International Relations and Security

| by Rajiva Wijesinha

Coping with Western pressures

( April 23, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Once again, following the vote in Geneva, which made clear how influential the United States of America was, and how comparatively friendless we were, there is talk of re-establishing relations with the West. Thankfully this year it has not taken the form of denigration of good relations with others, as happened last year when those elements in the Ministry of External Affairs, which would have been described in the Cold War days as the running dogs of imperialism, danced on the graves of Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam.

This was profoundly ironic, for it was those two who had built up our friendships with other countries in the time honoured fashion that had brought us so much respect internationally in the days of Mrs Bandaranaike. At the same time they did this whilst commanding the respect of the West, as numerous cables in Wikileaks make clear. It was no coincidence then that two of our most sympathetic, if not uncritical, interlocutors from the West said to me in astonishment, after the vote, that we had made insufficient use of Tamara, who was clearly our best representative at Geneva. 

How did they achieve this moral ascendancy, even while combating the political machinations of the West? It was through a careful understanding of the motivations of the West in persecuting us, and in appreciating that a blanket criticism of those motivations would not be convincing. To build up our support base, they had to respond positively to the arguments the West used to gain support from those who otherwise shared our view of the desired architecture of the world order.

In essence there are three elements in the determination of the West to do down the current government. The first is geopolitical, and based on fears of China, which is seen as a threatening rival. Unfortunately emotional respondents in the Foreign Ministry see the solution to this problem as being total adherence to America. Their even less rational opponents think the answer is total commitment to China. The simple fact that ignoring India, which neither of those countries does, is the root cause of our problems escapes both these Manichaean, fundamentally oppositional, views of the world.

The second element motivating the West is those elements in the diaspora who are determined to pursue separatism, now in a more civilized form than before, given that they can now claim to have no truck with terrorism. This is nonsense, given the track record of the most influential figures in the movement (who command the most resources, which immeasurably helps their case), but because we have failed over the last five years to develop a solid system of working with the moderate elements in the diaspora, we are at a hopeless disadvantage. Given the Foreign Ministry’s determination to root out many who developed positive links with the diaspora – Amza and Pathmanathan in London, Krishnamoorthy in Chennai, Dayan in Paris – it is no wonder that we are floundering.

Finally there is what might be termed the Human Rights element. This has two strands, which need to be distinguished, even while we work on both of them. The first relates to the ethnic question, namely the need to ensure ‘minority participation in the day-to-day running of the affairs of our nation’ (as Fr Vimal Tirimanna puts it in LTTE Terrorism: Musings of a Catholic Priest, which is forthright in its condemnation of terrorism and defends eloquently the success of the government in eradicating the LTTE in Sri Lanka, even while affirming eloquently the need for making up to the Tamils and others for the majoritarian outlook of the past).

In this regard it is tragic that government simply has not moved on reforms that are generally agreed as desirable. In addition to the long postponed elections to the Northern Provincial Council, and clarification of the ambiguities of the 13th amendment, we could have introduced a Second Chamber and strengthened Local Government as pledged previously by the President. Unfortunately these matters have been left to those concerned with gaining political advantage from any arrangement (or worried about damage to their own careers from any problems), so nothing has been done, for four long and wasted years.

The second element with regard to Human Rights, which has won votes for the West, is what seems a deterioration in the Rule of Law. Numerous unsolved cases, intimidation of journalists, the manner in which the Chief Justice was impeached, have all contributed to a general feeling that Sri Lanka is not concerned with Human Rights.

These are areas in which we must do better. One reason given for not devolving police powers is that the police should not be under the control of petty politicians, but that unfortunately seems to be the case in many areas in the South, even without those powers being devolved. The answer surely to this problem is greater professionalization of the police, a task the current Inspector General is well equipped to perform. He needs to be strengthened, with commitment to the sort of training that transformed the army in the nineties into a disciplined professional force.
Solving all problems in the sphere of Human Rights will not be easy, but given what goes on in other countries too, no one will expect miracles. We must however make a start, and moving swiftly on the Bill of Rights the President has pledged would make a world of difference.

If we act effectively in the two areas of concern that I have noted, we will be able to get over the third area ostensibly connected with Human Rights, but which is in fact part of the diaspora agenda. I refer to the War Crimes claim, which Indian commentators who favoured their country voting against us nevertheless made clear was absurd. The areas the LLRC highlighted should be dealt with, but we need not otherwise worry, provided we work seriously and sincerely on the other Human Rights concerns.