It seems to me that there are certain essentials on which we should focus in the aftermath of the recent UNHRC Resolution at Geneva.
One, as I argued in my last article, is an incontrovertible fact about which there should be no argument at all: every civilized society has sanctions against crime, and in so far as we fail to apply them we have to be regarded as to that extent a quasi savage society. That fact is not altered one jot by the fact that there may be a hundred and one infirmities in the UNHRC Report and the Resolution that followed from it. The other essential arises from the fact that what is at issue are crimes allegedly committed against an ethnic minority, namely the Tamils. Our refusal to hold credible investigations on the alleged crimes and take appropriate action over them would mean that the Tamils are regarded as a lesser breed who are not entitled as a matter of course to the protection of the law. The case for Eelam would be strengthened to the extent that the culture of impunity applies to the Tamils.
Those two essentials fully justify our Government’s co-sponsorship of the Resolution. There is an additional compelling reason for supporting the Resolution, which is that in the alternative crippling sanctions would almost certainly have been imposed by the Western powers and their associates, crippling because of our dependence on Western markets. That is contested by the Sri Lankan Opposition but the two essentials I have mentioned above should be regarded as beyond contestation. I will expand on them slightly. A society is a whole, not just a collection of autonomous fragments, and that means that what affects the part can come to affect the whole as well. Under the last Government a culture of impunity applied to the Tamils because that Government refused to hold credible investigations into alleged crimes against the Tamils. A coarsening of the moral sensibility, a partial atrophy of the moral faculty, a lapse into a condition of quasi savagery, ensued from that refusal. It is not surprising therefore that under that same Government the culture of impunity came to prevail against the Sinhalese and the Muslims as well.
As for strengthening the case for Eelam, we must first of all take into account the unalterable facts of power. The Sri Lankan state emerged victorious after the 26-year civil war. It has been clearly demonstrated that the ethnic minorities are at the mercy of the Sinhalese majority. But the Sinhalese cannot treat the Tamils like dirt – for instance by refusing to hold credible investigations into alleged war crimes – and hope to get away with it with total impunity. The reason of course is the Tamil Nadu factor: what happens to the Tamils here could conceivably cause a fall-out in Tamil Nadu of so serious an order that Indian intervention could ensue, even possibly to the imposition of a Cyprus-style solution. That is only a worst-case hypothesis, a possibility of a very remote order, but it should not be discounted because the unalterable facts of power are there: the Sinhalese are dominant over the Tamils in a national context, but the Tamils could become dominant over the Sinhalese in a regional context. Those unalterable facts of power dictate that we support a Resolution that is meant to ensure that the Tamils are not treated as a lesser breed that is not entitled to the full protection of the law.
It seems to me essential that the Opposition in particular do some rethinking about our propensity to think of Resolutions on human rights as anti-Sri Lankan. A Resolution on human rights is critical of the Government, not of the people, for violating the rights of the people. It is absurd therefore to think of a Resolution that is critical of the Government over human rights as anti-Sri Lankan. It should appropriately be regarded as pro-Sri Lankan. The confusion has arisen because of simplistic notions about sovereignty. The modern state system has its origin in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, according to which every state is sovereign and it is in that respect the equal of every other state. The golden principle theoretically guiding international relations was that there should not be any interference in the internal affairs of states. But the notion of sovereignty underwent a sea-change in the course of the centuries, and there has been a steady erosion of state sovereignty in recent decades.
At the time of the Treaty of Westphalia a traditional political order prevailed in the West and in the rest of the world. It consisted essentially of the King and nobles, the clergy, and the commons. It was the result of a process of organic growth over centuries, and it was regarded as immutable because it was part of the natural order of things or God-given. All that began to change in the second half of the eighteenth century with the American and French Revolutions, as a consequence of which the people, not the wielders of power, became sovereign. Consequently when we complain that a UNHRC Resolution infringes Sri Lankan sovereignty, we are forgetting that it is supportive of the rights of the people of Sri Lanka who are sovereign under the Constitution. Such Resolutions should be regarded as pro- not anti- Sri Lanka.
It seems essential also that we should get our perspectives clear about the Western powers. Simplistic notions of pro-Western and anti-western have to be jettisoned because they don’t fit the complex realities that we have to confront in international relations. It is true that the US and other Western powers have been interfering, bullying, aggressive towards weaker powers. At the UNHRC they have been notorious for double standards and for giving priority to political interests over human rights. But – and this is the point of crucial importance – they have been in earnest, or at least partly in earnest, about the promotion of human rights, and that is something of real benefit to the oppressed of the earth. We must see the promotion of human rights as part of a revolutionary transformation of the world, and the West is at the forefront of that transformation.
The negative and positive aspects of Western relations with the rest of the world should, I think, be seen in terms of a schizophrenic divide at the heart of Western civilisation. The prevailing political ideology of the West is liberal democracy, an ideology which is favored by the majority of people in the contemporary world. Liberal democracy really consists of two distinct components, liberalism and democracy, which can be seen in the ideological writings that preceded the American and French Revolutions. Liberalism stands for rationality, secularism, individualism and capitalism, while democracy stands for liberty, equality, and fraternity. The schizophrenic divide can be seen clearly in the two contrasting figures of Voltaire and Rousseau. It is the Western liberal drive to transform the world that has earned the West the detestation of the peoples of many third world countries. As for the democratic drive, shown for instance in the promotion of human rights, alas it has too often been misunderstood, particularly in countries dominated by rogues, thugs, and fools.
– The Island