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CHOGM or UNHRC Summit? ” II

2013 Nov 18

CHOGM is over—thankfully. Everything went as planned, the piece de resistance being its stunning opening ceremony. Sri Lanka has proved that it is safe for one and all.

Prince Charles must have seen, more than any other foreign dignitary, the huge improvement in security situation. In 1998, he was here for the 50th anniversary of Independence in the aftermath of a massive terror strike. But, the Commonwealth leaders who gathered here the other day could even have enjoyed leisurely strolls in the sunshine if they had so desired. In fact, British Prime Minister David Cameron was seen playing cricket.

PM Cameron, however, did his damnedest to turn CHOGM into a UNHRC summit of sorts. He came here to deliver a message. Shorn of diplomatic frou-frou, it was that unless Sri Lanka conducted a ‘proper’ probe into its alleged war crimes by next March he himself would campaign for a UN investigation.

Cameron is obviously singing for votes. Thanks to Wikileaks it is now known why David Miliband as British Foreign Secretary evinced so keen an interest in Sri Lanka’s conflict towards its closing stages in 2009. He has confessed, according to a leaked cable, that he remained maniacally focused on Sri Lanka because his party was dependent on pro-LTTE voters in Labour constituencies with slim majorities. He is now calling for stripping President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Commonwealth chairmanship! Why Cameron and Miliband are trying to outdo each other in bashing this country is only too clear; their concern is votes and not human rights as such.

Interestingly, Cameron has, at a meeting with President Rajapaksa, stressed the need for a process of truth-telling, we are told. One couldn’t agree with him more! Truth-telling is, no doubt, a prerequisite for reconciliation. However, example is better than precept. Will Cameron set an example to President Rajapaksa by releasing an unedited version of the Chilcot Report on Britain’s involvement in America’s illegal war against Iraq? Truth-telling like charity should begin at home, eh?

Will Cameron be able to honour his promise to have a UN war crimes probe launched against Sri Lanka? All efforts by the UK and its allies to move the UN against Syria in a bid to take military action purportedly to prevent a humanitarian disaster and the US attempt to destroy President Assad’s ‘chemical weapons’ with missile strikes came a cropper, didn’t they? So, it is doubtful whether Cameron is equal to the task of manipulating the UN, especially the Security Council, to achieve his objective.

The Sri Lankan government’s cavalier attitude towards human rights is only too well known. However, it has drawn flak from the West for a different reason—its foreign policy perceived to be anti-western.

The Western governments are, as is common knowledge, no respecters of human rights, which they use as a bludgeon against governments that refuse to toe their line. This is why they defend pro-western, repressive regimes in countries like Bahrain. They went so far as to coerce the UNHRC into withdrawing a statement that condemned the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in that country. Britain, it may be recalled, never so much as censured Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who captured power through a military coup and killed his opponents with impunity. His Caravan of Death left thousands of suspected Communists dead. But, Britain defended him to the hilt because of his brutal suppression of socialism in that part of the world and his support for the British military during the Falklands war.

President Rajapaksa’s problems are not likely to go away. His external enemies will pursue him relentlessly and do everything in their power to make Commonwealth chairmanship a crown of thorns for him. Miliband, as was said earlier, is making a frantic effort to muster support for his campaign to remove President Rajapaksa as the Commonwealth chairman though the tradition is that the host of CHOGM becomes the ex officio chair.

It is high time President Rajapaksa goaded his government into getting its act together on the human rights front, kept the violent elements in his party on a tight leash, went all out to ensure that the rule of law prevails, and took steps to implement the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations fully. Thereafter, he may batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass.

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