UNHRC Takes ‘Global War’ To The Ground, Spreads Discontent All Round
By N. Sathiya Moorthy
At the end of the day, it’s Pyrrhic victory at best for the Anglo-American authors of UNHRC-3 resolution against Sri Lanka. While the resolution that satisfied none – possibly starting with the movers and shakers of the world that the US and Europe think they are – managed to muster 23 votes, those ‘not in favour’ added up to a higher 24, comprising 12 against and 12 ‘abstentions’.
Be it ‘against’ voters, abstentions or their total, it was a high in favour of Sri Lanka, which can feel vindicated. For the sole super-power that the US is, any vote of this kind is as good as lost – and, maybe even a lost cause. Mustering numbers may not be easy for Sri Lanka from here, but it is going to even more difficult for the US-led West.
Fear of the unknown
Independent of what it may have promised the suffering Tamils of post-war Sri Lanka when it all began this time two years ago, the Anglo-American initiative at Geneva has achieved the exact opposite, as had been feared all along. With that has returned the era of disturbing uncertainty for the residual, war-ravaged Tamils, and greater instability for the nation, not knowing what salvo to expect, from which direction – and its purported potency, be it in diplomatic form or otherwise, starting with any possible revival of rump-LTTE’s activities of some kind or the other.
The UNHRC-1 & 2 resolutions of March 2012 and 2013 had confined the battle to diplomatic initiatives and political pressures – as much on Sri Lanka as on voting-members at Geneva. Though other SLT-Diaspora nations, like the UK and Canada could not escape the combined assault, neighbouring India was the worst-hit. India has finally recovered thus from the initial shock, and has taken a bold, new stand – which post-poll, any new Government in New Delhi could not but back in larger national self-interest, if not anything else!
Today, when parliamentary polls are due and India’s Election Commission has barred them from campaigning against ‘friendly neighbours’, they all have been silenced. No open support thus for the SLT cause this time, unlike on earlier occasions in the past two years, thus meant that policy got past politics.
Any contrary Indian decision from now on would depend entirely on what may – or, may not – happen on Sri Lankan soil, and not elsewhere! The two previous resolutions, coupled with the more expectant and even more aggressive, patterned and patented third one, through its run-up, brought with them an ‘air of permissiveness’ that was absent in the country, the Tamil areas in particular after ‘Eelam War IV’. Worse still, the days immediately preceding the actual vote this time may have reintroduced the missing ‘air of uncertainty’ too back from the ‘glory days’ (?) of the LTTE, both to the people of the North and the East in general, and the nation as a whole.
Today, it is back to the ‘fear of the unknown’ for the Tamils on the one hand and the security agencies on the other. The anti-terror detention of Jeyakumari and two human rights activists – the latter two freed since – for the Tamils of the North, is all about the boot on the street outside and the mid-night knock on the door. For the security agencies, it may be the beginning of a return to the forgettable days when they had to suspect everything Tamil, for the eternal fear of the ubiquitous suicide-bomber.
This fear on either side has to be arrested. It has to be reversed, here and now. Together, they would otherwise, re-sow the seeds of mutual suspicion, and hatred afterward. The removal of the LTTE from the scene removed hatred at one stroke, but not the fear, suspicion and the fear of suspicion. It should never ever be a return to the old days and ways, when mutual suspicion ended up tearing up the nation as never before. It should happen never again.
Stand-alone episode or more?
Maybe, the US seems to have concluded that it was after all playing fair when a Brooklyn court in New York sentenced an extradited Canadian-Tamil of Sri Lankan origin to two-year jail-term for conspiring to acquire $ 1million worth of anti-aircraft missiles at the height of ‘Eelam War IV’ at the same time as the third Anglo-American resolution in Geneva. If so, it should go beyond that and ask itself if Sri Lanka could afford any re-grouping of the LTTE now or later.
The US should have asked Sri Lanka what evidence it may have had to possible LTTE re-grouping and convinced itself one way or the other, before its allies had made up their minds on the ‘Jeyakumari episode’. That should have included details that may have been available with the Sri Lankan Government on Gopi, the suspected LTTE operative, who Colombo claims had been sent to coordinate such regrouping on the ground, and was now wanted for shooting at a police officer intent on apprehending him at the accommodation, allegedly provided by Jeyakumari.
It goes beyond a stand-alone episode of the kind. The US and its western allies that have been arraigning Sri Lanka at Geneva every six months should ask themselves as to the contributions that they may have made over the past two years – even if inadvertently – to the prevailing mood and methods that are back on the ground in Sri Lanka. If calibrated pressure on India, thanks also to the ‘Tamil Nadu factor’, this time round, the India role became a side-play in Geneva. It’s the detention of the three inside Sri Lanka that became the talking-point instead.
Yet, when UNHRC members and the Diaspora Tamils go back to their routine, the same may have been destroyed for those in Sri Lanka’s Tamils North – and hopefully not for good. The ‘trend’ – it may have already acquired the status – may not be easy to reverse. For, preceding the same, and also accompanying both, is the overnight evaporation of mutual trust and confidence between the Government and the TNA on the one hand, and between the Tamils of the North and the security forces on the ground. One side cannot blame the other, and seek to escape its share in the blame.
Turing It upside down
To the authors, the Geneva process this time is a further step in the calibrated effort at holding the Sri Lankan State ‘accountable’ to allegations of ‘war crimes’. Given the slow and consensual process that it involves in the global theatre of theatrics and compromises, it would not even acquire the pace that self-destruction of mutual faith and trust may have already acquired in the country.
