By H.L.D. Mahindapala reporting from Geneva
At a side-event at the UN Human Rights Council held on September 11, 2011, Mohan Peiris, the former Attorney-General, lambasted the American Ambassadress, A. Donahue, when she threatened Sri Lanka with “growing pressure from the international community” if it does not demonstrate a willingness or ability to conduct an independent inquiry. In other words, America had already prejudged the outcome of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and insists that Sri Lanka must obey the dictates of America or else…..?
The main thrust of the Western bloc is to downgrade and devalue the LLRC and impose an investigative mechanism with handpicked panelists of their own (like the Advisory Panel of Experts(APES) handpicked by the UN Secretary –General Ban Ki Moon) to produce a report that could be used by the West against Sri Lanka.
America’s provocative statement threatening to interfere in the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka under the cover of human rights and international humanitarian law was met with a sharp response from Mohan Peiris, who using all his forensic skills, told America bluntly that Sri Lanka is “averse to being threatened into submission”. He added in the same combative tone that Sri Lanka will not bend down to “veiled threats”.
He was emphatic when he said that he would not like to have US as his neighbour because when there is a domestic fight between the husband and wife US would step in to impose its will instead of reconciling the two parties.
He warned America that such “veiled threats do not have a place in today’s society.”
As Peiris was giving a public telling off to the American Ambassadress, without mincing his words, an official whispered into the ear of Mahinda Samarasinghe, who was presiding over the session, that Robert O’Blake who was in Colombo had taken a more conciliatory attitude and was agreeable to give Sri Lanka time and space. This message was announced openly to the assembly and the American Ambassadress was told that there seems to be some confusion in the American policy in Colombo and Geneva.
This dramatic explosion took place when leading members of the Human Rights Council had lined up to back Sri Lanka. Out of all the international representatives present at this side-event only America and EU struck a discordant note by trying to lay down the rules arrogantly as if they alone owned the monopoly to dictate morality to the rest of the world. They were angling to get an international investigation. But their aggression was countered by China, Russia, Pakistan and Cuba – all of whom openly supported the initiatives of Sri Lanka in opening up a free and frank dialogue on the issues facing Sri Lanka.
The brief but significant events that unravelled at this side-event make it clear that Sri Lanka is in the middle of the incrementally escalating Cold War between the West and the rest. The coming shape of global politics was once again displayed in the high and mighty attitude of the West dictating terms to the rest, on the one hand, and on the other, the allies of Sri Lanka expressing confidence in the local solutions, without foreign interventions. They argued for time and space for Sri Lanka to work out its own formulas for peace, progress and reconciliation.
China was most forthright in backing Sri Lanka when its representative told the assembly: ”Sri Lanka has suffered 500 years of colonialism. We were also victims of colonialism. We don’t need any external interference in our affairs. We hope there will be no interference in the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka too. Sri Lanka needs time and space for reconciliation and peace.”
This theme of colonialism raising its ugly head was emphasized by Mohan Peiris and a participant from Canada, Ms. Ira de Silva. The negative reaction to the American Ambassadress’ arrogant statement, as if America is high priest of international morality, was quite palpable. The impression she created in the assembly was that President Obama, despite his rhetoric, is now heading a neo-colonial regime to force dissident member states to fall in line with American foreign policy interests.
Diplomatic circles perceive the US-EU move as a part of the overall anti-Sri Lankan campaign to strengthen the hand of Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is also pushing for an independent investigation. This US-EU-Navi Pillay combination has neither forgotten nor forgiven the shock of being defeated at the 2009 session of UNHRC which rejected the Western resolution to take punitive measures against Sri Lanka. On the contrary, it commended Sri Lanka for the humanitarian work done to rescue the 300,000 human shield used by Prabhakaran to save himself till the last moment.
In the immediate aftermath of the war against Tamil Tiger terrorists Navi Pillay opened the first post-war session of UNHRC held in 2009 by urging the Council to take punitive action against Sri Lanka for violations of human rights. This high-handed action where she decided to dictate to the UNHRC what it should do was backed by US-EU who initiated the resolution against Sri Lanka. She has no mandate to dictate to the UNHRC what course of action of it should follow. It is her duty take instructions from the UNHRC and not vice versa.
Both US-EU and Navi Pillay felt jilted when the UNHRC rejected their anti-Sri Lankan resolution. Ever since then she has acted viciously against Sri Lanka like a women scorned. Nor has the US-EU combination stopped its campaign to get even with Sri Lanka for defeating this big power bloc at the UNHRC in 2009.
Predictably, Navi Pillay opened her latest statement to the 18th session of the Human Rights Council by naming only Sri Lanka but not US for consequences arising from “counter-terrorist operations”. She mentions in her speech that “in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan the killing of civilians by opponents as well as by governmental and international forces engaged in counter-terrorism operations, continue to be a major concern.” But she does not name “the successive governments” of US as the primary source of ”undermining independent institutions, violating human rights and the rule of law” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, not to mention the Middle-Eastern countries before and after the ”Arab spring”. Her bias comes out openly when she picks only Sri Lanka as her example of a bad case of engaging in counter-terrorism.
