ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 42
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Wijeya Pariganaka

Be on the right track

This is Sri Lanka Bashing Week in the Swiss city of Geneva, where Government officials -- and support staff -- make pilgrimage each year to defend the country's good name.

It is the week when the IC (International Community) comes from all nooks and corners of the world, but especially the West to sermonise on how a miserable little country like Sri Lanka must administer herself -- and cleanse herself of all murky goings-on like human rights violations.

They can afford to do that because they foot the bill to run much of this country, as local funds are usually consumed by the lifestyles and corrupt practices of the powers-that-be. Only the previous week in nearby Berlin, the Sri Lanka stall was 'catching flies' not tourists.

The gloomy picture painted all over the world about the so-called 'civil war' in Sri Lanka together with travel advisories imposed by unsympathetic foreign governments -- and now increasing reports of human rights excesses -- are certainly not the ideal climate to promote tourism.

It was in the 1980s that Sri Lanka began to be targeted when the Government of India began lobbying foreign governments at the behest of the Sri Lankan separatist guerrilla groups whom they were openly sponsoring at the time. For instance, they got Argentina to move resolutions against Sri Lanka. What had Argentina to do with Sri Lanka? Remember Sri Lanka voted against Argentina at the UN over the British invasion of the Falklands (Malvinas) to wrest control following an Argentine attempt to take over the islands.

Now, 25 years later, the Indians are on the sidelines after their Prime Minister was assassinated by these same guerrillas, and the British have no qualms about being in a West-led campaign scrutinising human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

While officials in Geneva may get off with a mere warning, and ward off a major calamity like Sri Lanka getting labelled a pariah state and being slapped with a total economic embargo -- the real danger lies elsewhere.

Lurking in the horizons are moves to get the United Nations embroiled in the country's internal situation. The Minister of Disaster Management has shot his mouth off in Geneva according to our Political Editor and invited the UN Special Rapporteurs to 'come and see' what's happening.

The recent example of UN Ambassador Allan Rock and his half-baked findings, based on flimsy evidence after a whistle-stop visit to the areas under military conflict, show how dangerous such invitations can be.

Ambassador Rock's findings have found their way to the UN Security Council and are now with the new UN Secretary General. This week, the UN Secretary General told our Foreign Minister that he, meaning the UN, is willing to offer whatever assistance in sorting out our problems.

This is no different to when his predecessor Kofi Annan made the same offer, and the Government of the day very correctly preferred not to hear it. The UN's own role in conflict zones is not that great; In Cyprus, the problem has festered for over 30 years. The Norwegians have been here ever since 2001 to monitor a truce and bring about a politically negotiated settlement but with no success. Backed by the West, they have been trying to solve the Palestinian issue ever since 1993 -- so there is no magic in them.

Government officials have reason to grouse. They ask, quite legitimately, why the Human Rights lobbies and Western Governments have bleeding hearts only when the Security Forces give the guerrillas a bloodied nose.

The average man and woman would ask why these governments don't first rectify HR abuses in their own countries, and in countries where their own Security Forces are 'playing socks' with HR.

But the stark truth the Government has to face is that a) as long as this country is dependent on foreign aid, they will have to pay homage to the IC, and b) that in fact, they do have a problem with their HR record.

The argument trotted out by the Defence Establishment that terror can only be met by greater terror, that it is better to have a hundred people abducted and extra-judicially done away with than a thousand innocents dying in a suicide-bomb attack, that this is how the 1971 and the 1987-89 southern insurgencies were quelled (and everybody is now happy it was done), may have a certain logic, but few will condone that approach.

The Government's uphill challenge is to strike a balance that will see it through without leaving a residual factor. It must back its pledges to defend human rights in the country with swift and concrete action. Otherwise it may end up echoing that pithy local idiom -- Operation Successful, Patient Dead.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.