Indira Gandhi remembered

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | Friday, October 31, 2014 | Posted in , , ,

Emergency was a blunder, Operation Bluestar an unmitigated disaster

| by K. Natwar Singh

( October 31, 2014, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) What was I doing in the morning of 31st October 1984? I was getting ready to leave for Bharatpur to do some politicking. The RAX telephone rang. It was H.Y. Sharada Prasad, “Natwar, this is the worst day of our lives. PM has been shot. Come over to No 1 Akbar Road, as soon as you can.”

I asked a dazed Sharada, “What happened. Who shot her?” “She was walking from 1 Safdarjung Road to 1 Akbar Road to be interviewed by film actor and producer Peter Ustinov. When she was walking on the glass “river” (presented by the government of Czechoslovakia), which led to 1 Akbar Road, she was shot by the two Sikh guards at the gate leading to 1 Akbar Road. I heard the shots, but thought it must be someone playing with fire crackers… it was over in a few seconds.” I walked up to the gate to see the spot where she had fallen. Her blood had not dried. Her spectacles, chappals and bag were still lying on the glass river.

Peter Ustinov’s camera men had recorded the sound of the shots. It took Sharda and me a long time to persuade Ustinov not to use that portion of the film. He eventually agreed. I met him in 1997 at a seminar in Valencia, Spain, I reminded him our conversation on 31.10.1984. “I remember it well. I never used the ‘shots’ recording.”

She was 19 days short of her 67th birthday on that fateful and searing day. Even after three decades her fame and name, her achievements, her qualities as a leader have not been forgotten.

For me, it is not easy to sum up her life objectively. My affection and respect for her have not diminished. In more ways than one she enriched, uplifted my life. She broadened the contours of my vision. To some readers this may sound as crass sentimentalism and melodramatic. I worked in her secretariat for five years, 1966-71, meeting her every other day, sometimes three times a day.

Jawaharlal Nehru never faced the challenges she did. Nehru’s leadership was never questioned for 15 years. In the last two years of his life he encountered serious dissatisfaction in the Congress party. Indira Gandhi's road to power between 1966 and 1969 was strewn with boulders. The syndicate was breathing down her neck. Several were patronising and treated her as the daughter of Nehru and not as the Prime Minister. Krishna Menon referred to her as “that chit of a girl”. Ram Manohar Lohia was vicious. In Parliament she was nervy, tense and diffident. She was not comfortable in the Cabinet or in meetings with her elderly colleagues — Kamraj, Nijilingappa, Morarji Desai, S.K Patil, Swaran Singh, Y.B Chavan and Jagjivan Ram. They too felt uneasy with a woman Prime Minister. They did not take her seriously. Later they would.

Gradually her diffidence and shyness began to erode. By 1970 she had come to grips with her job and responsibilities. The jeering stopped. The cheering began. She had a flair for foreign affairs. Her international image grew by the week. At the UN she was heard with respect. At NAM and Commonwealth summits, she often stole the show. In 1983 she was the chairperson of the NAM and Commonwealth summits, both held in New Delhi. She strengthened the Non-Aligned Movement — “the greatest peace movement in the world”, she called it. At the Commonwealth Summit she produced awe in Margaret Thatcher. I one day asked her what she thought of the Iron lady. Her response: “What Iron lady. I saw a nervous woman sitting at the edge of the sofa.”

She wrote an article in the October 1972 issue of “Foreign Affairs” magazine. She wrote, “India’s foreign policy is a projection of the values which we have cherished through centuries as well as our present concerns. We are not tied to the traditional concepts of a foreign policy, designed to safeguard overseas possessions, investments, the carving out spheres of influence and the creation of cordons sanitaires. We are not interested in exporting ideologies.”

Her finest hour came in 1971. She created a new nation — Bangladesh. She isolated Nixon and Kissinger, won over the Western media and liberal members of the US Congress. Teddy Kennedy was one of them.

We now come to the other side of the Indira Gandhi coin. The Emergency was a blunder, Operation Bluestar an unmitigated disaster. In the words of P.N. Dhar, her Principal Secretary for half a decade, “the Emergency changed the basic relationship between the citizen and the state and indeed threatened to change the character of the Indian State.” During the Emergency I was the Deputy High Commissioner in London. There it was impossible to 'sell' the Emergency. I wrote to the PM, “I know what to say to our critics but do not know what to say to our friends”. Untypically she did not respond. Professionally it was the duty of High Commissioner B.K. Nehru and myself to defend the Emergency. We suppressed our conscience.

Operation Bluestar was grievously handled. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I know that Indira Gandhi’s instructions were disregarded by those who in Amritsar were in charge of the operation. The Golden Temple complex could have been cordoned, electric and water supply could have been switched off. Instead tanks entered the complex. The rest is too well known. It cost Indira Gandhi her life. The Sikh community both in India and abroad was not only outraged, it was deeply hurt, deeply offended.

If one were to take an overall view of Indira Gandhi's life and labours, she would still rank very high in the Prime Ministerial pecking order. Even today her admirers outnumber her detractors. I remain an admirer.

Modern Day America: One Step Away from the Third Reich

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | | Posted in , , ,

| by John Stanton

“Unbeknownst to most Americans the United States is presently under thirty presidential declared states of emergency. They confer vast powers on the Executive Branch including the ability to financially incapacitate any person or organization in the United States, seize control of the nation’s communications infrastructure, mobilize military forces, expand the permissible size of the military without congressional authorization, and extend tours of duty without consent from service personnel. Declared states of emergency may also activate Presidential Emergency Action Documents and other continuity-of-government procedures which confer powers on the President, such as the unilateral suspension of habeas corpus—that appear fundamentally opposed to the American constitutional order. Although the National Emergencies Act, by its plain language, requires the Congress to vote every six months on whether a declared national emergency should continue, Congress has done only once in the nearly forty year history of the Act.” Patrick Thronson, Michigan Journal of Law (2013, Vol 46).

( October 31, 2014, Virginia, Sri Lanka Guardian) A bit of irony, perhaps, that on November 4, 2014—as Americans go to the polls to cast their ballots for a slate of politicians at the local, state and federal levels—the august citizens of the United States will also celebrate the birth of the National Security Agency (NSA).

On November 4, 1952 the NSA was created by a Presidential Executive Order signed by then president Harry Truman. Earlier that year, in January 1952, Truman’s state of the union address focused on the Korean War, the global Soviet-Communist threat, the “Iran oil situation”, and the need to increase the production of US military equipment for use by American forces, and for transfer to Western European Allies. Truman called on Americans to seek guidance in the God of Peace even as a brutal shadow war was being waged by the United States to eliminate popularly elected “leftist” governments.

In 1953 Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected to the American presidency and with him came John Foster and Allan Dulles, two political appointees who would, it turns out, seek the counsel and expertise of “former” Nazi executioners, scientists and intelligence operatives. J Edgar Hoover, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was already on the case using whatever resources were at his disposal—including Nazis--to hunt down unionists, communists, dissenters and radicals wherever they might be. According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Truman had this to say about Hoover and his FBI, “We want no Gestapo or secret police. FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail… Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him."

From 1953-1961, Eisenhower, as Commander in Chief, constructed a nascent military-intelligence-law enforcement-industrial complex influenced directly by Nazi ideology and technological know-how. No wonder he warned the world about his creation, the military-industrial complex. At one time in the early 21st Century it was uncomfortable to call out America’s ties to the Nazis. But that has changed particularly with the release of Eric Lichtblau’s The Nazis Next Door (2014) and The Collaboration by Ben Urwand. It has also been confirmed by the overthrow of a nationally elected leader in Ukraine—Victor Yanukovych--and the open support of neo-Nazi groups largely responsible for that event. Is it a coincidence that the head of the CIA, John Brennan, visited with the neo-Nazi usurpers not long after the coup given the CIA’s history?

Do You Want to Know a Secret, do, da, do?

