The Sunday Leader

A Saber Rattling Govt. Now Forced To Take Stock

 

  • Govt. considering Action Plan
  • Basil to visit India in May

The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is yet to formulate a proper stance on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution and how the government planned to approach the issue.
Still engaged in the blame game, the government is yet to realize the need for a proper assessment of its foreign policy, which has been under scrutiny for some time.
Although the watered down UNHRC Resolution lacked the desired strength among most members of the international community, the passing of it is testament to the blunders committed by the Rajapaksa administration when dealing with the international community and the haphazard ways of formulating policies.
A fact the government has managed to keep away from the public is that the US backed Resolution has been supported by 51 countries.
The Resolution was backed by 40 countries, out of which 13 are members of the UNHRC. The Resolution was passed with the support of 11 more countries in addition to the 13 nations that presented the Resolution. The final total therefore amounts to 51 countries.
Diplomatic sources revealed that although the numbers amounted to 51, the Resolution in fact had the support of close to 70 countries.
The large number of countries that has backed the Resolution is an indictment on the Rajapaksa administration, especially its foreign policy.
The continuous blunders made by the government when dealing with key players in the whole UNHRC Resolution, the US and India, were eventually detrimental to the country in the numbers game in Geneva.
The first diplomatic faux pas of the government were the statements made following Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna’s visit to Sri Lanka early in the year.
Krishna during his visit met with the President where the latter had re-affirmed his commitment to implement the 13th Amendment and look at a political solution that goes beyond it. After receiving the consent from External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, Krishna announced the President’s assurance to the media.
Soon after Krishna’s departure, the President stated that he had not given any such assurance, in effect ridiculing senior members of the Indian government.
The blunders continued. Krishna on March 15 wrote to Peiris requesting a clarification with regard to the President’s comment that he had not given any assurance to the Indian minister.
However, the government had failed to make any proper response.
Finally Indian Premier Manmohan Singh informed the Indian parliament on March 19 that India would vote in favor of the Resolution.
Another key blunder was the government’s decision not to respond to the letter and invitation extended to External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The government decided not to visit Washington for a meeting with Clinton as they believed it would result in statements made by the government being considered as commitments undertaken, which would have an impact on the UNHRC sessions in Geneva.
Also, the government has to now think twice about its conception that China and Russia could help the country pull through any issue.
The Sunday Leader reliably learns that Chinese and Russian support had not brought in any additional votes for Sri Lanka.

Basil to build relations

The post-UNHRC relations between India and Sri Lanka have so far been diverse to say the least.
India has explained its reasons for voting against Sri Lanka and called for the continuation of good relations between the two countries while the Sri Lankan government has so far managed to cover its internal hostility with statements that bi-lateral relations would continue as normal.
The anger of the Rajapaksa administration over India’s decision to vote in favor of the US backed Resolution was evident when Minister Peiris told the media last week that the announcement of India’s stance on the Resolution changed the equation in the numbers game.
However, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa who has maintained high-level diplomatic links with the Indian government was silent during the government’s canvassing for votes against the Resolution.
Basil in fact was a notable absentee in the diplomatic lobbying especially with India.
The government is yet to arrive at a decision on getting Basil to act as the mediator in mending soured relations between Sri Lanka and India, although he has expressed his willingness to carry out the task.
Basil was expected to travel to India on Wednesday (4), but had later decided to postpone due to prior engagements.
It is learnt that Basil is to visit India in May when he is expected to meet with senior members of the Indian government.

Action Plan

The government even by Friday maintained that it has not received any formal communication from the UNHRC office listing out the implementation and operations of the Resolution.
However, the government is currently considering preparing an Action Plan on the implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report while maintaining that it would not need any outside assistance.
The Action Plan is to be a joint programme between the Defence Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry.
The government has been engaged in lengthy discussions about the LLRC recommendations.
A clear division is now visible in the government ranks with the extremist elements opposing the implementation of the recommendations while the members of the left movement have called for the implementation of the recommendations.
It is in this backdrop that Leader of the House, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva last week stated that the government would not implement the recommendations in its entirety.
De Silva’s statement was not received well by the diplomatic community, especially after his assurance to parliament last December when presenting the LLRC report that the government was committed to implementing the recommendations.
The comments made by members of the government in the past few days had to be brought under control and Acting Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena finally said last week that the government has not yet made any official statement on the UNHRC Resolution or the LLRC recommendations.
The diplomatic community has been keeping a close watch on the post-UNHRC developments in Sri Lanka and has so far adopted a “wait and see” attitude.
However, the government while making various gung ho statements about the UNHRC Resolution is also closely studying the LLRC recommendations.

Superpower Status

The US managed to retain its superpower position in the international community with the passing of the Resolution on Sri Lanka.
The US, which became a member of the UNHRC just last year, considered the Resolution would be the best way to prove to other nations that it was still the superpower while taking the Sri Lankan issue before a UN organization. It was a case of killing two birds with one stone.
With the Sri Lankan government’s move to fight the US Resolution tooth and nail, the “superpower” also had its work cut out. The US commenced an aggressive campaign for votes in Geneva.
The EU had once before, soon after the end of the war in 2009, tried to bring a Resolution on Sri Lanka, only to be countered by Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan government won that Resolution by 29 to 12 with six abstentions.
Many US State Department officials joined forces with EU representatives to lobby for support for the Resolution.
US Secretary of State Clinton personally telephoned heads of the African nations asking for their support for the Resolution.
The US was determined to win the vote and a senior US State Department Official had told a government minister during the Geneva sessions that the Resolution would be passed with a two-digit majority.
The US pressure on the countries was evident when the US representative to Geneva, Eileen Chamberlain Donohoe on March 18 had, during a conversation with senior members of the Sri Lankan delegation, said that India was going to make a crucial statement the following day (when Singh informed parliament of India’s stance).

