Sri Lanka Brief

Geneva Crisis

Victor Ivan
It is correct for Sri Lanka to express its protest against the US sponsored United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution against Sri Lanka. Yet, the government had apparently failed to mobilize the protest move in a manner conducive to safeguarding the dignity of the country.
The government’s approach has resulted in causing considerable damage to the good image of the country. The heated debate that was launched against the decision of the UNHRC was eventually brought to a climax with the Minister Mervin Silva suddenly entering the limelight assuming the anchor role of the protest move.

The sentiments generated in the world community by the public utterances made by the Minister Mervin Silva claiming the responsibility for the assault on Poddala Jayantha that forced the latter to flee the country and his assertion that he would not hesitate to punish even others who made representations at the UNHRC against Sri Lanka can in no way be considered beneficial to the country. These utterances no doubt have portrayed uncivilized imageries about Sri Lanka in the minds of the international community.

Similarly, there is no possible justification for a team of Sri Lankan human rights activists to testify before the UNHRC supporting the alleged human rights allegations against Sri Lanka, particularly when the human rights issue has become a crucial issue which may have deeper and more far reaching repercussions on the future of the country.

Yet, the policy adopted by certain TV channels controlled by the government targeting these activists has been extremely unreasonable. It created a fertile ground to provoke these activists. The verbal assaults on them were conducive to kindling hatred in them. Obviously, the injurious criticisms levelled against them would not have contributed to create a good feeling about the country in the minds of the listeners, particularly when this process entered the arena of world news.

The clarification of the government’s policy in regard to the Resolution that was adopted by the UNHRC now remains most significant and crucial. In the immediate aftermath of the adoption of the Resolution, the reactions of the government leaders were hostile and emotional; this trend now seems to be slowly changing. They appear to be returning to their proper senses and viewing it more objectively.

We must not forget that it might lead to a great catastrophe unless the situation is reviewed calmly and objectively and bring the emotional reactions under control. Failure to manage this crisis appropriately might even result in the country being thrust into an enormous blood bath again at some point of time. It might even create a situation which is conducive to dividing the country in the absence of a Prabhakaran. If Sri Lanka fails to adopt an intelligent and diplomatic approach on this issue, the country might ironically be confronted not with the Western countries led by the USA, but by its immediate neighbour, India which is emerging as super power in addition to being the regional power

China and India

The foreign policy of the present government seems to be based on the assumption that the balance of power is currently shifting to the advantage of an alternate camp led by China and to the disadvantage of the Western camp which is led by the USA. In the circumstance, it can be presumed that certain theoreticians who are close to the ruling party may have ingested the Rajapakse government with the notion that there was no need for Sri Lanka to maintain a close cooperation with the Western power bloc led by the USA. There may be some truth in this proposition which appears to be revolutionary in its approach. But viewed from a holistic angle it cannot be treated as being a correct approach.

Despite there being an element of truth in the assertion that there has been a relapse in the strength of the western power bloc led by the USA, it cannot, however, be presumed that there would be a rapid change in the balance of power soon. On the other hand, this approach emphasizes China as the only alternate power that is emerging; it has completely ignored the importance of India in this process. In the present context, it is a fact that China is extremely powerful. Similarly, India has also entered into the path of acquiring the status of being a super power. In this power contest between China and India, India appears to be acquiring more benefits that surpass those of China. Though China remains the most populated country at present, the future population forecasts predict that India will surpass China in the next three decades and become the most populated country in the world. Further, at the end of the next two decades, the demographic character of the two countries will change drastically with China having a larger share of elderly population and India representing a larger share of the younger population. In view of the fact that China has invested its surplus gains in the USA and the Western countries, any likely depression in the West will inevitably have a destructive impact on China. China is primarily involved in producing goods for foreign markets while India is still more engaged in producing goods mainly for its domestic market than for exports. India therefore, has a greater potential for endurance in the event of an economic slump than China. Moreover, India has a strong democratic system of government which is flexible and capable of facing any internal crisis. On the contrary, China has a communist dictatorship based on coercion and arbitrary force of power. In proportion to the increase in the per capita income in China, the aspirations of the Chinese people in acquiring democratic rights too, might go up. Under those circumstances, the political unrest that is likely occur at any point of time can prove to be an important factor undermining the political stability of China. There is another important consideration that we must not overlook; in the event of a shift in the world power that is at present being held by the USA and its Western allies, it is more likely that they would cooperate more with India than with China. This is because India, more or less shares the same or similar values that the USA and the Western countries uphold. In managing the present crisis, Sri Lanka obviously has failed to recognize this fact in its correct perspective and the position that India enjoys in a likely shift of balance of world power.

