Lanka cannot afford to despise UN system

The May Day rally was a promising start for the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, against the UN expert panel report, in terms of the massive crowd that attended the meeting.

The climax of the Workers’ Day rally was the inspiring delivery of the President where he questioned the motives behind the United Nations expert panel report.

His speech was filled with patriotic rhetoric and was able to effectively pass down the message to the audience that would further trickle down to the grassroots in time to come. The President’s ambitions and motives were clear and the speech he delivered on May Day gave a boost to his political image locally. The report of the expert panel was to the advantage of the government in some way or the other, in the local political context: And was used by the government to the hilt, to boost the waning image of the government among the electorate. Now the government is in a hurry to hold elections for the 70 local government bodies, for which the elections were not held due to various reasons.

Blessing in disguise
Some tend to believe that the Ban Ki-moon expert panel report was a blessing in disguise for the UPFA government in many ways. The government shot up the prices of petrol and gas taking cover under the Cricket World Cup and this time it is a bigger occasion for the government to forge ahead, freely covering up issues in the public focus.
Increasing the prices of dried milk foods to unbearable levels and introducing a pension scheme for the private sector employees against the wishes of the majority, are in the government agenda among other things such as restricting the period of office of the Chief Justice to a term of five years.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka is facing a huge problem internationally over the issue of the report published by the expert panel appointed by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The disconcerting factor for all is the malicious behaviour of some protestors at the Workers’ Day procession held last Sunday. It was quite evident that the protestors were receiving political patronage and they were behaving at the behest of some who have little knowledge in handling problems diplomatically.
It is the advice of many seasoned diplomats and many other officials that sensitive issues relating to the country should be handled prudently. Their concern is that Sri Lanka should not be seen as a country that despises the UN system and isolate itself from the global community.
While many politicians make it a point to get on their hobbyhorse to browbeat Ban Ki-moon to boost their image locally, External Affairs Minster G. L. Peiris is compelled to give repeated assurances that Sri Lanka would be willing to work within the UN system.

May Day floats
Despite efforts by more astute leaders in the government, National Freedom Front May Day floats carried the cut-outs of Libyan President Colonel Gadaffi, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the leaders who had not bowed down to the dictates of the UN and the West. They had also added a cut-out of President Mahinda Rajapaksa as being one in their company, sending wrong signals internationally and making things difficult for Sri Lanka in the international arena.
It is a fact that out of the three leaders so depicted, only Russia would be able to withstand pressure from the international community, being a super power armed with the right to veto. In the present context, it would be much better if Sri Lanka restrain itself without going hammer and tong attacking our perceived friends to make a mess of things internationally.

Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratna’s statement in Pettah on Monday evening on the killing of wanted terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani soil by the US ground forces is yet another occasion where Sri Lanka is trying to burn its fingers unnecessarily. Though it is a privilege to talk on any issue of importance, whether it is local or international, violation of Pakistani’s sovereignty is a question for the Pakistan to raise with the United States. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minster is the second person to raise this issue in public, after former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf. There may be an element of truth in what the Prime Minister says, but it is best if Pakistan raised the issue first, since both the US and Pakistan, were partners in the campaign against global terrorism.

On the contrary, the Prime Minister as a responsible member of the SLFP, would have raised the issue when India thought it fit to violate Sri Lanka’s air space to drop dhal ‘Parippu’ to the beleaguered LTTE in 1987, at which point the SLFP was in the opposition. At that stage, it was Prime Minster Ranasinghe Premadasa who came out strongly against India being No. 2 in the Jayewardene administration.

Stand by our actions
The death of Osama Bin Laden was a subject of discussion among journalists at a press conference hosted by the visiting Assistant Secretary State of the US Robert O. Blake. He defended the US position, taking on the question from the audience: “Let me tell you that Osama Bin Laden was the leader of an armed group that was engaged in an armed conflict against the Government of United States. He was, therefore, a lawful target. We certainly stand by our actions,” he said.
In any case, the death of Osama Bin Laden had its effects in Sri Lanka. Some of the political parties, including the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), welcomed the elimination of Bin Laden and said it was a victory for the world community who are against terrorism and value peace. While praising the US for the step taken to eliminate terrorism from the Earth, the JHU drew parallels with the Sri Lankan situation two years ago, when the country eliminated terrorism from its soil. They said that they oppose any moves by the US to reverse the victory by giving a live wire to the Tiger Terrorists through official and unofficial action against Sri Lanka.
The statement was issued on the eve of the visit of the US Assistant Secretary to State’s to Sri Lanka. However, on Wednesday the government issued its non-committal official position under the signature of the Director General Government Information. It said, the death of Osama Bin Laden reminds us once again, if any reminder is required, that terrorism sows the seeds of its own destruction.
The statement further stated, no nation that has a conscience, and believes in right and wrong, can possibly condone the taking of innocent lives in the name of any cause.

