Sri Lanka’s Game of Diplomacy

01.16.12

Sri Lanka’s Game of Diplomacy

01.16.12
Jean-Marc FerréJean-Marc Ferré

As promised, the Sri Lankan government made the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) public last month. It has also recently released its “National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights: 2011-2016.” The Action Plan was developed in accordance with a commitment the government had made in 2008, the last time Sri Lanka participated in the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. Both documents are part of the Sri Lankan government’s strategy to placate international observers and convince people that there is no need for any kind of international assistance because the country’s domestic institutions are working just fine.

Like the LLRC report, the National Action Plan contains some decent recommendations, but it is replete with missing and false information. For example, the section on the Prevention of Torture is laughable and worrisome. The Sri Lankan government claims that it “maintains a zero-tolerance policy on torture.” This sweeping assertion directly contradicts loads of evidence, including the recent findings of the UN’s Committee Against Torture (CAT). The fact that the Ministry of Defense has been denoted as the “Key Responsible Agency” for ensuring the prevention of torture is perhaps more disconcerting.

The front-page story in this week’s Sunday Leader, which explains “that that some 500 people have been reported missing in the North and East alone over the past few years” should give people good reason to worry. The rule of law continues to deteriorate under President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s watch. The government will present its National Action plan to the UN’s Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 19th session in March.

What Will Happen in Geneva?

In theory, Rajapaksa’s administration has plenty to worry about. Lobbying and debate surrounding the next session of the HRC has already begun. Many foreign governments recently made strong statements that the LLRC’s final report does not touch on the question of accountability. The Sri Lankan government refuses to look into credible claims that violations of international humanitarian law occurred at the end of the war; government officials are unwilling to go into any detail about what actually happened during the last phase of the conflict.

Strident calls for an international mechanism will be made this spring in Geneva. If no resolution gets through either of the next two sessions of the HRC (another session will be held this summer), then Rajapaksa’s government can probably rest easy as long as they stay in power. Diplomacy is not always a zero-sum game, but Rajapaksa’s government knows that the final report of the LLRC and the National Action Plan are its two most potent lobbying weapons, as long as government officials continue to bend the truth or promulgate outright lies. This is ironic because both documents distort reality and should actually be used against the government. They reinforce the notion that Rajapaksa’s administration does not care about human rights.

The processes surrounding the drafting and the finalization of the LLRC and the National Action Plan were deeply flawed and not at all independent. The LLRC’s lack of independence is well-known. (President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the eight-member Commission himself). The true story about the National Action Plan appears to be less widely understood, especially outside of Sri Lanka.

The government’s drafting of the National Action Plan was quite devious. A number of civil society leaders, academics and genuinely independent thinkers were included in the eight-committee body during the initial process and the composition of the first draft of the National Action Plan. Yet committee members were not involved in the process after that. Now, the Sri Lankan government is falsely claiming that the National Action Plan was the result of a thoughtful, inclusive process. This is absurd. As Rohan Edrisinha (a member of one of the drafting committees) has already indicated, that was not what happened.

Drafting committee members never did approve the final document, only the first draft. In another clever ploy, this “watered down” version is being heralded as a step in the right direction. Few people are speaking out about this issue because they are afraid to do so. Rajapaksa’s government has benefited from a fragmented political opposition for years. Divisions within Sri Lankan civil society only make the government’s consolidation of power that much easier.

In addition to some lively debate at the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka’s human rights record will also be examined under the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) this year. The government’s propaganda machine is already in full swing. Sri Lankan diplomats will welcome many foreign dignitaries in January and February. President Rajapaksa and senior government officials will use these visits as a platform to prepare a more complete misinformation campaign for Geneva in late February and early March. The Sri Lankan government will be touting both the LLRC and the National Action Plan as wonderful examples of how just and satisfactory things are in Sri Lanka. The idea is farcical.

