By Daya Gamage
A former senior diplomat of the U.S. State Department who served in the nineties in its diplomatic mission in Colombo as the ambassador, counsels Washington to “soften its voice” on human rights while advocating that the UNHRC – Geneva should suspend its probe on Sri Lanka. Ambassador Teresita C. Schaffer
Another former senior foreign service officer who served in the same diplomatic mission as Political Counselor during the same period endorses the suggestion.
The United States has been an influential voice in UN Human Rights Commission and Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva moving three resolutions criticizing Sri Lanka for its role during the final stage of the military offensive against the separatist Tamil Tigers while urging to be accountable to what took place during the time leading to the Tigers defeat in May 2009.
The UN Secretary General- appointed investigative panel alleged that thousands of unarmed civilians died accusing Sri Lanka military using its fire power on areas in the north of Sri Lanka where civilians were herded by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) as human shields.
Based on that report and classified cabled sent by the US embassy in Colombo, the US moved the three resolutions accusing Sri Lanka of war crimes.
The US Embassy in Colombo in one of its classified diplomatic cables dispatched to Washington in December 2009 noted that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his defense secretary brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa were responsible for the civilian deaths and war crimes during the final weeks of the battle.
With the advent of the new government in Colombo on 9 January with the defeat of Rajapaksa in the nation-wide presidential election it has now come to the surface that the new president Maithripala Sirisena was in fact at the helm during the final stage of the intense military onslaught leading to the total defeat of the Tigers on 18 May 2009 as acting Commander-in-Chief and Defense Minister while President Rajapaksa was on a foreign tour.
A continuation of the UNHRC probe may not be able to ignore the culpability of President Sirisena.
Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran the head of the US-based Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) in a statement last week said “it is hard for the Tamils to brush away the thought that that the new President, Maithripala Sirisena, too has stains of Tamil blood in his hands and carries the burden of responsibility for the Genocide of Tamils by virtue of having been the Deputy Minister of Defense in the final days of the war in Mullivaaikkal, when Mahinda Rajapakse was overseas.
“He was in fact given credit for this during the election campaign. We could very well ask, therefore, why he too could not be summoned for an inquiry on his alleged role in the Genocide of Tamils perpetrated by the Sinhala armed forces,” Rudrakumaran added.
It is amid this atmosphere that former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka (92-95) Teresita C. Schaffer who continues to be an influential voice in Washington counseled the State Department to “lower its voice” on human rights, and advocated that the UNHRC should suspend its probe on Sri Lanka.
Robert K. Boggs who was the Political Counselor (89-94) at the American Embassy in Colombo endorsed Ambassador Schaffer’s pronouncement.
Further, both of them with their wide knowledge of Sri Lanka’s political environment expect the new Sirisena-Wickremasinghe administration to be conscious of US interests in Sri Lanka and the South Asia region.
Both Ambassador Schaffer and Robert Boggs are also aware that some of the key personalities in the new administration have strong track records of being supportive of American interests.
Ranil Wickremasinghe, the incumbent premier in the Maithripala Sirisena administration in the same position in 2002-04 was instrumental in allowing the CIA to use the Katunayaka International Airport as a transit facility for US prisoner rendition. India refused to make her airports available to for the same purpose.
The CIA was using the ‘extraordinary rendition’ program during Bush administration to transfer captured terrorist prisoners to CIA ‘Black Sites’ where they were tortured. The US Senate produced an intelligence report last month confirming Bush era torture and war crimes.
The current finance minister Ravi Karunanayake was the trade minister under the then (2002-04) Wickremasinghe administration when he supported the United States at Doha-Round Trade Talks on an issue the majority of Third World nations considered detrimental to their interest.
Ambassador Teresita C. Schaffer, who counsels in an opinion piece to the Brookings Institute, served as US Chief of Mission in Sri Lanka from 1992 through 1995.
In her 30-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Ambassador Schaffer was recognized as one of the State Department’s leading experts on South Asia, where she spent a total of 11 years. Her other career focus was on international economic issues. She served in U.S. embassies in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, and from 1992-95 as U.S. Ambassador in Sri Lanka. During her assignments in the State Department in Washington, she was director of the Office of International Trade and later deputy assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia, at that time the senior South Asia policy position in the State Department. She created a South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and directed it from 1998 to 2010.
She also serves as a senior adviser to McLarty Associates, a Washington-based international strategic advisory firm.
Her opinion, analyses and counsel are widely accepted in Washington.
Ambassador Schaffer in a ‘Counseling Article’ to Brookings Institute advocates that the UNHRC should suspend its annual action on Sri Lanka’s human rights investigation.
She says, “His (Sirisena’s) election presents an opportunity to reset Sri Lanka’s relations with India and the United States. To do this, he and his foreign friends will need tact and creativity, and he will need all his political skills to keep the coalition together. A good place to start would be to suspend action on the annual U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution on Sri Lanka while the new team gets its balance”.
Further, she advocates,” Relations with Washington had become completely dominated by human rights issues, with the two countries talking at (rather than with) each other. Recalibrating this dialogue – so important for Sri Lanka’s economy and security – will require some tricky footwork. Sirisena will need to demonstrate to the home audience that any policy changes he adopts are made at home, not in Washington. And Washington will need to lower its voice”.
Again she says in this ‘counseling’ submission “This year’s meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission takes place in March. The annual Sri Lanka resolution has unleashed a torrent of vituperation against the West in Sri Lanka, despite the relatively mild language of the resolutions. Avoiding the resolution while the new government gets its bearings would make a huge contribution to improving Sri Lanka’s dialogue with the United States and Europe, and would avoid a tense debate with India as well. The easiest way to accomplish this would be for the United States, India and Sri Lanka to quietly work out a plan for implementing some of the most important LLRC recommendations. Paradoxically, this might make real reconciliation easier to start”.
In conclusion Ambassador Schaffer predicts “With a little help from Sri Lanka’s friends, a first step at the U.N. Human Rights Commission could lead to a more ambitious reconciliation agenda that could be truly “made in Sri Lanka.”
Former Political Counselor (1989-94) Robert K. Boggs endorsing her pronouncements says “Well informed, well reasoned, and instructive, as usual. I particularly support your recommendation that the US (sand UN) lower its voice on past human rights sins. The US can’t be helpful in Sri Lanka, as it should be, if it has no entrée through dialogue and assistance programs.”
It is very revealing when Ambassador Tesi Schaffer wanted Washington to “lower its voice’. State Department officials as well as US Permanent Mission to UN are aware that the new Sirisena-Wickremasinghe administration will help protect US interests in Sri Lanka and the region. Ms. Schaffer aptly reflects this deep thinking in Washington and New York to advocate the ‘lessoning the voice’ and counsesl the US Mission in UN to persuade the Office of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva ‘to go slow’ on Sri Lanka.
Obviously, the United States does not want to see President Maitripala Sirisena on the ‘War Crime Dock’.
She says that “Sri Lanka’s foreign friends will need tact and creativity” to ensure a the building of strong relations with the United States and India. Who are these ‘foreign friends’? Of course the United States and EU countries.
– Asian Tribune Political Analysis
Ambassador Teresita C. Schaffer’s ‘Counseling Note’ can be read