HR allegations: Act wisely before it's too late

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is warming up to meet in Geneva for its bi-annual autumn sessions and the question that ought to be in the minds of the Government's hierarchy is how to tackle the issue relating to allegations of human rights violations should they come up for discussion, and possibly, vote.

By now the Government should not only be getting prepared to meet this issue head on but be having sufficient diplomatic intelligence to 'suss' out whether any country or a bloc of countries is preparing for this onslaught on Sri Lanka's political leadership. The signals are indeed ominous.

The one great danger is that this issue, now in a documented form in the nature of the UN Secretary General's panel of experts report if raised at the UNHRC can lead to dangerous terrain, for the UNHRC is one of the three international agencies (the others being the United Nations Security Council and the UN General Assembly) which can decide whether any individual anywhere in the world could be prosecuted for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

However lopsided this world order may be, it is a fact of life that has to be reckoned with whether we like it or not if we are to remain within the world community.

Sri Lanka's contention seems to be that this report cannot be taken up in Geneva next month. In a speech to the National Defence Academy at Ratmalana, the Minister of External Affairs welcomed the US rejection of the UN commissioned Gladstone Report that found Israel (and Hamas) guilty of having violated international humanitarian law in the Gaza region recently. He said that the International Community could not adopt a different approach towards Sri Lanka. He went on to say that bringing in the 'Darusman Report' (The UN Secretary General's advisory panel report) on Sri Lanka before the UNHRC would create a dangerous precedent.

For one thing, Sri Lanka welcoming the US rejection of the Gladstone Report compromises Sri Lanka's long-term relationship with the Palestinian people, however much its recent friendship with Israel may be. It only proves how Sri Lanka has itself considered its own self-interest first, when it comes to international issues sacrificing its long term relations with other nations and peoples.

It is the same thing the world over. Nations will move away from group or bloc decisions if their own national interest is compromised or to their advantage, as the case may be, as Sri Lanka seems to have done vis-à-vis the Gladstone Report and the Palestinian people.

The other important factor to understand is that adopting a different approach to different situations and different countries is the very essence of international relations. There is no morality; no one standard and Sri Lanka must accept that this is the real politik in this world order.

Recent examples there are aplenty. Take for instance, what happened in the 'Arab uprising' where the US was first noncommittal about Egypt, then sided with the masses wanting the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak; sent warplanes to support the dissidents in Libya but backed the pro-US regime in Bahrain in the uprising in that country. Take for instance, how British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke favourably about the use of Facebook and Twitter in the uprising in the Arab world and came down hard on their use in the riots in his own courtyard.

At a separate event in Colombo this week, the Defence Secretary is reported to have complained that some countries can never be satisfied with whatever response is given by the Government to whatever charges are made on allegations of violations of humanitarian laws. His grouse is that there had been a negative response by some countries to the report published by the Ministry of Defence explaining the need for the use of force against the LTTE in the last days of the war in 2009.

Again, while such a report and such a response were long overdue to counter the snowballing effect of diplomatic pressure on Sri Lanka, the fact of the matter is that these allegations against the Sri Lankan political leadership are something much more than that; this solitary issue is basically the handle with which to get this Government not just flogged, but to heel as well.

Over-reliance on two veto-wielding countries to bail Sri Lanka out of this imbroglio is a dangerous course of action, however desperate the Government may be. For one, the national interest of those countries is paramount to them. Despite all their ties with the embattled Libyan leader, they let him down and permitted air strikes by the West. Secondly, the support that we get is now without its IOUs and quid-pro-quos.

It is a legitimate question to ask if the purchase of 14 helicopters from Russia was one such case. The Government's explanation on the need for such high-powered helicopters is at best contradictory with the Air Force spokesman saying they are for expanding the SLAF's tourism ventures and the Media Minister saying they are for patrolling the country's coastline.
The US, in particular, has already made clear what seems to be its 'innovative thinking' on getting Sri Lanka in line by sending a demarche that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report be made available for discussion at the UNHRC session in March next year. There are moves to have the LLRC Report tabled even at the UN General Assembly sessions beginning next month, but the LLRC has very correctly rejected these 'pressure tactics' and blatant attempts at 'influencing the decision-making process of this Commission'.

All in all, the Government must come to terms with the fact that the issue of allegations of violations of humanitarian laws is merely the tool for a much bigger objective; its payback time for treating those countries so shabbily in the last stages of the war and now, to get Sri Lanka to toe their line. This challenge is for real, and requires a much greater diplomatic offensive than limiting itself to the confines of the 'Darusman Report'. Time is running out for the Government to get its act together on the much bigger challenge ahead - the move to isolate Sri Lanka from the world community.

At stake is not only the possibility of facing war crimes tribunals but also trade sanctions, credit freezes and travel embargoes on the country and its people. The allies we rely on may be emerging world powers, but right now, the countries persecuting Sri Lanka are very much the ones with whom we deal. Mending fences with some political expertise and diplomatic finesse is the need of the hour.

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Editorial Archive 2011 
09th January 2011 - Reciprocity to visitors
23rd January 2011 - Food crisis: The balanced diet
06th February 2011 - Independence 2011 and beyond
13th February 2011 - The message from Egypt
20th March 2011 - Be with Japan, be prepared
27th March 2011 - Without FIA, more sabhas will mean more crooks
03rd April 2011 - Sports: Heroes and villains
10th April 2011 - Move towards direct democracy
17th April 2011 - A report that seeks to open old wounds
24th April 2011 - Clinically shred war crimes allegations
01st May 2011 - May Day: Distress call from migrant workers
08th May 2011 - Global 'dupli-macy' and what’s fair in war
15th May 2011 - The light of Asia and the Dhammadvipa
22nd May 2011 - Diplomatic debacle
29th May 2011 - India destabilising Lanka again
05th June 2011 - The reality and the rhetoric
12th June 2011 - Stop the pressure, give space to LLRC
19th June 2011 - Revise the Indo-Lanka accord
26th June 2011 - Damning NAM
03rd July 2011 - Govt. says ‘No’ to a modern citizen’s Right
10th July 2011 - People in the dark in every way
17th July 2011 - Mumbai attacks: Lessons for Lanka
24th July 2011 - Govt. ignoring epidemic of corruption
31st July 2011 - Communal politics must end
07th August 2011 - MoD report notwithstanding, time bomb ticking away
14th August 2011 - Sound the alarm on nuclear issue
21st August 2011 - HR allegations: Act wisely before it's too late
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