Post-Mortem on Geneva

 | by Izeth Hussain
( March 31, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We have to face up to the fact that the Sri Lankan Government suffered a serious set-back at Geneva. We can of course argue that adding the abstentions to the votes against the US Resolution shows that we lost only by one vote. That kind of statistical casuistry will take us nowhere. In fact the refusal to face up to ugly facts that motivates such casuistry could prove to be dangerous. It could even lead to the international isolation in which Sri Lanka found itself under the Jayewardene Government in 1987, as acknowledged by JRJ himself. It is true that two powerful countries, namely China and Russia, voted on our side. During a spell of service in Moscow from 1995 to 1998 I found that the strong Indo-Soviet bonds forged during the Cold War remained just as strong as ever, and my guess is that in the last resort, sometime in the future, Russia will side with India against us. We must acknowledge Sri Lanka’s vulnerability.
In coping with the post-Geneva situation we must first of all acknowledge Sri Lanka’s vulnerability, instead of resorting to arguments that befit the school debating society. Next, we must try to achieve as precise an understanding as might be possible of what the US Resolution signifies – the why and the wherefore of it, and what it portends. It is only then that we can fashion responses that can meet the post-Geneva challenges that will be arising, challenges to the political unity of Sri Lanka and even to its territorial integrity. In realistically assessing those challenges we must stop giving excessive weightage to the backside of the LTTE – the backside that is usually referred to as the LTTE rump. Instead, we must give weightage to something that is infinitely more powerful, namely India, and what it might perceive as threats to its primordial interests arising out of Sri Lanka’s unsolved ethnic problem, as I have argued in earlier articles.
In trying to understand the significance of the US Resolution we must first of all pose a question: Why has the US, the sole super-power in the world with so many other serious preoccupations, given so much importance to the relatively unimportant situation in Sri Lanka? This country does not belong to the US sphere of interest and the US itself would regard it as India’s turf. The human rights situation in Sri Lanka certainly needs correction, but comparatively speaking it is not of so horrendous an order as to require a country-specific resolution at Geneva. Sri Lanka, after all, is a functioning democracy, flawed and showing a trend towards the dynastic and the dictatorial but still, indisputably, a functioning democracy. As for the arguments that the Resolution has behind it US and Western chagrin over the fact that we would not stop the war at the crucial final stage, and that we unlike them have defeated terrorism, I will not deal with such arguments as they are not worth serious address. As for the argument that the West is annoyed by the fact that we don’t toe the Western line, it seems to me that the Government’s foreign policy is still Non-Aligned and it is certainly not anti-Western to the point of provoking hostility. I can think of only two plausible reasons for the Resolution: the US wants to advance the New World Order and it wants to oblige India.
At the time that Ban Ki-Moon decided to appoint his Panel of Experts I argued that he was doing so at the behest of the US which was engaged in a “benign conspiracy” to exert pressure on the Sri Lanka Government to make it really move towards a political solution of the ethnic problem. I postulated a convergence of interest between the US and India. A new world order has to be instituted by the US and India together with some other powers. In helping solve the ethnic problem the US would be making a contribution, albeit a small one, to the new world order. Far more important is that it would also be helping India get rid of a problem that could come to threaten its primordial interests, meaning its political unity and even – in a worst-case hypothesis – its territorial integrity, as I have argued elsewhere. In a more recent article I pointed out that there was good reason to believe that a strong Indo-US nexus had been formed in the ‘eighties and that that was a factor behind the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accords of 1987. In terms of the arguments that I have been developing in recent weeks, India’s volte-face in unexpectedly voting for the US Resolution should have been expected. A convergence of interests had led inexorably to a convergence of votes.
The twin purposes behind the “benign conspiracy” have been advanced significantly at Geneva, though with only partial success in advancing the new world order. The major problem has been the veto power at the Security Council – a point emphasized in a recent article by my former colleague Bandu Silva – a veto power that the US and its allies want to circumvent. A way forward has been shown by the Darusman Report. The Panel of Experts did not have the decision of any UN body behind it, but its Report has been given the imprimatur of the UN. It is something more than just another document that can be used by the powers that want to put the SL Government in the dock. Now, at Geneva, the UNHRC has been given virtual monitoring powers, something that far exceeds its mandate. It looks like a usurpation of the functions of the Security Council. Here, however, the success has been partial because G.L. Peiris and others have done an excellent job in showing up the dangers inherent in that success. The powerless in the international community have been alerted to those dangers, for which the Sri Lankan Government deserves credit.
The purpose of helping solve the ethnic problem has been advanced with consummate diplomatic skill at Geneva. The focus earlier was on war crimes allegations, but although the shouting about those allegations continued at Geneva the focus shifted to the LLRC recommendations in which the allegations are merely one out of several issues. The probable reason is that it has come to be realized that if alleged war crimes are seriously investigated, much bitterness will be generated and the full implementation of 13A and ethnic reconciliation will become impossible for the foreseeable future. 13A itself does not figure explicitly in the Resolution and it is recommended in the LLRC merely that a political solution be found on the basis of devolution. The probable reason – so it seems to me – is that India, the US and others wanted to exclude as far as might be feasible anything that seems controversial from the Resolution, the purpose of which is no more than to get the SL Government to carry out its own commitment to implement the LLRC recommendations. There is nothing adverse to the SL Government in the Resolution. That is ostensibly so, but at the same time the SL Government has been effectively put in the dock and becomes answerable to the international community on ethnic reconciliation. There is also an implicit, but very real, threat that punitive action including sanctions could follow. It seems to me that diplomatic skills of a very high order were deployed at Geneva.
For me the point of central importance is that the Indian Government has made it quite clear that for it the main purpose of the exercise in Geneva was to make the SL Government proceed to the full implementation of 13A. At the conclusion of his last visit to Sri Lanka a few weeks ago, the Indian Foreign Minister Krishnan claimed that President Rajapakse had reiterated his commitment to the full implementation of 13A and beyond, a claim that he later repeated in the Indian Parliament. India’s explanation of its vote in favor of the US Resolution contained the following: “In this context we urge the Sri Lankan Government to take forward the process of broader dialogue and show concrete movement towards a meaningful devolution, including the implementation of the 13th Amendment and beyond.” After the vote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to our President in an obvious attempt to mollify him, and he too referred to the Indian “conviction that a meaningful devolution package, building on the 13th Amendment would lead towards a lasting political settlement ….” It has been made abundantly clear that in the complex drama that was being played out in Geneva the centre of gravity for India was all along the 13th Amendment and nothing else.
My reading of the significance of the US Resolution is therefore as follows: the ostensible purpose is to promote human rights and it can therefore be taken as being meant to promote the New World Order, but the underlying purpose is to promote a political solution of the ethnic problem on the basis of 13A. What does it portend? If the Government honors its commitments and implements what it promises to implement, a lasting political solution could follow. Alternatively, if it goes on and on and on, endlessly procrastinating and prevaricating, disaster will follow. The intractable problem is supposed to be that the people are adamantly against 13A, on which subject there is a huge literature. As far as the international community – consisting of other governments- is concerned, the whole of that huge literature should be consigned to the waste-paper basket because other governments go by what our Government says. And what it keeps on saying is that it remains committed to the full implementation of 13A.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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