By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.”- UN Charter Chapter 1, Article 2
Did you think that as a unitary state, there is only one, single Government in Sri Lanka, though there are a number of Provincial Councils to which a measure of power has been devolved by that one single government? Well, not according to the United Nations and the current (unelected) Sri Lankan Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe! Did you know that there is a “Northern Provincial Government” in Sri Lanka, and not merely a Northern Provincial Council and its administration/Cabinet? Did you know that the United Nations will be assisting that “Northern Provincial Government”? Have you ever heard of a Southern Provincial Government or a Wayamba or Western Provincial Government in Sri Lanka– and if not, why (only) a Northern Provincial Government?
When Varadarajaperumal’s administration placed an advertisement in the newspapers and signed as the North Eastern Provincial Government, a furious President President Premadasa and Minister Ranjan Wijeratne exclaimed that “there is only one government in Sri Lanka!” It is the self-perception of itself as a “Government” that led the NEPC to its threat of a UDI, and President Premadasa to dissolve it. What is worse today is that the UN refers to a “Northern Provincial Government” and the Government of Sri Lanka has gone along, not minding in the least!
If the United Nations refers to and assists a Northern Provincial “Government”, how long will it be before the latter regards itself as a proto state, and the former recognizes the latter as one?
The proof comes not from a source hostile to this government, these processes or to Sri Lanka but from an official statement by an affable friend of this country, UNDP Resident Representative Subinay Nandy, who says: “…Third, to provide technical support to the Northern Provincial Government to better plan and undertake development programs, generate revenue and reach out to communities, for consultation and feedback. This component is to be implemented by UNDP.”
Sri Lanka under ‘Yahapalanaya’ is a penetrated state.
The UN is now engaged in the deep and sensitive internal political processes of this country; processes which are not only deep but have the most wide ranging legal, constitutional, security and strategic implications. It is highly unlikely that President Sirisena is aware of this and it is almost certain that the Cabinet does not know or has not granted its assent. Certainly the parliament has neither been informed and still less has endorsed this dangerous new shift.
If the readers think that I am overdrawing the picture of UN involvement in Sri Lanka, let me merely quote from the UN Resident Representatives statement as authoritatively reproduced in the state’s flagship newspaper the Daily News:
“The UN is thus engaging comprehensively with the Government, by providing technical assistance and financial support to advance reconciliation and build sustainable peace. In particular, we are working with our counterparts – coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and finalizing an initiative for support from the UN Peacebuilding Fund. The Peacebuilding Fund will support Sri Lanka, initially with $3 million, to establish and operationalize processes for building peace through reconciliation and accountability by addressing the critical core grievances of minorities in an inclusive and consultative manner. In particular, with the support of the Fund, the UN is looking at supporting the Government in four areas:
*First, technical support to establish an inclusive and credible domestic mechanism to address human rights violations and accountability and provide redress to victims and conflict affected groups, including families of the missing, in line with international standards. This component will be led by OHCHR.
*Second, to initiate inclusive, broad-based mechanisms for inter-ethnic trust building, reconciliation and social cohesion working with the recently established Office for National Unity and Reconciliation. This component will be implemented by UNDP with technical advice from the Reconciliation and Development Adviser based at the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office.
*Third, to provide technical support to the Northern Provincial Government to better plan and undertake development programs, generate revenue and reach out to communities, for consultation and feedback. This component is to be implemented by UNDP.
*And finally, to implement quick impact resettlement initiatives strategically targeting conflict affected and vulnerable internally displaced persons in the North and the East. This early implementation component will be done by UNHCR and UNICEF.
On this final point, support for resettlement of internally displaced persons, the UN will partner with the Ministry of Resettlement providing catalytic support to the return processes in Jaffna and Trincomalee, through a $1.2 million project.”
So the United Nations will play a role, through UN’s Peacebuilding Fund, which will initially allocate $3 million, “to establish and operationalize processes for building peace through reconciliation and accountability by addressing the critical core grievances of minorities in an inclusive and consultative manner.”
Furthermore, the so-called ‘domestic inquiry’ into accountability will be according to unspecified ‘international standards’ (decided by whom?) and have unspecified technical support from the UN, led by the OHCHR, i.e. the very Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, which is spearheading the international inquiry into Sri Lanka!
The UN is being drawn in to the search for a solution to the core problems of majority-minority relations on the island as well as the search for accountability and reconciliation.
This has deadly serious implications. If it can help it, no country allows the UN a role in such sensitive domestic processes. For instance India wouldn’t hear of any UN involvement in the Kashmir question.
UN involvement in domestic politico-legal processes in two exceptional sets of circumstances: the country concerned is a failed state or has been defeated in war and is put under de facto UN trusteeship or there has been a negotiated end to a civil war in which the UN has played a role or a UN role has been agreed upon as part of the peace settlement.
Sri Lanka fits neither of these categories.
If the UN gets involved in such domestic processes, especially in an ethno-lingual or ethno-regional context, it usually ends with one side using the UN as leverage to move towards independence or the West using the UN to do so. Kosovo is a case in point.
Our finest Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar famously quipped that the only role for the UN in Sri Lanka was to help in the eradication of Malaria by the spraying of DDT. As his parliamentary speech slicing and dicing Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Ceasefire Agreement (published in the Sunday Times) showed, the cornerstone of Kadirgamar’s foreign policy was a strenuous recommitment to national sovereignty. He was eliminated by an LTTE sniper ten years ago this August. Had he been buried rather than cremated he would have been rolling in his grave at the dangerously intrusive role that his successor and former cabinet colleague Mangala Samaraweera has arranged for the UN to play.
