Sri Lanka marked the 64th anniversary of its political Independence from nearly 400 years of foreign rule yesterday with the Government's celebrations at the historic ancient capital of Anuradhapura.
The Anuradhapura era, when Lanka was a free nation, was a marvel in its day. Some nations that are super-powers today, policing the world, were not even in existence at the time.
The celebrations were held with the public mind still fresh from the memory of ending a long and painful insurgency that sought to divide this island-nation in two. Yet, the political demands that sowed the seeds for what was to later become a major military campaign sponsored initially by neighbouring India and later by a sizeable community of expatriate Sri Lankan, seem to be raising their ugly head once again.
A replay of what preceded that armed campaign for secession with many of the same actors of the time is being witnessed now and cast an eerie shadow over yesterday's celebrations.
On the eve of what should have been a day to celebrate, the United States of America sent a missive to the Sri Lankan Government giving notice that it intends supporting a resolution at the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva calling for a better audit of purported violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) especially during the last stages of the military defeat of the LTTE in early 2009. The tone of this correspondence can hardly be considered one expected of friendly country to another. The contents were basically asking for an explanation from the Sri Lankan Government.
This is not merely a message to placate sections of the expatriate Sri Lankans in the West who, having made it good for themselves and their families, are doing their utmost to shove the people in this country from all communities into the abyss. It is also a message to the Colombo Government to toe the Western line in world affairs.
Ever since the so-called International Community (IC), a euphemism for the Western nations, howled for "accountability" as a means to browbeat the Sri Lankan Government, the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration had warded off these calls by appointing a domestic mechanism -- the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and not only that, made repeated pronouncements that it would abide by its recommendations. It was a legitimate way out from the jackals abroad demanding an international mechanism to probe these alleged IHL violations by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the political leadership. The Colombo Government positioned itself in such a way that it was inexorably intertwined with the LLRC report.
Having bought time the whole of 2011 and now with the LLRC report submitted, questions are being asked, not only by the IC, but locally as well.
At a meeting with national newspaper editors earlier this week, the President remarked that the report was submitted only last November suggesting that it was unfair to expect his Government to implement the LLRC recommendations so swiftly. It was also explained at the meeting that an Inter-Ministerial meeting under the chairmanship of the Minister of External Affairs was looking into reconciliation aspects in the report and the Attorney General was studying available evidence on the alleged violations of IHL by the Forces. With the Minister of External Affairs travelling the globe desperately trying to win votes at the UNHRC, what work is being done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee is not too well known. The point, however, is not so much to convert the editors as to convince the IC - chiefly because - the Government made a solemn commitment to do so the whole of 2011.
Our Political Editor refers to the growing rumblings among the IC to take this matter up in Geneva in a fortnight's time. There are reports that the US Secretary of State herself would be present and one cannot imagine the US not using its global influence to muster the votes if and when such a resolution is introduced against Sri Lanka. The LLRC report exonerated the men and officers of the Armed Forces who spearheaded the military assault to vanquish the LTTE by coming to the conclusion that while matters need to be further investigated, the "principle of proportionality" that governs IHL was adhered to and that civilians were not deliberately targeted but would have suffered casualties as a result of 'collateral damage', a language that the Armed Forces of the US and other Western countries understand.
But, as we said in an editorial on December 18 last year; "this will not be accepted by those who campaign for an international mechanism to investigate the charges of allegations of violation of IHL". We urged the government to make use of the 'escape route' shown by the LLRC report and make its position clear. India had made its position known by sticking to an "independent and credible mechanism" be put in place to investigate such allegations as stated in the LLRC report. And many of the other members of the IC took a similar line, initially.
On the other hand, the Minister of External Affairs slammed the US State Department's spokesperson during the Budget debate for asking for a roadmap by the Government vis-à-vis implementing the LLRC report by accusing the US of "double standards" and questioning the West's own internal mechanism to probe conflicts in which its Armed Forces are involved. The one mistake the minister made was to believe the world was a level playing field. In the face of his US counterpart's letter, one might ask; "Quo Vadis, O Minister".
Has the Government squandered this lifeline thrown to them by the LLRC? Had it made some overt moves towards implementing some of those recommendations in respect of good governance measures, some of the heat may well have been taken off this impending international pressure that is in store for this Government in respect of 'war crimes' allegations.
The UN Geneva sessions cannot be taken too lightly. The Government's approach seems to be to win a vote should it come to that stage by sending its Ministers to the countries on the 47-member UNHRC. It's almost a David-versus-Goliath situation that Sri Lanka is taking on. One must be mindful that when a similar move was made at the same forum soon after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, India stood firmly by Sri Lanka. In 2012, India stands reserved. There is no veto power for Russia or China at the UNHRC if the Government is looking for a bail out.
s the country celebrated 64 years of Independence, having just survived a very serious effort at dividing the country in two, its troubles are seemingly not over. On the one hand, the West is exerting pressure. On the other, accusations are mounting of a sell-out to China. The Government will have to navigate through turbulent weather in the weeks to come, for a certainty.