Friday, 13 June 2014 00:00
By Kumar Rupesinghe
Erik Solheim, the Norwegian facilitator, has stated that he would go before the War Crimes Tribunal on Sri Lanka initiated by the UN Human Rights Council and give testimony as to how many people were killed in Sri Lanka.
In Erik Solheim’s recent statements, he argues that the war could have been solved through peace talks without military action: “We were very close to peace in Sri Lanka. What happened during the successful time when there were no killings?”
These emotionally-charged statements stated by a senior Minister of the Norwegian Government, who was deeply involved in the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka, throws up issues of importance for the field of conflict resolution and the ethics which has to be followed in the course of the work of a neutral facilitator.
Issues of accountability
To be a facilitator or a peace broker is a job which requires very high ethical and moral standards where he does not have value judgments as to the course of the conflict, its ups and downs, the conduct of the parties and the violence perpetrated by both sides. Of course he should have expressed his views to both parties, but never in public.
A facilitator or mediator wins the trust and confidentiality of both parties by being quiet about his own opinions as to the conduct of a conflict, for his task is to bring the parties to the table and to seek all means of resolving the conflict. Solheim’s public utterances bring to light even further the issues of accountability in conflict resolution.
"It is not the business of a peacemaker to call for a war crimes inquiry and then go before such an inquiring body, and reveal confidential information, which the two parties shared in trust, for it violates the very principle of mediation"
Solheim was a Minister of Development and Environment of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Does his utterance therefore reflect the current views of the Norwegian Government? Secondly, it draws attention to a vexed question within the international community on the issue of human rights and peacemaking.
Peacemaking is quiet diplomacy
In the literature it is clear that human rights are about public accountability, where an organisation ensures that governments are accountable to international human rights and humanitarian law. This is the function of organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch amongst others.
Peacemaking on the other hand is quiet diplomacy, working behind the scenes, winning the trust of the parties, and ensuring that the dialogue remains between the parties. Here, the principle of impartiality is at the core of its value frame. Solheim seems to be juggling between the two diametrically-opposed ethics of behaviour by now engaging in megaphone diplomacy!
In my view the Sri Lankan conflict and its resolution is an example of the failure of conflict resolution in a protracted and deadly conflict and demonstrated clearly the efficacy of Realism, i.e. the notion that a deadly conflict, where terrorism takes centre-stage, can only be resolved by military means. Sri Lanka therefore is a classic case of how the two narratives of conflict resolution and realism, both were at play throughout the Sri Lankan conflict.
The Ceasefire Agreement
When Solheim refers to as “we were very close to peace” was the period when the Ceasefire Agreement was in operation. Even during the period of the CFA, the LTTE was consistently violating the CFA in many ways such as the forcible recruitment of thousands of children to its army, the use of claymore bombs against the military and the selected assassinations of key individuals.
It is my view that the LTTE was buying time with the CFA, for it gave them a respite from the war, to engage in promoting its position internationally, through the many rounds of talks held in various capitols of the world. In the entirety of the “peace talks” which were held, nothing substantial was achieved.
These talks provided the opportunity for the LTTE to promote its case for a separate state of Tamil Eelam. Further, a study of the speeches of the leader of the LTTE during Heroes’ Day demonstrated clearly that he never compromised his position of the LTTE, achieving a separate state of Eelam, and urged his followers to kill anybody who betrayed their cause.
Erik Solheim’s main contact and conduit was Anton Balasingham, who was treated in Oslo for kidney failure, where Solheim cultivated his friendship. As a cosmopolitan, Balasingham was able to persuade Solheim of their goals and aspirations and their desire for “self determination” and peace.
It is only now that it is clear that Balasingham was merely a mouthpiece for the LTTE and did not play any serious role in the decision-making process. Anton Balasingham was used by the LTTE to present a human face to their aspirations i.e. the establishment of a state of Eelam. When Anton Balasingham, in the Oslo peace talks agreed to explore a federal solution, he was unceremoniously dismissed by the LTTE leadership!
Norway’s “niche diplomacy”
Norway has positioned itself as a country which has a highly-advertised commitment for what it calls “niche diplomacy,” where it claims that it has specific advantages in being a facilitator or mediator in violent, protracted conflicts. Therefore, trust amongst the parties and retaining confidentiality is therefore a primary ethical principle which has to be followed. Erik Solheim has transgressed this oath of confidentiality, and by doing so has not only brought a bad reputation for Norway but the field of conflict resolution itself.
This is not the first time that Erik Solheim has given press statements on the conflict. After the end of the war, Solheim urged UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon to inquire into war crimes when the UN Secretary General visited Oslo. There are also reports that he worked with the USA and the UK to initiate a war crimes inquiry. When Channel 4 produced documentaries on the war in Sri Lanka, Erik Solheim called for a war crimes inquiry. When he was invited by the Tamil Forum, an LTTE front organisation, to London, once again he advocated a war crimes inquiry.
All these public statements demonstrate that Erik Solheim had shifted from being a facilitator, to one where he now advocates an inquiry against the parties to the conflict. It is also to be noted that one of the parties, the LTTE, is now a vanquished and defeated party; therefore it is obvious that the inquiry will be primarily against the Sri Lankan Government.
Government must face inquiry
I have always held that the Sri Lanka Government must go before such an inquiry, as these are decisions taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which Sri Lanka is a member. As a member of the United Nations, we have agreed to abide and live by the obligations upon states.
The Sri Lankan Government failed to put forward the moral dilemmas of a nation faced with a deadly protagonist, who would use any means to pursue its objectives. Except for the intervention of Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka, who held the moral high ground, all other diplomatic engagements were a dismal failure. Sri Lankan did not and has not retained its moral high ground amongst the Non Aligned countries.
Laws of war need to be re-examined
There is no question that both parties committed atrocities, and modern warfare is violent, bloody and cruel, where people get killed and women raped. There is a body of laws, humanitarian law, which has evolved, to ensure the proper conduct of a war. However, the laws of war need to be re-examined, as to how to deal with modern stratagems used by terrorist movements, such as holding an entire peoples hostage and used as an object of war. However, at the height of a war, atrocities are committed and they must be examined in this context.
The issue of massive hostage taking and civilians used as an object of war is a question that the war crimes inquiry should pursue with vigour, as this stratagem of using large populations as hostages and as an object of war will come to centre-stage in future wars. This is now happening in the north of Iraq and also happened in Bombay, where a terrorist group held the City of Bombay hostage for many days.
Not the business of a peacemaker
However, it is not the business of a peacemaker to call for a war crimes inquiry and then go before such an inquiring body, and reveal confidential information, which the two parties shared in trust, for it violates the very principle of mediation.
Solheim has announced that all correspondence and e-mails will be available to the public in a book that he intends to publish! These actions not only give Norway a bad name as a country which presents itself as bearing the mantle of a peace maker, it means that many countries seeking mediation for conflicts in their own countries will be warned that Norwegian diplomacy could turn to its opposite when the parties does not act according to the desires of the facilitator. The first rule for future mediators is never to compromise on the trust and faith bestowed on him by the parties to a conflict.
Finally, I wish to go back to the idea of accountability. Conflicts frequently happen in countries far away from Norway. There is very little interest by the Norwegian public towards peacemaking and only a few people within a cell of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry are engaged, and where there is no accountability to Parliament.
It is my view that the Norwegian Parliament should instigate an inquiry on the issues of accountability, human rights and advocacy and who is accountable to whom if Norway ever decides to mediate conflicts in distant countries.