According to Lichtblau, writing in the New York Times, “The full tally of Nazis-turned-spies is probably much higher’, said Norman Goda, a University of Florida historian…but many records remain classified even today, making a complete count impossible. U.S. agencies directly or indirectly hired numerous ex-Nazi police officials and East European collaborators who were manifestly guilty of war crimes, he said. Information was readily available that these were compromised men. The wide use of Nazi spies grew out of a Cold War mentality shared by two titans of intelligence in the 1950s: Mr. Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, and Mr. Dulles, the C.I.A. director.”

Over at Antiwar.com, in “Federal Agencies Just Doing Whatever They Want Now”, Lucy Steigerwald comments wryly on Lichtblau’s findings. “…the CIA hid their precious assets from Nazi hunters and prosecutors trying to deport then-old men in the 1980s and even into the ‘90s. Most disturbing, one of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann’s little buddies, Otto von Bolschwing, was protected until 1982, when he conveniently died of a brain disorder before he could be deported or prosecuted. Famously, Nazi rocket scientists were picked up by America to prevent their expertise from falling into Soviet hands. Maybe an exception to the prickly feeling that letting heinous war criminals off the hook is not what America was supposed to be doing when it won the good war in a heroically-sepia montage could be made for geniuses like Wernher Von Braun. Von Braun was a rocket scientist and "honorary" SS member under the Nazis, and he helped America get to the moon (which is neat, so that apparently makes his debated level of involvement/enthusiasm for the party acceptable.) What exactly did von Bolschwing contribute to America after happily joining the SS in 1933 to make ignoring his crimes worthwhile? What’s the purpose of this kind of grim revelation? There are several.

One, they diminish the moral high ground about the Second World War that the US clings to desperately to this day. Yes, everyone who isn’t literally Adolph Hitler gets to feel pretty good about themselves, so anyone not allied with Hitler must be doing the right thing. Yet, helping to plan the Final Solution is forgivable if the CIA really wants you around. Another more contemporary reason to be horrified by this revelation is that it is just one outrage of many. Sharing the CIA’s dark corner is most of the other big-name, secretive agencies. For the past 18 months, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive campaign of spying has been big news. Less prominent were stories that suggest the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are also playing the part of secretive, unaccountable rulers.”

Welcome to the Reich, American Style

William Binney, former NSA employee and whistleblower, stated that the NSA had gone “totalitarian”. In an interview with DW he likened the NSA and the US government to the Third Reich.

Binney: “Sure, they haven't gone that far yet [as the Nazis and East German Stassi], but they tried to shut down newspaper reporters like Jim Risen…Look at the NDAA Section 1021, that gave President Obama the ability to define someone as a terrorist threat and have the military incarcerate them indefinitely without due process. That's the same as the special order 48 issued in 1933 by the Nazis, [the so-called Reichstag Fire Decree]. Read that - it says exactly the same thing. These were totalitarian processes that were instituted…Totalitarianism comes in the form first of knowledge of people and what they're doing, and then it starts to transition into using that power against people. That's what's happening - in terms of newspaper reporters, in terms of crimes. That's a direct violation of our constitution.

DW: But surely the difference is that there was an ideological regime behind the Stasi and the Nazis.
Binney: You mean like putting people like John Kiriakou in prison for exposing torture and giving the torturers immunity? That's what our country's coming to. That's what we did. That's disgraceful. The motives of totalitarian states are not exactly the same every time, but they're very similar: power, control and money…We're focusing now on everyone on the planet - that's a change from focusing on organizations that were attempting to do nasty things. When you focus on everybody, you're moving down that path towards population control.”

Ingeniously Produced from Concentration Camps: Data “Comes to Light”

Many advances in warfare can be traced to Nazi innovations built on the backs of tortured souls. For example, air and ship crew survivability in frigid seas is just one of them: “…the Germans noted the terrible loss of critical personnel in sudden cold water immersion accidents. The sinking of the Bismarck and loss of airmen who bailed out alive and well into the cold North Sea during the Battle of Britain caused their physiologists and aviation medicine physicians to examine the problem. They commenced a large Research and Development program, which in part was the cause for the infamous Dachau experiments. They were the first to observe the "after drop" or continuation in reduction of body core temperature after being withdrawn from the cold water. They also experimented with survival suits and the Deutsches Textilforschunginstitut in München-Gladbach, ingeniously produced one that provided the insulation using soap bubbles which appears to have gone into limited service.”

Another example is the development of the military aircraft “ejection seat”. In Achtung! Schleuder-Sitzaparat by Chris Carry, German engineering was far afield of American efforts in pilot safety. “With the acquisition by the US of both German databases in egress research and actual examples of the German Heinkel explosive cartridge ejection seat immediately after the war had ended, the US began to vigorously attempt to gain greater knowledge in this overlooked area of aviation technology. The new American developmental research spurred on by acquisition of German wartime data branched off into two distinctly different approaches towards the same end, one taken by the US Air Force and one by the US Navy.”

Exceptionalism and Innovative Torture Techniques Led to Technological Advances

How could human beings engage in such hideous experiments on other human beings? Well, that is a time tested formula: Indoctrinate the masses into thinking that all others besides, say, Americans, are inferior, unexceptional, demons and insects. The world is witnessing just that as the US government, its allies and its media and academic proxies seek to reduce the Russians, Arabs, Chinese, Iranians, and the immigrants, unemployed and impoverished in the United States down to the level of parasitic microbes.

Just how does that mentality work? 

For that answer we turn to the UK’s Telegraph for an article written in 2008 by Richard Evans. “The answer springs from the fact that medicine was both dominant in the world of science under the Third Reich, and closely allied to the Nazi project… After all, German medical science had uncovered the causes of several major diseases and contributed massively to improving the health of the population over the previous decades. Surely, therefore, it was justified in eliminating negative influences as well? What underpinned this behavior was a widespread belief that some people were less than human, relegated to a lower plane of existence by their inherited degeneracy – or their race. For German doctors, a camp inmate was either a racially inferior subhuman, a vicious criminal, a traitor to the German cause, or more than one of the above. Such beings had no right to life or wellbeing – indeed, it was logical that they should be sacrificed in the interests of the survival and triumph of the German race, just as that race had to be strengthened by the elimination of the inferior, degenerate elements within it.”

Evans continues on describing the torture: “SS doctors used inmates to test treatments for injuries sustained in battle, cutting open their calves and sewing bits of glass or wood or gauze impregnated with bacteria into the wounds, sometimes even smashing the prisoners' bones with hammers to create a more realistic effect; again, the results were presented to scientific conferences without anyone offering any criticism of the methods employed. Perhaps the most enthusiastic user of human guinea pigs was the ambitious young SS doctor Sigmund Rascher, who employed camp inmates at Dachau to test the human body's reactions to rapid decompression and lack of oxygen, in an attempt to help pilots forced to parachute out of their planes at high altitudes. He called some of his research sessions "terminal experiments". He measured the time it took his subjects to die as their air supply was gradually thinned out. He showed his work, which led to the deaths of between 70 and 80 prisoners, to a conference of Luftwaffe medical experts in September 1942. The following month, Rascher presented the results of another experiment to a conference of 95 medical scientists in Nuremberg. This time, he showed how long inmates dressed in Luftwaffe uniforms and life jackets could survive in cold water, simulating conditions in the North Sea. The average time that elapsed before death, he reported, was 70 minutes. None of those listening to him raised any ethical objections.”

Albert Camus offers a sort of prayer for these dark times. “All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in which, granted, the former has a thousand times the chances of success than that of the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.”

John Stanton writes on national security and political matters. Reach him at captainkong22@gmail.com

Heartbreaking Final Letter Of Hanged Iranian Woman

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | | Posted in , , ,

( October 31, 2014, Teheran, Sri Lanka Guardian) The young interior designer hanged yesterday in Iran for killing the man she claimed was trying to rape her sent a moving final letter to her mother, asking her to make sure she had her organs donated after her death.