While we now know what to expect in terms of a UN role in Sri Lanka if Ranil Wickremesinghe is elected PM and Mangala Samaraweera and Chandrika Kumaratunga continue to hold crucial roles, we also know with no less clarity what we can expect from on the Northern and Eastern ethnic front. The TNA agenda has been laid bare in an interview given to the Daily Mirror, by Mr. Sumanthiran M.P. It has three points: (A) the immediate release of those he calls political prisoners, (B) the promulgation of a new Constitution to resolve the ethnic issue along the lines his party sees fit and (C) the recognition that genocide of some variety took place against Sri Lanka’s Tamils. Let Mr. Sumanthiran do the talking:
“The second issue of course is of the political prisoners. Some steps have been taken to release political prisoners but nobody has been released as yet. So we know that those steps have been taken. But we want to see the actual release taking place. The President recently said that there was no political prisoner and nobody would be called a political prisoner. That is unfortunate that he says that. The phrase political prisoner has a particular meaning. Those are the people who are involved in crimes perhaps, but not for their own benefit but to achieve political objectives. It is true that they are held under particular laws. All of these people are held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. And all of them were accused or suspected of having to have committed offences in achieving political objectives. So the President and the government must realise that they are political prisoners and the phrase has a meaning world over. Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner. If you had asked the white South African rulers, they would have said that there are no political prisoners. He was convicted under a section of that Act. But the world recognises that he was a political prisoner. So there are political prisoners and those are political related detentions. And the President also must use the right phrase and admit that there are political prisoners and release them now.”
Here Mr. Sumanthiran is engaging, as his party – and Tamil nationalism in general–usually does, in trickery and dishonesty. In his advocacy of the immediate release of hardcore Tigers, he shamelessly invokes the name of Nelson Mandela, who never consciously targeted or authorized the targeting of a single unarmed, innocent civilian in the liberation struggle—which incidentally was against a minority regime and for democratic majority rule (just the opposite of the LTTE’s struggle). By contrast the tigers engaged in the savage butchery of unarmed civilians; of innocents.
Mr. Sumanthiran cannot be unaware that Nelson Mandela was convicted by the courts of a regime internationally condemned as illegitimate; an apartheid regime of a white minority state, not a democratic State which represented the majority of its citizens as was and is the case in Sri Lanka.
Sumanthiran’s definition is characteristically deceitful. Even a Nazi fascist war criminal or a butcher of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge perpetrated his savagery, not for “their own benefit” but precisely for collective political purpose! That did not make them mere “political prisoners’ who should be released!
If there is anyone in a Sri Lankan jail, not because of an act of violence but because of his or her political views, then such a person is indubitably a political prisoner and should be released.
But if a person has been convicted by a duly constituted court of law, especially in an elected democracy, for lethally violent offenses, then they cannot be regarded as ‘political prisoners’ who should be immediately released!
Sri Lankan can, however, expect precisely such persons to be released back into society, if Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP wins the upcoming election.
That is not the only thing we can expect. Mr. Sumanthiran discloses that the UNP has promised a new constitution if elected; one that will finally resolve the ethnic issue.
“…But at the same time, there is a huge national issue that we are concerned about and that needs to be addressed. We agreed with this government that it need not be fully addressed until the general elections are over, but thereafter that issue must be given priority. The government has already spoken about the passage of 19th Amendment. The Prime Minister said it in Parliament, the Foreign Minister and Minister of Justice too had voiced that a new constitution would be enacted and the next Parliament should be converted in to a Constitutional Assembly. And the Foreign Minister specifically said in his speech that in that constitution the ethnic issue also would finally be resolved…”
Mr. Sumanthiran is disclosed at a ‘Managers meeting’ in Jaffna, a report of which appeared in the Thinakkural of May 18th, that there is already an agreement with the UNP, according to which a new Constitution which is non-unitary in character will be promulgated immediately after the election.
Finally, Mr. Sumanthiran seeks to legitimize and spin the term “genocide” and seeks recognition for its use. He says:
“The genocide issue is a political slogan. What I said that about NPC resolution was that it was an expression of the people. It doesn’t mean the crime of genocide is proved for the international crime of genocide. There must be a tribunal and there must be various ingredients of that offence that have to be proved. Now I don’t think that is what the NPC had said. The NPC says that from 1947 these things had happened and these all are intended to diminish the Tamil people’s states and Tamil people’s lives in this country either by driving them out of the country, killing a group of people, a periodic violence against the Tamil and so on, and they called it genocide. That may not fit with the international crime of genocide, it isn’t. In fact at the end of the resolution says the international community has not accepted this kind of events as genocide. Now you must recognize that this is also as genocide. So it must be seen in total context of people saying that the Tamil people were suffering for 60 years of protracted violence. And they are saying that is genocide.”
Given all these public disclosures, it seems to me that the single most important thing about the upcoming parliamentary election is the chance it provides to unplug the insidious project of the Ranil-Chandrika-Mangala troika and flush out the trio, thereby halting the enormous long term damage they are doing to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka; to its future as a strong, independent, united nation.