Diplomacy locks horns with human rights in Geneva

Saturday, 6 April 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

PERHAPS the most interesting point to emerge from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) deliberations in Geneva last week over the United States sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka (with Uncle Sam pulling out all the stops to try and push it through resoundingly) was that the Philippines – unarguably its most steadfast ally in the Asia-Pacific region – voted against it.

There is much significance in the dissenting vote cast by the Philippines. With a long running secessionist conflict on its own southern doorstep, and fully cognisant of the painful realities thrown up by the fog of war, the Philippines obviously reasoned that a free-wheeling resolution (which brushed precariously on sovereign issues, among other things) such as the US and its cohorts on the 47-member UNHRC were thrusting on Sri Lanka over its alleged conduct in bringing the bloody three-decade long reign of terror inflicted on practically the whole island by the Tamil Tigers to a final, albeit, bloody conclusion could set a dangerous precedent for other countries cursed to confront similar terrorism issues.

As the formidable Sri Lankan Defence Secretary (and ex-military Colonel) Gotabaya Rajapaksa – who is credited with having masterminded the final phase of the war that saw the globally vilified and feared Tamils Tigers crushed to submission – pointed out to The Manila Times: “We are talking of a murderous and merciless terror outfit which pioneered the suicide vest and other lethal tactics, many of which have since been copied to deadly effect by outfits such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and all the other global terror cells that they in turn have spawned.”

In the end, the resolution was not the shoo-in that the US desired, and lobbied so hard for - with 25 for (boosted by the 11 votes of the European Union members even though, according to our sources, at least three EU countries had privately expressed serious reservations on the resolution to their Sri Lankan counterparts but had no choice but to go along with the collegial EU decision), 21 against or abstaining and one no show.

While trying to put a brave face to this fact, a US Government spokesperson seemed to suggest that the US was merely fronting a “cross regional group committed to working with the Government of Sri Lankan to promote peace and stability”.

But as Rajapaksa forcibly countered: “If that really is the case then the US and its allies should attempt to work with us rather than try to antagonise and demonise Sri Lanka on the international stage, thereby trying to cause instability rather than the stability they claim they want to promote. We will never fall prey to the US policy system of attempting to impose human rights on selected countries through UN resolutions.”

He went on: “This resolution blatantly ignored the horrific situation Sri Lanka was in before the dawn of peace less than four years ago. People residing in the north of the country which was controlled by the Tamil Tigers lived in constant fear of their lives. And elsewhere in the country people never knew when their lives might be shattered by an indiscriminate bomb explosion.

“Having lost the war, Tamil Tiger sympathisers scattered among the Tamil diaspora living in Western capitals are now undertaking an extremely effective propaganda war to undermine the Sri Lankan government which emerged victorious and influence Western countries to be critical of our success on the war front. And the irony is that many of these newly emerging sympathisers are the very same Tamil people who were driven out of Sri Lanka by the Tamil Tiger terror campaign.

“The US sponsored resolution had a clause seeking ‘unfettered access’ to investigate alleged human rights violations. But the point is with peace prevailing all over the island, US and UN representatives based in Sri Lanka already have unfettered access to any part to look into anything they want. They didn’t need to seek a resolution for that.”

Interestingly, India – seeking to placate its neighbour Sri Lanka which has been a close ally while at the same time trying not to antagonise its powerful Tamil Nadu coalition partner from down south which has seen political mileage to be garnered by jumping on board the anti-Sri Lankan government/Tamil homeland bandwagon – managed to get the “unfettered access” clause removed.

Though there is the possibility that India (which in the end bowed to domestic political exigencies and voted for the resolution) made this move more as an act of self-preservation to ensure the very same clause does not come back to haunt it with regard to its own separatist problems in Kashmir.

Back in Colombo much ire is reserved for UN Human Rights Chief (and former South African jurist) Navi Pillay who is seen as the villain of the entire piece. “It’s all very well for Pillay to sit in her cosy office in the cool climes of Geneva and pontificate about alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka,” fumed Rajapaksa. “But every time we have invited her to come here and see the situation at ground level and visit wherever she wants and talk to whomever she pleases she always makes excuses as to why she can’t come.”

Sri Lankans at all levels we talked to take a more cynical view of Pillay, the consensus being that she seems to focus an inordinate amount of her time and energy showcasing alleged human rights violations in Asia while turning a seemingly blind eye to the well-chronicled atrocities on the human rights front being committed in her own backyard of Africa.

The best yardstick that peace and integration is gathering speed in Sri Lanka can be had by visiting the Tamil heartland of Jaffna. Freed from the terrifying shackles of the Tamil Tigers, the resourceful residents of this now bustling and cheerful metropolis are back doing what they always did best-creating business opportunities and making money. In fact Jaffna, which once echoed to the rattle of gun fire, is now alive to the sound of cash registers. As Rajapaksa states: “Peace reigns all over Sri Lanka, and that is an undeniable fact. It is, therefore, something which those factions of the international community who – at the behest of a vocal minority in the Tamil diaspora – are always trying to put Sri Lanka in the dock need to recognise, and then move on.”

(Courtesy: The Manila Times)