The heartbreaking letter, written in April but circulated today by Iranian peace activists, was from 26-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari to her mother Sholeh Pakravan, who had called on the judges to hang her instead of her daughter, for the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former intelligence agent.

Activists said that Pakravan was only allowed one final hour with her daughter earlier in the week, and had only been informed of her imminent death with a few hours notice.

According to the court ruling Jabbari stabbed Sarbandi in the back in 2007 after purchasing a knife two days earlier.
Jabbari was found guilty of premeditated murder in 2009 but the sentence was only carried out after Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi had hinted in early October that a “good ending” was in sight, and the victim’s family could have saved Jabbari’s life by accepting blood money but they refused to do so.
Amnesty said the verdict was legally flawed, with Jabbari claiming Sarbandi had tried to rape her, and that she had stabbed him, but another man in the house had actually killed him.

The full letter reads:

Dear Sholeh, today I learned that it is now my turn to face Qisas [the law of retribution in the Iranian legal system]. I am hurt as to why you did not let me know yourself that I have reached the last page of the book of my life. Don’t you think that I should know? You know how ashamed I am that you are sad. Why did you not take the chance for me to kiss your hand and that of dad?

The world allowed me to live for 19 years. That ominous night it was I that should have been killed. My body would have been thrown in some corner of the city, and after a few days, the police would have taken you to the coroner’s office to identify my body and there you would also learn that I had been raped as well. The murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power. Then you would have continued your life suffering and ashamed, and a few years later you would have died of this suffering and that would have been that.

However, with that cursed blow the story changed. My body was not thrown aside, but into the grave of Evin Prison and its solitary wards, and now the grave-like prison of Shahr-e Ray. But give in to the fate and don’t complain. You know better that death is not the end of life.

You taught me that one comes to this world to gain an experience and learn a lesson and with each birth a responsibility is put on one’s shoulder. I learned that sometimes one has to fight. I do remember when you told me that the carriage man protested the man who was flogging me, but the flogger hit the lash on his head and face that ultimately led to his death. You told me that for creating a value one should persevere even if one dies.

You taught us that as we go to school one should be a lady in face of the quarrels and complaints. Do you remember how much you underlined the way we behave? Your experience was incorrect. When this incident happened, my teachings did not help me. Being presented in court made me appear as a cold-blooded murderer and a ruthless criminal. I shed no tears. I did not beg. I did not cry my head off since I trusted the law.

But I was charged with being indifferent in face of a crime. You see, I didn’t even kill the mosquitoes and I threw away the cockroaches by taking them by their antennas. Now I have become a premeditated murderer. My treatment of the animals was interpreted as being inclined to be a boy and the judge didn’t even trouble himself to look at the fact that at the time of the incident I had long and polished nails.

How optimistic was he who expected justice from the judges! He never questioned the fact that my hands are not coarse like those of a sportswoman, especially a boxer. And this country that you planted its love in me never wanted me and no one supported me when under the blows of the interrogator I was crying out and I was hearing the most vulgar terms. When I shed the last sign of beauty from myself by shaving my hair I was rewarded: 11 days in solitary.

Dear Sholeh, don’t cry for what you are hearing. On the first day that in the police office an old unmarried agent hurt me for my nails I understood that beauty is not looked for in this era. The beauty of looks, beauty of thoughts and wishes, a beautiful handwriting, beauty of the eyes and vision, and even beauty of a nice voice.

My dear mother, my ideology has changed and you are not responsible for it. My words are unending and I gave it all to someone so that when I am executed without your presence and knowledge, it would be given to you. I left you much handwritten material as my heritage.

However, before my death I want something from you, that you have to provide for me with all your might and in any way that you can. In fact this is the only thing I want from this world, this country and you. I know you need time for this.

Therefore, I am telling you part of my will sooner. Please don’t cry and listen. I want you to go to the court and tell them my request. I cannot write such a letter from inside the prison that would be approved by the head of prison; so once again you have to suffer because of me. It is the only thing that if even you beg for it I would not become upset although I have told you many times not to beg to save me from being executed.

My kind mother, dear Sholeh, the one more dear to me than my life, I don’t want to rot under the soil. I don’t want my eye or my young heart to turn into dust. Beg so that it is arranged that as soon as I am hanged my heart, kidney, eye, bones and anything that can be transplanted be taken away from my body and given to someone who needs them as a gift. I don’t want the recipient know my name, buy me a bouquet, or even pray for me.

I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I don’t want to have a grave for you to come and mourn there and suffer. I don’t want you to wear black clothing for me. Do your best to forget my difficult days. Give me to the wind to take away.

The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embrace the death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge inspector Shamlou, I will charge judge, and the judges of country’s Supreme Court that beat me up when I was awake and did not refrain from harassing me.
In the court of the Creator I will charge Dr Farvandi, I will charge Qassem Shabani and all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.

Dear soft-hearted Sholeh, in the other world it is you and me who are the accusers and others who are the accused. Let’s see what God wants. I wanted to embrace you until I die. I love you.–The Huffington Post

Palestine recognized as state by Sweden

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | | Posted in , , ,

The Swedish government has officially decided to recognize Palestine, with the move announced in a speech by the country's new Foreign Minister Margot Wallström.

( October 31, 2014, Stockholm, Sri Lanka Guardian) Speaking at a press conference, Margot Wallström said:

"We are not picking sides. We're choosing the side of the peace process".

She added:

"The government believes that the international law criteria for the recognition of the State of Palestine has been met. There is a territory, there is a population and there is a government".

Sweden's Foreign Minister is Margot Wallström. Photo: TT
The UN General Assembly approved the recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state in 2012, but the European Union and most western countries do not refer to Palestine as a separate state.

Wallström pre-empted her announcement in a debate article in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper published on Thursday morning.

"It's an important step. Some will say that the decision came too early. I'm afraid that it came too late," she wrote, adding that she "hopes that this will show the way for others."

"The aim of Sweden's recognition is to help reach the goal of Israel and Palestine co-existing side by side in peace."

"President Abbas welcomes Sweden's decision," Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP, adding that the Palestinian leader described the move as "brave and historic".

"All countries of the world that are still hesitant to recognise our right to an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, (should) follow Sweden's lead," his spokesman quoted him as saying.

Abu Rudeina said the decision was a positive step following months of soaring tensions in occupied east Jerusalem, where Palestinians have clashed almost daily with Israeli police and where Israel has recently pushed ahead with plans to build another 3,600 settler homes, drawing international condemnation.

"This decision comes as a response to Israeli measures in Jerusalem," he said.

Sweden's decision was initially announced by new Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven as he revealed his new centre-left cabinet in early October. But has been met with strong criticism from Israel.

On Thursday Israel's top diplomat said the Swedish government's recognition of a Palestinian state was "deplorable" and could undermine efforts to resolve the conflict.

"The decision of the Swedish government to recognise a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision which only strengthens extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.

"It is a shame that the Swedish government chose to take this declarative step which causes a lot of harm and offers no advantage," he said.

"The Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA and that they have to act with responsibility and sensitivity."

There has been intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in recent months, with some of the deadliest violence in years. But there is currently a ceasefire between the two sides.

Seven EU members have already recognized a Palestinian state -- Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. Non-EU member Iceland is the only other western European nation to have done so.

Palestinian groups in Sweden have welcomed the decision. Earlier this month, Nael Touqan, Chairman of Palestinian Association of Stockholm told The Local:

"Sweden has great respect in Europe so we hope this means that other nations will follow its lead," he added. "This is the only way to pressure Israel".

But observers said it was too early to tell if the Swedish step would prompt other countries to make similar moves.

"It's really hard to say how many countries will actually take the plunge and follow Sweden," said Michael Schulz, an expert on the Middle East and conflict issues at the University of Gothenburg told AFP.