The release added: “The eternal truths embedded in the Buddhist scriptures teach us that the long shadows cast by one’s misdeeds darken one’s days until the end.
“We in Sri Lanka who are making every effort to put behind us the pain and anguish of the past and to build anew our institutions and our economy in a spirit of solidarity, should re-dedicate ourselves at this time to the firm rejection of violence as a means for the solution of any issue within a nation, or among nations.”

Many Sri Lankan politicians as well as columnists tend to draw parallels between the death of Osama Bin Laden and that of Sri Lanka’s own terror icon Velupillai Prabhakaran. The debate is on as to who is the deadliest of the two. Some argue that Prabhakaran had done more collateral damage to Sri Lanka than Osama did to the United States. In the same wavelength, they argue that the operations that led to the culmination of Prabhakaran’s death had features similar to the operation that killed Osama. Also, they argue that the US is still waging the war on terrorism where there are thousands of civilian casualties, and question why there is an inquiry only against Sri Lanka and not the US.

Is this argument an admission that there had been a vast number of civilian casualties during the final phase of the war in Sri Lanka? However, some say there was a significant difference, between them. While Osama was a global threat, they think that Prabhakaran’s terror tactics were confined only to Sri Lanka and at its most Tamil Nadu, India. It is true Prabhakaran killed two state leaders, including President Premadasa and Prime Minster of India Rajeev Gandhi and a host of UNP leaders including Lalith Athlathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake.

Osama targeted the Pentagon, the World Trade Centre, and many other international targets. Somehow, it appears that the root causes stem from political victimisation. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, victimisation of Tamils in the post-independent Sri Lanka and the Sinhala Only concept adopted in 1956 were widely attributed to the birth of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka, while in the global context, it could have been and was the Palestinian issue that gave rise to Islamic militancy.

There are many similarities between the terror outfits of both the LTTE and the Al Qaeda, but they operated under different circumstances and different theatres denoting a relative difference between them. The LTTE had its own Sea Tiger force and a small battery of Air Power, while Al-Qaeda operated through different independent cells in many parts of the world including North America, Asia, Africa and Europe.
Then what comes into question is the justification of appointing a panel to report on Sri Lanka, which may eventually lead to an inquiry either by the United Nations Human Rights Council or the United Nations itself through some mechanism.

It is the considered view of the government that the so-called panel report lacks UN stature and that it would not reply to the report per se, but would communicate with the United Nations Secretary-General on the steps taken and the progress made following the war in the North and East.

govt. in two minds
At the very outset, the government was in two minds. While some maintained the position, including some of the reputed former ambassadors, that certain sections of the report require responses. But, the other more politically inclined were of the opinion that the government should not respond. Their considered view was that the report should be shrugged off by the government on the premise it lacks authorisation by the intergovernmental body of the UN.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe making a statement in Parliament said that the report needed to be studied carefully. Recapping the entire episode during the last stages of the offensive against the LTTE Wickremesinghe said, Sri Lanka must maintain a dialogue with the UN.
“Sri Lanka is a member of the United Nations and a significant stakeholder. In the Joint Statement issued on May 23, 2009 Sri Lanka committed itself ‘to the promotion and protection of human rights in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations.’ Implementing this commitment requires an ongoing discussion with the Secretary-General.

“It is also necessary for Sri Lanka to respond, where appropriate with strong rebuttal to the panel report. Remaining silent is no longer an option. The Secretary-General’s statement has left room for that.”
Minister G. L. Peiris in the contrary made the government’s standpoint on the issue known to the government of the United States at the meeting with Robert O. Blake. The Minister said that Sri Lanka would not respond to the UN panel report, but would work closely with the United Nations Secretary-General.
Blake welcomed the move by Sri Lanka to work closely with the UN, but emphasised the need to have in place the accountability process.

