This month the United Nations human Rights Council will again vote on a US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka relating to accusations of war crimes during the last stages of the eelam war in 2009. But President Rajapaksa’s government believes that there is a continuing western bias against his country trying to recover from the brutal aftermath of the 30-year war.
By Inderjit Badhwar
Some five years have passed since the defeat of LTTE’s terror army by Sri Lankan forces and the killing of V Prabhakaran, who was listed not only by the Interpol but also by the US, leading European countries and India among the most wanted international terrorists. But instead of hailing the end of Prabhakaran and his terror group as the first successful victory against terrorism in this century, the west and the UN have concentrated on human rights violations, alleged war crimes and civilian casualties associated with the last and decisive surge of the war. This anti-Sri Lanka campaign has been demonstrated repeatedly in votes against Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Commission and in criticism from western nations, including Canada, which boycotted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2013. India, under pressure from domestic Tamil groups, voted with the US last March, and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh chose not to attend the CHOGM held in Colombo.
The indisputable fact remains that unlike Yugoslavia and Cambodia, Sri Lanka has made remarkable progress in restoration efforts in just four years since the end of the conflict.
Inexplicably, even though nearly 400,000 war refugees have been settled in record time, reconstruction and reconciliation between ethnic groups has made headway, demilitarization is proceeding rapidly, and a free and fair election has been held for the first time in the northern province, which has elected a Tamil Chief Minister CV Vigneswaran, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, has fired the latest shots against Sri Lanka and called for an international inquiry into allegations of the war crimes in the island nation.
Pillay has astounded analysts both in Sri Lanka and India. She was invited by Sri Lanka in August 2013, where she travelled freely for a week, talking to whoever she wished to see. Among them were the president and defence secretary. She chose to ignore the palpable progress being made in Sri Lanka such as the return of democracy in the north and rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres, and chose to focus on the negative. She has levelled allegations which Sri Lankans label as unfounded: that Sri Lanka is moving towards authoritarianism; journalists are being harassed; disappearances of civilians are not being adequately addressed; and there is an oppressive military presence in the north. Sri Lankans are used to trenchant criticism.
What they resent is the grossly onesided portrayal. For example, while Pillay criticized the army for occupying private land in the north, she did not even touch on the central issue of land: the Herculean efforts made by the government in re-distributing land to those from whom the LTTE had forcibly acquired it and destroyed title deeds. And she totally glossed over a cardinal post-war issue, of which Sri Lanka can be justifiably proud: the re-integration of LTTE’s child soldiers into the educational and social mainstream. Foreign Minister GL Peiris has blasted Pillay for her failure to produce empirical evidence to substantiate her allegation.
Why, five years after the end of the war, when the Sri Lankans are moving ahead in a peaceful environment after three decades of terrorism, is the UN, backed by western powers, persisting in persecuting the Sri Lankan government? Ordinary Sri Lankans wring their hands and ask: Do they want to damage and set back the peace process now under way following the work of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, whose report has been praised by several world leaders?
IGNORING THE OBVIOUS (L-R) UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillai, who has raked up human rights violations issue against Sri Lanka; a demonstration by Sinhalese monks in support of the government; file photograph of LTTE leader rabhakaran. (Previous page) A child disabled during the Sri Lankan war observes his friends playing cricket in Kilinochchi, North Province, Sri Lanka
Many observers believe that the UN moves against Sri Lanka are nothing short of interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, and are backed by western powers who want to jeopardize the country’s independence which is fiercely championed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has openly resisted western pressures on him before, during, and after the war. Many of these western interests are still influenced by the well financed LTTE sleeper cells, which also influence important politicians in western nations and would not like to see a stable Sri Lanka. But the indisputable fact remains that unlike Yugoslavia and Cambodia, where post-conflict reconstruction took years, Sri Lanka has made remarkable progress in restoration efforts in just four years since the end of the conflict. The government has already invested US $3 billion in infrastructural development and in creating new opportunities for the people of the north. When Osama bin Laden was killed, there was widespread celebration in the western world. Why wasn’t the elimination of Prabhakaran, one of the bloodiest icons of international terror, greeted with similar approbation?
Yet, the tone and substance of Pillay’s initial report, issued shortly after her visit, as one prominent Sri Lankan politician observed, showed such a distressing lack of balance “that it appears Ms Pillay had formed her views before reaching the shores of the country.” President Rajapaksa has now openly expressed his concern that such irresponsible and one-sided condemnations of his country are part of an orchestrated campaign by powerful foreign and local elements “trying to create divisions between the communities and religions to bring anti government groups to power and bring Sri Lanka under their heel. They should realize that this government has the blessings of the masses who love this country… who therefore would never allow them to succeed.” It is true that Pillay for the first time characterized the LTTE as a “ruthless”, “murderous” organization. This begs the question, why Pillay never used these epithets for the LTTE before its downfall and when Prabhakaran was reigning supreme. Why does she maintain a silence on the functioning of the still remaining LTTE fronts, some of whom drum up support and lobby in Geneva? Last August, Pillay devoted an unparalleled seven days to Sri Lanka — a democratic country now devoid of terror. This is more time than she or her predecessors have ever devoted to Iraq, Libya, or Syria. The distressing and glaring common denominator explaining why the UN does not find equal time for visiting conflict areas like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya is that powerful foreign countries invaded these nations. As excuses — often blatant propaganda — in defense of these incursions mounted, the UN was turned into helpless spectator of the violation of international law.A CASE OF COMPULSION President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. The latter chose not to attend the CHOGM in Sri Lanka under Tamil pressure
During Pillay’s meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the outspoken younger brother of the president bluntly quizzed Pillay about human rights violations such as drone attacks by the US and western allies. Pillay was apparently left speechless. So the question remains: Why is Sri Lanka being singled out by UN with such rapid regularity? When Osama bin Laden, along with some civilians, was killed, there was widespread celebration in the western world. Why wasn’t the elimination of Prabhakaran, one of the bloodiest icons of international terror, greeted with similar approbation? One theory currently gaining currency and acceptance among international analysts is that the major powers are once again using the UN to gain economic, strategic and political supremacy in smaller, weaker nations by using human rights as an ideological justification. It is small wonder then that Pillay’s proposal that the Sri Lankan Government should enact a “witness protection” legislation is being lambasted in Sri Lanka as an example of how the office of the UN Human Rights Commission is deviously trying to bring a sovereign country’s law and order system under its aegis.
During Pillay’s meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya, the outspoken younger brother of the president bluntly quizzed Pillay about human rights violations such as drone attacks by the US and western allies. Pillay was apparently left speechless.
However, there is a method to the UN’s double standards. It is now demonstrable that powerful nations such as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council cannot be subjected to the controversial Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine under which, for example, Libya was invaded. R2P was accepted by the UN as a preventive and preemptive course of action against genocide and ethnic cleansing. But its critics argue that it is now being honed as a new tool by UN emissaries, whose veiled threats would compel smaller nations, who wish to preserve their independence and non-alignment, to seek the shelter of the Big Five, all of whom want to expand their spheres of influence. This is the fear that haunts most Sri Lankans.
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