30 September, 2020

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The Importance Of A Balanced And Principled Foreign Policy

By Jayantha Dhanapala, Danesh Casie Chetty and Tissa Jayatilaka – On behalf of Friday Forum

Jayantha Dhanapala

The unflattering publicity Sri Lanka has received internationally in the lead up to and after the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in March 2013, and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting in London in April, is indicative of a significant failure of the Sri Lanka Government to exploit the opportunities of peace and reconciliation opened up by the end of the conflict. This failure is exacerbated by the deficiencies of its current foreign policy. Direction, depth, consistency and coherence are conspicuously absent in a series of ad-hoc decisions implemented by a staff riddled with mediocre political appointees at all levels.

In the globalized multi-polar world we now live in, we are called upon to interact pragmatically with other states, international organizations and non-state actors. In order to maximize the benefits of such an interaction, we do need to pursue a foreign policy that is balanced, principled and based on enlightened self interest.

It was, by and large, such a balanced, pragmatic and sagacious foreign policy that enabled Sri Lanka in the first three decades of post- Independence history, to exert an influence in the international arena disproportionate to her size despite a pro-Western tilt in the early stages and other inadequacies.

The environment with regard to foreign policy formulation and implementation changed dramatically during the 1980s largely on account of the long, festering and brutalizing conflict between the state and the separatist terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the consequent deterioration of our foreign policy mechanisms into a defensive mode. Four years after the military victory of the Government over the LTTE we remain in that defensive mode failing to take advantage of the vast opportunities of peace and reconciliation accompanied by an intelligently conceived foreign policy conducted professionally.

Sri Lanka is scheduled to host the Commonwealth Summit in November. Canada’s Prime Minister is on record that he will not attend. The Canadian Government attempted to persuade the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) that met in London in April to evaluate the Sri Lanka Government’s human rights record on account of alleged transgressions of the Latimer House rules. Although diplomatic deals appear for the moment to have helped ward off an embarrassing change of CHOGM venue, the ultimate decision in this regard rests with the Commonwealth Heads of Government. November is some distance away and many developments are possible especially with domestic developments in Sri Lanka focusing on a fresh debate over the 13th Amendment, campaigns against minorities, suppression of dissent with lethal violence and a deteriorating law and order situation. At the same time we must beware of window-dressing before the Summit.

In light of these developments it is pertinent to review our official foreign policy. Clause 15 of the Directive Principles of our Constitution states:

“The State shall promote international peace, security and co-operation and the establishment of a just and equitable international and social order, and shall endeavour to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in dealings among nations.”

The political guidance of the Government in office is provided by the Manifesto of President Mahinda Rajapaksa , the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ which states:-

“I will follow a Non- Aligned, free and progressive foreign policy. Priority will be given in the political, defence, economic, trade and cultural spheres to the cordial and friendly relationships that we already have with countries in the Asian region including India, Japan, China and Pakistan. It is my intention to strongly implement international treaties, declarations on anti- corruption (sic). This will enable us to act under international law against those found guilty of corruption when engaging in trade with foreign countries or foreign institutions.”

Both constitutional directives and the political philosophy of the incumbent Government highlight respect for international law and treaties. In other words the rule of law must apply within the country and respect for international treaties, conventions and agreements observed scrupulously.

Being a responsible member of the international community, Sri Lanka has both rights and obligations. Among the latter are the implementation of the core conventions on international human rights instruments in times of peace and war to which Sri Lanka has subscribed. International Humanitarian Law has also been applicable during almost three decades of civil conflict and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities. This is a modification of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states. Sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries are basic principles found in the Charter of the United Nations.  As Paul Sieghart has stated – “Today, for the first time in history, how a sovereign state treats its own citizens is no longer a matter for its own exclusive determination, but a matter of legitimate concern for all other states, and for their inhabitants.” Acceding to international treaties, covenants, conventions and protocols enhances the sovereignty and human security of the people of a country whilst voluntarily diminishing the sovereignty of a state.

