Media reports confirming the US’s declared intention to lead a third resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March come during a visit to the country by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Affairs, Nisha Biswal. From Sri Lanka Biswal proceeds to Geneva and London, both [...]


Anti-Lanka resolutions and the US game plan


Media reports confirming the US’s declared intention to lead a third resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March come during a visit to the country by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Affairs, Nisha Biswal. From Sri Lanka Biswal proceeds to Geneva and London, both significant destinations in relation to the history of US-led HRC resolutions against Sri Lanka. It is expected that this third resolution going further than the previous two, will seek to establish some sort of international intervention mechanism to investigate alleged war crimes.

While Biswal has said the US wants to maintain a positive relationship with Sri Lanka, it’s useful to look at some developments in the neighbourhood that give context to the US’s current preoccupation with this part of the globe, and Sri Lanka in particular. Also relevant to analysis is the recent controversial Twitter post on the US embassy website which described ‘St Anthany’s Ground’ in the North as a ‘site of Jan 2009 killing of hundreds of families by army shelling.’ No evidence was offered nor any sources mentioned to back the shocking claim, which passed judgment without even the pretence of an investigation. This first salvo on Sri Lanka would seem to indicate that the superpower’s campaign for ‘accountability’ has nothing to do with human rights or any rational or fair assessment of what happened during the ‘last stages of the war’ or at any other point in time. What then are the real motives behind the US’s strategic moves on Sri Lanka?

Search for bases
At least three recent developments in the Indian Ocean Region are worth mentioning here. One is that the  lease on Diego Garcia, a British-controlled territory in the Indian Ocean where the US has a military base, expires in 2016. Any agreement to extend, modify or end it has to be negotiated in 2014 between the US and the UK. The US used Diego Garcia as a long-range bombing base targeting Iraq and Afghanistan and for the CIA’s secret rendition flights.

These negotiations would be complicated for the big powers by the fact that Mauritius, which lost the Chagos islands including Diego Garcia in a colonial-era UK decision, is now staking its claim to sovereignty over the islands and will reportedly be party to the talks. The ‘Guardian’ in 2012 quoted an international law expert saying “The UK, now it has been made aware of the illegal use of Diego Garcia, has a duty not to renew the lease. It could and, in law should, return possession and control to Mauritius…” The expulsion of the Chagos islanders to accommodate the US military base has been described as “one of the worst violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by Britain in the 20th century.” With all these considerations in the mix there would appear to be uncertainty, in US eyes, over the continuance of their Diego Garcia base.

Another factor affecting US interests in the region is that the Maldivian government has rejected the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that the US sought to negotiate to have a base in the Maldives. The announcement last year by former president Mohamed Waheed (that Maldives will not sign the agreement) was re-asserted by new President Abdulla Yameen at a press conference he held in Colombo on 22 January. Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef told reporters the deal raised issues of sovereignty and constitutionality.

The fact that the US is looking around for new options in the Indian Ocean Region is further reflected in a recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York based think tank. It recommended that with the troop pullout from Afghanistan in 2014 the US should explore the possibility of basing its military in India. The special report titled ‘Reorienting US Pakistan Strategy: From Af-Pak to Asia’ says the US should start discussions with Indian leaders on counter-terror cooperation “up to and including the possibility of basing US military and/or intelligence operatives in India to address Pakistan-based terrorist threats in a post-Afghanistan context,” the ‘New Indian Express’ reported.

Redesigning international architecture
It’s clear that the US, in the context of a rising China, is hunting for potential new bases in the Indian Ocean Region that has become key to controlling the world. Are the US moves against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC related to this project?

One observer who thinks so is Tamara Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka’s former ambassador to Cuba and later to the UN. The US needs to control the Eurasian region to maintain global supremacy, she said. This relates to the need to find ways to bring out the oil and gas that’s locked in the Caspian area. The US and its allies don’t have many options, they need to contain China, and Sri Lanka assumes importance because it is located on a strategic maritime route.

“The US is in the process of redesigning international architecture to give themselves a legal instrument to intervene unilaterally,” she told the ‘Sunday Times.’ ‘R2P’ (Responsibility to Protect) is a tool that justifies unilateral intervention, clothed in international human rights law. Sri Lanka is vulnerable because of what happened in 2009 and because the state is not confronting the danger, it is not united internally and not addressing the issues that divide it. “We have to work with India. I am convinced that China will not support us against India, as India is more important to China than Sri Lanka.”

Kunanayakam also noted that the US wanted Trincomalee “for a long time,” and recalled that an important reason for the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord was former president J. R Jayewardena’s discussion with Washington regarding this natural harbour, and the Voice of America broadcasting station. Through an Annex to the Accord India ensured that Sri Lanka would not allow external powers a base, and would not permit VOA to be used for anything other than civilian purposes.

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