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Post Geneva challenge posed by Sri Lanka to British Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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By Westminster Insider

Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) mandarins play the long game, and, as a matter of policy doctrine believe credible domestic inquiries of war crimes and crimes against humanity provide more durable solutions than those externally imposed.

pic courtesy of : facebook.com/foreignoffice

For this reason, and, the improbability of securing a majority in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for a resolution establishing an independent international inquiry that they continue to press for the implementation of the “constructive” recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Report (LLRC).

This is despite being scathing about Sri Lanka’s wanton failure to investigate human rights violations and acknowledging it plays a game of “brinkmanship” in managing its international relations.

According to a senior official “The challenge now is to try to get the Sri Lankan Government to put as much effort into implementation of the LLRC recommendations as they did into trying to defeat the resolution”. Experienced Sri Lanka watchers may call this misplaced faith. However, in the hard-nosed pursuit of British interests they will use every tool in their inventory to achieve their objectives. And, in Sri Lanka’s case a key element to this is the implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations.

Canada’s threat to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be hosted by Sri Lanka in 2013 has been overt. The UKs position is veiled and is illustrated by the answer to a question in the House of Lords from the former leader of the Liberal Democrats Lord Steel of Aikwood, i.e.

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of the television programme ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ broadcast on 14 March concerning the treatment of Tamils, they will oppose Sri Lanka being host to the scheduled Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting”.

The Minister of State, FCO (Lord Howell of Guildford):

“Once again, Channel 4 has brought to international attention important and disturbing evidence to support allegations of grave abuses in Sri Lanka. The UK will urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution which calls on Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and meet its international obligations to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

The UK believes that the host of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting should uphold the Commonwealth values of good governance and respect for human rights. We will look to Sri Lanka to demonstrate its commitment to these values, both now, and in the run up to 2013. A key part of this will be to address longstanding issues around accountability and reconciliation after the war”.

You can draw your own conclusions on the message that lies between the lines.

The resolution that was passed in Geneva was driven by the United States. It is not obvious that this was the preferred route of the FCO. However, when the Hon. Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the FCO chose to extend Her Majesty’s Government’s support to it at the Westminster Hall debate on Sri Lanka held prior to the 19th session of the UNHRC, every sinew of FCO muscle was exercised in ensuring it was carried successfully.

In the words of a senior FCO mandarin “This was a genuinely significant achievement for the US, requiring support from many quarters. Our contribution required a huge and sustained lobbying effort across the FCO network of posts to secure support for the resolution. We now need to focus on implementation”.

The resolution has a ticking clock embedded in it and Sri Lanka’s compliance will be measured against this. If its policy makers fail to satisfy its conditions by drawing “a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps that the Government has taken and will take to implement the recommendations made in the Commission’s report” look forward to a busy “Human Rights Council at its twenty-second session”.

Of course, all this was done at a point in the electoral cycle where the impact of political activism on policy outcomes is at its lowest ebb; that is, early in the life of a parliament. Unlike in Sri Lanka, FCO ministers do not indulge in the habit of overruling the advice they receive from their mandarins. Although, the propensity to do so increases once we cross the mid-term of one.

There now exists a view among all mainstream parties in the United Kingdom that, barring colossal political blundering, the time of securing outright majorities in the House of Commons through generic campaigns has elapsed; and, that they now need to engage with ‘vote blocs’.

British Tamils constitute the largest single issue vote bloc in southern England. While, ministers would have been cognisant of their sentiments in determining FCO policy with respect to Sri Lanka this year; they will yield to their call for an independent international inquiry next year if Sri Lanka fails to “expeditiously as possible…address alleged violations of international law”.

Of course the above analysis is silent on FCO ministers taking principled positions on matters of policy. However, the incumbent coalition government is deeply wedded to libertarian values –just ask Colonel Gaddafi.

This article penned by someone familiar with the goings on inside the British foreign and Commonwealth office to provide an insight into the “Sri Lanka File” against the backdrop of the UNHRC resolution in Geneva

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17 Comments

  1. Despite the Rajapske regime’s grandstanding about national “sovereignty”, the clock is ticking on the regime! Lanka’s economy is trans-nationally networked and its biggest trade partners are in the west, so the west has many pressure points that it can exert on Rajapakse Inc. And running to China will not help on the economic front – unless China is willing to do debt cancellation for Rajapakse! China gives dubious “aid” (loans) for Rajaapkse’s white elephant infra structure projects in Hambantota and is indebting Lanka, while TRADE with the US and EU actually grows the economy and its productive sectors and benefits the people rather than the regime. China is also flooding the country with cheap goods rather than buying Lankan products and healing grow the economy.
    TRADE NOT AID is the way forward for Lanka in the context of the huge deficit and ‘aid’ induces foreign debt burden, and here the US and EU have plenty of cards to play vis-a-vis the petty dictator of Lanka.
    Aid is a form of colonialism by other means whether given by China, India the US or EU and The Rajapakse Bros must stop taking “aid” and in debting Lanka’s future generations for their personal enrichment. As African Economist Dambisa Moyo has written in her book Dead Aid, aid actually de-develops countries and forces them into a debt trap. Moyo suggests and end to AID to Africa and rather trade is the way forward..

