Western countries eager to prosecute Sri Lanka
Lanka ended its war with the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, 2009. However, its war
with the Tamil Diaspora that propped up the LTTE
continues to this day and the confrontation
escalated last week.
The theatre of conflict was in Geneva where sessions
of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
were in progress. It transpired that the report of
the so-called ‘panel of experts’ appointed by United
Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had been
forwarded to the UNHRC.
That was clearly a breach of procedure and the
accepted norms of the UN, as the panel of experts
was not a statutory agency of the UN but a body
appointed on the directions of the Secretary General
alone. As such, diplomats say, Moon has acted
clearly above his remit.
Not only was the report forwarded to the UNHRC, Sri
Lanka was kept in the dark about the move and learnt
about it only informally. When the European Union
representative raised the issue of the report being
discussed at the UNHRC, the Sri Lankan delegation
was surprised - and furious.
It is well known that UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights Navanethem Pillai has a hostile agenda
towards Sri Lanka. A South African and an ethnic
Tamil, her partiality in her dealings with Sri Lanka
have been obvious for some time. Pillai will no
doubt pursue the ‘expert’ report with gusto.
In their eagerness to prosecute Sri Lanka and its
leadership for alleged war crimes, it appears that
the UN and countries such as the United States,
Britain and some members of the European Union (EU)
are falling over each other. And in so doing, they
seem to be setting a dangerous precedent.
The present call to have Sri Lanka ‘investigated’
through an ‘international panel’ comes at the behest
of a handful of very powerful countries. Unlike
other countries where such inquiries have been
initiated, Sri Lanka is not a banana republic but a
functioning and vibrant democracy.
To interfere in the affairs of such a nation without
a proper mandate to do so would be a drastic step.
Sadly, in this diplomatic war Sri Lanka seems to be
more on the defensive - although Minister Mahinda
Samarasinghe did lash out at UN High Commissioner
Pillai at the UNHRC last week.
It is now a fact that the western bloc of nations
has hitched their wagon to the LTTE rump. It is a
decision that they may well come to regret later
when the criminal elements in the LTTE get active in
their own countries and cause serious law and order
problems on their soil.
But for now, the western bloc, the EU and the UN are
all aligned against Sri Lanka. It appears that only
a diplomatic counter offensive can redress the
balance. Sri Lanka has been asking for the support
of many nations at the UNHRC in recent weeks but
that may not be sufficient.
In such a context, it would be crucial for Sri Lanka
to enlist the support of countries that could
effectively counter the clout of the western bloc,
the EU and the UN. Among such countries, Russia,
China and India are foremost.
Russia has been a silent spectator during most of
Sri Lanka’s recent travails in the diplomatic arena
but it did offer tacit support when the UN Secretary
General announced the appointment of a panel of
experts to probe alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.
China has been more proactive. Its support has come
in the form of enhanced economic investment in Sri
Lanka. This is part of its effort to counter Indian
influence and also gain a foothold in the region but
it is very much in Sri Lanka’s interests at this
juncture to pursue a China friendly policy.
India is watching all these developments with
interest. It has a stake in what transpires in Sri
Lanka because it is also home to 60 million Tamils
in Tamil Nadu and this has direct implications on
the electoral politics of that country.
Also, India has felt the full brunt of Sri Lankan
terrorism - refugees in Tamil Nadu, an Indian Peace
Keeping Force being sent to Sri Lanka leading to the
loss of lives and an assassination of a Prime
Minister - so it understands the need to crush the
LTTE more than perhaps any other country.
For all these reasons, India and China are potent
allies and should be wooed in earnest if Sri Lanka
is to counter the diplomatic offensive currently
being pursued against the country by the western
bloc of nations and the UN.
Certainly, some domestic adjustments can and have to
be made. There have been demands for more press
freedom and a more meaningful and urgent - dialogue
with Tamil political parties to formulate political
proposals aimed at devolving power to the different
communities in the country.
These can be pursued with more enthusiasm. On the
other hand though, there is some scepticism that the
response from the international community is
negative - given their bias - no matter what
attempts are made by Sri Lanka to restore a
semblance of balance.
Those, who argue that this is the case, note that
the relaxation of emergency regulations - in force
most part of the past thirty years - have not met
with the degree of approval that was expected. The
retention of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)
has been cited as a reason, but that is not
Anyone with an iota of sense understands that
repealing the PTA would set thousands of terrorist
suspects free to roam the streets but some segments
of the international community fail to see this and
keep heaping blame on Colombo.
In such a scenario, there must be a concerted effort
by the government to not only make progressive
changes but also go the extra mile to educate
‘neutral’ countries about what it is doing and what
it has achieved in the two year post-war period.
Certainly, the weeks that follow will be crucial for
Sri Lanka. It could take the government on the road
to diplomatic safety- or entrap it further in a
tangled web of conspiracies to destabilise the
country as it attempts to rebuild itself after
thirty years of a terrible war against terror.