Turning the searchlight inwards – a reflection

| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( March 29, 2012, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) I begin by borrowing a phrase from Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka (After Geneva: Avoiding the Trap) for which I apologize to him. As justification I could only say that I was drawn by the wisdom of his thesis, that the way forward for Sri Lanka after the adoption of the UNHCR Resolution is through rapid reform, with regard to which a recent example cited is Myanmar. Dr. Jayatilleka says: “Sri Lanka has to regain the moral high ground, in the eyes of the world, not just in our own eyes: ‘mirror mirror on the wall’ is not a helpful methodology in external relations and regaining of lost space. An infinitely superior solution would be to recall the Buddha’s words “by oneself is one defiled” and “turn the search light inwards”.
Perhaps the Ambassador of the Philippines was right when she implied that the Resolution against Sri Lanka was a “trigger” and could be a harbinger of things to come. However, reactions on the streets of a city or in a domestic legislature in the nature of protestations to a potent gathering of international pressure and force reminds one of the opening statement of Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian Foreign Minister, in his book Navigating a New World : “the true narrative of politics is not the soliloquy of the State but the human story”. And the human story is seldom unfolded in the echelons of the legislature or in protestations on the streets but in tangible reform that the rest of the world could readily see.
Axworthy offers three coordinates which, although meant for his own country could apply to any other: to retain the right to make choices that reflect a country’s own values and interests; to navigate using human security as a lodestar, seeking an international rules-based system that respects and protects the rights of the individual in contrast to a world dominated by military force and naked self interest; and to build partnerships between governments, business sand civil society to take the problems we face in common as global citizens.
It may well be that Sri Lanka is following all or some of these principles. Even if it is not, I believe it must be trying. My only intent is to address the Axworthy principles in the context of “an international rules-based system” that is “advocated in facing problems as global citizens”. I start with a pithy, vernacular saying which was popular in my schoolboy days which went: “Api Kaatada Baya; Apita Kauda Baya” (Who are we afraid of, and for that matter, who are afraid of us?)”. Although I did not realize the wisdom of this visionary philosophy at that time, now, after 25 years as an international civil servant, I realize its wisdom, and its enduring relevance to States vis a vis the international community, to whom leaders in recent times in countries such as Libya, Myanmar, and some African States (just to take some examples) have succumbed, whether it be militarily or economically. At the present time, creaking under international pressure, the Syrian leadership has agreed to consider the proposals of the special envoy of the United Nations for internal reform.
We have transcended an era in which States stood isolated from the rest of the world in the belief that they could shut themselves in. They still could, but at the cost of what Axworthy calls “the human story”. Iran, the third largest oil producer in the world and which has an intelligent leadership knows that an embargo on its oil and the freezing of its overseas assets would be disastrous for its economy and its people. North Korea has had to accept food aid from the United States and in turn compromise its nuclear adventures. Myanmar has opened itself to the world, bowing to international sanctions, almost abandoning its autocracy and military rule. South Africa was booted out of the United Nations and invited back in when it introduced sweeping reforms by doing away with its Apartheid policies. Now it is a legitimate State doping reasonably well in terms of its human rights record. The list goes on.
India is a good example of how the tightrope of diplomacy could be walked on. It has less diplomats around the world than New Zealand and yet is friendly with almost everyone. India maintains cordial relations with Iran, the United States and China all at the same time as well as with European nations, but imports most of its oil from Iran.
It is a platitude to say that the international community should not dictate terms to Sri Lanka, a sovereign nation. It cannot indeed. However, mutual coexistence must be maintained through globally acceptable principles of State conduct. Unreserved acceptance of the international community is highly desirable mainly for the betterment of the people and the progress and development of a country. In this context, I found the editorial of the Daily News of 23 March 2012 illuminating, in particular the following extracts:
“ In the face of these challenges, Sri Lanka would do well to continue to move in sprightly fashion into the future. Lapsing into despondency would prove fatal for this country, for, that is exactly what its enemies are trying to achieve. We need to win more and more allies and ensure that those who are thus won remain with us. Concurrently, our bridges of amity and cooperation with the like-minded in the international community must be progressively strengthened. As we have right along urged, the organizations and pressure groups of the developing world must be revived and energized to meet the challenges facing us. As we have always said, it is time for Third World groupings, such as, the Non-aligned Movement, to prove their worth once again.
While attending to these chores on the international front, Sri Lanka needs to boldly go ahead with its good work in the domestic arena. Now more than ever before, national unity must be strengthened and sustained. Bonds of fraternity among our communities must be strengthened and energized continuously. Every local political force should guard against the grave blunder of flinging divisive slogans which would stir and rouse to flames, base human instincts. Communal amity must be nourished continually and sustained, come what may.
Simultaneously, national reconstruction and development must be persisted with. We need to add to the pluses and positives which we have already acquired. Equitable growth should remain our prime aim with regard to material advancement because it is in this goal that permanent stability and contentment lies”.
It could not have been said better, particular by a State run newspaper.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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