"For the EU to recognise Palestine, that would require all member states to agree, so it's unlikely," he said, estimating that Stockholm's decision "shouldn't change much" over the short term.

"We must see how Israel will react if they will continue their policy of settlement or if they will instead be more cautious."

Sweden's government has said it will increase bilateral aid to the middle east over the next five years.

Imagining that Third-Term

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | Thursday, October 30, 2014 | Posted in , , ,

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“On second thought let’s not go to Camelot. It’s a silly place.”
The Knight of Camelot Song (Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

( October 30, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Rajapaksa-verdict has arrived. No one assaulted Chris Nonis. He drank too much and fell off a stool. Twenty eight fellow-guests have given written evidence to that effect .

Perhaps Chris Nonis, physician, diplomat, businessman, now has an inkling of what it feels like to be Mohammad Irshad.

Mohammad Irshad was the Samurdhi official who was tied to a tree by Mervyn Silva. That outrage was committed in public, in the presence of many witnesses including uniformed police officers. The video of the minister’s criminal conduct is still available on You Tube . But a Rajapaksa committee found Mr. Silva not guilty and concluded that Mr. Irshad tied himself to the tree.

Now, according to another Rajapaksa committee, Chris Nonis, like Humpty Dumpty, ‘had a great fall’; the King’s Man was blameless; all the King’s Horses have sworn it was so.

Earlier Minister Rambukwella claimed that Dr. Nonis was a gate-crasher at the party. Now an official government report accuses him of being uncontrollably inebriated. The implication is that Dr. Nonis, incapable of handling the copious quantities of liquor he guzzled, fabricated a story about being assaulted. Ergo, Dr. Nonis is either a liar/slanderer or he is severely delusional.

Based on the report, Sajin Vaas Gunawardane can file action against Dr. Nonis for loss of reputation and mental trauma. Who can doubt that Lankan courts will find Dr. Nonis guilty?

According to the report in Ceylon Today, a letter signed by several staffers at the Lankan High Commission in London accompanied the report. One cannot but wonder what further crimes the letter accuses Dr. Nonis of! 

From Mohammad Irshad to Chris Nonis, via J Tissanayagam and Sarath Fonseka, the path of Rajapaksa justice is clear. The guilty will go free and the innocent will be punished. There will not be a lack of witnesses or judges to enable this perversion.

Jeyakumari Balendran is still languishing in jail, accused (though not charged) of terrorism. The same authorities claimed that they cannot find any evidence against Kumaran Pathmanathan. Mr. Pathmanathan is wanted by India and the Interpol; he was the LTTE’s chief money-manager and weapons-procurer – and Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s chosen successor. But Rajapaksa investigators cannot find any evidence linking him with the LTTE. He is innocent and free, unlike the elderly Ms. Jeyakumari, whose only ‘crime’ was her insistence on discovering the fate of her son.

Imagine the shape and the course of Rajapaksa justice during a Third Term.

Dr. Nonis spent the last several years vigorously defending the Rajapaksas against charges of abuse and impunity. Now the same march of abuse and impunity has claimed him. He is reportedly too scared to return to Sri Lanka. 

That fate of self-exile will befall many more Lankans during a third Rajapaksa term.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is on record stating that traitors should be given capital punishment. In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, a traitor will be decided not on the basis of facts and laws but on the basis of the needs, interests and whims of the rulers. During a third Rajapaksa term, condemning Rajapaksa opponents as traitors, via a Chris Nonis type investigation, might become the norm - and be accepted as such by a majority of the populace.

After all we have forgotten that there was a time when the total removal of presidential term-limits was unthinkable and a political solution meant more and not less devolution.

Fritz Stern argued that “civic passivity and willed blindness were the preconditions for the triumph of National Socialism….” That verdict is apt for Sri Lanka as well. A majority of Sinhalese may believe themselves to be unaffected by such Rajapaksa phenomena as the militarization of civil society and the steady occupation of the private sector economy by Rajapaksa kith and kin. But the monumental fall of Chris Nonis demonstrates that a third Rajapaksa term presents a clear danger to all Lankans, including Rajapaksa acolytes. A land in which the guilt or the innocence of a citizen is decided by rulers according to their needs/desires is nothing but the jungle.

A Calamitous Normalcy

A salary increase was among the many boons President Rajapaksa included in his election-oriented Budget. The pay-hike was to come via an increase in the COL allowance and the inclusion of all allowances in the basic salary. Just two days later, the Ministry of Plan Implementation announced that the pay-hike will happen only in July 2015, as the preparation of the new salary structure will take time. In the interim, an allowance of Rs.3,000/- will be given.

Are we to believe that neither the President nor the officials realised that the new salary structure cannot be implemented immediately? The truth is that the much vaunted salary hike is nothing but a classic Rajapaksa-eyewash. By July 2015, national elections are likely to be over. Then the regime will find some reason to abandon the promised pay-hike, while slashing the Rs. 3,000/- allowance based on dubious COL figures. A new threat to national security from terrorists/fundamentalists/separatists will provide an ideal excuse.

The second Rajapaksa term saw the mushrooming of BBS type extremist organisations. This phenomenon will intensify during a third Rajapaksa term. As economic difficulties mount and hopes plummet, the need for diversions and scapegoats will increase.

Religion, as a narcotic, has a dual function; it can induce slumber or unleash frenzy. The first was the traditional role of traditional religion. The overtly/explicitly politicised religious manifestations, from BBS to ISIS, aim at turning the ‘faithful’ into raving hate-machines willing to embrace barbarism in the name of fundaments/purity. 

Having tried its hand at dividing Tamils along religious lines, the BBS is now aiming to ignite clashes between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. This week Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera organised a protest against two evangelical Christian centres in Ihala Karagahamuna in Kadawatha. In his speech he portrayed himself as the defender of Buddhism and Catholicism: “There were no problems in this country between Buddhist and Catholic people. We cannot allow colonialists to disrupt this coexistence and depict Buddhists as barbarians….. About 400 illegal organisations are operating immorally, creating problems for Sinhala-Buddhist and Sinhala-Catholic people….. If the law does not help, (we) will have to implement the law of the jungle unofficially.”

The implication is obvious; those (Christian/Muslim) religious institutions considered by the BBS to be ‘illegal’ will be attacked. And the BBS will do so in the name of Buddhism and Catholicism. The fact that the participants in this protest included a Western Province provincial councillor, the deputy chairman of the Mahara Pradesheeya Sabha and a representative of the Catholic Church is indicative of the way Lankans will be pitted against each other during a third Rajapaksa term.

As expected, several Sinhala Buddhist organisations including Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya have decided to back Mahinda Rajapaksa at the upcoming elections . They and/or others of their ilk will have an even more critical role to play in a third Rajapaksa term – widen/deepen the existing ethno-religious faultlines and create new ones, so that Lankans become viscerally incapable of making common cause against Rajapaksa rule.

  1. http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-76324-news-detail-report-leaks.html
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzIAYT0oEJ4
  3. Leo Baeck Lecture
  4. Buddhist and Catholic People in danger due to the operation of 400 illegal organizations – Lankadeepa – 29.10.2014
  5. Tusitha Ranasinghe, Secretary, Youth Organisation
  6. http://www.colombopage.com/archive_14B/Oct29_1414521537CH.php

The Real Attitude of the Chinese Communist Party Towards International Law

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | | Posted in , , ,

| by Lan Wuyou

Affirmation in words, negation in actions

( October 30, 2014, Zhengzhou, Sri Lanka Guardian) In today's world, mankind has developed a common understanding of values like freedom and democracy, even dictatorships feel compelled to make claims of being free and democratic, except that they make up a different set of interpretations to suit themselves. This is also true in the way they treat international law. Such regimes treat both freedom and democracy as well as international law in this way. The world has witnessed the conduct of the Chinese Communist Party, which has neither fulfilled its commitments and responsibilities to the international community, nor has it utilized international rules to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the country, let alone safeguarding the world peace and improving human rights. The CCP’s reference to international law at every turn of speech is an insult to the term and a humiliation to the people of China.