It’s all about truth and reconciliation, the world is told. ‘Truth’, maybe, one or the other of the processes – whether initiated by the Sri Lankan Government already, or that the UNHRC move has flagged – could still lay its hand on. But ‘reconciliation’ went through the same window that the West had opened to let the ‘truth’ breeze in.
Be it truth-finding or reconciliation, it owes to circumstances – past, present and future. What it all aims at doing need not be what it would end up achieving. In Sri Lanka, as elsewhere in the Third World with a longer civilisation-bind than can be imagined, it’s all about history and culture that the West does not (want to) acknowledge.
‘Truth-finding’ thus was not on the Tamils’ mind when they were talking about post-war reconciliation, until the western thought processes of the SLT Diaspora brought up the idea, almost forcibly to the fore.
In comparison, ‘reconciliation’ can be absolute in all surroundings and circumstances. It could have been ‘absolute’ in Sri Lanka too — but only at a pace the nation and political culture had got used to and has thus set for the self.
TNA: Life without LTTE
The Sri Lankan Government may be blamed for not fast-tracking political reconciliation as much as was possible. The fact also remains that the TNA did not – or, could not – respond to the invitation for talks, initiated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa thrice before the ‘Eelam War’ ended. Everyone knew which way it was headed. The LTTE obviously would not have had any of it. The TNA could not have had any of it, hence.
The TNA took time to readjust to a life without LTTE, before the talks could commence. If it floundered, that owed to a variety of reasons, including the unsure step by both stakeholders – as much the Government as the TNA. It could not have been otherwise, given the mutual distrust of decades, not just between the Sinhala and Tamil communities, but between the Sri Lankan State and Government on the one hand, and the Tamil political leadership (read: TNA) on the other.
There was also the pressure-cooker into which both the Government (whoever was the ruler and whichever party was in power) and the TNA (again, whoever headed the TNA, or whatever nomenclature that the moderate Tamil polity had acquired) had buried their head and body, inward. They did not know how to extricate themselves from the peripheral hard-liners on their side. In the process, they always wanted everyone else to believe that they wanted to carry ‘every one of them with us’! They believed in their defence, but not of the other side.
External stimulus for mistrust
These were internal, just as the ‘ethnic issue’ was/is. Post-war, the external stimulus for the continued mistrust came first from the SLT Diaspora, and more recently and even more effectively from Geneva. With western governments, particularly those dependent on Diaspora support/votes in local elections, possibly colluding with the other, the stage may have already been set for the revived mutual mistrust taking forms of mutual suspicions and woefully graduating into ‘mutual hatred’ that caused the ethnic war, violence and terrorism to happen.
For now, the Geneva-triggered discontent goes beyond the return of mutual mistrust on the ground in Sri Lanka. In Government circles, already apprehensive about devolving 13-A powers, if not more, to the elected administration in Tamil Northern Province (NP), it may have already caused a review even of the past promises made to the TNA, during the stalled negotiations. In turn, and otherwise, too, it would convince the Tamils, starting with the once-amiable TNA that they could forget power-sharing, at least for now.
It is this kind of demonstrated failure and demoralised frustration of the moderate Tamil polity that had encouraged the Tamil youth of the Seventies to take to arms – and find a justification for it, too. ‘Pogrom-83’ was a product of such a mind-set, and lent greater cause, justification and purpose for Tamil militancy. If it’s returning to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, it cannot be blamed on Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka alone.
Like in the Seventies, you now have a larger and more resourceful Diaspora population that keeps aiding and egging on identified individuals and groups to do their bidding their way – maybe without letting more Tamil blood, but possibly targeting the Sri Lankan State exclusively – politically, diplomatically, and otherwise, too, if that should be the ultimate ‘way forward’! From the cocoon of their western homes, they can afford it as in the ‘distant’ Sri Lanka, where the suffering Tamils ‘can’ take more of the same – lest they should forget it all, if it became too late.
The SLT Diaspora’s bidding now and ever has been a ‘separate State’. It is also this that the Sri Lankan State, Government, divided Sinhala polity and people at large are apprehensive about. It is also this that the residual Tamil population left behind in Sri Lanka do not want to go through again – now or ever.
Message on the reverse
If Geneva has a message for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, this is the message in reverse from Sri Lanka to Geneva. By the time it reaches Geneva, they would have gone back home, only to return six months hence. They would then start almost from the scratch, as always. Campaigns across western capitals, demonstrations across Tamil Nadu, if they could still enthuse the local population and engage the ‘competitive polity’, enlist, if possible, the backing of the new government in New Delhi…. At Geneva, it would all begin and end with their usual rounds word-play, confined to the writing and re-writing of yet another draft resolution, aimed at satisfying everyone, particularly the voting-members, but would satisfy none, starting with the Tamils, whose cause they are supposed to be fighting. As always, the Tamils would say, it’s not enough.
The Sri Lankan Government would say it’s too much. Both have become a pattern.
Through the coming months and years, the composition of voting-members could change, Navi Pillay would get replaced in the normal course, possibly with an even more pliable UNHRC Chair for the benefit of the West (or, it could be the exact opposite). None of it would be good in the name of human rights.
The Anglo-American political priorities for Europe, and by extension, the distant Indian Ocean Region (IOR) could change…. The Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean would remain where they were, before the end of ‘Eelam War IV’ – suspicious of each other, if not fighting each other, all over again.
Is anyone out there listening?
(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: (email@example.com)