By Tamara Kunanayakam –
“ ’Oh, but Grandmother! What big teeth you have!’
‘The better to eat you with!’ ”
And with that, the wolf lunged at Little Red-Cap, devouring her whole.”
“The truth, the harsh truth” (“La vérité, l’âpre vérité”)
Georges Jacques Danton
Who’s behind Navi Pillay?
Given the reassuring and conciliatory noises that had emerged from the foreign policy establishment in recent months, including statements that it had no intention of criticising Navi Pillay countering the then Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka in Geneva,1 it is likely that the establishment was rudely awoken from its deep coma by the vehemence of the High Commissioner’s report and the almost simultaneous appearance of an equally vehement US draft resolution to be tabled at the Human Rights Council a few weeks from now!
Apparently, Washington and some of its European allies had succeeded in putting the establishment into a deep state of unconsciousness by trotting out assurances and reassurances that there will be no resolution this time because they were so pleased with the progress that had been made so far. And yet, it was self-evident that the Council will be obliged to take some sort of action, good or bad, on a report it had asked the High Commissioner to submit for its consideration at its 22nd Session, thus also formally placing Sri Lanka on its agenda.
The latest rabbit out of Navi Pillay’s hat!
The Government was requested by the Council to present a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps it has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations, and to address alleged violations of international law. The Office of the High Commissioner was mandated to report on the advice and technical assistance the Office, along with relevant special procedures mechanisms, were encouraged to provide to implement these steps, requiring, however, that such advice and assistance be extended “in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government.”
Nevertheless, grossly exceeding the technical character of its mandate, the Office has hatched a political report resembling that of a monitoring mechanism than a technical report, which describes the needs determined by the Government and the advice and technical assistance that the Office can offer in this regard. The Report contains an arbitrary evaluation of the ground situation, picking holes in the LLRC’s work, presenting allegations as facts, making a priori judgements on what the Government has or has not done, and unilaterally defining priority areas for action by the Government.
Having leap-frogged from the role of technical assistance provider to political authority, in violation of the mandate given to her Office and borrowing much of her recommendations from the Darusman Report, the High Commissioner virtually dictates the steps the Government must take!
The sting in the Report, however, is in its last paragraph, in a recommendation, this time addressed to the Council, which is nothing else but a reproduction of Recommendation 1 (B) of the Darusman Panel.
Reflecting the notorious partiality and selectivity of the Office and its persistence in playing the role of catalyst, a role expressly forbidden it by the Council, she calls for “an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, which could also monitor any domestic accountability process.” She encourages the Council to do so, invoking the views of pressure groups she refers to as “many stakeholders in Sri Lanka, including prominent community leaders” who have reportedly claimed that the attention paid by the Council to “issues of accountability and reconciliation” has “helped to create space for debate, and catalysed positive steps forward.”
Navi Pillay was clearly inspired by Darusman! She begins and ends with Darusman, on the way providing the necessary ammunition and justification to take the Sri Lanka issue one step further, from a technical issue to a political issue to be brought under Item 4 of the Council’s agenda, thus setting the stage for international monitoring, and confirming what I said in an interview to Ayesha Zuhair of the Daily Mirror on 22 April 2012, that the reference to LLRC in the Council resolution was a feint as in military strategy and that the real objective of its authors was to bring into focus accountability and to give legitimacy to the Darusman Report. From there to New York is only a matter of time!
The prominence given to the controversial Darusman “Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” in the second paragraph of the Report is hardly innocent, since Introductions to UN reports are generally devoted to listing the legislative authority upon which they are based. Calculated to serve a pre-determined political goal, the paragraph in question selectively parrots the notorious Darusman allegation that the Panel “found credible allegations of potential serious violations of international law committed by the Government of Sri Lanka and by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”!
Recall the September 2011 session of the Human Rights Council, when we succeeded in galvanizing developing country support to prevent the back-door attempt by our detractors to legitimise the Darusman Report by bringing it into the Council through its then President?
In a caricatural vision of its role, the High Commissioner ties herself up in knots to justify addressing political issues. Hence, the Report proper bases itself on issues identified in a preambular paragraph, a paragraph that has no operational validity and which is unrelated to the specific request made to the Office. The result is a juggling of facts and a priori judgements to serve the political agenda of the prime movers of the resolution, which also happen to be the principal financiers of the High Commissioner’s Office and paymasters of the overwhelming majority of its staff – a fact known to all, but one that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy establishment has chosen to ignore! The Report makes a clumsy effort to re-write history, to demonstrate continuity between the 2009 events and the current situation, so that Sri Lanka falls within the purview of the Council, and to build a case that the Government is unwilling or incapable of protecting its own citizens, a legal prerequisite to invoke the infamous “responsibility to protect” by a nebulous “international community.”
The conclusion drawn from this crude attempt is reflected in the Summary to the Report, which is worth quoting:
“The steps taken to investigate further allegations of serious violations of human rights have also been inconclusive, and lack the independence and impartiality required to inspire confidence. Meanwhile, continuing reports of extrajudicial killings, abductions and enforced disappearance in the past year highlight the urgency of action to combat impunity.”