Of all the nations engaged in combating terrorism, including US, which is spear-heading the global anti-terrorist campaign, why has she named only Sri Lanka? Diplomats interpret this as a sly move of Navy Pillai to focus on Sri Lanka as the first step towards paving the way to put Sri Lanka on the dock and not US which has acted with impunity in combating terrorist enemies of the US globally. If she was even-handed she should have mentioned US too which has been the primary source of violating human rights in wars combating terrorists – from rendition, torture, passing the Patriotic Act, to crossing international borders violating international law and assassinating Osama Bin Laden without giving him a fair trial etc. But the crimes of US are glossed over as “international forces engaged in counter-terrorism operations” and she decides to cite Sri Lanka as a bad case. Is her vision that blinkered to avoid seeing the big picture on the global map of terrorism or is she brain-washed only to see what is shown to her by her political masters?
Besides, the unfolding events indicate that there is a current underhand move to use Navi Pillay as the paw to pull out the chestnuts of Ban Ki Moon and US-EU manipulating jointly to force an international investigation into the last days of the war against Tamil Tiger terrorists. Mahinda Samarasinghe exposed the secret plot of this gang to the Council members of the UNHRC session. According to him Ban Ki Moon has passed the buck to Navi Pillay saying that he doesn’t have the powers to deal with the report of the APES which he (UNSG) appointed.
This move is like providing ladders to leaping monkeys: it makes their tasks easier. Armed with this report of the UN APES, Navi Pillay will be assiduously exploring avenues to undo what the 2009 session of UNHRC did in rejecting her proposal to take action against Sri Lanka.
In terms of procedure the matter should have ended in 2009 when the UNHRC commended Sri Lanka for its benevolent humanitarian action in saving nearly 300,000 Tamil IDPs – including the elderly parents of Prabhakaran, ”the latest Pol Pot of Asia”, (New York Times, June 25, 1995). But the vindictive politics of Navi Pillay and the US-EU combination is bent on increasing international pressure until Sri Lanka caves in.
Sri Lankan delegation to the current 18th session of UNHRC is waiting with bated breath, not knowing whether a resolution will be tabled against them or not. So far (13th, September, 2011) there are no signs of such a move. But diplomatic circles are certain that the West, jointly with the Navi Pillay, will manipulate to get one on the table if they feel that they have the numbers to push it through the UNHRC.
A significant aside at the current session is the rather docile tone of the representatives of the Tamil expatriates. In the past they used to invade the UNHRC sessions in full force with American and British backers of the Tamil Tiger terrorists campaigning aggressively in the lobby, cafeteria and inside the sessions. This time the lobbying cadres were limited to three visible representatives of the European Tamil expatriates: Fr. S. J. Emmanuel, head of the Global Tamil Forum in UK, Kirubakaran of France, and Gary Anandasangaree of Canada.
Fr. Emmanuel appeared to be conciliatory though he is leading the anti-Sri Lankan campaign in Europe. In a conversation with me he was emphasizing the need for a dialogue to resolve differences. He emphatically denied he was for the Tamil Tiger terrorists. When I pointed out that he wrote his book, Let my people go, to lend his moral, religious and political support to Prabhakaran after the Tamil Tigers forcibly herded the Jaffna Tamils into the Vanni, which he compared to Moses leading the people out of Egypt, he denied that he supported the Tamil Tigers or wrote anything against Buddhism or any other religion.
When I asked him how he proposes to meet his Maker wrapped in the obscene Tiger flag of Prabhakaran, with a snarling Tiger putting his head out of a ring of 33 bullets crowned with fixed bayonets of two crossed guns, he dodged it with a shy smile. He, however, went out of his way to blame the Churches – the only nation-wide institution which had bases in both communities — for not building bridges between the two communities. He added that he had raised this issue with Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who was his pupil.
I asked him how the Church could build bridges when it allowed the Holy Mary statue to be hijacked by the Tamil Tigers into their territory depriving the Sinhala Catholics of sharing it with all other Christians he smiled again and said: “What we have to do now is to build a united Sri Lanka.”
Can Fr. Emmanuel, the former Vicar of Jaffna, who once said that he was first a Tamil and second a Christian, and also compared Prabhakaran to Jesus Christ the liberator, change his stripes? At the height of Prabhakaran’s power he along with Bishop S. Jebanesan promised to write an exclusive theology for Tamils as if the Jaffna Tamils were the chosen tribe of the Christian God. They have not produced such a document as far as I know. Perhaps, the loss of political power may have cast doubts as to whether the likes of Prabhakaran are children of God or Satan.
Anyway, I was somewhat taken aback to hear Fr. Emmanuel calling for “a united Sri Lanka.” Before I could say “”Ämen” to that we were disturbed with calls to have a cup of tea with ulundu vadai and patties and sandwiches for lunch.
Anyway, if Fr. Emmanuel genuinely means what he says (we have to assume Catholic priest at that level never tell lies) then there is hope for a united Sri Lanka where the old and divisive politics of separatism have come to an end for good.
The time of Prabhakarans has come and gone. Deluded Tamils in the diaspora are still hoping he would rise from the grave and re-visit them. But even Fr. Emmanuel knows that there has been only one Lazarus so far. Not all the theologies and poojas of Jaffna Tamil priests can make Prabhakaran rise again. And the gospel truth is that that the peace-loving peoples of Sri Lanka would unhesitatingly say “Amen” to that!