya Gammanpila as the UPFA`s Colombo District Group Leader for the upcoming Western Provincial polls. This is a first in the history of SLFP the leading partner in the UPFA.
US 3rd Resolution
As at the time of writing, US have not disclosed the contents of its draft resolution. US must be canvassing support from friendly countries for the resolution. It must be also waiting for Navaneetham Pillay’s report to the Council. It may be recalled that the US sponsored resolution adopted by the UNHRC in March 2013 asked the “Human Rights Commissioner to “present an interim report at the twenty-fifth session (next month) of the Human Rights Council, on the implementation of the resolution.”
Navaneetham Pillay paid a week long visit to Sri Lanka and reported that “I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.” Her visit provoked vituperative and angry outburst against her. Abuse and insult at a personal level were directed at her by Sinhala extremists. She was described as a tool of the Thamil Tigers. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa insinuated that UN human rights chief Navi Pillay’s visit to the island nation was influenced by propaganda from elements of the LTTE that was defeated in a civil war in 2009 (read here ). This was an unwarranted and crude attack on the integrity of the Human Rights Commissioner.
Navaneetham Pillay hit back saying the claims were both “wildly inaccurate” and “deeply offensive” Xinhua reported. She the abuse against her on the basis of her Indian Thamil descent has reached an extraordinary crescendo during her visit to assess the country’s human rights situation four years after the end of the war with separatist rebels.
Attacks on foreign dignitaries
US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes issues, Stephen J. Rapp fared no better. Minister Wimal Weerawansa the fire eating politician had organised a noisy demonstration outside the US Embassy despite his visit being kept at a low key. Why the government is allowing such boorish behaviour by a Cabinet Minister is beyond belief unless he was being used as a cat’s paw.
Sri Lanka refused entry visa to Catherine Russell, US Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues signalled a hardening of positions in Colombo ahead of the UNHRC l Session in March. This is the first time such a high-ranking US official has been denied a visa to enter Sri Lanka.
This time around, Sri Lanka has mounted its diplomatic offensive against US resolution in earnest. There is even talk about turning the tables on the US. Sri Lanka has despatched Ministers, Diplomats and anyone who matters to the capitals of all the countries that represent the UNHCR.
Minister G.L. Peiris has taken wings to Japan and South Korea. Both these countries abstained from voting last year.
Trouble shooter Lalith Weeratunga
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is leaning heavily on his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Monitoring MP of the External Affairs Ministry Sajin Vass Gunewardane and Namal Rajapaksa Hambantota District MP to “engage” with the US administration. After their return, Lalith Weeratunga told a media briefing “Sri Lanka’s fate hangs on tough lobbying in US.” He also told the media that US will present the resolution regardless of what Sri Lanka say or do.
He said the GoSL would also have to gain access to some powerful lobbying groups to counter opposition that’s mounting against it in the international arena. This confession is surprising when Sri Lanka has retained leading lobby firms at huge costs to counter “LTTE” rump propaganda.
Huge funds wasted on lobby firms
According to Sunday Times (January 26) the government is spending 15.7 million rupees per month to bankroll two major lobbying firms hired to improve Sri Lanka’s image in the US. The Central Bank has also hired US public relations and lobbying firm Thompson Advisory Group LLC (TAG). The Central Bank pays this company US $ 66,000 (or more than Rs 8.5 million) every month. The lobby firms are tasked to create (1) “a political climate” in the US “more than conducive to enhancing Sri Lanka’s long-term political and economic aspirations,” (2) to create a platform where US decision makers “receive clear and accurate information of Sri Lanka’s current achievements and future plans, and (3) “a higher volume of private sector investment in Sri Lanka,”
The Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington has also separately hired a US lobbying firm, called the Majority Group to lobby the US Government to change its attitude towards Sri Lanka. The Majority Group charges Sri Lanka Rs. 6.5 million for this task.
So it is a humiliating confession when Lalith Weeratunga claims “US had more than 800 key lobbying groups of which the LTTE-sympathising fronts were using some of the most influential groups among them for lobbying purposes.” He does not disclose the LTTE’s lobbing firms and no one appears to be aware of the existence of such “most influential” groups.
Government paralyses the Northern Provincial Council
Be that as it may be, the government could have saved these huge funds had it mended fences with the Chief Minister of Northern Province Council (NPC). Had Mahinda Rajapaksa would have acceded to two of his basic demands viz (1) To remove the military Governor and replace him with a civilian who could be a Sinhalese. (2) To remove the Chief Secretary whose allegiance is with the Governor and not the elected Chief Minister? It is said that she enjoys the backing of a powerful cabinet Minister. In fact it is alleged she owes her appointment to the very same Minister. Apparently, Lalith Weeratunga is trotting out lame excuses for not acceding to the requests of the Chief Minister.
