| by Thrishantha Nanayakkara
( April 06, 2012, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The facebook profile picture of the US embassy for Sri Lanka and Maldives changes from a Batik portrait of the Kandy procession to one with Sri Lankan and Maldivian flags. Professional liaison officers join the US embassy staff to strengthen their Maldivian diplomatic operations. All these seemingly insignificant re-tunes take place after Maldives vote against the US led resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on 22nd March 2012. Maybe US quickly learnt a lesson about the nature of the South Asian political fabric that links Maldivian politics to the rest of the region, and the Muslim world. It is also notable how intense diplomatic negotiations between India and US shaped up the wording of the resolution till the last moment. Soon after passing the resolution, Americans ease an arms embargo on Sri Lanka to allow remote surveillance equipment sales to Sri Lanka, but declares that those two incidents have no relationship. Indian Government on the other hand send soothing letters to Colombo to ease the tense atmosphere in Sri Lanka. Amidst aftershocks of the 30 year war in Sri Lanka, crafty work of professionals set new standards of international politics.
The jumbo delegation of Sri Lankan politicians who fought the laborious battle in Geneva assemble their shattered ego by pointing fingers at professional political scientists like Dr. Dayan Jayathilaka whose expertise helped to amass international support to defeat a similar move in 2009 at a fraction of the cost. The indigenous Vedda communities wonder why American war planes do not drop bombs on Sri Lanka after passing the resolution as predicted. Minister Wimal Weerawansa dives at the slip catch by declaring war on American products. The first in the hit list is free Gmail with a waiver on American microprocessors used in cellular phones. Another goes around asking shop owners to boycott Indian and American products. The famous minister Mervin Silva threatens to break the legs of journalists who raised a voice in Geneva against Government sponsored violence on journalists. Surprisingly, none ask US citizens in the Government to resign from their posts, nor do they pressurize the Government to refuse the multi-million dollar IMF loan. Facebook floods with cartoons of these politicians performing various hilarious tricks in the stone age. The emotional speeches of the president that contradicts with his own previous speeches on the honesty of the LLRC along with those of numerous other ministers, only contribute to confirm that the Government either never wanted to implement the recommendations of its own LLRC, or it is miserably confused about reconciliation if they were honest about it if at all – a claim Sri Lanka should in fact be working to disprove.
As a Sri Lankan citizen interested in these developments, I discussed this topic with few academic colleagues in different countries that voted for and against the resolution, Sri Lankan friends, policy makers, and those shared comments on facebook and other social networks. Those specialists in international politics were in the opinion that this is an inevitable consequence of Government’s dishonesty to its own people and to the international community especially to those who buy most of Sri Lanka’s value added products and to those who took initiative to ban LTTE as a terrorist group to stop their illegal international activities. A few Sri Lankans on facebook who defended Sri Lankan Government’s stand argued that it is fine with being dishonest when Western super-powers try to force things on Sri Lanka. According to them LLRC was such a perfectly legitimate effort to distract attention. This group also believed that terrorism was the only problem which is now “eliminated” and there is no problem left for there to be a reconciliation process. However, this group somehow couldn’t comprehend why the peace they enjoyed in the first month after the war came to an end doesn’t persist. A few observed that there are problems that can not be sunk that easily. Problems such as deteriorating state of the judiciary, failure of the Colombo-centric administrative system to serve the diverse aspirations of people living outside the Western province, partiality of law enforcement, Government red tape that imposes extra burdens on people outside Colombo, threats to free media, abuse of state media and properties, nepotism, etc., require long term reforms. However, immediate issues to do with accountability to the war affected communities, credible measures to respect land rights of the displaced, etc, that are recommended in the LLRC report are hard to be neglected.
The need to improve professionalism of international relationships is another critical factor in any credible process of restoring the respect of all citizens and that of our international allies for the Government of Sri Lanka. Dr. Dayan Jayathilaka once observed that Sri Lanka can learn a lesson from Burma – “Myanmar has been achieving tremendous and incredible progress towards establishing democratic reforms. It became a more liberal country and even took steps to release the Burmese opposition politician and the leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suuki. Its success has even led Myanmar to become the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Countries ( ASEAN) next year”. Politicians who could be extremely successful in bringing bus loads of Samurdhi recipients and other villagers to Colombo to burn effigies, those who have been extremely successful in preaching democracy while holding the opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka in jail, or those who expect to change international opinion over extravagant dinners may not necessarily be successful in a deeper philosophical debate on accountability, freedom of expression, and reconciliation. In addition to retaining the services of the well exposed professionals in the diplomatic service, the role of local university courses and think tanks in this regard has been underscored several times by beacons like Lakshman Kadiragarmar. In fact the mission statement of the Lakshman Kadiragargar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies states that “the core objective of the proposed institute will be to generate broad policy indicators for the guidance of the Government of Sri Lanka, based on research, monitoring and analysis of domestic development as well as Sri Lanka’s interface with the external world.”. In order to achieve this, independence of political scientists in various Government offices should be insulated from political interference, so that they can effectively promote Sri Lankan interests abroad while feeding the Government with honest and truthful strategic thinking to take informed policy decisions.
For professionals in international relations to be effective, politicians should be more truthful to their own voters, honest to the country’s citizens in general, and not abuse people’s patriotism to further corner them in the World leaving them choice-less and vulnerable. However, politicians prefer the easy tactics of finding a common enemy to instill fear psychosis, abusing patriotism to suppress free expression, and exploiting state media for hate mongering and spreading misinformation. The more practical approach therefore is for citizens to be more active in questioning the status quo with facts and demand for media freedom that will give them more choices to know the truth. The present Government’s ban on a number of online newspapers prevents those who live in Sri Lanka from reading even this article. Given how state media openly promotes violence against fellow journalists in non-government media institutes, it is no wonder why non-Government journalists who are critical of the Government get killed on broad day light. People should ask themselves as to whether this open suppression of free media is in fact doing them any good.
I guess a recent radical experiment that proved to be successful maybe of use to others. A group of Sri Lankans from different political biases got together to think about any common courses of action we could take to help Sri Lanka. One idea that came up was to empower young parliamentarians from all parties to take special University short courses that highlight the importance of rule of law, independence of the judiciary, notion of citizenship, international relations, democracy, etc. We plan to build working relationships with institutes like Harvard (USA), Johns Hopkins (USA), Waseda (Japan), Peking University (China), University of Delhi (India) etc to achieve the goal of investing in future law makers across all parties in Sri Lanka. We invite Sri Lankans living in different parts of the World to join us by contributing to the Blog: Sri Lankans for peace ( http://srilankans4peace.blogspot.co.uk/ ). We welcome people with biased political opinions as well as neutral views, because we believe that a good way to orchestrate unbiasedness is to make a group with diverse biases. In addition, grassroots level inquiry is also important. Youth leaders in villages can take similar initiatives to invite parliamentarians from all parties in your village to regular evening gatherings to discuss about the internal and external challenges faced by Sri Lanka. Do not waste time playing their game by killing each other. Be on top of them by providing them the cordial environment to be truthful in front of you for Sri Lanka needs you now.