Victory and defeat have many faces subject to how we view them. Who won or lost at the Sri Lanka UNHCR stakes at Geneva last week? It is considered as a victory by some for Sri Lanka, particularly by supporters of the Rajapaksa government. The resolution presented for the Western powers ‘core group’ led by [...]

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Victory and defeat in Geneva


Victory and defeat have many faces subject to how we view them. Who won or lost at the Sri Lanka UNHCR stakes at Geneva last week?

It is considered as a victory by some for Sri Lanka, particularly by supporters of the Rajapaksa government. The resolution presented for the Western powers ‘core group’ led by Britain, was supported by 22 states while 11 states opposed it and backed Lanka.

The number of states that abstained from voting was 14.

Thereby, the Western powers lost and Sri Lanka won is the contention of some.

How come? Ergo — as we used to say in Latin while doing problems on Euclid’s theorems — we can assume 45 (11+14) were not for the resolution as against 22 for the resolution. (QED — Quite Easily Done — Quod erat demonstrandum).

Never mind if they didn’t back Sri Lanka. They didn’t back the Western powers either, it is argued.

That kind of political arithmetic was resorted to in Lanka’s politics in the 1960s when the UNP in an election polled over the SLFP. The Marxists, after the results were announced, added their votes to the SLFP and of other anti-UNP parties and said that the combined anti-UNP vote was greater. Therefore the UNP that had been declared the winner had lost the elections.

Unfortunately, for the Marxist comrades, the Elections Commissioner at that time did not accept that variety of arithmetic.

It made Dudley Senanayake with his sardonic smile wishing them ‘many more such victories’.

Many in the Opposition have diametrically opposite views to pro-government views and consider the Geneva vote unfortunately was a debacle for Lanka.

This kind of arithmetic or statistical analysis baffles us. For example, it is alleged that the sudden reduction of the import tax in the price of sugar did not result in a substantial reduction of the price of sugar and was a massive swindle resulting in a loss of revenue to the state while yielding a profit of millions of dollars to the importer. Not so say government economic pundits and there was no loss of revenue to government. The debate continues but the man who buys sugar by a kilo or half a kilo still remains baffled.

True, the UNHRC resolution is a non-binding resolution and Lanka cannot be taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague or have UN sanctions passed against it. UN sanctions need to be approved by the UN Security Council and Russia and China with veto powers are sure to shoot the move down, especially Russia not purely for the love of Lankans or the Rajapaksas but Vladimir Putin’s dislike of America.

But the resolution adopted last week has other implications such as enabling the Office of the UNHCR to monitor and report on the situation in Sri Lanka including the progress in reconciliation and accountability.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena castigated the adopted resolution and pointed out that even the previous government had stated that it was not possible to go forward with the resolution that has been withdrawn by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He said a domestic mechanism would be implemented with a commission headed by a Supreme Court judge entertaining allegations made by Sri Lankan citizens over crimes supposed to have been committed during the conflict. The Government would continue to conduct a domestic probe on allegations on human rights violations, he said.

But will that keep the international and local human rights hounds at bay?

And state media hounds did not fail in their past tradition. While being severe on the Western powers that sponsored the resolution, they were thankful to India and Japan for their abstentions. Were these abstentions of the two countries an appreciation of Sri Lanka’s policies despite they being partners of the Quad – an anti-China alliance which also include the US and Australia? Or was it a move to prevent driving Lanka further into the hands of Beijing? These are questions for the think tanks of the Pohottuwa Government and foreign policy admirals advising those that matter, says a retired diplomat who thinks that gung-ho politics rather than diplomacy carry the day.

Indeed, the Geneva debacle or victory — as it may be viewed –has undeniably brought Lanka to a point in the crossroads of history. The question looms: Which way Lanka?

Do we as a sovereign independent nation led by a government with a whopping electoral mandate go ahead in implementing our nationalist policies and tell the Western powers to abide by the principle of non-interference and proceed with the assistance of our Asian Brother China who unfailingly provides us with financial assistance — at varying rates of interest of course which has resulted in a mounting debt burden which is burying us. There are further complications. The US and the EU are our biggest export markets. In a confrontation they don’t need UN sanctions to choke our trade, simple economics tell us.

But have we burnt our boats with Western powers over this one issue? Remember how ex-Ambassador Robert Blake materialised in Colombo and together with the American ambassador assured us how efficient a Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been? This was at a time when Rajapaksa’s eligibility as a presidential candidate was being questioned strongly.

The Americans had three agreements on the table with Lanka before presidential elections. Two were defence agreements and the other was the Millennium Agreement that involved land and other internal issues. The paradox was that these agreements were the football for ‘Pohottuwa’ nationalists to kick around and whip up pro-nationalist fiery Sinhala-Buddhist sentiments and declare that not only would these agreements not be implemented but no ‘national treasure’ — any loss making venture owned by the state — be sold or vested in any foreign venture — a tough proposition for any government looking out for foreign direct investments as a means to get out of an economic swamp.

Can Lanka’s relations with the US be revived with so many Rajapaksas being dual citizens of America including the rising star of the Pohottuwa firmament?

Even an astrologer says: ‘Knowing people will know, no’ — danno danithi.

The political mood right now seems to be that of ‘Jatika Chinthanaya’ (national conscience) with those once staunch supporters of the Pohottuwa — monks, trade unionists and even party leaders within the Pohottuwa coalition calling upon the Rajapaksa government to stick by its commitments to Neutral Non-Alignment.

With the generation of intense heat on ‘media interference and obstruction of government policy’, we end with a quotation of Idi Amin when in power: I stand for the freedom of speech but I cannot guarantee that freedom after the speech.

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