This is my Nation  


Western countries eager to prosecute Sri Lanka

Sri 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 convincing.
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.