As I said to Ayesha Zuhair in my interview, the objective of the authors of the March 2012 resolution was to have a damning report at the forthcoming session, one that (a) gives legitimacy to Darusman, this time utilizing the High Commissioner, which is why the resolution was tabled under Item 2 dealing with her annual Report and not under Item 11 on technical assistance; (b) links the past, present and the future; and, (c) demonstrates the bad faith of the Government and the absence of political will to address the issues raised in the resolution. With my privileged access to information within the High Commissioner’s Office, I had early knowledge of this plan for Darusman’s re-entry, but the leaders of our foreign policy establishment dismissed this information, as they did all other information or analysis I provided or suggestions I made.
My observations and analyses are based on my own experience within the UN human rights system since 1989, beginning prior to its metamorphoses from Centre for Human Rights that functioned as Secretariat to a multilateral body to that of a political Office of the High Commissioner that is oftentimes in conflict with the body from which it derives its authority. I have known the UN to issue mission reports written by certain powerful Governments even prior to the mission having taken place! The rest is history!
In a foretaste of things to come, the latest rabbit that Navi Pillay has pulled out of her hat makes no bones about the real intentions of the authors – legitimise Darusman and international intervention; validate the March 2012 Council resolution; isolate Sri Lanka by rebutting the procedural and legal arguments some of us had advanced in March 2012 on the precedent setting nature of the resolution, which had helped galvanise developing country support, reflected in the votes against the US resolution or abstentions; encircle its leadership and set the stage for regime change.
Sri Lanka’s foreign policy establishment: myopia, incompetence, or calculation (or “playing to lose”)?
The myopia of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy establishment with regard to its strategic importance on the grand chessboard of global politics, or – if I’m to give it the benefit of the doubt – its incompetence, or the calculation of certain powerful sectors within who stand to benefit from defeat, has resulted in the creeping isolation of Sri Lanka internationally and the encirclement of its President with a view to ‘regime change,’ or simply put, the removal of an independent and too unpredictable, but still very popular, head of State, who, let’s face it, is the real target. I might be accused of being a conspiracy theorist, but it is not because the man and the dog appear to be physically located on opposite sides, they are not working together to round up the sheep between them!
Why else has the foreign policy establishment trapped itself and the country in circular arguments? Why the eternal defensive plea to our opponents for “time and space”, effectively “pleading guilty” for having defeated terrorism without their aid? Why blame an obscure “diaspora” for interventions engineered by big powers, dumping all Sri Lankans living abroad into a single basket, irrespective of the communities they belong to, including the majority of the Tamil diaspora who do not support terrorism or separatism? Why turn hot then cold on the person of Navi Pillay, without looking behind, at the institution she represents, which is a mere reflection of the international balance of forces in the real world, an instrument of the big and the powerful?
Has our foreign policy establishment posed the question, how Washington’s foreign policy goals are defined, or that of London, Paris, or Ottawa? Does Navi Pillay influence Washington’s decisions, or does Washington influence Navi Pillay’s actions? Does the “diaspora”, or the LTTE and its supporters, influence Washington and its allies, or are they just mere tools in their hands to advance imperialist goals through the establishment of a new international architecture founded on US supremacy and unilateralism rather than on multilateralism, a system based on principles of sovereign equality of States and the right of peoples to self-determination that they conside an anachronism, particularly in the context of a collapsing Western economy, a rising China, and a global balance of power shifting away from its orbit of control? Has Sri Lanka’s foreign policy establishment studied external interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Mali, or in Latin America, and how the interventionists create and utilise internal dissent and make mercenaries out of unscrupulous and unprincipled opponents?
Why is our foreign policy establishment blind to the global ambitions of the US and its allies, ignorant of a field of study called geopolitics, and the branch that deals with geostrategy? Not long ago, I was dismayed to hear the most senior civil servant in External Affairs tell me that Sri Lanka has no strategic importance!
Why doesn’t the foreign policy establishment confront head on the global challenges of our times of which Sri Lanka, like many other developing countries, is but a victim, joining forces with the like-minded and restoring its historic role as promoter of the Non-Aligned Movement, which played a vital role in building genuine multilateralism, the only system that can guarantee sovereign equality between the big and the small, the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor, the developed and the developing, the North and the South? Are we moving away from the Mahinda Chintana?
Our foreign policy establishment has grossly underestimated the instruments and means that the multilateral system places at our disposal to ensure respect for sovereignty, while overestimating the role of the person, Navi Pillay. Had there been a modicum of understanding of the play of international balance of forces and the importance of strengthening Sri Lanka’s bargaining position internationally, External Affairs would have grasped the sense of my pre-emptive initiative to write to the High Commissioner asking to clarify an internal email that exposed the catalytic role played by her Office in promoting the 2012 resolution against Sri Lanka, raising doubts about its impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, in violation of the mandate given to it by the General Assembly. In lieu of seizing this golden opportunity, the Ministry of External Affairs publicly distanced itself from the statement of Sri Lanka’s own Permanent Representative, reassuring Navi Pillay that it had no intention of levelling accusations at her,2 surrendering an invaluable bargaining tool. The foreign policy establishment has also dropped like a hot potato our initiative to take the lead on a popular resolution to ensure transparency of the Office of the High Commissioner and render it accountable to the multilateral organ from which it derives its authority, a resolution that would be carried with an overwhelming majority and vastly strengthen our credibility and bargaining power. But then, the West is viciously opposed to any initiative that would weaken their hold over the institution, and undermining it is not part of the strategy of compromise chosen by our foreign policy establishment. Under the circumstances, the recent criticism of Navi Pillay by the Ministry’s Acting Secretary Kshenuka Seneviratne for her statements on Sri Lanka rings hollow, and hypocritical, and carries little weight, disarmed as we are and swinging as we do from an exceedingly conciliatory attitude to an apparent outright hostility, devoid of reasoning and vision.