Excerpts of Blake’s statement made available at the press briefing in Colombo are as follows:
“In my official meetings today, I assured the Sri Lankan Government that the US is committed to a strong long-term partnership with Sri Lanka and that reports of our alleged support for “regime change” have no basis whatsoever. I expressed support for the government’s efforts to recover from its devastating civil war, and encouraged further steps towards reconciliation, and a peaceful, united, democratic Sri Lanka.
I think the government has made some positive progress. It is very important that this progress be sustained. For example:
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is playing an important role in the reconciliation process. The Commission has heard testimony from Sri Lankans from all regions and ethnic backgrounds.

It has provided a forum for individuals to bring injustices to light and to express the personal tragedy and hardship created by the war. We hope that the LLRC will also address accountability and will offer recommendations on how to redress wrongs committed by both sides during the conflict.
Nearly all of the 300,000 IDPs have been resettled from the camps with the remaining scheduled to be resettled by the end of 2011, if not sooner.
The military, with assistance from several international demining organisations, and support from the US Government, has cleared over 5 million square metres of mine-infested land throughout the northern provinces of Sri Lanka. Completion of demining in Mullaitivu will allow most of the remaining IDPs to be resettled.
The Sri Lankan Government has reduced the number of high security zones, further helping Sri Lankans affected by the conflict to return to their homes and livelihoods.
The government and Tamil National Alliance have conducted several rounds of talks with another round scheduled on May 12. I expressed our hope that these talks can result in a comprehensive agreement that can help Sri Lanka heal the wounds of war and ensure that all Sri Lankans enjoy equal rights and a future of hope and opportunity.
I am encouraged that External Affairs Minister Peiris will communicate soon with the UN Secretary-General and by his statement that Sri Lanka wants cordial relations with the Secretary-General and his team.
The UN report underscores the importance of a durable political solution that can forge a prosperous, democratic and united Sri Lanka, but also the importance of dialogue between the UN and the Government of Sri Lanka.

Finally, I accepted the congratulations of the government for the death of Osama bin Laden. His defeat is a victory for the United States and for all human beings who seek to live in peace, security, and dignity. His demise will ultimately make the world a safer place.”
The government was more or less contended with the stand taken by the US and they are optimistic that the US and India in particular were not interested in hounding Sri Lanka, if there is a tangible progress in the reconciliation process.
Nevertheless, there are still doubts whether the European and other human rights groups would make moves to bring in a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva in June.
The encouraging information for Sri Lanka is that the UNHRC is loaded with resolutions against Libya and Syria and a few more countries in the Middle East where pro-democracy movements have been subjected to severe abuses of their rights.

Foreign affairs experts are vary in their thinking and are up in arms over the government move to shift Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Shenuka Seneviratne to Colombo. The reasoning behind the move is that the External Affairs Ministry needs the services of a senior hand to handle matters from this end. For Geneva, the government’s choice among the names tossed for the position is Tamara Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Cuba. Ms. Kunanayakam is also the author of the book ‘Quel Développement.’ She is essentially an NGO person, and the thinking goes behind this appointment is that a person conversant with NGO activity should take over Geneva since the UNHRC is mainly dealing with INGOs. However, it is yet to be seen as to what influence she could wield over NGOs.

Nevertheless, people conversant with the subject believe that there should be a knowledgeable team to handle the intricacies that could arise at the UNHRC.
If the need arises, the government may rely on Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke who is Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Paris, to take over the Geneva mission at least temporarily until the country is able to circumvent such intricacies. Jayatilleke has some achievements to his credit after his performance on the previous occasion in Geneva, but if all goes well, as that of the visit of Robert O. Blake, the government would be contended with the appointment of Kunanayakam.

However, the team that offers advice to the government is always confronted with difficulties due to the inconsistency of the Minister of External Affairs who is more inclined towards saving his position rather than working according to a fixed policy that may augur well for the country at the end.
The immediate challenge before the government today is to re-commence the reconciliation process at its earliest to overcome the impending dangers owing to the expert panel report of the United Nations. The government should assess the magnitude of the inherent opposition that may occur within the confines of the government and address the issue in a realistic and practical manner. Some affiliated partners may pull towards a hard-line nationalistic approach, thus making things difficult for the government. It is, therefore, necessary to handle this delicate issue with care and necessary precautions, if the government is interested in salvaging the country out of a political muddle and do justice to the Tamil people who are already placed in a rather awkward position.
At the same time, it is the measured view of the government that there should be a paradigm shift in the TNA political thinking in the present political context. The government’s viewpoint is that they should come to terms with the ground reality and the TNA could not any further sustain the same political standpoint as in 2001, in a post-war situation. The merger of the North and East is no longer practical in the present political environment and federal solution for the ethnic problem has gradually faded away, due to the failure of the community leaders to seize the opportunity at the right time.