  2. The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) of APRIL 1, 2012, with caption , ‘Butenis says accountability not important for Tamils in Sri Lanka’:

    Accountability is not the number one priority for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. One would wonder whether this statement was made by a hardline Sri Lankan minister. No, it was what the outgoing US ambassador Patricia Burenis wrote in a diplomatic cable to the State Department in Washington way back in 2010. The cable was one of hundreds of thousands released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

    This is what the cable said:

    “Butenis believed that there was a difference of opinion between the Sri Lankan Tamils living in Sri Lanka and those in the diaspora as to how to pursue the accountability issue. For the diaspora accountabilty was a “top priority” but Tamils in Sri lanka were more ” pragmatic in what they can expect”. The Sri Lankan Tamils were more concerned with improving their rights, freedoms and economic prospects. They believed pushing for accountability was unrealistic and counter-productive. They were fearful of the repercussions if the war crimes issue was pursued aggresively but the hped that the issue would be dealt with some time in the future.”

    The Mandarins and politicians in London, Geneva, New Delhi, Washington and New York should pay heed to what Ambassador Butenis has very astutely observed and said. They should consider the interests of the Tamils here in Sri Lanka as primary, when playing the short and long geo-political game and responding to the over amplified noise of elements in the Tamil Diaspora. Scoring points against the Sri lankan government should not be overiding concern, whatever the perceptions and objectives of these mandarins and politicians may be. What Ambassodor Butenis wrote in 2010, stands valid to this day.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  3. Despite the message from Ms. Butenis in 2010, the the mandarins and politicians in London, Geneva, New delhi, Washington and New York supported the US sponsored resolution, recently. The strong message has been sent out. Thus, the cable is irrelevant.

  4. Dr.Rajasingham Narendran says:

    “Accountability is not the number one priority for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.”

    Maybe accountability is not the number one priority for the Tamils of Sri Lanka and USA but it is important for Sri Lanka for war crimes perpetrated against its own people since 5th April 1971.

    You are free to support the undemocratic state however you should also note people cannot be fooled by the USA, UK, India, China, Russia, Pakistan…..Sri Lanka. It is their pain and suffereng that they have to come to terms with, which is necessary to heal the past wounds and I hope would help to prevent future whole sale massacre of innocent civilians.

    Successive governments and the state which is in perpetual existence should not behave business as usual and get away scot free.

    Therefore you must listen to people (Sinhala and Tamil Speaking) and not preach them the government version of the public sermon.

  5. “They were fearful of the repercussions if the war crimes issue was pursued aggresively but the hped that the issue would be dealt with some time in the future.”

    ———–
    SL Tamil Diaspora & West, Beware!
    If you dont heed to the good advise, SL Tamils will face the consequences.

    GOSL is not accepting accountability, only because they are genuinely concerned about Tamil lives and cant ensure safety of the Tamils if they are pushed to the corner.

  6. “Of course the above analysis is silent on FCO ministers taking principled positions on matters of policy.”

    Ethical foreign policy has not been the corner stone of British relation with rest of the world.

    British and Western policies are guided by their principled position “My interest in your country” as if you don’t have any interest of your own. Of course it is unethical but that has been the reality for many years.

    The proponent of Ethical foreign policy Late former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook spoke about how US companies supplied Anthrax and British companies sold chemical weapon componenets to Sa-damned Hussein in the early eighties and he subsequently resigned on a point of principle. He resigned with a heavy heart.

    These are rare cases and not the norms but exceptions.

    Those mavrick who had radical or ethical ideas of govenance when in government have either gone natives or being house trained. In worst cases the establishment made their lives so politically difficult they subsequently resigned.

    In essence foreign policies are designed to protect “my inetrest in your country”, “balance of power”…… etc, and the biggest mugger with biggest stick rule the wave.

    Principled positions and foreign policies don’t mix.

  7. Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    I saw the report in the Sunday Times. Yes it appears Patricia Butenis has said so.

    In my opinion also accountability is secondary. I don’t bother about the dead and gone. I am concerned with the living there.

    But why did US insist on accountability in the UN even after its ambassador had said that it is only secondary?

    Can you enlighten me on this Sir.

  8. How much has the so called heavies of the COmmonwealth contributed to the turbo charged Economic growth that the post LTTE Srilanka is experiencing?.

    Even with the new ally India, can Canada and the UK hijack the agenda of a supposed to be a very long standing body of democratically elected Governments?.

    Has Fiji gone under?.

    ” Time of generic campaigns has elapsed.British Tamils constitute the largest single vote block in Southern England”

    Doesn’t this sum up in a nutshell, who the beneficiaries are, of the recent UNHCR attack on a sovereign nation, which eliminated a 30 year terrorist campaign that has delivered freedom , peace and clear signs of prosperity for the great majority of inhabitants.

