Read the signals, act wisely

The wheels of Government moved stealthily. So secretively in fact, that the left hand of the administration did not want the right hand to know what was happening. The citizens were the last to be told.

This has been symptomatic of the manner in which Governments in recent times conduct their affairs, especially when it comes to foreign relations. So much so that when the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs was asked about a hush-hush visit by two leading Government officials to the United Nations to see the Secretary General thereof, he said there was no such thing.

The unfortunate Deputy probably did not know, for even the official at the helm of the country's mission at the UN did not know. If the media knew though, it would have been incumbent on the part of the Deputy Minister to have briefed himself, and had he then been in the know, he was, as our political commentator said last week, engaging in 'terminological inexactitudes', or plainly put, lying.

Transparency in Government is now fast becoming non-existent and keeping the subjects informed of the goings-on at the higher echelons of power, a forgotten art. All they get is the daily dose of propaganda. There is an element of contemptuousness among the powers-that-be who feel they owe nothing to the people who elected them to high office.
And yet, the Government displayed concern and seriousness in the way it was taking developments overseas -- the appointment of a UN panel by the Secretary General who is seeking re-election in a few months, and under intense pressure by the Western world which believe that they own the Organisation because they pay its bills. Reluctant as he is, the SG must dance to the piper's tune.

That all States are equal before the UN Charter and that its provisions cannot be selectively implemented is lost on some of these powerful member-states. The same international standards they impose on others must apply to them as well. On the opposite page, we publish the recent speech of an Australian MP who stood against the flow of opinion driven by populist politics and parochial electoral votes of a Diaspora lobby when he said "Do not go for the easy targets." This is exactly what the UN is doing with Sri Lanka.

The flurry in Colombo was understandable. Having flippantly dismissed moves by this Western grouping (to hound the Sri Lankan political leadership for snubbing them so rudely when they tried to intervene and prevent the final military assault on the LTTE in May 2009), the clock kept silently ticking. The panel of so-called experts were due to submit its report on whether there was a case to proceed with allegations of 'war crimes' no less, against the Sri Lankan leaders.

Sri Lanka's entire approach to the question was flawed -- replete with 'ad-hocism' at its worst. Minus a set plan on how to deal with the residual diplomatic fallout from the military campaign of May 2009, the Government resorted to histrionics and theatrics to rustle up public support internally. It called the panel "illegal" at first and then appointed a local commission of inquiry to offset the panel's probing, eventually sending teams to wean the very same panel from making any damning report.

The fact that the entire exercise has a bigger picture was lost. A fortnight ago, 41 British MPs petitioned their Prime Minister to call for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka, and this week the US Senate unanimously "resolved" to call for an 'independent international accountability mechanism' to probe such alleged 'war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations' - on both sides. The problem is that one of those sides, the LTTE is not there to be accountable to such a mechanism. That the twin moves by the legislators of the UK and the US synchronized with the UN's Human Rights Council beginning its annual sessions in Geneva this week should have come as no surprise. These sessions have been a venue where Sri Lanka has been continuously badgered while it dealt with a ferocious terrorist threat for thirty years.

The US Senate Resolution has been dubbed a 'smoke bomb' as it lacks legal teeth, but the smoke does give a signal. It was sponsored by the ruling Democratic Party and received the backing of the Republicans. It is the first adverse Senate or House of Representatives Resolution on Sri Lanka since 1978; several being introduced earlier but never actually passed because of the lobbying by the then Sri Lankan Governments. One hundred Senators "resolved" on the subject; the incumbent Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton was a former Senator herself.

In Colombo, all the Ministry of External Affairs could say in response was that the US Senate has overlooked the fact that the Government has appointed a commission of inquiry to go into matters that Capitol Hill wants investigated. Whose fault is it that the Senators were not briefed? On whom is the onus -- them or us?

Some years ago, pro-Government groups in the US were egged on to accuse some Senators of taking money from the LTTE thus rubbing them on the wrong side. Today, the country's mission in Washington DC is at sixes and sevens. It has hired a public relations firm at great cost to the Sri Lankan tax-payer merely to open doors and schedule meetings, and drive their Porsches around. The lobbying and convincing of key figures in US politics is clearly not happening if they cannot get a single dissenting voice to speak up on behalf of Sri Lanka. In London, our mission is headless and has been directionless for years.

And yet, what is this 'pound of flesh' that the US Senate, and those 41 British MPs want? Do they not want Sri Lanka and its people to move on from May 2009? Don't the hopes and aspirations of the majority of Sri Lankans, the inhabitants of this country, including the minorities to 'move on' count? Must we be bogged down and taken back to the miseries of the past to satisfy the thirst for revenge of the West. If the US Senate has a huge mirror to display its very Resolution on Sri Lanka and see what the US is doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, would they be so blind to see how it would reflect on their own conduct?

Sri Lanka's foreign policy has never been as much in the doldrums as it is today. We have a Minister who 'summons' a foreign envoy for a ticking off for interfering in our internal affairs by giving him or her lunch. Even at this late stage, the Government has to evolve a coherent strategy and foreign policy initiative to ward off further arm-twisting. Unfortunately it seems to prefer ad-hoc action to a think tank approach.

With the Libyan crisis, and the events unfolding in the Arab world, democracy, human rights and good governance have increased international focus these days, and inevitably it is aimed at anti-Western nations. The Government having burnt Sri Lanka's boats with the West needs to watch out and read the signals. And more so, act decisively, and wisely, to save its own skin.

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