Know thy limits

This does not imply that Sri Lanka should get closer to India abandoning China which has always extended its support to us. Instead, we must give due recognition to the importance of the Indian factor and adopt a balanced policy of reinforcing Indo-Lanka ties whilst at the same time retaining the relations that we have developed with China. As a country, we must take cognizance of the fact that we are compelled to live at the edge of India and not that of China. On the other hand, we must not overlook the fact that there is an ethnic community living in Sri Lanka, about which South India is extremely sensitive. The geographical location of Sri Lanka is an important factor that aggravated the crisis the country is faced with. It is located on a major sea route of strategic importance. It is because of these factors that Sri Lanka has become a specific focus in the context of international geo- politics. Sea freight constitutes a major share of the international goods transportation today. Obviously, Sri Lanka does not seem to have given due consideration to these factors in formulating its foreign policy.

As a country, there is no need for us to stoop down before any force, however powerful it may be. Yet, we must be mindful of our limits when we attach importance to ourselves and in our dealings with the other countries. If we forget our limits, invariably we may end up in a situation analogous to what happened to the frog which bloated itself out of proportion. We must bear in mind that we do not have the strength to defeat the world powers just because we have been able to defeat Prabhakaran.

Sovereignty and its limitations

National Sovereignty is a political concept to which we attach utmost importance. It implies the authority that the state enjoys in managing its affairs both internal and external. It embraces the discretion and the right of the state in determining the affairs of every sphere of governanance which include political affairs, formulation of laws, social organization, system of governance, economic development, foreign trade and foreign affairs in a manner as it thinks fit and without being subjected to and dictated to by any foreign authority.

However, the national sovereignty of a country is not an absolute notion. It is a relative issue. The world consists of not just one country; it is a conglomeration of hundreds of independent countries. Just as much as the group impacts on restricting the individual freedom within permissible limits, the conglomeration of national states equally impacts on limiting the sovereignty of the national states.

Sri Lanka is an independent and sovereign country. But at the same time it has to forego its sovereignty to a certain degree by virtue of being a member country of the UN. This is not a situation unique to Sri Lanka only. It is an inherent situation shared by all nations which are members of the UN. Though we have a right to manage our national affairs at our discretion, we are at the same time legally bound by international law to abide by the agreements that we have entered into with the UN in managing these affairs and safeguarding certain morals and ethical standards.

The UN is not an infallible institution. There are many instances where it has not delivered justice fairly and equally for its members alike. There were several occasions where it had adopted a dual policy, one favouring the powerful countries and one discriminating against the weaker nations. Yet, merely because of these drawbacks in the system, we cannot afford to ignore its authority. We do not have the ability to do so. We cannot afford to resign from the UN and maintain an isolated existence. We must take due cognizance of these realities while addressing the present crisis that the country is compelled to face.

Civil and political rights

Of the various agreements Sri Lanka has entered into with the UN, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can be described as being the most important and powerful commitment. It is concerned with the policies to be complied with by Sri Lanka as a member country in respect of the rights of the people living in the country. It safeguards the right of the people of the member countries to live, right to be free from slavery, equality before the law, right to a fair trial, right to assembly, right to travel, right to privacy, right to be prevented from arbitrary arrest and right to expression

Admitting one’s mistakes

It is natural that the world powers were surprised to see the total defeat of the LTTE which remained a ruthless terrorist outfit of the first order, by the security forces of Sri Lanka. The pro LTTE Tamil Diaspora was shocked to see this unexpected defeat. It is also natural for the international community to look at the government of Sri Lanka and its security forces with a certain element of suspicion.

