The latest diplomatic blunder with the United States comes at a time when relations between Washington and Colombo have hit a new low. Beginning last Monday, the External Affairs Ministry has become proactive to canvass members of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Briefing notes have been sent out to the country’s diplomatic missions abroad giving them guidelines to adopt to cope with any resolution that may come up at the UNHRC’s 18th sessions that begin on September 20. Envoys who are posted to one capital but accredited to countries that are members of the UNHRC have been told to travel to those capitals to explain the government’s position.
The External Affairs Ministry also responded to a US proposal for an “interactive dialogue” at the UNHRC’s 19th sessions in March next year. For this purpose, the US handed over the text of a draft resolution it proposed to move at the 18th UNHRC sessions next month to pave the way. The thrust of the resolution was to note that “the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) is due to complete its work on November 15, 2011,” and it adds that the UNHRC “decides after consultation and with the consent of the country concerned to hold an interactive dialogue on this matter during its 19th session.” Contrary to last week’s report, the draft was handed over to Sri Lanka’s Charge d’ Affaires at the Permanent Mission of the UN in Geneva U. Jauhar by Bruce Donahue, Charge at the US mission and not by senior diplomatic representative Betty E. King.
External Affairs Ministry sources said Sri Lanka had told the US that it was not in favour of an “interactive dialogue” and will not consent to such a move. This is because Sri Lanka did not want to internationalize any domestic issues. Instead, Sri Lanka has sought time and space to address issues raised by the US and other countries, domestically. These sources said the government’s message has been conveyed by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in the United States, Jaliya Wickremesuriya to the US Department of State. The move will mean there will be no resolution by the US next month to list the LLRC report for 19th sessions of the UNHRC in March next year. However, resolutions by other countries on these lines are not being ruled out. The US position was further clarified by the spokesperson for the Department of State, Victoria Nuland during a news conference this week. Here is an excerpt of a Q & A:
QUESTION: Continuing on your lead about the U.S. giving the lead, in an interview with Headlines Today, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary (Gotabaya) Rajapaksa rejected calls from the UN, U.S., and international communities for a neutral international investigation into the war crimes. And the top Sri Lankan diplomat today reiterated his stand. So what is the latest from the U.S. for these people who are homeless and in the camps?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have said repeatedly for a long time that we support a full and credible and independent investigation of alleged violations of international human rights and law and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka. We want to see the Sri Lankans do this themselves in a way that meets international standards. So what I would say to Sri Lankan critics is take your responsibility and mount an investigation that meets international standards. And we continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to do just that and to do it quickly. And we hope Sri Lankans will do this themselves. But if they do not, there’s going to be growing pressure from the international community for exactly the kind of international action that Sri Lankans say they don’t want.
QUESTION: On the same subject, during her visit last month, Secretary Clinton spoke to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and said, to quote, “that the U.S. is looking at innovative and creative ideas,” unquote, to break the impasse, which is going on for people living in the camps and not able to go back home. Can you update us on this innovative and creative ideas of the State Department?
MS. NULAND: I’m not prepared today to go further than the Secretary went during her trip. But again, if Sri Lankans want to take their responsibility to solve these issues themselves, then they need to do it and they need to do it quickly.
QUESTION: And another – just a last one. Are you going to put a time period that you’re going to give the Sri Lankans? Can it be 10 years, 20 years, or 10 months?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speculate on timelines.
Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa returned to Colombo on Friday after a four-day visit to China. No doubt, his talks with Chinese leaders have bolstered his confidence to face the issues before Sri Lanka. The crucial question is whether the Ministry of External Affairs which is responsible for the conduct of diplomacy and the nation’s foreign policy is geared well enough. This week’s faux pax over the purported intrusion of US fighter jets into Sri Lankan airspace, raises questions. More such ill-conceived and wrong assertions could pass through the EAM to cause even bigger harm to the nation and its people. That is the dilemma for the government at a time when foreign policy has become foreign to those who matter.
Taken from ST political column