In this backdrop, it is the perceived view of the government that practicalities of devolution should be included to modify their proposal that exceeds the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
It is important now to share the sensitivities of the majority too before making their proposals known. The thinking of the majority of the government ministers is that the TNA represents the viewpoint of the Tamil Diaspora overseas and that it would be futile effort in talking to them and achieving something pragmatic.
Nevertheless, it is essential to strike a deal with the TNA who largely represent the Tamil populace in the country.

The views of the Tamil National Alliance were frankly expressed by R. Sampanthan and A. Sumanthiran at the meeting they had with US Assistant Secretary to State Robert O. Blake.
The TNA ostensibly expressed their disappointment with the government and briefed the visiting US Assistant Secretary to State how the government is stooped towards politicising the report of the UN expert panel. Their position is that they had already submitted their proposals to the government and the government is insisting another set of proposals.
The TNA delegation also pointed out the confrontational attitude adopted by the government in the wake of the UN panel report and after the TNA Leader welcomed it.
The TNA has also submitted a written document for the perusal of the US Assistant Secretary to State Robert O. Blake.
What is important at this point of time is reconciliation and peace irreversible peace would heal the wounds of hatred the government has to take the lead in this respect.

Milinda Moragoda appointed Senior Advisor

Former Minister Milinda Moragoda, widely known as a foreign policy expert, has been appointed as the Senior Advisor to the President.
Mr. Moragoda who entered Parliament in the year 2000 first as a National List Parliamentarian was re-elected as a Colombo District Parliamentarian representing the UNP in 2001. He was appointed the Minister of Economic Reforms and Science and Technology of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government in 2001. He was also appointed the Deputy Minister for Plan Implementation and Development of which the portfolio was held by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe himself.
Mr. Moragoda however crossed over to the government from the UNP along with sixteen others which included UNP’s Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed him as the Minister of Tourism and later as the Minister of Justice and Law Reforms.
Mr. Moragoda founded his own party Sri Lanka National Congress but failed to enter Parliament in the 2010 General Elections.
President Rajapaksa appointed him as the Senior Advisor to the President on the 31st of March barely two weeks before the release of the UN expert panel report on Sri Lanka.
Having received his early education at Royal College Colombo, he proceeded to Europe and the US for further studies. Mr. Moragoda holds an MBA from the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland and was a fellow of the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs at the prestigious Harvard University in the United States.
He is expected to advise the government on foreign policy matters and especially on how Sri Lanka should forge ahead in the light of the UN expert panel report.

unp falling apart

The main opposition United National Party (UNP) has shown symptoms of falling apart.
At the Working Committee meeting held last week, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe bulldozed his way to appoint Ravi Karunanayake as the National Organiser of the party amidst opposition from Sajith Premadasa.
The appointment came after Sajith Premadasa nominated the name of Ranjith Madduma Bandar to the coveted post of the party.
The Party’s new Working Committee appointed under the new constitution met for the first time and Premadasa felt that he was more or less isolated. It was a lone battle for Premadasa where Ronald Perera later quipped that Premadasa waged war against odds to put his point of view across in support of Ranjith Madduma Bandara.
The Premadasa group that allege that the proceedings were illegal are preparing papers for a court battle. They allege that Wickremesinghe relied on a provision meant to deal in an emergency to appoint the National Organiser through the Party’s advisory council.
“It is our considered view that the step taken by the party leadership blatantly violated the party constitution,” the Premadasa group alleges.
It is likely now that the Parliamentarians of the dissident Premadasa group would meet with the party activists in the provinces to educate them on the latest developments and garner their support against the decision of the party apex body.
It is also likely now that Premadasa would consider resigning his post as the joint deputy leader thus pushing the party into a fresh crisis.
In the meantime, Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya is making moves to keep the party intact as many feel it is on the brink of a split.
Jayasuriya will shuttle across to mend fences but the UNPs chances of wining the rest of the Local Government elections would be at stake.