Our national interests are ultimately the interests of our people which we pursue in the international arena to their benefit. Our trade relations, the sources of our economic aid and tourism, our cultural relations, historical and religious ties and relations, countries providing foreign employment to our nationals and, most importantly, our South Asian neighbours, especially India, form the community with which we must nurture strong friendships for mutual benefit. Focusing on hitherto neglected areas of our international relations such as Africa and Latin America must not be driven by a short-term desire to secure votes in the Human Rights Council but by long-term benefits in the national interest.

A lasting solution to the international criticisms of Sri Lanka’s human rights record lies ultimately within Sri Lanka and the evolution of a political solution to our ethnic problem. So long as we fail to seek and implement such a politically acceptable solution, we will remain vulnerable to attacks and hostile resolutions multilaterally while bilaterally we may risk economic sanctions. There is a limit to what foreign policy and professional diplomacy can do to counter this fallout and therefore we must formulate domestic policies that ensure ethnic harmony and respect for the human rights of all our citizens. Western democracies as well as other countries are increasingly basing their foreign policies on human rights criteria. Respect for the practice of human rights and upholding the rule of law within the country will remain important considerations for western countries as well as for India.

The international community came to our assistance when we were faced with insurgencies in 1971 and again in 1989.  Our first line of defence then was – and should now remain – our foreign policy. While our armed forces and police were being trained abroad and strengthened to deal with the domestic upheavals, our diplomats were able to defeat or dilute resolutions at the UN in Geneva and at the European Parliament in Strasbourg because a democratically elected Government was being attacked by a terrorist group. It was our foreign policy that enabled Sri Lanka to engage the LTTE in peace negotiations while ensuring that they were proscribed as a terrorist organization, interdicting their arms supplies and funding.  Through active membership of the Non-Aligned Movement we maintained a balanced relationship between the US and the USSR during the Cold War. More recently we have endeavoured to balance our friendships with China and India. It must be borne in mind that however close our relations with China may be, we lie within India’s security perimeter and must not allow any misperceptions to arise and linger.

It is imperative that our foreign policy should be bi-partisan. Sri Lanka’s political leaders should avoid being stampeded into hasty decisions and instead base their policies and decisions ultimately on our national interest. Thus policy formulation and decision-making should take place after widespread civil society consultation and careful scrutiny of long term implications of all relevant issues involved so as not to alienate our international partners. Institutions must be established that will provide the state with impartial and well-considered advice in which experts, stake-holders and professionals evaluate the probable consequences of a policy or decision prior to action. We must avoid at all cost the verbal abuse of international leaders and respected international organizations. Our recent predisposition to precipitate action in place of measured responses of all institutions stems, inter alia, from a lack of inter-ministerial co-ordination.  That the Central Bank has involved itself in hiring a public relations firm to improve our image in the USA is a telling example of this ill considered rush to action.

Two years ago the Lessons Learned & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), submitted its report to the President and an Action Plan was announced. The 2012 and 2013 Resolutions in the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva called for the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC. If allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights are investigated impartially and the violators punished as recommended by the LLRC, Sri Lankan state can put an end to allegations of impunity directed against it. That achievement can then be successfully projected abroad through a restructured foreign policy establishment staffed by trained and experienced career diplomats. This resuscitated foreign policy , whilst enabling a return to the prominent role we played in the United Nations, NAM and other international and regional forums must, include a return to traditional areas of diplomacy such as our contribution to international forums on development, trade, climate change, health, labour especially migration, international law, disarmament and humanitarian affairs. Our failure to accomplish these goals through a return to a balanced and pragmatic foreign policy will result in the conflict with the LTTE, four years after the Government’s military victory, proving to be as much a millstone around the neck of our foreign policy as when the conflict raged for three decades.

The formulation and implementation of the foreign policy  of independent nations, especially those of the Global South who have suffered the experience of colonialism, cannot be outsourced to public relations firms or lobbyists of the Industrialized North however slick and well connected they may be. National liberation struggles such as those witnessed in India and South Africa were not won by foreign mercenaries but by brave fighters from those countries dedicated to freedom and independence.

