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No cohesive plan to counter US resolution

2014 Feb 24

The month of March is upon us once again and with it, what has now become an annual ritual: A resolution against Sri Lanka at the sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva sponsored principally by the United States.

The resolution encompasses a variety of issues such as human rights, media freedom and democracy in the country, but hinges pivotally on one critical factor: An inquiry into alleged war crimes supposedly committed by Sri Lankan troops during the final stages of Eelam War 5, years ago.

The US and other sponsors of the resolution egged on by the Tamil Diaspora and supported by interested local political parties such as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), are now demanding an international inquiry. Sri Lanka has insisted that it will not accede to that request.

The US and its co-sponsors of the resolution have lost all objectivity regarding the demand for an inquiry. The biased comments by the visiting US dignitaries such as Ambassador-at-Large for war crimes, Stephen Rapp and Assistant Secretary-of -State Nisha Biswal are evidence of this.

The issue has now become a witch hunt against Sri Lanka. That is why the proposed resolution seeks to investigate alleged deaths during the last days of the conflict, thereby conveniently excluding the acts of terror committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during thirty years of war.

This is particularly significant since many of the active collaborators of the LTTE’s reign of terror are now ensconced in western countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada which are active sponsors of the resolution against Sri Lanka.

This is uncalled for from a Sri Lankan perspective and the government must be given credit for holdings fast to its position that it will not yield to demands for an international inquiry that is based on flimsy claims and would examine only a conveniently selected time frame of the conflict.

However, its handling of diplomatic activities aimed at stalling or preventing the resolution appears to be in disarray. Its different agencies do not seem to be working in tandem and conflicting messages are emerging from Colombo. This does not help Sri Lanka’s cause in Geneva.

A faction of the government is hell bent on staging anti-US protests in Sri Lanka. Some of these protests are led by ministers. The law enforcement agencies do not appear keen to curb these protests. The underlying message seems to be that they are carried out at the behest of the powers that be.

While the thrust of their argument - that Sri Lanka is being singled out for uncalled for scrutiny, especially when the US itself is violating human rights with impunity - is sound, these protests only serve to aggravate Sri Lanka’s fate in Geneva.
Then there is the official response of the government. It is unclear who is responsible for this. If diplomatic protocols are followed, this matter should come within the purview of the External Affairs Ministry (EAM) and its minister, G.L. Peiris. But their roles remain unclear.

This confusion is further confounded when Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunge is dispatched to the United States to lobby the government there. That implies that there is little faith in Minister Peiris to deliver the goods - probably because he didn’t do so in the last two years.

Then, the government is now announcing - rather late in the day - that a commission of inquiry on the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) is being considered. Is this too little, too late? Had this been offered earlier, could this whole hullabaloo about an international inquiry be avoided?  

There are also media statements issued by ministers saying that a ‘Sri Lanka friendly’ resolution will be moved at the UNHRC by countries sympathetic to Sri Lanka’s plight. How realistic is this expectation and anyway, what impact would it have on the US resolution which is assured of passage?

These strategies are a mix of knee-jerk reactions and indignant responses rather than a series of well thought out strategies aimed at circumventing the US resolution. There is a sense of déjà vu because this happened in the past two years, when Colombo naively expected India’s support at the UNHRC.

This year too, India is playing hard to get, not announcing its stance. However, with Indian general elections due in a few months and the Tamil Nadu government going to the extent of freeing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, it is certain that New Delhi will support the US resolution.

Sri Lanka’s strategy in Geneva has been one of resisting any intervention and then making some concessions. It is not a tactic that has served them well. It may be too late this year, but at least in 2015, Colombo desperately needs competent people to plan out a cohesive strategy for Geneva.
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