"To win the world, to develop the country
To develop the country, strengthen the village…"
And so went the blurb on the jacket of the 'Mahinda Chinthana' for the President's re-election campaign manifesto in 2010.
Beginning tomorrow, his Government will need to pool all its resources 'to win the world' or at least the majority of the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that meets in the Swiss city of Geneva. His Government is faced with a resolution spearheaded by the world's single most powerful nation, the United States of America. Our Political Commentary on this page names a few countries that are known in diplomatic circles to back the anti-Sri Lanka resolution.
As we have said before, the US is unlikely to put forward a resolution and have egg on its face by seeing it defeated. It is a David and Goliath duel (though little David won on that occasion). One would expect the US to have done its homework. By sending its Under Secretary of State to Colombo, it made it clear that it meant business and would flex its muscle. And our External Affairs Minister opted out of a meeting with his US counterpart despite an invitation indicating that Sri Lanka would rather play hardball than cave into pressure. Now, he is virtually pleading, on the eve of the Geneva sessions that Sri Lanka's crucifixion be postponed.
To say that Geneva is going to be one big circus is no understatement. The UNHRC has long been the hunting ground for those countries that were hostile to this island nation right through the thirty-year separatist insurgency, and now continue to be so. In the 1980s and 90s it was India that was the bête noire. It spurred Argentina, which has no interest in Sri Lanka whatsoever to sponsor resolution after resolution. Argentina was recruited on the footing that Sri Lanka had voted against it by siding with Britain over the Malvinas (Falklands) issue. That was a decision taken by President J. R. Jayewardene against the advice of his Foreign Minister A.C.S. Hameed. Now proxy states with IOUs to encash are being coaxed to support the US draft against Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka completely misread the US and mishandled the US brief. It was a poor foreign policy performance replete with contradictions right along to say the least. After all, the US is for all intent and purpose a friendly country that banned the LTTE as a terrorist organisation and prosecuted its funders. Sri Lanka's mission in Washington did not know its way about Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Hill and the lobbyists retained at the Sri Lankan taxpayers cost did not deliver, playing to the Sri Lankan gallery through media statements.
The Washington beat is a difficult one and able Sri Lankan diplomats backed by Colombo have weathered previous storms. When the Sri Lankan Government crushed the JVP there were similar noises of extra-judicial killings. In 1953 Sri Lanka allowed the Voice of America (VOA) to open a station on Sri Lankan soil when no-one from Colombo to Manila permitted this. Today one might suggest that US-Sri Lanka relations have plummeted to the worst point in the 64 years since Independence.
The Government 'dropped a catch', so to say, when the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report was handed over. Many say this. It was a golden opportunity for the Rajapaksa Administration to show that it was serious about reconciliation and good governance. Some might argue that the resolution would have come anyway because the LLRC refused to certify the line that there were violations of international humanitarian law during the last stages of Sri Lanka's war against terrorism. But had the Government begun implementing the report's recommendations, knowing very well the UNHRC was scheduled to meet at this time of year, the mala fide on the part of the Western countries backing this anti-Sri Lanka resolution would have been better exposed.
The Government is going to shore up domestic support by organising a mass rally tomorrow. The sweaty party workers will be shouting slogans. They will be as clueless about what's in the LLRC report or the contents of the US resolution as the tweed-suited diplomats in Geneva. That is why this is a circus. The realpolitik is something else. It is a case of a sovereign Government not doing enough for its people, and other Governments trying to meddle in the internal affairs of another country that does not abide by their agenda. At least, there is one silver lining in the draft resolution as we know it for now - there is no demand for an international mechanism to probe allegations of purported war crimes.
The LLRC report apart, this Government has no excuse for not implementing even the 'Mahinda Chinthana' now that the 'war' is over. While there is little support for any foreign resolutions dealing with the conduct of Sri Lanka's Armed Forces (while no doubt there are no objections to individual cases being investigated for looting, rape and such crimes), there is widespread support for good governance measures to be taken by a Government that is seen more and more as autocratic by showing scant respect for strong institutions. A host of measures that could have been taken after the defeat of terrorism in 2009 have gone by the board with no indication from the Government that they would be done.
Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression in line with the international protocols the country has signed have been imperiled rather than ensured. Emergency regulations have been done away with but a safe and secure society has not been achieved. It is a rather dismal record as far as democracy and good governance go. A Right to Information law that will expose Government corruption as has happened elsewhere in the democratic world is being deliberately stonewalled. There are huge gaps in the rule of law and the collapse of independent institutions is a sad story to tell.
All this has nothing to do with Geneva or the UNHRC. These are what the people of Sri Lanka want, and indeed deserve. And if they had done so, what is more, the Government would not need to deploy all the King's horses and men to run around the globe so frantically 'To win the world, develop the country; To develop the country, strengthen the village….' and so forth.