The urgent challenge before us today is the preservation, consolidation and development of democratic freedoms and the unity and independence of Sri Lanka reinforced by a well conceived foreign policy based on our long term national interests and international responsibilities. Such a foreign policy must be implemented by trained and disciplined professionals. The path ahead of us is clear. What is required is the necessary political will to set us on this path to national regeneration and a dynamic role in international affairs.

Jayantha Dhanapala                                    Danesh Casie Chetty                      Tissa Jayatilaka

On behalf of Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens

Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Mr. Danesh Casie Chetty , Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare,  Professor Savitri Goonesekere,  Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Mr. Faiz-ur.Rahman, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Ms. Anne Abayasekara, Professor Camena Gunaratne,  Ms. Damaris Wickremesekera, Professor Ranjini Obeyesekere, Dr. A. C. Visvalingam,  ,  Mr. J.C. Weliamuna, Ms. Sithie Tiruchelvam,   Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Mr. Prashan De Visser ,  Dr. G. Usvatte-Arrachchi, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    You can correct your wording like here.

    state terrorism and the separatist terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the consequent deterioration of our foreign policy

    • 0
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      This is a good piece, but a pipe dream in the current context Sri Lanka political context!
      This essay is way over the heads of the uneducated, corrupt, greedy and criminal Rajapassa brothers and Sons who are only interested in looting Lanka and perpetuating a family military dictatorship. Concepts of ethics, civic responsibility, human rights get in the way of the DEEP STATE or “state within a state” – a military dictatorship with a facade of democracy – that Gotabaya Rajapassa is constructing to secure family rule..
      In the context Friday Forum should be working with to EDUCATE THE VOTERS the OPPOSITION – to get rid of Ranil Wickramasinghe who will never will a Presidential election in Lanka. Also, please translate and publish in the Sinhala Language because it is the population that votes for Rajapassa that needs to be POLITICALLY EDUCATED to vote for decent people..

    • 0
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      Simply put our foreign policy is foreign to our government.

  • 0
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    Sinhala Buddha’s never going to change, only way they must be controlled like insects. Sinhala Buddha’s never going to use brain and never will. we Tamils must unite and lead ourselves just like glorious years before 1948.

    • 0
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      j.muthu

      “Sinhala Buddha’s never going to use brain and never will.”

      Just like their Tamil brethren.

      “Tamils must unite and lead ourselves just like glorious years before 1948”

      Romantic past, they united to expatriate the hard working up country Tamils an the betrayal of Muslims, another minority just after the 1915 riots.

      Keep up your good work.

  • 0
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    In my opinion, Jayantha Dhanapala is one who became some one in the world with the Sri Lankan free education. Now, he goes against the Sri Lankan majority and work for the [Edited out].

    Other wise, what is all these about 13th amendment , LLRC, human rights blah, blah… ?

    Any thing else ?

    • 0
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      What he is pointing out is that you are not a patriot just because you state you are.

    • 0
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      Jim Nutty:
      Your statement that Jayantha Dhanapala was a beneficiary of free education is typical of the ill-informed rubbish that you spout constantly. In case you didn’t know JD’s alma mater, Trinity, has ALWAYS levied fees.
      But checking facts before you indulge in your periodic bouts of writing diarrhea would be totally out of character for someone like you anyway.

    • 0
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      Bollocks.

      Dhanapala is a past pupil of Trinity in Kandy, an elitist private (fee paying) boarding school. He did attend the University of Ceylon, but in a different era, when UC was one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the Commonwealth Realms. By no means is Dhanapala a product of the brand of ‘free education’ of the post-56 era. To be more precise, Dhanapala is not even a product of the Kannangara reform of free education (which, in its original form, took English education to the village schools).

    • 0
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      Jim Nutty
      Gay Bensen Burner doesn’t like it either?

  • 0
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    What are you, a Government in waiting ? Your pontificating is good for the drawing rooms of Colombo 7, get involved if you are really interested in making a difference.

    Form a political alternative and give the voter an option.

    The time for mere rhetoric is long over…the Country is burning !

    • 0
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      Agree with you.

    • 0
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      Don Quixote:
      Dead right! Most of these babblers will keep babbling no matter what. They’ve got keyboards at their disposal, time to indulge themselves and, MOST IMPORTANT, are not likely EVER to be white-vanned by the Rajapassa regime because they play a very real part in its continuing existence!

