By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
The reaction of the Rajapaksa regime to the successful US resolution at the Human Rights Council makes out the resolution to be, in effect, the first defeat suffered by the regime, its feeble efforts at damage limitation notwithstanding. Needless to say it should not have come to this.
What passed for policy was “shy-making” when set against the standards set by Sri Lankan diplomats of yore who were the envy of the developed and developing world.
It was strident and incoherent, lacking in strategic input and downright expensive to boot – the travels to Africa and elsewhere, the sojourn in a five star and other hotels for all and sundry numbering seventy according to some counts and in one of the most expensive cities in the world!
A wide view during the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. 23 March 2012. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré
Who will take responsibility for this? Probably no one and this is a key reason why this episode should be seen as a microcosm of policy making and execution under this regime that cries out for remedial action.
Comments and Questions are in Order.
The first is the demonstrable inability of the regime to fully comprehend an interdependent world in which domestic and international politics are not totally separate spheres of action. Regime consolidation and survival being paramount, from the outset it characterized the resolution as an infringement of national sovereignty and expended a lot of energy and muscle in galvanizing public opinion at home against it.
In addition to the many public demonstrations it organized, through the state controlled media and privately owned clones, the regime orchestrated vicious and vituperative attacks on human rights defenders including this columnist. Ministers and at least one high- level state media functionary were enthusiastic revelers in this carnival of hate.
All of this has been noted by a somewhat bewildered international community, which is at the same time, supposed to believe that the regime is passionate about reconciliation – in its own time of course!
On one occasion the Uruguayan president of the UNHRC noted the intimidation of civil society representatives in the Council without naming Sri Lanka and subsequently, naming Sri Lanka , the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement of concern with regard to the intimidation and attacks on civil society representatives at the Council, in Geneva and back at home.
The domestic drama and hiatus may have made good political sense to the regime. It distracted from the economy and reminded the masses yet again of the historic defeat of the LTTE and who was responsible for it. It also revived the patriot vs traitor categorization of the public discourse.
What it did not do was to impact positively on what was most important, the vote in Geneva , which by the regime’s own reckoning, is a violation of national sovereignty and more dangerously, the thin edge of the wedge in respect of regime change and an international war crimes tribunal.
More fundamentally illustrative of its ignorance of an interdependent world is the assumption that it can get away with the portrayal of contemporary Sri Lanka as a place in which reconciliation and harmony, the rule of law and democracy sans disappearances, militarization, torture and the culture of impunity are the order of the day. This too, when the LLRC notes that its interim recommendations dating from September 2010 have yet to be implemented.
It is worth noting that the disappearance of Ramasamy Prabhakaran in Colombo two days before his fundamental rights petition was to be heard by the Supreme Court, the abduction of Jesudasan outside a court in Colombo and the alleged attempted abduction of the Mayor of Kollonawa by members of the security forces, all took place in the lead up to the sessions of the Human Rights Council and during them.
Information, despite the determined efforts to suppress it, like water in a clenched fist, seeps out. When it does it cannot be dismissed or wished away by disingenuousness, invective and deceit.
This is why local human rights defenders are being maligned – for challenging the regime’s portrayal of human rights and governance on the ground, in the belief that if there is to be genuine reconciliation we need to begin with an honest diagnosis and acknowledgement of the gravity and dimensions of the problem.
On the ground with respect to the international community, the regime seems to have been anywhere but. Did they not see this resolution coming? What did the mission in Washington report?
What did the US public relations company hired to do the work of the mission report?
Was it not the case that the US pulled the Canadian resolution in the Council last year on the grounds that the international community should wait for the LLRC report?
Was not the foreign minister invited to Washington to discuss the resolution in a letter from the US Secretary of State informing the GOSL of the US intention to move a resolution in the Human Rights Council?
Would a visit to Washington have made a difference and obviated the need to travel around the world drumming up support?
Or is it the case that the regime is so damn arrogant that it does not give a damn, confident that it would defeat the resolution – that every time it would only be a matter of “shape” karala ganna puluwan (we can fix it)?
“Shape” karala ganna puluwan?, seems to be the attitude towards India as well, in fact the leitmotif of the regime.
Whilst domestic political pressure from the south was certainly a factor (and what did the Rajapaksha regime do about that?), it is worth considering as to whether stringing along the Indian government on a commitment to a political settlement, for example, may not have been another.
Given the President’s subsequent remarks on what the Indian Foreign Minister thought the President had told him on his last visit about a political settlement and Thirteenth Amendment Plus and the cumulative frustrations Delhi has endured with regard to its assistance to the north and east, could it have been taken for granted?
Were it to be the case that Delhi ’s relationship with Washington trumps all else including regional solidarity, did the denizens of the foreign ministry, associated monitors and advisors not detect this?
If they did, was their advice heeded at the apex of power?
Indeed, was there any consideration of the possibility that Washington would not have moved in the first place without Delhi ’s concurrence and therefore that the real change in the Indian position was from abstention to a positive vote?
Equally important as the strategic reappraisal of the design and execution of our foreign policy is the fate of the LLRC report. In the babel of ministerial voices it is difficult to discern as to whether all of it or some or none at all will be implemented.
The resolution calls on the GOSL to implement the constructive recommendations of the report, to take all necessary additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans and to present as expeditiously as possible a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps taken and to be taken re the above as well as requests the Office of the High Commissioner to report to the Council on the provision of assistance to the GOSL made in consultation with the GOSL and with its concurrence.
The challenge confronting the regime is as to whether the LLRC recommendations are good for the country and therefore warrant implementation or as to whether the LLRC recommendations are bad for dynastic consolidation of power and therefore should be jettisoned, especially since it could be made out post-resolution, that the recommendations are being implemented under international pressure.
When the LLRC report came out, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) issued a statement in which it made the point that the implementation of the LLRC recommendations required a paradigm shift on the part of the regime. In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that point and to continue to live in hope.