Colombo Telegraph

Watching Syria, Seeing Sri Lanka 

By Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

It was not easy to watch the proceedings on Friday April 7th at the UN Security Council’s emergency ‘open session’ on Syria without thinking of Sri Lanka, although the actual circumstances of the UN’s engagement with the two countries are very different.

Only one thing seemed alarmingly similar. It seemed like a set up.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s dramatic gesture of holding up photographs of chemical-gassed children only served to bring to mind the now famous theatrical display of a vial of anthrax by US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the same venue to warn the Council of the imminent danger that lay before the world from WMDs in Iraq.

It was only a matter of time before one of the members would hold up a photograph of that particular shameful attempt, and so it happened at the hands of the Bolivian Ambassador/Permanent Representative Sacha Lorenty who proved that there are still good men left in the world, taking on every irrational argument by the West, and quoting his President Evo Morales’ condemnation of the US strike on Syria, even though Bolivia had no dog in this fight. He stood up for the principles that all those Security Council members had signed up to.

The Russian Deputy Ambassador inevitably referred to the 2003 ‘Anthrax episode’ as well, since the Security Council session’s target for verbal recriminations by US, UK and France was more Russia than Syria. He made it a point to warn Britain not to even try to get into a war in the Middle East because in that part of the world they remember, he said, Britain’s colonial hypocrisy.

Ambassador Nikki Haley, new to diplomacy, and apparently new to due process, insisted that “while the Syrian regime is responsible for the chemical weapons attack, it is not the only guilty party.” Really? Had the UN completed its investigations? It hadn’t. Is the new world order ‘Post-UN’ as well as ‘Post-Truth’? She continued: “The Iranian government bears a heavy responsibility. It has propped up and shielded Syria’s brutal dictator for years.” Oh please. In this digital age where information (including about past decades) flows freely, when it comes to propping up brutal dictators, which country comes to mind first?

The Bolivian ambassador helpfully reminded the Security Council about the overthrow of Allende in Chile and the training, sponsorship and support to brutal military juntas throughout Latin America. Add to that the more recent practice of propping up ‘moderate rebels’ who then turn into moderate terrorists.

Is this looking like an improved way of conducting international relations? Could this become the new norm? Aren’t we lucky that the world is increasingly multipolar? And bless those vetoes! Listening to the UK Permanent Representative’s outrage and indignation at Russia for blocking sanctions on Syria, one had to wonder if the UN was not to play any role at all, except to provide the room, the table and chairs for the Western Big Powers to indulge in their prejudgments while bullying the rest into compliance.

Russia was in the process of negotiating a resolution for a credible investigation to gather facts about what actually happened in Idlib, Syria, when the Trump attack took place. Isn’t an impartial UN investigation necessary anymore? As the Bolivian Ambassador explained at the media stakeout at the UN on April 7th, the Security Council could not be expected to accept without question the findings of the intelligence agencies of those states that were opposed to the Syrian regime.

The US missile attack flouted a number of provisions in international law. The Security Council is meant to prevent threats to international peace and security. And here were three of the five permanent members cheering on the violation of the sovereignty of another country and verbally carpet bombing Russia for not agreeing with them.

No sane person would condone chemical attacks. Not even after the most powerful state in the world set a terrible example in the in the 1960s and 1970s in a failed attempt to bring a poor Asian state to heel. Whatever the color of the chemical agent (sorry, defoliant), the perpetrators need to be stopped, once they are properly identified. But all within agreed norms and standards. I daresay UN standards. I would go further: those who have been recognized as past perpetrators could even be made to apologize and compensate the victims. That would surely stop future miscreants.

Was the US missile attack on Syria meant to be R2P? That requires sanction from the Security Council. It wasn’t even sought. It was completely unilateral. Take a bow, President Trump.

It’s frightening how similar this is turning out to be to like the story line of the ongoing Season Six of the TV series ‘Homeland’ (with Claire Dane as Carrie Mathieson and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson). The plot is scarily simple. The newly elected President tries to go independent of the ‘Deep State’. The Deep State carries out false flag attacks. The President tries valiantly to resist the pressure from the media and more personal threats from the Security Establishment with the help of dissenting elements within it. But she seems doomed to failure and the Deep State destined to win. As on TV, so in life. (The US version is an adaptation of an original Israeli TV series and book.)

Sri Lanka faced similarly outraged diplomats from the West in 2009. The then British FM was particularly passionate, flying across to the US in April 2009 to lobby then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was later discovered that Minister Miliband had ‘electoral compulsions’ which drove this effort, when his top aide admitted this to a ranking US diplomat in London who cabled it to Washington (the world read it courtesy WikiLeaks).

Seeing how the West brings in its full arsenal including its control of global media into play to support its interests, the unqualified thwarting of their concerted efforts to put Sri Lanka in the dock at the UN in Geneva in 2009 for its victorious war against LTTE terrorism, is a singular achievement. I can hardly believe now, that nearly two thirds of the UNHRC voted with Sri Lanka, despite the West’s best efforts, including the personal involvement of the powerful Secretary of State and future presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Since then we have seen the West’s escalation on the Sri Lanka issue at the UNHRC, imposing resolution after resolution requiring War Crimes related inquires, first on a hapless postwar Rajapaksa administration without a clue as to how to respond to the combined onslaught from Human Rights lobbies, Diaspora groups, and powerful states which later included our neighbor India, and then on the new Yahapalana administration which laps up every indignity with relish.

Viewing the live TV coverage of the April 7th debate on Syria at the UNSC, it looked like hypocrisy has now evolved to even greater heights (or descended to even greater depths) in those very same powers who are attempting discredit Sri Lanka’s war of reunification of this island, a third of which was under separatist terrorists. The unilateral missile attack by the US on a sovereign country while resolutions were being negotiated at the UN and peace talks were on-going in Geneva, was hailed by Western allies for being ‘restrained’. That makes it alright then.

This is the level of cynicism that Sri Lanka will face at every UN forum from those influential countries, with regard to Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE. With a “Unity” government intent on being seen as compliant in the extreme to all comers, embracing every hypocritical suggestion as to the methods and modalities of investigation, undermining our own existing judicial mechanisms, what are our chances?

Are there people in Sri Lanka’s diplomatic service capable of defending Sri Lanka’s armed forces from this travesty that is ongoing, and worse planned for it in those forums? If there are, would they be willing to be sacked for their pains?

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