The government of Sri Lanka and its security forces won this war keeping them to acceptable civilized norms of warfare. Obviously, it was not pursued beyond the object of defeating terrorism. It was never turned into a campaign of taking revenge against the Tamil people. There might have been isolated incidents of excesses on the part of the security forces, but the volume of such errors was rather negligible compared to the magnitude and enormity of the war. The most important thing has been that the USA had followed the last phase of the war through satellite technology. Despite the government successfully defeating the LTTE through a military offensive, it did not have an effective strategy to counter allegations which were likely to be raised by international circles through respective committees of the UN or the General Assembly. In these circumstance, one could argue that an assessment of the damages caused by the war should have been made. However, what the UNHRC has done to Sri Lanka cannot be justified since the war it self was not illegal. The government obviously has failed to fulfil this requirement. In the modern world, it is natural for the international circles to raise questions whenever a war is concluded in any part of the world. Specially, it was not unnatural for the Tamil Diaspora which is extremely strong, active and sympathetic towards the LTTE to raise issues in this respect. The government was unable to foresee this threat and launch an effective and practical propaganda campaign to face the situation.

It is also natural for the UN to raise questions in this regard. We should not have been oblivious to the fact that the UN constitutes the main body of international governance. The government should have adopted diplomatic and logical approaches in responding to the questions raised by the UN rather than letting emotions and anger hold sway. But what Sri Lanka has done is the exact opposite of that.

Soon after the war came to an end, the pro LTTE Tamil Diaspora and some Western countries made serious allegations against Sri Lanka. A large section of the world community viewed them with a sympathetic eye on Sri Lanka. In 2009, when the pro LTTE alliance demanded the UNHRC to appoint an international commission against Sri Lanka, 32 member countries (62 percent) out of 47 members of the UNHRC came out in support of Sri Lanka to defeat the demand. However, Sri Lanka was unable to consolidate and strengthen this positive international support which it mustered in 2009 to its advantage. Instead of adopting a consistent policy of enlightening the friendly countries and consolidating their alliances, the government abandoned the campaign completely until the US brought up the Resolution once again in 2012. By that time the horse had already left the stable.

It is a fallacy to say that Sri Lanka was defeated by only one vote. 24 countries voted for the Resolution proposed by the US while only 15 countries voted against it. 8 countries abstained from voting. From 2009 to 2012 Sri Lanka had lost 17 votes. This reflects that there has been a significant drop in the number of countries that were supportive to Sri Lanka. We have desperately failed to retain the favourable position that we commanded in 2009.

This pathetic situation is a direct consequence of the inability of Sri Lanka to adopt a proper vision or an organized campaign subsequent to the defeat of the LTTE to face the propaganda war that was launched in the international arena by the LTTE sympathizers. For this the Government in general and both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Ministry should be held responsible. Adopting a pragmatic approach in responding to allegations and pursuing arguments and dialogues with the UN in a spirit of diplomacy remains the main responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yet, it did not adopt a policy that would have resolved this issue amicably. Instead, the policy adopted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Ministry has aggravated the problem beyond its legitimate proportions.

In fact, we must appreciate that the Ministry of Defence accomplished its duties and responsibilities well when the military offensive was launched against the LTTE. On the contrary, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has failed to perform his duties and responsibilities satisfactorily in confronting the propaganda war that emerged subsequently, in the international arena with the backing of the western countries. Under the circumstances, despite Sri Lanka being able to win the war against the LTTE led by Prabakaran, it can be presumed that it has lost the propaganda war launched by the Tamil Diaspora sympathetic to the LTTE.

What should be done now?

The most important thing that should be borne in mind is that the Resolution proposed by the US against Sri Lanka, remained an American proposal only till March 22 and since then it has ceased to be an American Resolution. Since March 22 it has acquired the status of a UN Resolution. It is no longer an American product but a UN Resolution. Therefore there are three options open to Sri Lanka in this crisis. They are as follows;

1. Reject the Resolution
2. Implement the Resolution
3. Implement a comprehensive program of action without restricting it only to the conditions laid down in the Resolution.

The first option can be described as self destructive and suicidal. It may even lead the country to a blood bath again and even a division of the country in the absence of a Prabhakaran. There is nothing wrong in the second option. But it lacks creativity. It might appear as something is being done because of the external pressure and not in good faith and genuine concern for resolving the problem. The third option is conducive to building a new and a strong image for the country. It will take the problem as a whole and offer an inclusive and holistic approach to finding a sustainable and far reaching solutions to many issues rather than finding piecemeal remedies for only certain aspects of it. It will prove to be a creative approach which is not restricted only to this crisis. Rather it will take both the present political system and the current crisis together as a common program in a bid to reshape and recreate the state of Sri Lanka in a new mould. Such a programme cannot be implemented only by the government. All opposition parties also should join hands with the government. No one should be excluded and all made stakeholders in this endeavour. In my view, the third option remains the best.

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