President Mahinda Rajapaksa returned this week from another visit abroad, his first official trip to the West after the controversy- ridden one to Britain last December. Again, as was the case when he went to Britain, he was nearly subjected to the heat of unwarranted pressure from the remnants of the LTTE.
Readers will recall the events of late last year when the President went on that ill-advised journey to speak at the Oxford Union and had to not only cancel the talk but make a hurried exit as preparations were afoot to embarrass members of his security contingent with imminent slapping of court orders on them based on allegations of human rights violations.
This time, they succeeded in their efforts filing a civil action in a New York District Court against a decorated General who led troops to defeat the LTTE terrorist organisation in 2009 and who is now serving as ambassador at our mission at the UN.
As in most civil jurisdiction, anyone can file a court case and the court issues summons as a matter of course. It is the responsibility of the petitioners to see that summons is served. The court (or the judge) per se plays no role in the process, but ensures that the defendant appears in court or is, at least on the first day, represented by his lawyer.
Despite the gung-ho approach adopted by the General himself saying he was prepared to "appear in any court anywhere in the world" etc., and his bosses in Colombo who felt that this was a "good opportunity" to expose the human rights atrocities that were committed by the petitioners themselves, the Government seems to have taken the more prudent approach, to challenge the action legally, i.e. with the head rather than the heart.
There is a legal axiom that one must come to court only with clean hands. You can't go with skeletons in the cupboard as the two petitioners have done in this instance. One of them has been a killer herself and her late husband on whose behalf she is filing the action was a mass murderer of the Pol Pot class having killed policemen by the hundreds, samanera (child) monks, Muslim and Sinhalese villagers and still, has the gumption to go to court with these bloodied hands.
Nevertheless, such people cannot exploit the legal systems in Western democracies without the connivance of those either paid a fee for their legal services or driven by a misguided desire to cleanse the world of human rights violations by state actors. This can be described as a 'test case' to see how best it will succeed in bringing human rights violators to book, opening with it the floodgates for cases against a plethora of diplomats serving their countries at the UN but who are not in tune with US foreign policy.
The temptation may be there to expose these duplicitous Tigers in sheep's clothing now, but the Government must face the new challenge judiciously.
The Government is good at prosecuting -- the case of another war hero and another General comes easily to mind. It is an irony that they now have to defend one General while having locked up another. If they can only be as adept at defending an innocent as prosecuting one, then the battle is won.
Western Governments are silent collaborators in these continuing conspiracies against the President and the men who defeated the LTTE. Legal arguments on diplomatic immunity etc., can cut both ways for they must know that reciprocity is the name of the game in diplomacy and the boot could well be on the other foot if this gamesmanship continues.
Fishing in trouble-less waters
An Indian delegation headed by a Joint Secretary of India's External Affairs Ministry is due in Colombo next week for talks with counterparts to discuss the vexed question between the two countries - fishing off the Gulf of Mannar. In Sri Lanka, especially in the North, it is bluntly called poaching.
The importance of these competing fishing objectives is underlined by the fact that the matter was the subject of discussion at summit level when the leaders of India and Sri Lanka met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly sessions in New York only last week.
For nearly thirty years fishing in these waters was a problem due to the 'war'. The fish themselves were the beneficiaries of this conflict, but now it is their turn to run from the hordes of fishermen going after a bountiful catch.
Tamil Nadu politicians who shed crocodile tears for their brethren across the Palk Straits have encouraged their own fishermen to intrude into Sri Lanka's territorial waters by making fictitious claims. They made a claim for the islet of Kachchativu making the South Indian fishermen believe that it was under Indian sovereignty or at the least, disputed territory. The Sri Lanka Navy was able to prove through satellite images that hundreds of Indian fishermen came stealthily at night, some in big trawlers to engage in scooping up the fish even from the sea-bed, returning home before the first light of day. These were not fishermen who had accidentally lost their way.
Mercifully, the External Affairs Minister of India made it patently clear in a special statement to his parliament that Kachchativu belonged to Sri Lanka, but the message did not seep down to the politicians of Tamil Nadu nor their fishermen, fully. Neither did it stop India continuing with its claim that fishing in these waters came within the ambit of an October 2008 agreement signed on behalf of Sri Lanka by its then Special Adviser to the President, overriding a previous agreement on the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) reached in March 1976 on a line that divided the waters of the two countries.
After lengthy negotiations on the sidelines of the UN Law of the Sea Conference, India and Sri Lanka enacted their respective laws to reflect this understanding. The Sri Lankans passed the Maritime Zones Law No. 22 of 1976 and India, the Indian Territorial waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zones and Other Maritime Zones Act No. 80 of the same year.
In these circumstances, the October 2008 agreement for one, was signed at a time Sri Lanka was at 'war', and needed India's help to end it, but more so, no agreement can violate laws passed by each country's Parliament nor its sovereignty and Constitution. The plundering of Sri Lanka's fisheries resources in the North cannot be compromised. They must stick to the IMBL Agreement of 1976. The Sri Lankan side must place buoys in the sea to demarcate the boundaries and indicate these boundaries to the fishermen.
Nor must the Sri Lanka delegation to the Joint Working Group on Fisheries next week wilt. They must ask for reciprocity in the unequal treatment of fishermen caught on either side for straying accidentally or otherwise. They must be up to it, and it requires political will from the Colombo Administration to match the political pressure being applied by our big neighbour.