By Tariq A. Al-Maeena –
Diplomats invariably have to lie through their teeth to protect the stance taken by their respective governments. In instances where governments are renowned for human rights abuses or crimes against humanity, foreign diplomats often find themselves forced to respond to severe global criticism.
A recent opinion piece in a US newspaper was critical of Sri Lanka’s suspected human rights abuses, including possible war crimes, committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. The report was very critical of Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s refusal to cooperate with UN investigations into the alleged abuses and compared his actions to those of Syria and North Korea, two countries notorious for refusing access to investigations by UN human rights teams.
The report doubted the Sri Lankan president’s claims that his country would conduct the inquiry itself. It said: “This is doubtful. It was the Sri Lankan government’s failure over several years to prosecute and punish perpetrators of abuses during the civil war that prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council in March to request a comprehensive investigation.”
The report further elaborated that “the United Nations estimates that 40,000 Tamils died during the final weeks of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of people were interned in camps under military guard after the war ended in 2009. People suspected of being linked to the LTTE were tortured. Thousands simply disappeared.
“The safety of witnesses is a major concern. People demanding accountability for those who disappeared have faced threats and arrest. Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act is being used to detain people without trial. After the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, visited Sri Lanka last year, she reported that she had never seen such a ’level of uncontrollable grief’ as that of families of the disappeared in Sri Lanka, and that people with whom she met were promptly visited by security forces.”
In conclusion, the report stated that the Sri Lankan president should “cooperate with the investigation. Failing to do so will only feed international suspicions that his government has much to hide.”
Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, the Sri Lankan ambassador to the US, in responding to the publication carrying the opinion piece was critical of what he termed “insensitive assertions about my country.”
He then added that “Sri Lanka has enjoyed uninterrupted democracy since 1931. Last September we held the first election to the Northern Provincial Council, delayed by more than two decades because of the refusal of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to politically empower people in the North. Now, the Tamil National Alliance is in control of provincial administration. To compare Sri Lanka to human rights and humanitarian emergencies elsewhere in the world is unjust.
“We reject the United Nations investigation because its intrusive nature exceeds its mandate. It challenges the sovereignty of our country; violates basic principles of international law; vitiates the atmosphere needed for reconciliation; and ignores substantial and progressive socioeconomic and political progress already achieved, including the resettlement of 300,000 displaced people and the reintegration of 11,000 armed cadres.
“The three-decade-long conflict with many failed attempts at peace because of LTTE intransigence affected the whole country. Local accountability mechanisms, now strengthened with international experts, are respectful of inherent social, cultural and ethnic susceptibilities, unlike the United Nations-driven process, which serves externally motivated interests and will destabilize the intricate balance of the national reconciliation process.” Prasad Kariyawasam, Washington
Perhaps what the good ambassador has failed to defend, in spite of his objections, is that the current government is fueling ongoing ethnic and racial animosity within the country, and not only against the Tamil population. The emergence of the Buddhist terrorist group, BBS, that has unchecked spread its brand of sectarian violence against minorities in the island can only be attributed to dirty politics being played by the Sri Lankan government.
No rebuttals from Sri Lankan diplomats the world over can defend such actions.