  • 0
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    [Edited out]
    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.
    For more detail see our Comment policy
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 0
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    Foreign Policy must be friendly first. Back stabbing by Sri Lanka against India will make more problems than peace in Sri Lanka.

    UNP’s pro-American policy created more troubles to Sri Lanka. In that case Mahinda Rajapakse is better than UNP and its Tamil allies(including LTTE).

  • 0
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    “The Importance Of A Balanced And Principled Foreign Policy”

    It’s fine to have a principled foreign policy.

    But, the important ingredient missing from the regimes of Sri Lanka since independence is:

    Fairness and justice to all including Tamils, Muslims, poor and others.

    Every writer is writing as if he or she is feeling one part of the proverbial elephant, missing the point that it must have a heart, which is inside, and these blind analysts cannot feel!

    Thiru

  • 0
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    Dear members of the Friday Forum,

    Sri Lanka wears two masks: One resembling “Yaksha” for internal affairs and other resembling “Andare” for international affairs. Both do not conform to the constitutional provisions nor they follow the national guidelines in Mahinda Chinthanaya. “Yakshas” were in the country when Vijaya landed here and “Andare” died in Hambantota on his way home in Tangalle.

    • 0
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      More random thoughts:

      According to late Arisen Ahubudu, Yakshas were metal workers or industrialists and “Nagas” were people who worked with water or farmers. In Weliweriya was it a clash between Yakshas and Nagas?

      According to chronicles, Andare’s surname “Sadda Vidda Patabendigei Wicramasinghe Rajapaksha”. What a coincidence “Wickremasinghe Rajapaksha” !!!!

  • 0
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    Uncle Jayatha, what you say is critically important. However, balance, moderation, circumspection, diplomacy seem very unfashionable in these days of street-smart politics.

  • 0
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    Lying by Sri Lankan High Commissioner 2:

    ”Sri Lanka achieved peace in the country under the leadership of HE President Mahinda Rajapaksa” 7 August 2013 – http://www.srilankahighcommission.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=95

  • 0
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    Sri Lanka should have a competition for the ambassador best at lying: ”WELL ON THE ROAD TO RECONCILIATION – DR CHRIS NONIS TELLS BBC WORLD NEWS” 3 June 2013, http://www.srilankahighcommission.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=95

  • 0
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    Lying by Sri Lankan representative 3:

    SLready to share its experience as best practices on humanitarian effectiveness with other countries, 21 July 2013, http://www.lankamission.org/content/view/2995/1/

  • 0
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    Very well written. There is no balanced & principled foreign policy. Sri Lanka may have to face the same fate of Libya, Pakistan, Iran, etc. The MR’s foreign policy itself proved that Sri Lanka is a failed State. Now there are rumours or reported news item that Lashkar-e-Taiba is establishing an organization in Jaffna under a different name, with the view to stage attacks either in Jaffna or Tamil Nadu. Is it to take revenge for the attack on Buddha Gaya. There is suspicion over cross-border terrorism is been encouraged. If MR thinks he is smart in handling the Kachchativu issue, I am afraid he will have to bow down to India openly because of his clumsy handling and that will be his immediate downfall.

  • 0
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    Balanced Principled Foreign policy = ‘run with the fox and hunt with the hound’ this is where the rot sets in and this no doubt is a prince of rotters who advocates such rubbish.

    I would bet he stands with the USA administration on Manning and Snowden and Assange and Wiki Leaks.

    Another Dayan, only this one is more technical than theoretical.

    We need people who have the guts to call a spade a spade not a spoon and this is not one of them.

    Nice bunch of men and women fridays. I wonder who their Robinson is and what he is up to.

    • 0
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      crazyoldmansl:
      Never thought I’d agree with you but I suppose the guy was right when he said, “Never say’never!'”

  • 0
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    An astute analysis but will fall on deaf years.
    Needless to say, as usual the Daily Noose editorial cannot stomach the facts and attacks writer/forum without addressing the issues at hand.
    The usual old story from the Daily Noose

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