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Geneva: NGO Blitzkrieg starts Tuesday

The American representative to the UN Human Rights Council Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero spoke at the HRC on Friday last week, and there was no talk about a resolution being brought against Sri Lanka by the USA.
What she said about Sri Lanka was that “We know from experience that there can be no lasting peace without reconciliation and accountability. The United States is concerned that in Sri Lanka, time is slipping away. The international community has waited nearly three years, for action and while we welcome the release if the LLRC report, recommendations of the report should be implemented. We have engaged Sri Lanka bilaterally on these issues since the conflict ended in 2009 and stand ready to continue to work with them. Action now in this council will sow the seeds of lasting peace on the ground.”

The only indication that the USA may try to get a resolution passed against Sri Lanka at the present session of the HRC, is the last sentence.  Does this mean that we are out of the woods? Not yet perhaps. The real campaign against Sri Lanka is due to begin only next week. No less than five international NGOs are due to hold ‘parallel events’ under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights focusing exclusively on Sri Lanka starting the day after tomorrow. The INGOs that will be campaigning against Sri Lanka next week will be as follows.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) – Tuesday 6th March 2012

Human Rights Watch – Thursday, 9th March 2012

Amnesty International – Tuesday 13th March 2012 (2.00 pm)

International Educational Development Inc – Tuesday 13th March 2012 (4.00 pm)

Society for Threatened Peoples International – Tuesday 19th March 2012

Thus we see that the real campaign against this country will begin only next week. NGOs are not bothered about voting at the human rights council. The USA or any other country for that matter will not move a resolution in the human rights council unless they were pretty confident about it being able to muster the number of votes necessary to carry the resolution. NGOs however are not concerned about such practical matters. It has to be assumed that the less likely it is that the USA will move a resolution against Sri Lanka, the more strident the NGO campaign will become in the hope that the sound and fury will motivate some countries to vote against Sri Lanka. What is remarkable is that even though Sri Lanka does not feature in the agenda for the 19th regular sessions of the UNHRC, and there is no report about Sri Lanka to be discussed at the present sessions, no less than five international NGOs will be holding ‘parallel events’ with Sri Lanka as the exclusive focus. Such a number of ‘parallel events’ are not being held even over Syria which is an ongoing issue.

What this indicates is that the Sri Lankan conflict provided lucrative careers for many people who are now engaged in a last ditch attempt to salvage their livelihoods. If the USA fails to get a resolution passed at this session of the UNHRC, that will most probably be the end of anti-Sri Lanka resolutions in the UN. If that happens, funding for the Sri Lanka issue will dry up, and all these international  NGOs will have to close their Sri Lanka desks. Signs of such a situation were already manifesting themselves last week. It was just last Sunday that this column reported the exchange in the British House of Commons between Conservative and Labour MPs about the policy of deporting Tamils who had made false asylum applications. Last week another 52 deportees reached Colombo from Britain. This plane load of people couldn’t have come at a better time for Sri Lanka as it clearly shows that the British government and judiciary does not see any danger for Tamils in general in this country.

Accountability fervour seems to be dying a natural death in the West as governments try to come to terms with a large Tamil population living in their midst and adding to the immigration issue. If the Tamils living in Britain are unable to stop their government from deporting Tamil asylum seekers, that shows that the diaspora is losing the influence they once had.  As we pointed out last week, the Conservative government holds that the media reports in Britain to the effect that Tamil returnees were being harassed in Sri Lanka are completely false. There are two things to take note of here. On the one hand, the British government and judiciary are refusing to attach any credence to the stories being told by Tamil asylum applicants themselves about the persecution they have had to undergo in Sri Lanka. On the other hand, the British government refuses to attach any credence to British media reports about the harassment of returnees to Sri Lanka. Yet these were the two sources that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s advisory panel relied on to compile their report on allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka – Tamil civilians living in the West and Western media reports  about  widespread civilian deaths.

The first newspaper to start giving figures about the number of civilian deaths in Sri Lanka was in fact a British newspaper, the Sunday Times as we pointed out last week. The British government is now declaring quite openly that they have found through their own investigations that the British press was publishing fiction about the harassment of Tamil returnees to Sri Lanka. This naturally calls into question the casualty figures published in the British press as well.

If every single media report in Britain about allegations that Tamil returnees to Sri Lanka were being ill-treated were found to be false, suspicion naturally arises about the allegations made by these very same sources about the thousands of civilian deaths during the last stages of the war. We wrote last week about how the late Marie Colvin used the Sunday Times (London) to amplify the LTTE’s message to the world.  The British government has found out for themselves that reports in the British media about Tamils and Sri Lanka are not impartial and factual reporting, but false propaganda designed to achieve a certain purpose.  Its not that the Western governments were unaware of this. The defence establishment in the United States in particular, always knew very well what the LTTE was all about. As far back as 2002, the US Defence Department did a study of the two sides to the Sri Lankan conflict and their observations on the LTTE and the Tamil diaspora showed that they knew very well what the reality was.