  9. Kalu Albert says:

    “Doesn’t this sum up in a nutshell, who the beneficiaries are, of the recent UNHCR attack on a sovereign nation, which eliminated a 30 year terrorist campaign that has delivered freedom , peace and clear signs of prosperity for the great majority of inhabitants.”

    Sovereignty of Sri Lanka is just like viginity of a sex worker.

    Sri Lankans and Sex workers should not pretend to possess what they don’t have.

    Kalu man you never had sovereignty in the first place. Remember you have a “big sister” in your visinity.

    If you don’t like your big sister interfering in your family affairs please relocate somewhere near to China. I am sure China will not dissappoint you.

    China will protect Sri Lankan virginty and sex workers’ sovereignty.

  10. Native Vedda,
    Hats off to you man you have told Kalu albert in the choiciest language.which he will understand and as for SJOESPH if you think you guys can can black mail the diaspora with Tamils in Sri Lanka as pawns your comments have been pasted and sent to all the national news papers and the politicians
    Keep writing this kind statments you will help the tamils in a big way thanks
    for doing that

    Nathen

  11. Now that N. Vedda has mentioned, sex work in Srilanka, it is worthwhile focussing on two incidents that occured in my own neighborhood.

    Both incidents relate to our own ex Srilankans living comfortable lives overseas.

    One incident involved ,well off ex Srilankans exploiting cash strapped inhabitants.

    The other being well off trying to exploit other well off souls.

    The current peace and freedom in the country ,sadly contributed to both these incidents.

  12. Dr.R.N.
    Ms Butenis is right in her assessment but The Sunday Times’ caption is misleading. It should have been

    The Sri Lankan Tamils were more concerned with improving their rights, freedoms and economic prospects.

    Leave alone accountability, anything done in these fronts?

  13. Mahesh,

    “But why did US insist on accountability in the UN even after its ambassador had said that it is only secondary?”

    Geo-politics and so-called stretegic interests, of course. Remember the case the US made for the invasion of Iraq! In that instance the US had already decised to invade and than made the case to justify an invasion. Why does the US continue to defend Israel? Geo-politics and strategic interests again! It needs a proxy in the Middle-East. What justifies the prolonged isolation and covert actions in Cuba? Geo-politics and strategic interests, once again. Principles, morality and ethics have nothing to do with these actions. The interests of the citizens of these countries is furthest from the minds of those making these decisions.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  14. Kalu Albert says:

    “Now that N. Vedda has mentioned, sex work in Srilanka, it is worthwhile focussing on two incidents that occured in my own neighborhood”

    You haven’t read my comment.

    The point I was trying to make in my “perverted” comment is that as a small nation Sri Lanka should be aware of its size, location and limitations.

    A nation can ward off any external threat only when it respects its people’s democratic rights. Sri Lankan history shows us the state and ruling parties thrive only when both sustain long periods of conflicts. If there is no conflict the state creates one for its own survival.

    Cohesive nations are not built on brutality but giving stake in all aspects of governance of state and equitable distribution of its wealth including its natural resources.

    Sri Lankan state model is fundamentally flawed from its inception therefore conflicts between state and its people are abound. As a consequence people are alienated from the state structure.

    If you don’t shower love and affection on your wife, children and your family they tend to look love outside your home. Then not only they get into trouble but they get you into trouble too.

    If you don’t respect your family don’t blame the sex worker for her/his lack of chastity.

    Sovereignty begins at home not at UNHCR.

  15. This time if anybody try to mess up with tamil people ,Media, opposition or world community, that will be the end of a united Sri Lanka. Where were China, Russia, or others when Gaddafi, Mubarak, Bin Ladan, Saddam Hussain were attaked. Sri Lanka is too small to be bother of. So keep doing your dirty and ugly work until the time the big monster come and gulp you up. It will be too late then.

  16. Someone has to inform China that any GOSL project that is not transparent or no proper tender procedure followed that were funded by China will not be honored by future governments. People should be inform the countries that any contract with GOSL should be transparent, and if not no payment be made or liable to pay by future administrations.

  17. Puma,

    You say:
    “The Sri Lankan Tamils were more concerned with improving their rights, freedoms and economic prospects.”

    Leave alone accountability, anything done in these fronts?

    I say:

    The Tamils and others in the war affected areas need support to survive; support to rebuild their homes and lives; support to rebuild their schools and find qualified, dedicated teachers; societal help for their widows, orphans and disabled; protection for their young women and girls who are preyed upon by an unprincipled society; redeeming of men from the scourge of alcoholism and drugs; dedicated, sensitive, responsive and uncorrupt public services; societal help to bury their dead and treat their sick; adequately paid and productive employment opportunities;and finally their concerns being the prime concern of the Diaspora and their fellow-men/women (including politicians) in Sri Lanka.

    They have no rights to what are basically essential to humans, now. They have of course the right to suffer and die, with those who talk of rights and freedoms, not shedding a tear for their sad plight. All this for no fault of theirs! They are the unsung and forgotten heroes of the so-called Tamil liberation struggle.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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