ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 47
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Wijeya Pariganaka

Homilies and home truths

The Government has made public that the conduct of some foreign ambassadors in this country is testing its patience. That the Government has a short fuse when it comes to accepting criticism is now a well known fact. But the question is how many serving Heads of Foreign Missions in Sri Lanka actually do exceed the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that governs their conduct in foreign countries?

Many of them are indeed Ambassadors Extraordinary (whatever that title was supposed to mean in the diplomatic world). They have been more than an annoyance at times.

President J. R. Jayewardene tolerated Indian High Commissioner Jyothindra Nath Dixit but his successor, President Ranasinghe Premadasa unceremoniously kicked out the then British High Commissioner, David Gladstone.

The annoyance of this Government, like most of its predecessors, stems from the fact that many foreign ambassadors -- almost all from the western hemisphere who are this country's aid donors -- don't speak enough about the human rights record of those who have created an atmosphere of terror in the country by waging war against the State.

And that not many are heard as champions of human rights after they finish their three-year stint in Sri Lanka. In fact, they don a different hat and defend human rights violations when their countries stand accused in other parts of the world.

Just this week, the Pope invited President Mahinda Rajapaksa to his private chambers in the Vatican and gave him a little sermon about the need to adhere to human rights in Sri Lanka, end the fighting and start negotiating with the LTTE - and quite rightly so. Now, he must invite the LTTE leader and do the same. For it takes two - to negotiate.

We can see how insensitive some of these do-gooder human rights campaigners can be. A classic example is the 'Play by the rules' campaign by Amnesty International to target Sri Lanka during the Cricket World Cup currently in progress.

Sport is the one last glue holding Sri Lanka's fractured multi-ethnic, multi-religious people together. AI is trying to remove that glue. When our officials had asked their representatives in Geneva on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights sessions recently, why they don't campaign for human rights in Iraq -- where British and US soldiers are running amok -- the reply was that "it was too dangerous to go there".

This newspaper published extracts of mail sent by their Cambridge based co-ordinator to their South Asian group official to the Sri Lanka co-ordinator on targeting the country during the World Cup, where she had said "lets have fun". That betrays their mind-set.

Anyone with an ear to the ground in Sri Lanka, will know that the national cricket team's campaign to win the World Cup has the backing of every Lankan, of whatever race or religion. AI's ill-advised campaign, therefore, deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible way.

The LTTE has never wished for unification of the people of Sri Lanka, it has done it darnedest to keep them apart. Any opposition political party worth its salt will exploit weaknesses on the part of the Government of the day. President Mahinda Rajapaksa as an Opposition politician exploited the UNP's human rights record in the late 1980s and early 1990s to the hilt when the then UNP Government had to deal with a deadly southern insurgency. He was in the vanguard of protest marches from Colombo to Kataragama.

The independent Press, meanwhile, has a duty by the public to keep them informed of what's happening in their own country. There is, therefore, a greater burden on the Government; like it or not -- this is the real-politik of good governance and international relations today -- to clean up its act as best as it can.

The Government has an unenviable task. For one, it is a small country beholden to these western donor countries. Because of its mismanagement of its own limited financial resources, it must suffer the ignominy of listening to their homilies.

The Government must give ear to the complaints of the Press and pressure groups, for failure to do so only encourages these quarters to have to rely on foreign ambassadors and international human rights agencies to give them a hearing and act on their behalf.

There is, no doubt, a greater need for understanding from all sides -- that the Government is combating a deadly enemy to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation; and on the other hand, for the Government to realise it does not have the licence to trample human rights with the disdain it is otherwise tending to display.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.