On February 17, 2014, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the 372-page “Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” detailing the atrocities suffered by the North Korean people, raising allegations of Pyongyang’s crimes against humanity, and proposing that the International Criminal Court investigate and indict Kim Jong-un and other high level officials. Such actions represent rightful international intervention in North Korea’s human rights situation. However, China stated that bringing one country’s human rights problems to the International Criminal Court is not helpful in improving the human rights situation, and that “disputes within the sphere of human rights should be managed by means of constructive dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect .” Such clichéd language manifests China’s protection of North Korea. North Korea is not a signatory of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, meaning that a criminal investigation into Kim Jong-eun and others like him would require the support of the U.N. Security Council. Without a doubt, the CCP would thwart such an investigation.

China’s special status as a U.N. Security Council permanent member state, joining the ranks of the five greatest countries, is a result of the bloody battle fought by the army and the people of the Republic of China and their achievements in World War II. CCP armies were passive throughout the war, but took the UN Security Council seat after it won the civil war and took over China. A permanent member state’s power to veto on important affairs of the world is a privilege in terms of international law, but even more, it is a responsibility. With this veto power, CCP has hardly made any contribution to the global family. Instead, it often uses it to aid evil-doers, letting humanitarian crises unfold without doing anything in the name of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. If not sheltered by the Chinese government, the Kim dynasty in North Korea would have long collapsed. The CCP protection of this rogue regime has resulted in the hellish suffering of countless North Koreans, for which the Chinese people should feel guilty and ashamed. Tens of thousands of innocent people have been sacrificed because China and Russia vetoed sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.N. Security Council. When Russia flagrantly invaded Crimea, China turned a blind eye. The CCP has emblazoned many infamous dictators as “old friends,” while making enemies of civilized nations.

Hiding Dishonorable Behaviors behind Opportunism

The CCP’s so-called respect for national sovereignty and noninterference in others’ internal affairs is a sham.

Modern international law has long shifted from emphasizing national sovereignty above all else in the past to honoring and protecting human rights on a global scale. Human rights law is an important component of international law. The “International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” (ICESCR) and the “International Convention on Civil and Political Rights,” passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966, comprise the backbone of international human rights law. In 1998, China’s State Council signed the ICESCR; however, to this day, it has not been ratified by the National People’s Congress, effectively stalling implementation of the Convention. Even though the ICESCR has completed the ratification process, its implementation has fallen far short of the requirements of the Convention.

Taking part as a member state in U.N. Human Rights Council’s “universal periodic review” system, China on the one hand produces falsified, vacuous national human rights reports to fool the international community, and on the other, suppresses activists who are truly working to defend human rights. This is an important indication of how China fails to abide by international law and fulfill its commitments.

For one to profess to be law abiding, yet to refuse to abide legal jurisdiction in favor of one’s own judgment and operate solely based on one’s own “interpretations” - can we really concede that such an individual is law abiding? But this is exactly how the CCP operates. Deep down, the CCP never trusts international law, and rejects the enforcement of international judicial institutions with the excuse that “negotiation and consultation as a means of settling international disputes” is better. To date, the CCP has yet to submit a single dispute to the international court. China signed the “U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea” (UNCLOS), yet refused to accept judicial and arbitration jurisdiction regarding maritime boundary and territorial disputes. When the Philippines filed a complaint against China in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, China ducked its head and refuses to get involved. Though China participated in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, it voted against the “International Criminal Court Rome Statute” and refused to become a signatory because it is leery of universal jurisdiction, crimes committed during civil wars, peacetime crimes against humanity, and the prosecutors’ rights to conduct independent investigations.

All for the Need to Maintain a Grip on Power

Why does the CCP reject universal jurisdiction? Universal jurisdiction is an important principle of international law, under which any country has the right to exercise criminal jurisdiction over serious offenses that harm the common interests of mankind, including genocide, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity, regardless of the location of the offense or nationality of the offender. Countries may also establish special international mechanisms to prosecute and try such offenders. Universal jurisdiction prohibits offenders from using sovereignty as an excuse to avoid persecution. In recent years, Chinese officials have been tried outside of China for crimes such as persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and ethnic minorities. On February 10, Spain’s National Court issued an international order of arrest for Jiang Zemin and Li Peng, among others.

Although this kind of investigation is unlikely to result in punishment for the offender due to CCP interference, it still confronts the arrogance of these evil-doers and serves as a kind of deterrent.

In the face of international conflict or events that have been internationalized, the CCP will not utilize international rules and regulations to fight for fair rights and benefits of China as a country, will not directly face problems, and will only act of its own accord. The South China Sea issue has undoubtedly become internationalized since early on, but the CCP insisted on self-deception while deceiving others, putting China in a difficult position. This illustrates how the CCP doesn’t really have the interest of the country in mind. Whether it's the "setting aside of territorial disputes for the time being" of Deng's era, or Xi Jinping's extremely provocative posturing, neither is out of consideration for China's national interest. Rather, they serve the political needs of the party, and the needs to protect its reign. The CCP's refusal to act in accordance with international norms in favor of reckless abandon not only gives the international community a vile impression of China that could lead to further isolation, but also causes China to forfeit sovereignty and humiliate itself at the same time. In the Party's view, international law is nothing more than a tool for publicizing and demonstrating the official position. The Party does not permit the existence of other points of view, scholars hardly have any independence, and the public is hard pressed to find complete and neutral analysis from the perspective of international law to understand what the crux of the issue is.

Some believe that today’s China is similar to Germany 100 years ago, and there is some truth in this assessment. In January of this year, China and Japan cursed each other as “Lord Voldemort.” It seems to me that, though Japan’s militarism once inflicted catastrophes on its neighbors, its post-war constitutional system sealed it away and prevents it from reoccurring. But the Chinese Communist Party, ruler of the present-day China, is a current criminal which is not checked domestically by the will of the Chinese people and which does not honor the rules of the international law. Still short on real strength, it has not been engaging in aggressive expansion, but throughout, dictatorship not only harms the Chinese people, it is also a threat to the region and the world.

International law is “soft” on strength, and the job of defeating “Voldemort” will have to rely on the people of China. But international society cannot continue to subscribe to the policy of appeasement. The UN has to be reformed to really play its role in promoting peace and development in the world without being manipulated by a few rouge states. China will not be an accountable and respected country in the world until it becomes a free and democratic country.

Lan Wuyou (蓝无忧) is a legal professional living in Zhengzhou.

Rethinking strategy

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | | Posted in , , ,

Some reflections on political structures and accountability

| by JS Tissainayagam

( October 30, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It gives me great pleasure to speak to you today as part of this distinguished panel. I wish to thank the International Association of Tamil Journalists – or IATAJ – which has organised this forum. I also wish to thank the individual sponsors who back this effort through their varied contributions, all coming together to create this event.

So why are we here? We are here because such an exchange of ideas and opinions is impossible in Sri Lanka today. The trend of suppressing free institutions, including the media, which began in the 1970s, has continued, reaching an all time high in the past five years or so. Therefore, any exchange of political ideas other than those which the Colombo regime supports is best undertaken overseas.

Having said that, we have to also understand that sections of the Tamil media which are strongly critical of the Sri Lanka Government’s handling of the Tamil question have come under particularly vicious attack. The reason for such sustained attack is obvious.

Sri Lanka’s ruling establishment believed that Mullivaiykal had sounded the death knell on any Tamil future other than a future dictated or supported by the majority Sinhalese. What emerged when the fighting ended came as a surprise to Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese leaders. Because not only did the Tamils pursue their right to determine their political future more keenly, but they also focussed their unremitting attention on something else – accountability: Accountability for the multitude of human rights violations committed and continuing to be committed against them.

