By Kumar David –
Within five days of your reading this the UNHRC Sessions will commence in Geneva. It is still not certain how the battle-lines on the Sri Lanka confrontation will unfold. Thinking, at this moment seems to be that the Core Group (UK, Canada, Germany and two small nations) will table a tough resolution on the lines of Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s damning report and that it will likely have the support of the new US Administration. Without US backing the stance of the Core Group will be a damp squib. In the meantime it is rumoured that there is intense lobbying by Gotabaya’s diplomats to reach a compromise resolution, or if this fails to ensure that any reproving resolution is defeated with robust Chinese support and aided by an Indian abstention. I cannot predict the outcome but if the US and the Core Group denounce Sri Lanka, even if their resolution is not carried, for undermining previous UNHRC decisions and neglecting reconciliation the fallout will be damaging.
I think however that the SL government is not taking the damage that a standoff with the US and Europe can do to the economy quite lightly and is cavalier in its illusions of the adequacy of Chinese support to annul this. However, its contempt for the political effectiveness of so-called the International Community and UNHRC Resolutions is justified. These worthies are toothless, they have been ineffective for a decade and I don’t see how it can be any different this time. The real threat is the economic issue.
Critics of Sri Lanka will make much of all the following: In July 2019, 13 members of the security forces accused of killing five students in Trincomalee in 2006 were acquitted. Gota’s Presidential Commission blocked investigation of Prageeth Ekneligoda’s murder, covered up Lasantha’s murder and stopped legal action against naval officers who killed 11 youths in Colombo in 2008-2009. Gota in 2020 pardoned army-sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, convicted of massacring eight Tamil civilians. Trial of five suspects including ex-LTTE cadre Pillayan for the murder of former TNA parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham was scuttled by Gota’s government. Gota has promoted thousands of army officers to shore-up the ground for his dictatorial saga. Tamils are marching from Pottuvil to Polykandy to protest the unsavoury policies of the government. Former Human U.N. HR High Commissioner Navi Pillay vexes “the Sri Lankan government has made clear it has no serious intention of pursuing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war and the U.N. Human Rights Council must act” (Justice and Security website 15 Feb). Ha ha, Gota’s cohorts must be sniggering.
Sri Lankan governments have treated international human rights opinions with contempt and if at all made use of condemnation to shore up its status among Sinhala-Buddhist extremists. It will be no different this time, if at all worse. Gota’s cabal is more fascist, Mahinda’s was a nuanced style. But the real problem is that the country is facing bankruptcy for the first time in history and the hole is too deep for the Chinese alone to fill. Lanka will not be able to withstand an asset freeze, economic sanctions such as withdrawal of EU preferential tariffs and travel bans. Though the Central Bank crows about a $2 billion reduction in the trade deficit in 2020 compared to 2019, the truth is that imports declined from $10 billion to $12 billion and exports from $20 billion to $16 billion, both compared to 2019. Both denote a decline in economic activity. Remittances were $7 billion in 2020, 6% higher than 2019, which is the silver lining among these dark clouds. Letters of Credit issued by SL banks have been rejected by international banks. Poor Prof Lakshman is making rather an ass of himself whistling in the dark about “Alternative” policies, code for Gota’s Vistas. “It’s the economy” that will strangle this government. Lakshman oh Lakshan! One day you will have to return to terra firma and on that day you don’t want people laughing at you, do you?
Against this background the most foolish thing this government can do is to allow itself to be drawn into the China versus India-US-Europe mêlée in the Indian Ocean. Every skilled tart (read poor country) knows the despair of poverty and the tricks of how to keep all clients satisfied. If Sri Lanka wishes to survive without a meltdown within five years here are a few simple things to do.
1. By hook or by crook crush Sinhala-Buddhist extremism (a sine qua non).
2. Replay SWRD’s and Mrs B’s copy-book; the tried and tested Nonalignment Game.
3. Make concessions to the bothersome Tamils and cut a deal with the Muslims (Sorry about the cut).
4. Forget about pulling off some asinine militarist stunt.
Nobody is listening; maybe it’s apt that you get to read it on Ash Wednesday.