From the sidelines By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya The ongoing sessions of theUN Human Rights Council, thus far, going by the webcasts, give the impression that Sri Lanka is one of the burning flashpoints in the world today. The number of times and context in which it was mentioned by certain influential actors would even seem to suggest [...]


The R2P Trojan horse trots in to Geneva


From the sidelines By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

The ongoing sessions of theUN Human Rights Council, thus far, going by the webcasts, give the impression that Sri Lanka is one of the burning flashpoints in the world today. The number of times and context in which it was mentioned by certain influential actors would even seem to suggest that this country, which ended an internal conflict three years ago, is not very different from present-day Syria.

Sri Lanka was included in the list of states singled out for mention by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in her opening statement where, after referring to the genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia Herzegovina she mentioned Iraq and Sri Lanka as states where “massive violations” had occurred, followed by Afghanistan, Congo, Mali, Sudan and Syria.The United States’ delegate, Esther Brimmer, listed the US’s usual bęte noires, targeting Syria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the ‘unfair singling out of Israel’ etc. Her lengthiest comment however was reserved for Sri Lanka on whom, she said, the US would introduce another resolution ‘to ensure that the international community will continue to monitor progress.’

There is further cause for concern in the reference to Sri Lanka by Adama Dieng, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide. During the Panel Discussion on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), he referred to the genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, and went on to list instances in the last 20 years where he said atrocity crimes occurred. “I talk about millions of lives lost in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Congo and Kenya.” Dieng’s office works in tandem with the office of the Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) – a post created by the Secretary General in 2007.Dieng said he considered R2P a ‘natural development of the VDPA,’ thereby in a subtle way embedding it in the HRC’s mandate.

The multiple references to Sri Lanka lead to the question as to whether the picture that is being projected at the HRC is fair or accurate. The determination of the US, along with its European friends, to keep a relatively powerless small state pinned to the HRC agenda with resolution after resolution, gives rise to further speculation. Is the US paving the way to use Sri Lanka as a ‘test case’ to create a precedent in international affairs? Is this in order to enable future interventions in the internal affairs of states, based on past events, on grounds of R2P? Sri Lanka’s vulnerability, combined with its strategic location, would seem to make it an ideal target in such an exercise.

Nirupam Sen, former Indian ambassador to the UN, recently described the so-called doctrine of R2P as ‘a Trojan horse for a refurbished imperialism.’ This was during his brilliant oration on the subject of ‘The emerging doctrine of R2P and the Nature of the United Nations,’ organised jointly by the Lalith Athulathmudali Foundation and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies. Sen dismisses the rationale given for R2P, showing that there is already ample provision for dealing with human rights violations in the existing body of international law.

The real reason for its introduction, he argues, is to create a tool for neo-imperialist intervention:

“Why do we need the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect? After all there are already enough legal avenues to deal peacefully with crises. They include the statutes of the International Criminal Court, the Genocide Convention Article 1 and 8, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Human Rights Provisions of the Charter, the 4th Geneva Convention on Non-Combatants in Occupied Territories, the Common Articles of the Geneva Convention Article 1 and 3.1, the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention, Additional Protocol 2 of 1979, which deals with civil war situations, the International Law Commission, the Articles of State Responsibility under 4.1, if norms are breached by a State which specified that it was the duty of the State to bring it to an end, 41.2 duty of states not to recognise it, 50.1 to be done peacefully according to the Charter. This is evidence of the immense body of law available to deal with such situations by peaceful means ….”

Sen charges the Security Council for having failed in Rwanda although it could have acted under the Genocide Convention:
“Why did it not? The reason is simple. Rwanda had no oil; there was no raw material to be ravaged, hence there was no need. The point is that the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect was not needed at all. But the doctrine becomes applicable and necessary to carry out plundering on a large scale; it becomes necessary as a Trojan horse for a refurbished imperialism, and to imprint the mark of colonialism.”

Sen’s argument is vindicated in the manner in which R2P was invoked by western powers to intervene in Libya and later exploited to bring about regime change.It was hailed by the advocates of R2P as a success story. No matter that it brought chaos and anarchy to Libya.

There are significant similarities between Sen’s thinking and that of the respected American intellectual Noam Chomsky.Inhis address to the UN General Assembly Thematic Dialogue on R2P in New York 2009, Chomsky referred to the rights sought to be accorded under R2P, in one instance, as ‘a weapon of imperialist intervention at will.’ He pointed out that “The ‘normative revolution’ declared by Western commentators took place in the 1990s, immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had, in earlier years, provided an automatic pretext for intervention.” New pretexts for intervention were needed now.

It’s worth noting that Navi Pillay’s Report to the Council on Sri Lanka mentions not a SINGLE positive development in the post-war context. In this it is so similar to the draft of the US-led resolution, that it would almost appear that the two parties sat together at the same table to discuss and draw up their respective documents. The US’s mala fides have not passed unnoticed by those in its own political establishment.

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday Eni Faleomavaega, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific went so far as to call for the withdrawal of the resolution.He said:”Regrettably, in the UN resolution it intends to submit again to the UN Human Rights Council, the U.S. fails to mention one positive development in Sri Lanka.Such failure suggests that the United States is not being even-handed when it comes to dealing with sensitive human rights issues across the globe…”

“…. So I call upon the U.S. to find a better way forward rather than using UN resolutions to de-stabilize developing nations like Sri Lanka while ignoring human rights abuses in nations like Indonesia where our geopolitical interests supersede our human rights agenda. The U.S.-led UN resolution also should be withdrawn for focusing only on the last few months of the war and failing to acknowledge that for almost 30 years the Tamil Tigers hacked to death innocent men, women and children – Sinhalese and Tamils alike – and carried out over 378 suicide attacks – more than any other such organization in the world.”

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