So the Sri Lanka Government targets the Tamil media because it plays a crucial role in keeping in the public sphere certain central Tamil political concerns despite the harsh restrictions imposed by censorship. I think we could examine these concerns under two headings: a) the quest for robust political institutions that better protects Tamil freedom and allows them to participate better in the political process and b) Tamils’ campaign for accountability for the violation of their rights.

But we should know Tamils’ aspiration to determine their political future and to see that their tormentors are held accountable does not involve only the media. It can be realised only through social and political processes in which the media play a part. It might be an important part and guiding role but it will be in conjunction with other forces also at work.

The process, if we simplify it, has basically two important set of actors playing critical roles. These roles are not mutually exclusive but are interconnected – each supporting and enriching the other. The first set of actors of course is Tamils living in the island of Sri Lanka and Sinhalese and Muslims who support them; the second are Tamils living outside Sri Lanka. This group include Tamils living in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia, Mauritius and other countries with significant Tamil populations, but also the Diaspora of the Tamils from Sri Lanka and important pockets of Sinhalese – many of them activists and journalists – who support them.

I am conscious of the crucial – indeed seminal – role that is played by Tamils within Sri Lanka and their brethren who support them from among the Sinhalese and Muslims in their quest for more meaningful political institutions and accountability. But my speech will not be focussed on that. There are many people here who either live in Sri Lanka or have visited Sri Lanka more recently than when I departed from its shores, and who are better placed to give more comprehensive accounts as to what that role should be.

What I would like to do in the rest of my time, is to speak a little about the Tamil Diaspora and how we could enrich the social and political processes towards the twin goals of effective political structures and accountability. To do that I will use some of the experiences I have had when speaking about issues concerning Tamils of Sri Lanka in the US. I do not think that my experience is necessarily universal, nor do I have a tightly knit argument to put forward. What I hope is that this would provoke some questions in the audience. Such a dialogue will, I think, contribute, if in but small measure, to the conversations we should be having: And which the media should lead.

One of the issues that come up when you try addressing the Tamil question in the US and I suspect in other parts of Western Europe as well, is the centrality of the 13th Amendment to any political settlement to satisfy Tamil aspirations. It is sacrosanct. It is the pivot around which the debate revolves. Many believe that the 13th Amendment is the mantra for Tamils to win back their rights and equip them with adequate political power to participate as equal citizens in the political process.

What many people fail to understand is that the 13th Amendment is already in the statute books and has been in existence for most part of Sri Lanka’s civil war. But it has proved utterly inadequate as power-sharing mechanism. In fact, even those who seriously believed that it might provide some answers to power-sharing if fully implemented have recommended substantial changes such as the recommendations of Committee ‘A’ of the All Parties Representative Committee or APRC in 2006.

What we have to understand is that fundamentally the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka merely devolves power in certain areas of competence to the nine provinces of which only two are majority Tamil-speaking. The powers include some control over the recruitment of junior ranks of the police and over provincial lands, both which the Government is refusing to allow implementation at this time. The public debate today is that if these functions are allowed, the Northern and Eastern provinces will be able to pursue their developmental and political goals without interference from the centre.

I do not want to spend time on arguing the merits and demerits of different types of political power-sharing. Suffice it to say that devolution under a unitary constitution as Sri Lanka’s is, does not satisfy Tamil aspirations to participate meaningfully in the political process or help Tamils exercise their rights in a substantially better way. That is because final control of even the devolved subjects remains in the hands of central government. This includes the power of the Governor – who is the representative of the central government – to veto bills passed by the elected provincial assembly; emergency rule to suspend the legislature if the governor feels there is a necessity and impose central government rule, and others that limit development to goals set up by the central government. We have seen the control the governor exercises over the NPC in the past year as an example.

While legal and constitutional powers are one issue, the other is political culture. The sixty plus years of independence has witnessed governments in Colombo pursuing a policy of repression and discrimination against the Tamils. At times they have intensified, at others waned. But Colombo’s ruling establishments have regarded the Tamils as the ‘other’ and Tamil leaders as troublemakers. In a country where such a political culture rules, to believe that Sinhala presidents and Sinhala-majority parliaments will not use their power to dominate the Tamils – especially the Northern and Eastern provinces – is naïve. What are needed are checks and balances in the provincial council system to prevent such a culture from corrupting the independence of institutions, not weak institutions that succumb to that culture.

To my mind the 13th Amendment is inadequate as a system of power-sharing for the Tamils to be able to participate meaningfully in Sri Lanka’s political system. But the international community perceives it as the yardstick to measure whether there is adequate power-sharing or not. To them the “full implementation” of the 13th Amendment means that Tamil political aspirations have been met.

I believe there are two reasons for the unshakable faith the international community seems to be having in the 13th Amendment. The first is that India’s consistent advocacy that devolution within a unitary government as per the 13th Amendment is all that the Tamils could be permitted to enjoy. Changing that perception will require a huge effort, in which, hopefully, our brethren from Tamil Nadu will play a big role.

The second reason for the international community to be fixated on the 13th Amendment is because many organisations in the Tamil Diaspora look at the answer to inadequate devolution under the 13th Amendment only as a separate state. No alternatives in between are offered.

The problem is that the moment a separate state is mentioned in the US – and I believe in other parts of Western Europe too – you have lost your audience. Now I am not suggesting even for a moment that peaceful secession is not an option. I am not suggesting that there are no precedents in history that make it unjustified for Tamils to have a state of their own. Nor am I saying there is no moral argument for a separate state. All I am saying is that we should be more inclusive in types of political models we are prepared to examine, to debate and comment on. That gives out political worldview greater sophistication.

Eventually it might be secession that Tamils choose. But the Tamil Diaspora organisations, pushing secession to the exclusion of other options to decision-makers in the international community right now, only makes both parties speak past each other. Therefore the Diaspora – and hopefully Tamil political parties working in Sri Lanka – while showing up the 13th Amendment for its hollowness as a model for effective power-sharing could be open enough to say that other models should be tried, while of course keeping secession as an option.

Now let me go to the second issue that is of paramount concern to Tamils: accountability. Now as we all know the Government of Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other Tamil guerrilla groups, as well as paramilitary forces working with the government, have committed grave human rights violations throughout the 30-year civil war. As such they all should be held accountable. Further, and worse, rights violations by the Government and paramilitaries continue.

However, due to the sheer level of savagery during the final few months of the civil war it is this period that has kindled the public’s abhorrence and called for investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity. The evidence gathered by sections of the Tamil Diaspora and the many Sinhala journalists and activists in support of this is, in many ways, unprecedented.

This has today resulted in an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the conduct of both the LTTE and Government troops. The interim report was presented in September and the final report is expected in March 2015.

As we all know, while the international investigation is important it is not the be all and end all in accountability. What is unfortunate is that the international community – meaning in this instance the western democracies and their supporters – appears to be quite content to allow the OHCHR probe but little else. And that, as we all know, is hardly sufficient. That is because even after the report is presented in March, the UN Human Rights Council is expected to vote on the follow-up action. That will involve diplomatic manoeuvring and political bargaining and the Government of Sri Lanka has begun doing that already.

With Sri Lanka not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the case cannot go directly before the International Criminal Court. Therefore, dealing effectively with the perpetrators will depend on the vagaries of international politics. So what we can see is that as for the near future, other than a credible, legitimate international panel (as the OHCHR panel is), listing patterns of deliberate violations and chains of command in its report – very little more is going to happen.

Hopefully the perpetrators will at least be named, but we do not know for sure. If they are indeed named and shamed, it will undermine the credibility of the Rajapakse regime and its legitimacy in the eyes of his constituency. But realistically, if advantage is to be taken of that situation to bring about accountability there have to be other diplomatic and political initiatives set in motion by the international community.

Let me go back once again to my US experience to illustrate. When you speak to diplomats, legislative staffers and others in Washington DC about applying pressure on Colombo, they point to the UN Human Rights Council resolution sponsored by the US government.

