By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
A runaway national bestseller, ‘The Ugly American’ was first published in 1958 by two American authors, Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer. It was a slashing exposé of American arrogance, incompetence, and corruption in Southeast Asia. The multi-million copy bestseller coined the phrase for American foreign policy blunders and the conduct of its arrogant diplomatic officers. The New York Times reviewed the book thus; “Devastating. Authentic, infuriating, and explosively candid, this is the daring, classic bestseller that unmasked the blundering hypocrisy of some of our top-level diplomats. It exposes the opportunism, incompetence, and cynical deceit that have become embedded in the fabric of our public relations, not only in Asia but all over the world.”
The task of fostering friendly bilateral relations with other countries despite prevailing conflicts and tensions fall upon respective ambassadors and staff accredited to individual states. In the years gone by, ambassadors, even those representing powerful nations conducted themselves with behavior in keeping with dignity, good taste, and propriety. Few failed to observe diplomatic etiquette and protocol in the execution of their duties. Extreme care was taken to avoid open controversy. Even what was unpalatable was communicated confidentially in an unoffensive manner, akin to a bitter pill with a sugar quoting.
Despite the conclusion of the United Nations Charter in 1945, the second half of the 20th century has seen powerful countries conducting themselves with total disregard for the fundamental principles of international law. Justifying their actions based on geopolitics and realpolitik, they often act with impunity and little or no regard for the sovereignty of smaller and less powerful nations in violation of Purposes and Principles as defined in the UN Charter. Regrettably, the impunity with which such countries conduct their foreign relations has empowered and encouraged many of their ambassadors / high commissioners (Heads of Mission) to execute their duties in a manner contrary to all norms of diplomatic practice and niceties.
Sri Lanka has had its share of foreign envoys who have conducted themselves in a vice-regal manner. Some notable exceptions were former US Ambassadors Chris van Hollen (1972/76), Donald Toussaint (1980/82), James Spain (1985/89) and Peter Burleigh (1996 /97) besides former Indian High Commissioners Shivshankar Menon (1997/2000) and Gopalkrishna Gandhi (2000). According to a former senior diplomat, their conduct and the manner in which they had executed their duties without being overbearing and sans boorish arrogance displayed by some others had endeared them to many a local.
Jaffna based Tamil daily, ‘Kaalaikkathir,’ on June 12, 2018, citing “very very trustworthy circles” broke the news of a 90-minute farewell call paid by outgoing US Ambassador to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR). It was reported, the envoy had expressed opposition in ‘clear, unambiguous and definite’ terms of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s (GR) acceptability to western nations including the USA as a Presidential candidate in Sri Lanka.
The response from the US Embassy in Colombo; “The Ambassador meets routinely with political leaders, civil society, and community leaders. The Ambassador honors the confidence of private meetings and does not discuss the contents of such meetings publicly,” was non-committal.
The editor of Kaalaikkathir is known to have close contacts with Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR). As the age-old adage says, ‘there is no smoke without fire.’ It is not uncommon for contentious issues to be discreetly leaked to the press in situations when a direct press release or statement is considered inappropriate.
It must be stated at the outset this writer is no political supporter of MR, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) or any other of the Rajapaksa clan. That said, this is not about GR or his credentials/suitability for the Sri Lankan Presidency. Being a dual citizen, it is GR’s constitutional right to contest the Presidency provided he revokes his US citizenship. It is also the constitutional right of all adult citizens in this country to decide if GR should ascend to the Presidency. The USA, currently embroiled in an investigation of Russian involvement in the last American Presidential election should appreciate more than any other nation of the necessity to refrain from meddling in this country’s elections, Presidential or otherwise.
Despite the perceived unsuitability of GR in the eyes of some western nations, NGOs and some locals, GR remains a hero in the eyes of a substantial number of citizens, especially the ordinary rural folk. Allegations against GR on non-military matters including abductions and extrajudicial killings is a matter for the courts, and it is up to the state to prosecute him if sufficient material is available. However, few in this country will endorse any attempt to prosecute him for war crimes stemming from the contentions UNHRC 30/1 Resolution.
From a realistic point of view, there is no case for prosecuting GR for war crimes when the likes of Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara were permitted to retire and die in peace beside George W Bush, Dick Cherney, and Donald Rumsfeld being allowed to lead peaceful lives in retirement. Notwithstanding their lead roles in events in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, there was and is no call nor will there be any support for their prosecution for war crimes, from the American populace. To most Americans, they are heroes.
