By Dayan Jayatilleka –
If (and only if) the ‘leaked’ draft of the US-UK resolution, scooped by the website Colombo Telegraph, is accurate, it represents both a trap and a last best chance for Sri Lanka. The purported draft does not call for an INTENATIONAL independent inquiry. It calls for an independent and credible inquiry. More accurately it calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to institute such an inquiry. If the Government fails to do so, the draft resolution points to the 28th session as the moment when the international inquiry will be triggered.
Thus the Western draft resolution is very smart. It takes a step back in order to take two steps forward. It seeks to occupy the moral high ground, by holding the international inquiry in reserve for the moment while calling for an independent and credible inquiry.
One may speculate as to the reasons for the Western sidestep, but it amounts to a skilful manoeuvre; a flanking move. It is possible that the US-UK has recalibrated so as to bring the Geneva prong of their strategy more in line with a viable political endgame. The inclusion of an explicit reference to the 13th amendment and political reconciliation with the Northern Provincial Council and its Chief Minister may indicate India’s moderating hand behind the scenes, in exchange for the inclusion of references to devolution, or it could be the West’s attempt to secure Japan’s, India’s and South Africa’s support in the Council by adopting this more graduated escalatory approach rather than go in for a ‘Big Bang’ as the Diaspora and civil society activists called for. The references to issues of governance, human rights and coercion of religious and ethnic minorities also indicates an astute ‘thickening’ of the West’s resolution and therefore a broadening of its appeal internationally as well as within Sri Lanka, rather than a ‘ thin’ uni-dimensional, single issue focus of an international inquiry into war crimes allegations.
The draft resolution puts the ball squarely in the moral court of the Sri Lankan government. The threat to Sri Lanka does not reside so much in the text of the draft resolution itself but rather in the possible— or probable— ‘rejectionist’ response of the Sri Lankan government.
If the Sri Lankan government rejects the draft out of hand, it will fall into the trap set for this country. This draft, which holds back the term international, is capable of getting quite a few votes more than a resolution which would have called for an international inquiry. If the Sri Lankan government rejects this draft which seems reasonable and moderate, certainly on the face of it; if the Sri Lankan government representatives nit–pick and stonewall, then there will be far fewer votes for Sri Lanka than there would otherwise be.
Many states occupying the middle ground, which might have had misgivings about an intrusive international inquiry, will have very little problem in voting for this draft.
If the Sri Lankan side rejects it frontally, then the margin of victory for the US-UK will be greater and the margin of defeat for the Sri Lankan side much wider, than it otherwise would have been.
How then should Sri Lanka respond? The draft takes the moral high ground. Sri Lanka must try at the least to share that moral high ground. The worst thing for Sri Lanka to do would be to relinquish the moral high ground by rejecting the draft in its totality and basing our argument on the concept of the ‘purely domestic’, ‘purely internal’ or ‘purely national’— a concept which has no place in the United Nations or in the global reality of the 21st century.
If one can win the majority of votes one need not negotiate with a text that is critical. However, Sri Lanka has placed itself in such a situation that victory is hardly likely. Thus it is prudent to engage, negotiate, and demonstrate flexibility.
Sri Lanka must try to draw this game by sharing the moral high ground which the Western draft resolution seeks to occupy and monopolize. This can be done by engaging with the text and attempting to influence it. This cannot be done by Sri Lanka alone and must not be attempted by Sri Lanka alone. It is always better to move as part of a broad front.
The current Sri Lankan regime’s notion of self sufficiency verges on isolationism. By stark contrast, even when Sri Lanka had accumulated an overwhelming preponderance of forces at the UN Human Rights Council in May 2009 at the special session, it chose at a certain point of the process, to shift gear, to move to the next level and to interface with the West not as a single sovereign state, but with the support of the Quartet, comprising the then Chairperson of the Non Aligned Movement ( Cuba) , the incoming Chairperson ( Egypt), and Sri Lanka’s two most important neighbours (India AND Pakistan). Thus the profile presented by our negotiating team was ‘Sri Lanka Plus’ — that is, Sri Lanka plus the Quartet.
Today, in March 2014, we are on the defensive. We should engage with the UK-US draft text through the mediation of our friends in the Council, belonging to regional and cross regional groupings, such as the Non Aligned group, the Asian Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Group of Like Minded states.
Engage means do not reject. It means converse constructively. It means struggle against the negative aspects but converge with the positive and strive for a synthesis. Working with the Office of the High Commissioner even to the extent of making it a minority shareholder as it were, is far better than having to accept an international inquiry the next time round, at the 28th session of the UNHRC. However, the relationship with the High Commissioner’s Office has to be negotiated. Here our friends in the UNHRC can help us hammer out a better equation than suggested in the US-UK draft resolution.
Let me be brutally frank. A comparison of the UK-US draft resolution as has been leaked, and the official Sri Lankan government response to the Navi Pillay report, does not place Sri Lanka in a favourable position. The Sri Lankan response to Navi Pillay is one of stonewalling and simple denial on all counts. It also contains tendentious statements such that which alleges that the demonstrators at Weliweriya attempted to seize the weapons of the soldiers! The UK-US draft resolution, shorn of the call for an intrusive INTERNATIONAL inquiry, is much smarter; far better targeted. It is also not morally repugnant in any obvious sense.
The plain truth is that if the leaked draft is accurate, the international inquiry has been substituted by the call for a credible independent inquiry— which is a reiteration of the injunction of our own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)—and the US-UK call at this point of time is for us to clean up our act. Sri Lanka would be a better place if the Government constructively engaged and cooperated with this call. That is quite distinct from either capitulation to an intrusive inquiry or entering a confrontation in which we shall demonstrate our growing international isolation by polling fewer votes in the Council or losing by a larger margin than we did twice before. The third time isn’t the charm.