Now that was a great initiative and we are grateful for it. But that cannot be the be all and end all of diplomatic efforts concerning the Government of Sri Lanka. What is amazing is that when you try to steer the conversation to what steps other than the UNHRC resolution can be taken, you hear the refrain “The US no has leverage.” That just cannot be! While the UN is a collective multilateral body, individual counties have bilateral leverage as well.

There are number of areas where the US does have leverage. The US, and western European countries are the biggest importer of Sri Lanka’s largest export: garments. Travel bans could be imposed on a much wider range of Sri Lankan Government officials than it is today. At present under the Leahey Amendment, military personnel involved or units accused of war crimes cannot enter the US for training. But that has to be expanded to include more people for which legislation is already in place in the US such as the expansion of the Magnitsky Act.

To US diplomats and the few US legislators interested in Sri Lanka the phrase “The US has no leverage,” is usually followed by “We have to engage.” This means that rather than treat the Sri Lanka as a pariah they wish to resume business as usual while preaching to Colombo the error of its ways. In fact there is a US Senate resolution before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee calling upon the President of USA “to develop a comprehensive and a well-balanced policy towards Sri Lanka that reflects US interests including human rights, democracy, rule of law as well as economic and security interests (my emphasis).”

Now we know that does not work. The more pressure applied on the Colombo regime by exclusion, sanctions and travel bans by the international community the better it is, and not the other way around. But there it is. I am told there is similar resistance in countries in Western Europe despite the enormous leverage they possess by threatening to impose wider travel bans, and sanctions through trade in garments and tourism.

So why is this? Why is it that western democracies, by and large, believe a accountability only the OHCHR investigation? The reason is very simple. As in other situations there is a contest whether individual national interest lies in enforcing norms for bad behaviour by blacklisting a country for the criminal conduct of its leadership. Or take the easy way out by being pragmatic, which means invest, trade resume diplomatic relations etc with a regime of war criminals with a wink and a nod.

It is the second that the Rajapakse regime is hoping for and for which it is using Chinese investments, arms exports and regional presence as bait. India has long fallen for it – grumbling that Colombo is moving deeper and deeper into Beijing’s sphere of influence but in its actions giving into the whims of the Rajapakses. It appears that important groups in the West believe this too, and could very well follow New Delhi and its new BJP ministry’s lead. Of course the other reason is that India is always wary of international investigations on sovereign countries in its region because it’s a precedent for its own violations in Kashmir and other places to be examined.

It is here I think that the Tamil Diaspora and sections of Sinhalese who have supported it can do much.

I think every opportunity should be used to lobby countries in Western Europe and the US that “engaging” with Sri Lanka by enhancing their ties with the Rajapakses is not going to work. The structures and institutions in place in Sri Lanka today have been perverted by a long war, impunity and systematic abuse and cannot be undone by calling for cosmetic changes. If there is going to be real emancipation for the Tamil people change has to be effective. It has to be an effective check on the central government’s powers by the provincial authorities, at least in some areas. This can be done either by either creating strong institutions of checks and balances under the present constitution, or devising a new product with shared sovereignty and other federal features, which admittedly is more difficult.

This role of pressuring international governments can be played by the Tamil Diaspora. Because, do not forget, how far it has come from when soon after the fighting ended in May 2009 it was portrayed as unreliable, politically immature and at best only a tool in the hands of governments and international NGOs to do their bidding. Today that has been disproven.

If political change as to come in Sri Lanka the most important thing is that pressure has to be relentless. And while governments and even some international NGOs have flip-flopped on some crucial issues it as been the consistence of the Diaspora that has channelled energies and arguments that has, in fact, forced the international community to even to do this little. And just how formidable the Diaspora has become for the regime in Sri Lanka is seen by the new laws that sought to place 16 organisations and 424 individuals on a list of terrorists.

You might ask: where does all this fits in a meeting of journalists? I think it does. It does because journalism engages the public to have conversations. And more people engage in the conversation the better. And newspapers, the internet, television and radio are ideal vehicles for those conversations.

But there have to be other instruments too. The Diaspora has to have multiple voices through organisations, media outlets and personalities. All opinions have a right to be expressed and have to be respected. But unless we realise the importance of forging common understanding – but not a single position – on important issues, we will find it difficult to influence international actors decisively, which will only be detrimental to all Tamils.


JS Tissainayagam, a senior journalist and former Sri Lankan political prisoner, is a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard. He won Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism (2009) and the CPJ Press Freedom Award (2009).

Obama & Netanyahu: A fractured alliance becomes open conflict

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian | | Posted in , , , ,

Previously, despite fundamental policy differences, there was a clear sense of shared purpose between the two. Now that is collapsing, and the implications are far worse for Israel than for the US

| by David Horovitz

( October 30, 2014, Tel Aviv, Sri Lanka Guardian) Very publicly, very nastily, and very worryingly, we are witnessing the collapse of an alliance.

US President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while walking from the Oval Office to the South Lawn Drive of the White House, after their meeting May 20, 2011. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/FLASH90)
Not between the United States and Israel — the ties run too deep, and the common interests (if not necessarily the common values) are abiding. But between their current leaderships, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government.

Each regards the other as arrogant, incompetent, wrongheaded and ill-intentioned.
And here’s what’s new: Neither much cares anymore about hiding it. A fracturing partnership has given way to open conflict.

How and why has it come to this?

Building over the pre-1967 lines

The Obama administration, most emphatically including the president and the secretary of state, believes that Israeli building anywhere over the pre-1967 lines deepens Palestinian and wider Arab hostility to Israel and, by extension, to the United States — especially when there are no Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going on. It believes settlements are destroying international support for Israel. It is aghast at the announcement of more construction plans in recent days, as the drumbeat of a possible third intifada — weeks of Palestinian violence in Jerusalem escalating and spreading to the West Bank — grows louder.

The administration’s opposition might be less vehement if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly declared that he would not be approving new construction outside East Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods and the major settlement blocs, areas Israel intends to retain under any permanent accord, and if he backed Palestinian building in West Bank areas that would come under Palestinian sovereignty under such an accord.

But as things stand, the criticisms are coming fast and bitter, with administration spokespeople openly musing on whether Israel “wants to live in a peaceful society” and warning that East Jerusalem housing plans will “distance Israel from even its closest allies.” The use of the term “chickenshit” by an unnamed administration official to describe Netanyahu in an article by Jeffrey Goldberg on Tuesday marks a descent into outright vulgarity that may well be unprecedented in the annals of US-Israel ties.

The Netanyahu government, for its part, most certainly including the prime minister, believes that it is not settlements, but Palestinian and wider Arab refusal to come to terms with Jewish sovereign legitimacy, that lies at the core of the Israeli-Arab conflict. If anything, Netanyahu may well consider that more settlement building, not less, could ultimately pressure the Palestinians toward viable compromise.

Netanyahu has always felt that President Barack Obama goes untenably easy on the now violence-inciting, genocide-charging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a failed leader much more interested in bashing Israel at the UN than in seeking to regain control over Gaza from Hamas. He feels that this US administration has it in for him anyway. And the rhetoric with which the prime minister has responded of late to US criticism — invoking “American values” in defense of building in East Jerusalem, and asserting that pressure to halt construction reduces peace prospects by bolstering Palestinian intransigence — would appear to signal that Netanyahu has made his choice: However dangerous and irresponsible this may seem, he is quite evidently less concerned by the possible consequences for Israel’s ties with the US of ongoing construction beyond the 1967 lines than he is by the possible consequences for his domestic political well-being of a halt to that construction.

Indeed, the flurry of building approvals in recent weeks might well signal that Netanyahu has Israeli elections in mind; experience suggests that his political standing at home only improves when he is perceived to be defying international pressure.

