When Harper bit more than he could spew

By Neville De Silva

A confident Canadian Prime Minister Harper came to Perth thinking he could harpoon Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Summit that ended last week. Instead he was nailed to the mast. All his blandishments to his fellow Commonwealth leaders had little effect on those who saw this as part of an orchestrated attempt led by the “white” Commonwealth to belittle a fellow member that had succeeded in defeating a ruthless terrorist group most of them had legally outlawed but had been lackadaisical in enforcing that law.

Weeks before Harper turned up in Perth he was issuing veiled threats of boycotting the Commonwealth Summit scheduled for Sri Lanka two years from now if no headway was made in addressing and investigation human rights allegations as perceived by the WestWith politicians and others whose sell-by date is long past and the so-called rights watchdogs urging Commonwealth members to dump Sri Lanka as the venue and even sack it from the organization, the western media was looking to the bruising and eventual humiliation of Sri Lanka.

The western media from Canada to Australia had already picked on Harper’s abrasive threats as the precursor to a Sri Lanka-bashing at Perth. This media frenzy was compounded by remnants of the LTTE and its supporters mounting legal and other challenges to thwart Sri Lanka. The legal challenges were aimed more at causing embarrassment than achieving success.

Add to all this the presence-and who knows how-of that producer of sloppy journalism Callum Macrae of “Killing Fields” notoriety parading like Zeus descended from Olympus. It seemed very much like a carefully choreographed scene for the humiliation of Sri Lanka.

Alas! The humiliation was ultimately Harpers not Rajapaksas for all the anti-Sri Lankan hoopla that preceded CHOGM.

After a bilateral meeting with President Rajapaksa, the Canadian prime minister said he was reassured by the Sri Lankan president’s tone but was skeptical about some of those assurances.
Well, it seems many of the Commonwealth leaders and their countries were skeptical about Harper than Harper was about President Rajapaksa. That skepticism will come as no surprise to those who view Harper’s commitment to human rights concerns more as political gimmickry than genuine interest.
Harper’s greatest achievement at CHOGM was to walkout of the meeting when President Rajapaksa was invited to speak.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Commonwealth Business Forum ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in Australia. (Oct. 27, 2011) AFP

Why is it that Stephen Harper’s avowed concerns had little impact in Perth despite his pre-summit bravura performance before the media aimed at, one supposes placating his Tamil voters and winning encomiums from the international human rights community?

To those who have read Stephen Harper’s speeches to the Canadian parliament and contained in Hansard his much hyped commitment to human rights and international law taxes credulity. One does not have to go back too far. A good starting point would be the last decade, particularly late October 2002 even as the Bush administration was looking for excuses to attack Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

Harper’s lengthy speech to parliament on October 2nd of that year is proof enough that had he been prime minister of his country instead of opposition leader at the time, he would have led Canada into an illegal war against Iraq alongside the US and UK.

Harper readily went along with the arguments adduced by the Bush administration and its neo-conservative advisors based on highly questionable evidence which later proved to be false.
Read the speeches made by George Bush to try and incite his countrymen to support an invasion of Iraq and those of Stephen Harper. The latter echo the stridency and the falsehoods of the Bush administration.

That October day Harper spoke thus: “The credibility of the United Nations is at stake if the United Nations Security Council members, and, in particular, our allies, do not achieve the objective that is sought here, which is the complete removal of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and all capacity to pursue those programmes in the future.”

“There can be nothing short of that achievement. If we do not achieve that then the credibility of the United Nations will be permanently damaged as was the League of Nations in a previous incarnation when it failed to take the necessary steps to back the necessary action to ensure international security.”
If anybody’s credibility was damaged it is Stephen Harpers. His definitive assertions on the presence of weapons of mass destruction on which were predicated his support for the US invasion of Iraq proved to be so wrong. The truth is that there was no evidence to justify his allegations at the time and no evidence of WMDs was found by UN inspectors before or after.

It is scant wonder that he goes along with the allegations against Sri Lanka. He does not let the lack of proof stand in the way of his accusations.

In March 2003 Stephen Harper co-authored a letter published in the Wall Street Journal addressed to America titled “Canadians Stand with You” in which he said: “Today, the world is at war. A coalition of countries under the leadership of the UK and the US is leading a military intervention to disarm Saddam Hussein. Yet Prime Minister Jean Chretian has left Canada outside this multilateral coalition of nations. This is a serious mistake.”

Harper wanted Canada dragged into an illegal war violating not only the UN Charter but also international law. Had Canada been involved in the Iraq war it would surely have been guilty of the breaching several international humanitarian laws including those relating to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

However within 21 months of his unstinted support for the invasion of Iraq, Harper had begun his 180 degree turn. He told the Washington Times: “On Iraq….. I would not commit Canadian troops to that country. I must admit great disappointment at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.”

It would have been utter folly had Canada joined the coalition against Iraq as Harper would have, had he been prime minister, in the process violating numerous international and international humanitarian laws with the least regard for accountability as he demands of Sri Lanka.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives a speech during the concluding session at a pre-summit business forum ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) REUTERS

So many millions of Canadians and people round the world knew it was sheer folly. It is a pity that Stephen Harper did not. It is this lack of concern for international law and his readiness to subject the people of Iraq to all the rigours of war and the attendant dangers to which the civilian population would be subjected as they subsequently were and still are that made Commonwealth leaders doubt the veracity about avowed concerns of human rights.

But it was not just Harper’s motives and concerns that came in for close scrutiny. Also questioned were the real intentions of those countries that wanted to foist a human rights commissioner on the rest of the Commonwealth as though the one out of Geneva was not enough.

It is also now known that though the then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretian claimed he was keeping Canada out of the scramble for Iraqi oil, in fact Ottawa was secretly embroiled in the war in support of the US-UK combine.

To the majority of the Commonwealth leaders who gathered at Perth all the planned machinations dripping in sanctimony over human rights was even more transparent than Salome’s seventhveil.

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