The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa repealed the 17th Amendment and introduce the draconian 18th Amendment virtually overnight. It turfed out the Chief Justice through a process that lasted less than two weeks and finding her guilty by a Kangaroo court.
Presently, a cold war is raging between the Chief Minister and the Council on one side and the Governor and the Chief Secretary on the other side. We now have a dysfunctional Council wasting public funds. The Chief Minister and Council elected by popular vote have become irrelevant. Resolutions passed at the Council meetings remain in limbo.
The most sensible and cost effective way of winning the support of the international community is to implement UNHCR resolution(s) fully and in good faith. Total rejection invites retaliatory attacks by the same international community. In the mean time –
Call for action against Sri Lanka
(1) The European Union has passed a strong and comprehensive resolution, inter alia, supporting the right of self-determination of the Thamil-speaking people, up to and including secession, according to their wishes, while safeguarding the rights of all minorities throughout Sri Lanka.
(2) The US Senate has adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka for the attention of its Foreign Relations Committee. It was a cross-party resolution moved by five influential Senators, among other matters, calling upon US President Barrack Obama to “develop a comprehensive policy towards Sri Lanka” and urged an “international investigation into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations…” Though the resolution is non-binding it pressures the executive branch and signals the sentiments of the influential Senators involved and those who back them.
(3) The Australia-based Public Interest Advocacy Center’s report has accused Sri Lankan forces of broad human rights violations in 2008 and 2009. The report said “Although violations were committed by both sides, the evidentiary material indicates that members of the Sri Lankan security forces perpetrated the vast majority of alleged crimes during the investigation period.” The report, called “Island of Impunity,” calls for an internationally mandated investigation into the allegations. It was produced by a five-member panel of experts who examined testimony from witnesses, documentary evidence and other reports that concluded “….. some of the alleged crimes were committed with “such flagrant and reckless disregard for the laws of war which strongly suggests there was intent to commit those crimes.”
(4) The Australian Senate has passed a motion in support of an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. The motion also asked the Australian government to support the United States in its call for the “international community to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to evaluate reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka.
(5) The Second Session of the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lank held in Bremen, Germany and the panel of eleven judges unanimously found Sri Lanka guilty of the crime of genocide against the Eelam Thamil people, and that this crime continues today. The Tribunal specified that the victims are in this case the Eelam Tamils as a national group.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has no stomach for genuine reconciliation
The million dollar question is what happens despite optimism displayed by GoSL the US resolution is passed by a majority of members of the UNHRC? GoSL is in a defiant mood. President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks about an international conspiracy against his government. He has even said that some countries are gunning for a change of regime. He has no plans to win over the Thamil community by allowing them autonomy to manage their own affairs. It will prove the most sensible move that will cut the support base of Thamil separatism. Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and TNA leader R. Sampanthan are moderates not extremists asking for the division of the country. After the war ended in 2009 Mahinda Rajapaksa should have resettled and rehabilitated the victims of war speedily and made them feel the government truly cares for them. He should have taken steps to provide meaningful relief to the 89,000 war widows. But, he did nothing to alleviate the trials and tribulations of the IDPs. He is treating the Thamil people as a conquered race who have no choice but to accept Sinhala hegemony.
The Thamils firmly believe in the self evident truth that the tears shed by people subject to oppression which they suffer (from the ruler) become a file to waste away his wealth! The country of the ruler will daily falls to ruin who does not daily examine into and punish crimes.
Judging from the stand of the GoSL that no war crimes were committed and accusations brought against it are dubious and a conspiracy, it will not agree to hold the War Crimes Inquiry (WCI) inside Sri Lanka. It has to be out side of Sri Lanka.
Individual Countries may investigate war crimes
Since Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Statute the findings of the WCI cannot be taken to the ICC for prosecution of those found guilty. Such prosecution will require a Security Council referral. It is likely that both Russia and China will veto any resolution to prosecute Sri Lanka.
However, individual countries may investigate and prosecute alleged culprits over whom they have jurisdiction, such as those with dual-nationality. In addition, a number of countries apply universal jurisdiction in respect of certain crimes, such as war crimes, allowing them to prosecute individuals irrespective of where the crime was committed, the nationality of the culprits and the nationality of the victims.
In this scenario, US and it allies might decide initially to impose travel and other economic sanctions against Sri Lanka. Whatever may be the case, the noose will slowly but surely tighten around the necks of the Sri Lanka Military hierarchy after March, 2014.