The consequences of a very angry United States

In his “chickenshit” article, US journalist Goldberg, well connected to the Obama administration, wrote that US anger over Netanyahu’s settlement policies is “red hot.” He quoted the unnamed senior official describing the prime minister provocatively as “scared to launch wars,” on the one hand, and unprepared to “do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states” on the other. Goldberg assessed that the ties between the two administrations are the worst they’ve ever been — a conclusion that is certainly shared by many in Jerusalem.

Ahead of next week’s US midterm elections, recent evidence of that US anger has been limited to rhetoric, and to preventing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon from meeting with Joe Biden, John Kerry and others in Washington last week — no mean sanction, that. Pretty soon, though, things could get still more unpleasant.

The Palestinian Authority has been gearing up to present a resolution to the United Nations Security Council demanding a timetable for an Israeli pullout from territories captured in 1967. It has been working to secure the nine votes in the 15-member council that would force a US veto — a move which would discomfit and isolate the US, ostensibly bolster international legitimacy for a Palestinian state, and lead to more pressure on Israel. The Palestinians’ increasing success in mustering global support is also in good part a function of the settlement enterprise: The more time passes since the 1967 war, the more Israel’s presence in the territories comes to be regarded as a colonial enterprise rather than the consequence of anti-Israel Arab belligerency. But the US has remained resolutely on Israel’s side to date. And the feeling in Jerusalem is that, even now, in mid-crisis, the US can be relied upon to veto a resolution that breaches the fundamental “land for peace” equation — i.e., that demands an Israeli withdrawal but does not condition this on the negotiation of adequate security arrangements for Israel.

And yet, given the new nadir in US-Israel ties, the Palestinian best-case scenario may have just gotten better. Jerusalem is not aware of substantive contacts between Washington and Ramallah on the drafting of an alternative resolution that the US would support, but there is talk here of general contacts between Washington and Ramallah on the PA’s Security Council process. And there is an awareness that the Obama administration might just be tempted now to go the alternative resolution route, and include wording that reflects the longstanding US opposition to settlements.

It is worth recalling in this context that in 1980, the UN Security Council voted on Resolution 476, which stated that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” The United States abstained, and the resolution was adopted by 14 votes to 0.
The Obama administration is only too aware that its repeated condemnations of Netanyahu’s settlement policies either have no effect or strengthen the domestic perception of the prime minister as the defender of Israeli interests. So, amid a palpable sense in the administration that it is being insulted on almost a daily basis, it is looking for more effective tools. The UN Security Council might just provide them.

That Arab Peace Initiative

The withering comments about Netanyahu by the official quoted in Goldberg’s piece also reflect Washington’s disappointment with the prime minister’s attitude to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. At the UN General Assembly, and at several press conferences over the summer, Netanyahu spoke of new opportunities to build relationships with moderate Arab states, but he has also made clear his rejection of the Saudi-proposed initiative as even a starting point for any such advances.

According to Egypt’s foreign minister, the US didn’t even try to get Israel invited to this month’s Cairo conference on rehabilitating Gaza because the other participants simply didn’t want Israel there. Former chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni blamed Netanyahu’s intransigence for that sorry state of affairs. The US emphatically agrees.

Common enemies such as Iran and Islamic State do offer the possibility of a certain amount of quiet cooperation between Israel and some other regional players — working to thwart threats. But there is no likelihood of more constructive cooperation toward a more harmonious relationship with Israel because, so long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rumbles on, these regimes dare not antagonize their own extremists. Which, like it or not, brings us back to those settlements again.

The Qatar dispute

Less centrally but still significantly, the two leaderships are also at bitter odds over Qatar.
Israeli officials are adamant that Qatar provides direct financial support for Hamas. In July, then president Shimon Peres called it “the world’s largest funder of terror” and told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “Qatar does not have the right to send money [to Gaza] for rockets and tunnels which are aimed at innocent civilians.”

Israel also notes that Qatar represents Hamas on the diplomatic stage, hosts the terror group’s leader (Khaled Mashaal), and saves Hamas from what would otherwise be complete diplomatic isolation (Turkey being an inconsistent ally).

The US, by contrast, claims Qatari funding for Gaza only indirectly helps Hamas. It deeply values its relationship with Qatar: quite apart from this year’s $11 billion arms deal with the emirate, the US regards Qatar — which hosts a forward headquarters of the United States Central Command — as part of what it calls its security architecture for dealing with Iran.

The discrepancy in these attitudes was doubtless a factor — though certainly not the only factor — in July’s unmitigated Israel-US diplomatic fiasco, which saw Secretary of State John Kerry, believing he was serving the declared Israeli interest in securing a ceasefire with Hamas, negotiating with Qatar and Turkey, and forwarding to Jerusalem what the State Department insisted was merely a draft, but which the Netanyahu security cabinet treated as a concrete ceasefire proposal and unanimously, angrily rejected.

The Iranian nuclear program

Israel considers Obama’s volte face on using force against Syria in summer 2013, after he concluded that President Bashar Assad had been gassing his own citizens, a landmark moment in the crumbling of US credibility in the region. Yes, Russian intervention secured an arrangement for Syria to give up most of its chemical weapons without a resort to force, but the view in Jerusalem is that the Iranians witnessed the president’s hesitancy (which was reinforced by Britain’s refusal to back a military strike), and chuckled heartily to themselves, confident that a similar disinclination would apply to the notion of using the military option against their nuclear program.

When Israel looks at the possible outcomes of the US-led P5+1 negotiations with Iran, it sees no possible reassuring scenario. The most likely imminent development is that the talks will be extended past the November 24 deadline — a problematic situation since it maintains a status quo which, Israel fears, allows Iran to get within a few months of a breakout to the bomb. A less likely but not impossible scenario is worse still — that November 24 will see the conclusion of a lousy deal, one that leaves Iran with an enrichment capability and the means to break out to the bomb within months, and will gradually see the lifting of sanctions. And the only other credible scenario is that the talks collapse altogether — but this prospect is seen as remote, because neither Iran nor the P5+1 negotiators wants it. Strikingly, the chance of a “good deal” — which denies Iran enrichment and other potential bomb-making capabilities — is put at roughly zero.

Has Jerusalem striven to make its concerns clear to Washington, to highlight its fear that a regime that seeks and routinely predicts Israel’s destruction could attain the weaponry capable of achieving that ambition? Most certainly. Is there any sign that this effort has had any effect? No.

The crumbling of camaraderie

These are not the only points of bitter friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. But they are some of the central elements.

Fundamentally, the two leaderships are miles apart on settlement building and on how to grapple with the Palestinian conflict, on the right approach to handling regional instability including the murderous anarchy in Syria and the rise of Islamic State, on how to thwart Iran’s bid for the bomb.

Nonetheless, what used to prevail, to enable the bridging of such fundamental differences, was a clear sense of shared purpose. Now that has fragmented too, in what might best be described as a crumbling of camaraderie.

Netanyahu hopes to outlast Obama’s second term, and hopes the administration will be somewhat constrained in the aftermath of the midterm elections — which may be a major calculation since, while Obama might become something of a lame duck president, that could also mean he would have nothing to lose. The Obama administration hopes (however implausibly) that Israelis will sober up and rid themselves of a leadership it deems to have ducked the “very difficult choices” that Obama urged on Netanyahu in a nastily timed interview with Goldberg in March. (That piece appeared as the prime minister was on a plane headed to meet the president at the White House. Notably, there was no similar Obama interview focused on Abbas’s failures when the PA president visited Washington soon after.)

Two leaderships, each interested in seeing the back of the other. Two leaderships of nations that certainly still have shared interests, but no longer consistently find common cause in advancing and protecting those interests. Two leaderships of nations that also used to highlight their shared common values, but with a US administration now making crystal clear that it feels Israel under Netanyahu is moving away from those shared democratic, human rights-upholding, peace-loving values.

Truly a dismal state of affairs, with potentially dire repercussions — most especially for Israel, which needs the US far more (diplomatically, militarily, economically, existentially) than the US needs Israel. Truly a fractured alliance.

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004). He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin (1996).

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