UN, Human Rights and pre-conceived agendas

The guns may have fallen silent in the northern theatre of conflict, but the verbal barrages continue, the latest issue at stake being the controversial interview, purportedly given by former Army Commander and now presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka, where it was alleged that he said orders were given to shoot at senior leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who wished to surrender during the final stages of the ‘Eelam War’.

General Fonseka has since clarified that what he said has been stated out of context, but the United Nations (UN) jumped the gun last week, seeking an explanation from Sri Lanka on the issue. Colombo responded with a letter being sent by the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management & Human Rights, Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe, in response to a letter sent by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Phillip Alston.

However, Sri Lanka has since changed its stance, withdrawing the letter sent by Professor Wijesinghe, and stating that the UN should call for an explanation from General Fonseka instead, as to why the former Army Chief changed his interpretation of events. All this brings us to two vital questions. What is the role of the UN in this issue? And how effective has the government in Colombo been in dealing with this matter?
The UN has called for explanations from the Government of Sri Lanka, based on the contents of a single newspaper interview, which has since been disputed. Even at the time the UN called for this explanation, General Fonseka had stated that he had been quoted out of context; that apparently did not deter the UN from intervening in what was essentially an internal matter for Sri Lanka.

This would, of course, bring into focus, the role of the UN in recent events in Sri Lanka. It is well known that during the final stages of the war, there was tremendous lobbying of western governments and other international organisations by the Tamil diaspora sympathetic to the LTTE. The UN was among their victims.
We recall the many statements made by two key UN officials, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai and UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes. Neither of them seemed particularly objective in their dealings with Sri Lanka, preferring to adopt a myopic view of the conflict here, as evidenced by their brash and ill-conceived statements from time to time.

The Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon has not helped with his lackadaisical attitude, and an over reliance on his key officials, who were obviously incompetent, but not impartial. The result was a lot of verbal angst between Colombo, New York and Geneva, which did nothing to help Sri Lanka’s cause against terrorism.
In re-igniting the issues relating to the end of the ‘Eelam War’ six months ago, with this latest ‘call for explanations’, the UN has only shown where its sympathies lay. Sri Lanka fought a bitter war with terrorism for 30 years, and defeated the Tigers comprehensively. It is an achievement the entire peace loving and democratic world should appreciate, and not go about calling for explanations on the finer details as to how it was done, especially when those details have already been disputed.

If Colombo were to adopt the same measures, it should have been calling for explanations from the United States of America, because a local newspaper report said that then US envoy in Colombo Robert O’ Blake planned to evacuate key LTTE leaders including Velupillai Prabhakaran from the battle zone by deploying US vessels during the final stages of the war - an act that could be construed as interfering with the affairs of a sovereign nation.

The other issue at stake here is how appropriate Colombo’s response was to the matter. No sooner the UN calls for an explanation, a Ministry Secretary rushes to offer one. Then it is withdrawn. The government then tells the UN to call for an explanation from elsewhere instead. And while all this is done through the Ministry of Disaster Management & Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a silence that is deafening.
This is not the first instance this type of diplomatic incident has led to different responses from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Human Rights. In fact, there have been instances where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has contradicted what the Ministry of Disaster Management & Human Rights has said. Surely, the powers that be should sort out who manages which issues. Colombo cannot be seen to have a divided house on vital dealings with other governments and key international agencies.

It therefore seems that, while the UN is still acting on a pre-conceived agenda against Colombo, the latter should get its act together too. No doubt this is election time, but that is all the more reason why such issues tend to get blown out of proportion, which is exactly why all parties concerned should act with greater restraint and reason.