In fact, it was the FBI that declared the LTTE to be the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation in January 2008. Some months ago, everybody in Sri Lanka was surprised at the impromptu comments made by Col. Lawrence Smith, the then US defence attaché in Sri Lanka, at an international seminar organised by the Sri Lanka army. During the seminar, Col. Smith suddenly came out with comments to the effect that the story that the Sri Lanka army had shot dead Pulidevan and Nadesan as they tried to surrender, was just bunkum. The US State Department frantically denied that Col. Smithviews were the official American view and said that was his private opinion.

Why would a salaried employee of the US government jeopardize his job by taking a completely contrary view to the US State Department in public? Many people in Sri Lanka heard what Col. Smith said, and were perhaps pleasantly surprised, but they did not know what to make of it. What most people in this country are not aware of is that the US Defence Department in particular has always had a much clearer picture of the LTTE than Sri Lankan politicians like R.Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe.  What Col. Smith blurted out was clearly the official view of the US Defence Department. The American intelligence services collects all news reports pertaining to the LTTE and the war, and by just flipping through old newspaper clippings, anybody could have seen that it was the LTTE that started propagating the story that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been shot dead while trying to surrender.  (The article in ‘The Independent’ by Andrew Buncombe of the 20th May 2009 mentioned by the present writer last week,  being a case in point.)  

On the day that Prabhakaran’s dead body was displayed to the world, (19th May 2009) LTTE officials overseas were telling  Buncombe that Pulidevan and Nadesan had been shot dead while trying to surrender. Prabhakaran’s death was a catastrophe to the LTTE and with images of their leader’s dead body being flashed on TV screens across the world, how did they muster the strength to talk about Nadesan and Pulidevan who were both second tier leaders in the LTTE? Both of them came into prominence as a result of the peace talks and interacting with the Western embassies. It was easier to evoke sympathy by talking about these ‘peace negotiators’ rather than by talking about demonised figures like Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman. So on the day that the dead Prabhakaran was being displayed to the world, the preoccupation of LTTE officials overseas was with the fact that Pulidevan and Nadesan had been shot dead while trying to surrender.

 As we pointed out in this column some weeks ago, the American defence establishment holds that a surrender can be accepted only if the circumstances permit. The point that Col Smith made at that army seminar was that neither Pulidevan nor Nadesan could have negotiated a surrender on behalf of the LTTE because they did not have the authority to do so.

The harm that the US State Department does to America’s image overseas is incalculable. With the State Department, America does not need any enemies. The State Department has done more damage to America than Al Queda ever did or ever will. By speaking up at that army seminar, Col. Smith was probably trying to salvage what he could of American self respect so that other armies in Asia which were represented at that seminar do not think of the American armed forces the same way they do of the State department. Because Sri Lanka is a small and relatively unimportant country as far as the USA is concerned, it appears to be the case that individual officials in the State Department may have a bigger say in forming policy towards this country than would normally be the case in relation to more important countries like Pakistan for example.

The moves the State Department has been making with regard to Sri Lanka in recent times is completely contrary to the recommendations of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee headed by Senator John Kerry who said as far back as October 2009 in a formal report to Congress that the USA has been using the stick but not the carrot in its relations with Sri Lanka and that the US policy should change. But no matter what Senator Kerry says, the State Department seems to be reverting to the stick and supporting action against Sri Lanka on flimsy grounds. One gets the impression that the figure behind this Sri Lanka baiting in the State Department is Robert O. Blake.  After announcing that they are going to move a resolution against Sri Lanka in the HRC and if they fail to do so, that too will be another milestone in the rapid slide of American influence on the world stage.

Even though there is no report on Sri Lanka to be discussed at the present sessions of the UNHRC there is a report on the preponderance of Westerners on the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  The fact that this watch dog office is dominated by Westerners means that they will raise human rights issues in tandem with western foreign policy needs. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been one of the two UN officials most interested in putting Sri Lanka on the dock and the reason is not difficult to see. Navaneetham Pillay is a South African Tamil in an organisation dominated by Western staffers.  Of the 443 regular staffers at the OHCHR, no less than 164 are westerners and of the 93 non-regular staff, 36 are westerners. It used to be much worse, but objections raised by other countries on the Human Rights Council has now forced the OHCHR to recruit staff from non-western countries as well. This in fact will be one issue that will be coming up for discussion at the present sessions and there is even a progress report about the broad basing of the OHCHR staff which claims that in 2006 the proportion of Westerners on its staff was as high as 64% but that due to efforts at recruiting from other countries as well, it had come down to 47% by the end of last year.

The imbalances in the staffing are scandalous. China with 20% of the world’s population, has only five members on the OHCHR staff. India with another 20% of the world’s population has only eight staffers. Russia has five staffers. In contrast to that,  France alone has 29 staffers,  much more than China, Russia and India combined.  Obviously, there is something radically wrong. The other countries on the human rights council appear to trace the selectivity and bias in the human rights work of the OHCHR, to this staffing imbalance. Of the other major western countries, the USA has 23 staffers, Britain 21, Germany 26, Italy 29. Obviously, countries like Sri Lanka cannot expect fair play in the OHCHR until this imbalance is addressed.


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