Why does the foreign policy establishment place endless trust in our detractors, while betraying our natural friends and allies in the international community, impeding the advancement of issues promoted by the Non-Aligned Movement, blindly implementing illegal unilateral US sanctions against countries that have stood by us, reneging on principles for ephemeral and questionable achievements by a deafening silence, tacitly supporting external interventions in Syria, Iran, DPRK and Palestine, and in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq under governments targeted for “regime change” by the very same powers which stood ready to intervene militarily to rescue Prabakharan and his cohorts, which haven’t forgiven Sri Lanka for its singlehanded victory over terrorism, and which have their eyes riveted on us? And, yet, that very same foreign policy establishment, unashamedly, goes to developing countries, which hold a majority in the Council, begging for their votes! No wonder Sri Lanka has achieved notoriety in Geneva as an unreliable and opportunistic ally, which seeks contact with developing country representatives only when a vote is needed!
Anyone who has had to negotiate knows that if anything is to be achieved, it must be done from a position of strength. Why then do we weaken our bargaining position at the most crucial times by going on bended knees to our enemies for help, begging for more money, more IMF loans, GSP +, arguing that our economic survival depends on their benevolence, succumbing to external conditionalities and compromising the very principles for which our parents and grandparents fought? Why does the foreign policy establishment choose crucial moments of battle to divide its forces pitting career diplomats against political appointees, Heads of Missions against their Deputies, trade representatives against foreign policy representatives, home-based staff against locally recruited staff, and so on, endlessly?
Why in the face of such hostility is the foreign policy establishment lowering the country’s defences, weakening our positions, strengthening theirs, allowing ourselves to be isolated, then encircled and exposed to an external onslaught of which, ultimately, the ordinary people will be victims?
Is our foreign policy establishment afflicted with myopia, or is it incompetence, or the greed of certain sectors of the establishment vying for a share in the spoils to be had from an opportunistic alliance with the rich and powerful?
Sri Lanka, in the eye of a storm?
On the eve of the Council’s 22nd Session, Sri Lanka appears in a grim light, in Grimms’ Little Red Riding Hood scenario, with objective and subjective conditions against it. Its bargaining power in tatters, it will be literally thrown to the wolves, or THE Wolf!
The Council will have before it, at least two official documents: the High Commissioner’s devastating Report and another on its Universal Periodic Review. There is also a possibility that the phantom of Darusman will make its re-appearance in the form of some reference to the Charles Petrie Report on the UN’s internal review on UN actions in Sri Lanka during the last stages of the war, a Darusman recommendation, which does not reflect Sri Lanka in a positive light.
Sri Lanka is not a member of the Council and has no voting power. It will have to confront a powerful block of countries with the US, still a voting member, in the lead and Poland presiding the Council.
If the foreign policy establishment decides to take on its opponents, head on – which is highly unlikely knowing its penchant for compromising on principles with its enemies, it will have difficulties finding a proxy to speak on its behalf, given that Cuba is no longer a member of the Council. Scarce are the countries with the courage to stick their necks out for principles, and gifted with that noble sense of solidarity toward fellow-human beings. Sri Lanka will also have lost Russia and China, who are out of the Council this year. It is also likely that, since March 2012, Sri Lanka will have lost a few of its Non-Aligned friends, which have been dismayed by attempts of the foreign policy establishment to sabotage issues close to their heart, issues that reflect continuation of the de-colonisation debate and the defence of multilateralism.
Unless we can demonstrate that keeping Sri Lanka on the agenda can set a dangerous precedent negatively affecting the sovereignty and independence of other countries and multilateralism as a whole, and unless in the few days and weeks ahead we can regain the confidence of the many friends and allies we lost over the past three years, since the 2009 Special Session, few developing countries will stick their necks out to defend Sri Lanka against a US-led initiative.
We have put ourselves in a position of weakness and the stage is set for a consensus resolution, in which Sri Lanka is against Sri Lanka!
Our country and people need a vision to restore its historical role, a long-term strategy that is in their interest, a correct analysis of the international situation, geopolitics and geostrategy, consistency and convincing arguments, and the means to defend its millenary values. Today, we may be a step closer to regime change, but the country is not disarmed, gifted as it is with women and men of quality, patriots, capable of confronting this renewed threat to its sovereignty, unprecendented in its gravity since independence was won in 1948!