Sri Lanka too has its own heroes. Following is a narration by cricketing great (another hero) as reported by veteran journalist Shamindra Ferdinando of the Daily Island. The incident had taken place a few days after Sangakkara’s return from the ill-fated tour to Pakistan in 2009 when the team came under attack by terrorists in Lahore.
“A week after our arrival in Colombo, from Pakistan, I was driving about town and was stopped at a checkpoint. A soldier politely inquired as to my health after the attack. I said I was fine and added that what they as soldiers experience every day we only experienced for a few minutes but managed to grab all the news headlines. That soldier looked me in the eye and replied: ‘It is OK if I die because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country.’ I was taken aback. How can this man value his life less than mine? His sincerity was overwhelming. I felt humbled.
For them, avoiding bullets, shells, mines, and grenades, was imperative for survival. This was an experience that I could not relate to. I had great sympathy and compassion for them but had no real experience with which I could draw parallels. That was until we toured Pakistan in 2009.”
That soldier was but one of the thousands of this nation’s unsung heroes. The role played by GR as Secretary Defense in the formation of a fighting force with such courageous and selfless individuals where so many of his predecessors failed, undoubtedly makes GR too, a hero.
It must be stated the great betrayal of these heroes was the co-sponsorship of the Geneva UNHRC Resolution by the former Foreign Minister and the deafening silence of the President and Prime Minister without taking advantage of the Naseby revelations and seeking a review of the resolution, not forgetting the baton charging of some of the wounded war heroes demanding pension payments.
USA took the world by surprise last week with the announcement of its withdrawal from UNHRC. Announcing its withdrawal, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, together with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the media; “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments. We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”
Following the US announcement, the cabinet spokesman made an entirely unwarranted and inappropriate statement; “The withdrawal will significantly reduce the pressure mounted on Sri Lanka regarding the resolutions we co-sponsored and those that were agreed upon by the previous governments, as the US was the country which was pushing for the implementation.” Meanwhile, a media release from the US Embassy in Colombo stated among other things; “Ambassador Keshap met with senior Sri Lankan officials to convey the assurance of the United States Government that we will remain fully engaged with the Sri Lankan Government to help it meet its continuing and standing commitments to the international community to advance the cause of reconciliation and lasting peace for all Sri Lankans.”
America, of all nations, based on its own track record is the least suited to speak of Human Rights, may it be in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.
Reproduced herewith is a document published by Human Rights First, US-based independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals. The document dated February 14, 2018 deals exclusively with the controversial US military prison Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp (GTMO) on the coast of Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
GTMO was set up outside the USA during the war on terror campaign by the George W Bush presidency as the administration considered the facility would then be outside US legal jurisdiction and detainees were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Convention. However, the US Supreme Court, in June 2006 ruled that detainees were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.
Since 2002, 780 detainees have been incarcerated at GTMO including 17 to 22 minors under the age of 18 years, possibly a violation of international law. Nine men have died in the prison camp, six of which has been termed as ‘suicides’ by the Department of Defense (DoD). Nationals from over 50 countries have been interned in the facility, the highest numbers being from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
A 2006 report prepared by the Center for Policy and Research at Seton Hall University Law School reviewed DoD data in 2005 and “established that over 80% of the prisoners were captured not by Americans on the battlefield but by Pakistanis and Afghans, often in exchange for bounty payments.” Suffice to state, none of these detainees were flown to GTMO after following extradition procedures in their home countries but kidnapped and flown to GTMO in US military transporters. Three British Muslim prisoners were repatriated to the United Kingdom in March 2004 and were immediately released without charge. They have alleged ongoing torture, sexual degradation, forced drugging and religious persecution at GTMO. A former aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson in 2010 stated in an affidavit, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had been aware, most detainees initially sent to GTMO were innocent but had to be detained for political expediency.
President Barak Obama who pledged to close down GTMO during his first Presidential campaign left office after eight years having failed to make good his election undertaking.
The remaining 40 detainees at present (one has been transferred in May 2018) have all spent over 10 years under detention with neither prosecution or release in sight. President Donald Trump, in January 2018, signed an executive order to keep the prison camp open indefinitely.
If GTMO does not make a mockery of human rights, what does?
According to Ambassador Nikki Haley, “For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”
Does it not apply as much to the USA?