Foreign Affairs Minister Dinesh Gunawardena must have been diplomatically polite when he conveyed the Sri Lanka Government’s displeasure and objections with regard to the travel ban to the United States imposed on the Sri Lanka Army Commander and his family, when he met with the US Ambassador Aliana Teplitz earlier this week.
This meeting must have revived Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s memories of his father, the late Philip Gunawardena, who had his higher education in the US, where he began his left-wing and socialist political career; in association with the many prominent American socialists of the time and leaders of the movement for equality to the black people.
Ambassador Teplitz’s assurance of conveying the related concerns and objections of the Sri Lanka Government to the Washington DC authorities was the reality of diplomacy, and nothing to do with the larger issues involved in the aspect of good relations between the US and Sri Lanka, in the context of current politics and governance in both countries.
Apart from the diplomatic objections raised by Minister Gunawardena, Ambassador Teplitz should also convey to the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, the much wider concerns among the Sri Lankan people about the very situation of democracy in the US today, and the issues of pardoning those who have committed crimes against humanity.
Looking at the reality of the situation on justice, fair-play and broader democracy in the US today, one is struck by the shocking attack on the very democratic process and the obstruction to the judicial process by the impeachment move on President Donald Trump. He was the third US President to face impeachment and not face conviction. In a situation where the House of Representatives had overwhelmingly voted in favour of impeachment on two articles of illegality and violation of the US Constitution, President Trump escaped unhurt through the political manipulation of the Upper House or the Senate. His Republican Party supporters, who are the majority in the Senate, voted against subpoenas or compelling witnesses to attend an inquiry, and the calling of witnesses. The whole process was a mockery of democracy and justice by political abuse of provisions of the US Constitution.
This is certainly a matter the voters in the US must study in depth and take action to prevent any future US presidents from misuse of constitutional provisions, in the context of democracy and rights of the people.
Ambassador Teplitz must understand that it can only be mockery of democracy, justice and human rights for the government of such a state to find fault with the state personnel and family members in another democratic state, who have not been charged before any court of law, not found guilty of any offence by a court of law, and who have not manipulated the legal process for acquittal, as President Donald Trump has done.
In a statement accompanying the visa ban announcement on Lt. Gen, Shavendra Silva and his family, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said: “We urge the Sri Lankan government to promote human rights, hold accountable individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, advance security sector reform, and uphold its other commitments to pursue justice and reconciliation.”
It is interesting to look at Mike Pompeo’s reference to “promote human rights, hold accountable individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations”. From the days of the Vietnam War, to the invasion of Iraq, and the current violations of human rights and conduct of war crimes in Afghanistan, the US stands among the leaders in such violations of human rights, together with its allies and international rivals. The US has a record of the most brutal violations of human rights, participation in war crimes and human rights violations. Ambassador Teplitz must certainly be aware of all this. The UN and other international bodies, and the UK’s Chilcot Report had shocking reports of such war crimes and human rights violations. Let’s leave those larger issues aside, and look at the Trump administration’s related actions alone in recent years, which may have slipped Ambassador Teplitz’s mind.
In mid-last year President Trump intervened in three war crime cases granting full pardons to two Army officers and restoring the rank of a Navy SEAL.
One of the pardoned Army officers is First Lt. Clint Lorance, who has served six years of a 19-year sentence rendered after he was convicted of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice after ordering soldiers to shoot at unarmed men in Afghanistan — a command which resulted in the death of two of the Afghani men.
The other Army officer is Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who had been awaiting trial after being accused of an extrajudicial killing of a suspected bombmaker in Afghanistan; in December 2018, he was charged with premididated murder.
Trump also reversed the demotion of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who was convicted of posing with the corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq. Last July Gallagher was acquitted of murder and other charges.
Earlier last year, Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former first lieutenant in the Army who was in prison for killing an Iraqi during an interrogation, marking the first pardon for a convicted murderer in modern US history.
There are increasing concerns that these Trump actions would undercut the power and reputation of the military justice system, taking into consideration the wider aspect of democracy and justice, which the US claims to support worldwide.
There is no question that persons formally accused or tried and found guilty of violations of human rights and committing or supporting war crimes deserve the strongest of action against them, including visa bans. But the reality of the Sri Lankan Army Commander Lt. Gen Shavendra Silva is one with no serious or formal charges, but widespread allegations. Is the entire process of democracy, human rights and justice to be twisted into mockery of the very process of honour and justice by the current move of the Trump Presidency and the United States?
There is no doubt that the Sri Lankan process of democracy and justice has much room for improvement. That is a task before the Sri Lankan people. Such work is not in any way supported or encouraged by the manipulation of Statecraft and Diplomacy by the Trump Administration and the moves of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of the US.
Those who deride and sneer at justice, human rights and democracy through the abuse of economic, military and other powers, as the US has done and still does with glee, are hardly the genuine movers for human rights and justice. Ambassador Teplitz should also convey this message to Mike Pompeo and the political powers in Washington DC.
With Donald Trump moving to an election for a second term presidency, his leading opponent from the Democrats is Burnie Sanders who contests as a Socialist, in a country where socialism is, if at all, in a hugely distant future, but has very little to do with even the Welfare State. The current US – Trump policy on the Palestinian people shows its wider contempt for human rights and the sovereignty of people and nations.
The action against the Sri Lankan Army commander and his family is a continuation of this show of dominance against the traditions of democracy, justice and fairplay. Ambassador Teplitz had better convey all this thinking to her anti-democratic supervisors, the violators of human rights and justice of the Donald Trump leadership.