Checkmated Or Strategy?

There has been much debate on the role played by the Indians in the whole UNHRC Resolution.
The Indian decision to vote in favor of the US backed Resolution has gathered mixed reactions.
The South Indians have welcomed India’s stance while in the North, the sentiment is quite different. The Northern Indians believe that India has become a puppet of the US by voting in favor of the US backed Resolution on neighboring Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankans in general have been shocked and hurt by India’s decision to vote against the country.
The Rajapaksa administration after its initial anger over India’s vote believes that the US has brought the Resolution on Sri Lanka before the UNHRC with the intention of isolating India in the region.
The government’s analysis is that India was the only country in the Asian region to vote in favor of the Resolution and has therefore become isolated in the region.
“By isolating India in the region, the US has managed to ensure that India would align with the US its ally,” a government minister said.
The Rajapaksa administration therefore says that the real reason for the Resolution was to embarrass the Indians.
India however maintains that the country has assisted the Sri Lankan government following a request made by the Sri Lankans for help to deal with the US backed Resolution in Geneva.
The Indians also had to face difficulties with the US government when it attempted to get the third operative paragraphs of the Resolution watered down. The US government had resisted saying it was too close to the date of the vote and the approval of the 39 co-sponsors were needed to amend the Resolution.
India however managed to get its amendments included in the Resolution.
India’s decision to vote in favor of the Resolution on Sri Lanka has received support from many fronts.
The Rajapaksa administration’s continuous failure to address calls to initiate a reconciliation process in the country and to honor its undertakings given to the Indian government fuelled by the growing agitations in South India calling for firm action against Sri Lanka undoubtedly pushed the Indian government to vote in favor of the Resolution.
The Rajapaksa administration was finally given what seemed like a warning shot by the Indians after its constant “nudges” to get the Sri Lankan government to make visible progress in relation to accountability and reconciliation.
The Indian government has communicated to the government through unofficial channels that India did not canvass for votes in favor of the Resolution.
As for the timing of Singh’s statement to parliament on March 19, a few days prior to the vote on the Resolution, the Indians have said the government was bound to make a response speech to a question raised in the House.
The Rajapaksa administration’s decision to snub Krishna’s letter seeking clarification did not help the situation.
The Indians believe that voting in favor of the Resolution was the best strategy to calm the growing agitations at home while also sending a clear message to the Sri Lankan government to get its act together.

International Inquiry

When considering the next steps with regard to action on Sri Lanka before the UNHRC, danger still looms for the Rajapaksa administration. Albeit given a one-year grace period, come next March it would once again be Judgment Day for the government if it fails to meet the requirements of the Resolution.
The Office of the UNHRC is to report to the Council next March on the progress made with regard to the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
In the event Sri Lanka falls short of meeting the expectations of the Resolution, the UNHRC could adopt another Resolution calling for an independent international inquiry into Sri Lanka.
Regardless of whether the Rajapaksa administration agrees to such an inquiry or permits its members to visit the country, such a commission could operate from Geneva and present a report to the Council.
Depending on the findings of the inquiry, the UNHRC could vote to send the respective report to the UN General Assembly with the recommendation that the UN Security Council take up the issue for relevant action.
It would be similar to the report presented by Richard Goldstone on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on a UN directive.
The report published by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza.
Goldstone was not permitted to enter Israel to carry out investigations relevant for the report and the findings were released in 2009. However, Goldstone last year admitted to shortcomings in his report when the UNHRC was to vote to send the report to the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
Although President Rajapaksa and a few of his favorites in the government have waxed eloquent about how the country would not be opened to any outside interference, its future actions would be the factor that would determine Sri Lanka’s position amongst the international community.
Therefore, the government’s failure to abide by the UNHRC Resolution could very well be the beginning of a series of consequences the country would have to face including an international inquiry.

UNSC Veto Powers

As for the veto powers of China and Russia in the UN Security Council (UNSC) in the event a damning report on Sri Lanka reaches the Council, Sri Lanka’s allies would have to reconsider their stance on exercising their veto powers to defer any action.
The government should therefore commence a friendly approach towards building allies in the international community and realize that global geopolitics play a key role in forming allies.
The backing by Russia and China towards India’s move to enter the UNSC, as a permanent member should be kept in mind by the Sri Lankan government.
Russia and China, permanent members of the UNSC had last week backed the claim of India, Brazil and South Africa to permanent seats on a reformed and expanded UNSC.
The Delhi Declaration, released in India last week at the end of fourth summit of BRICS, the five-member grouping of the world’s fast growing economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa has stated: “We express our strong commitment to multilateral diplomacy with the United Nations playing a central role in dealing with global challenges and threats. In this regard, we reaffirm the need for a comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council, with a view to making it more effective, efficient and representative so that it can deal with today’s global challenges more successfully”.
Despite China and Russia’s right to veto, the pair seem reluctant to use this privilege with their “friends” as is seen in the case with Syria.

Creating Awareness

The government has organized a series of district level rallies to create awareness among the people about the UNHRC Resolution and the government’s take on it. The first in the series is to be held in Kandy and according to government sources it was scheduled for Saturday (31). Minister Peiris last Friday also told parliament that a special debate would be held in the House on the UNHRC sessions on April 3 and 4.

1 Comment for “A Saber Rattling Govt. Now Forced To Take Stock”

  1. Leena and Meena

    What a foolish stupid animal goverment we have in poor third world SL. These people are sarong Johnnys with no brains and education. If we don’t obey the UN, we are finished as a country. The LTTE has won the battle already.

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