The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) begins its annual sessions in New York tomorrow overshadowed by the threat of one of its trigger-happy member-states, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) going ballistic, threatening a nuclear catastrophe with global implications. President Maithripala Sirisena is billed to speak on day two – Tuesday, September 19. [...]


Sri Lanka and the changing world order


The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) begins its annual sessions in New York tomorrow overshadowed by the threat of one of its trigger-happy member-states, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) going ballistic, threatening a nuclear catastrophe with global implications.

President Maithripala Sirisena is billed to speak on day two – Tuesday, September 19. He will get to shake hands and rub shoulders with world leaders and keep them briefed about the good work he is doing back home.

Unfortunately, his visit comes in the backdrop of a UN expert’s report that has found that Sri Lanka, among others, has busted a UN economic sanction on North Korea and done business on the sly with that country. Whodunit remains a mystery even to the Government here. It is unlikely however, that this would cloud the President’s visit to UNGA.

Sanctions as a weapon of war are a Western strategy to bring recalcitrant nations which don’t toe their line to order. This has been condemned by BRICS, the emerging organisation of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, at its recent summit in China. In a 70-page communique, it attempts to steer the world back to the principles of the UN Charter, away from Western domination “including sovereign equality and non-interference in other countries’ affairs”.

Sri Lanka has long suffered due to sanctions under the cover of UN resolutions, recent instances being when sanctions were imposed on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, one of Sri Lanka’s biggest tea buyers and then against Iran, one of the biggest oil suppliers.
BRICS is fighting back against this Western-dominated UN agenda and has all the potential of becoming the New Non Aligned Movement. It is expanding its reach with each summit, this time inviting ‘non-aligned’ countries like Egypt and Thailand to its fold. At present, BRICS represents almost half the world’s population and contributed more than 50 percent of the world’s economic growth in the past 10 years. (See ST2 Page 6).

With the US moving further and further away from the world stage, adopting an isolationist policy and considering the UN a ‘waste of money, a waste of time and a waste of tongue’, BRICS is surging ahead eager to fill the void. US President Donald Trump is even physically displaying this metaphoric distancing by lording it at his private New Jersey Golf Club during the UNGA sessions, forcing world dignitaries who come to New York to journey all the way if they want a private meeting with him.
In contrast, the Chinese President told the BRICS summit, “our world today is becoming increasingly multi-polar; the economy has become globalised, there is growing cultural diversity, and the society has been digitalised. The law of the jungle where the strong prey on the weak and the zero-sum-game are rejected, and peace, development and win-win cooperation have become the shared aspiration of all our people”. He might well have been quoting a US President of yesteryear.

These sentiments though, do not sit too comfortably when viewed with China’s statecraft to compromise nation-states with loans they cannot repay – like the case of Sri Lanka, and then throttle them by seeking equity and a stake in their real estate for defaulting; the most vulnerable being those countries within its OBOR (One Belt; One Road initiative) – the former Silk Route map.

With China pushing its quest for global domination through the New Development Bank to challenge the West-dominated IMF and World Bank by servicing the financial needs of economically developing countries, a new world order is unfolding as UNGA meets.

President Sirisena will get an up-front and personal view of these unfolding developments at the UNGA sessions and in its sideline. One would hope the visit will not be only for photo-ops with world leaders for domestic consumption, but one where he comes to speed with world developments, not least climate change, something that is plain to see even in US cities these days, despite its leadership dismissing it as a hoax.

Listening to sermons without doing what has to be done

Though his visit is only to the UN in New York, President Sirisena’s visit also coincides with the US Administration slashing financial assistance (aid) to Sri Lanka as part of its worldwide cuts and Congress (which passes the money) slamming various conditions before it gives whatever money is on offer.

The Trump Administration has made it clear it is not interested in exporting so-called ‘American values’ of democracy, human rights, rule of law etc., and one of the spin-offs of this lukewarm approach as far as Sri Lanka is concerned is Washington’s seeming disinterest in vigorously prosecuting UN Resolution 30/1 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. This, as everyone now knows, is the joint resolution co-sponsored by the US and Sri Lanka in 2015 to have a genuine war crimes probe on allegations of violations of International Human Rights Law surrounding the military defeat of the LTTE eight years ago. However, what Trump isn’t pushing Congress is still interested.

The UN Human Rights Council head Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, at the receiving end of US barbs for opposing President Trump’s surprise election, continues to wax eloquent on the need for Sri Lanka to have universal jurisdiction to probe these allegations due to the absence of “credible action” so far.

When the UNHRC’s 36th sessions opened in Geneva this week, Prince Zeid had special words of advice for Sri Lankan leaders asking them not to merely tick-off the boxes to placate the council, but to do some real work for the benefit of all Sri Lankans. There is some truth in what the UNHRC chief said. It was only on the eve of the Geneva sessions that President Sirisena rushed to gazette the Office of Missing Persons, one of the requirements of the UN human rights agency as part of ‘transitional justice’ in post-war Sri Lanka.

This week, a European Union delegation was also in Colombo offering counsel and preaching the gospel of good governance. They, while their own countries are reeling with terrorism and a huge migration problem not seen since World War II and the partitioning of India, have asked Sri Lanka to replace the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) with new laws adhering to ‘best international practices’ and for the Sri Lanka Army to give up lands it occupies in the North – a request from the Chief Minister of the Northern Province as well.

What pleasure Government leaders derive from listening to these homilies is not clear. Why Governments cannot act – and act fast in doing the right thing for their own citizens — remains a mystery. A tribunal to inquire into allegations of ‘war crimes’ might just as well be set up with credible Sri Lankan judges, and justice dispensed. This festering wound must not linger till March 2018 when the UNHRC deadline approaches. That must not be the criteria or time-table for the Government to act.

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