In January of 2010, the IMF declared Sri Lanka a Middle Income country. The war has been over for more than two years. International observers and NGOs are moving on to the next crisis: Libya, Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere. A new disaster or humanitarian catastrophe is always right around the corner. Nonetheless, what happened in Sri Lanka in 2009 cannot be brushed aside. One does not sweep ethnic tension under the rug and wait idly by, hoping that it disappears.

Looking Ahead

Again, in spite of the LLRC’s complete exoneration of the military, the report does contain some good recommendations about devolution, land rights, compensation for victims/survivors and demilitarization. There are some decent recommendations in the National Action Plan as well. However, the chances that the Sri Lankan government will swiftly move to implement any of the solid recommendations are infinitesimal. Rajapaksa’s government has shown its unwillingness to follow through on almost all the agreements it made during the last session of the Universal Periodic Review in 2008.

It disregarded the LLRC’s interim recommendations as well. The word “recommendation” in Sri Lankan political parlance is meaningless. Why should anyone be optimistic this time around? Forget recommendations, the government continues to ignore its own constitution. To take one example, President Rajapaksa’s intractable position on the devolution of power to the country’s Northern and Eastern provinces, something that is clearly articulated in the 13th Amendment of the country’s constitution, is not helping. Nor is the government’s current dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is starting to look more like a scene from Waiting for Godot and less like any semblance of political negotiation with each passing day.

Despite some claims to the contrary, Mahinda Rajapaksa is not (yet) Robert Mugabe and Sri Lanka is not Zimbabwe. But this government has undoubtedly become more authoritarian since the end of the war. Just because the country has a history of “democracy” does not mean that continued democratic governance is a foregone conclusion. The erosion of checks and balances since 2009 has been significant. The passage of the 18th Amendment in 2010 reinforced this, as that legislation pulled even more power to the executive.

Giving Rajapaksa’s government a free pass on human rights empowers aspiring autocrats everywhere. It sends a clear signal to semi-authoritarian governments: Go ahead, do whatever you want; you will face no consequences for your actions.

6 comments
6 comments
Rezanno2

Sri Lankan Tamils appear tohave this uncanny art of portraying themselves as the victims of oppression and injustice.Looking back at Sri Lanka just a few years ago Tamils have always held the best official positions in the government in Colombo and elsewhere.,owned property ,ran businesses without any hindrance. In fact a Tamil was always considered to be well off compared to the Sinhalese individual although the latter belonged to the 70% majority. Yet the Tamils were always moaning saying they were being discriminated so that they could get the pity of the world.. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are divided into three categories. The 'original' Tamils of Jaffna,the 'East Coast Tamils' who have stronbg links to the Indian Tamils and the 'Estate Tamils' who were actually brought by the British from the areas of South India to work in the TEA ESTATES. during their period of colonization. It is the 'original' Tamils who became the chief problem. There was an air of arrogance aboiut them as they discriminated against thewir own Tamil kin from the East Coast and especially the Estate Tamils. They considered themselves superior while being a highly materialistic and clannish people. This attitude perpetuated into a form of greed as they wished to grab the whole island for themselves despite being a minority. Fortunes changed in 1983 when 13 Sinhalese soldiers were ambushed by Tamil terrorists demanding a separate state. The population of Sri Lanka was 14 million , 10 million out of whom represented the sinhalese while 4 million were the totyal Tamils. Out of these 4 million at least 3 million are living in the countries of Europe,US,Canada,Australia and elsewhere. So what independent state were they fighting for? They had no love for the country as they could not even speak the language of the majority population nor know to sing the national anthem of Sri Lanka. These were the enemies of the state as the 'Eelam' movement showed. Their leader was a patholigical hater of the entire Sinhalese people as he formed a guerrilla movement to take over thye Island. This was treason aganst the state and all traitors should be punished as such. Too shocked as what they perceive as betrayal or injustice they now go about goebbels-like propaganda in the West in order to gain sympathy. If they had to emerge victorious imagine what they had done with the Sinhalese population.! The West should wise up n0w and never fall for such propaganda.

Lorance

I think Srilankan Government and the president did their job correctly.The diplomats,Co chairs(Japan,Norway,U.S.A and E.U) of peace process; shouldn't  try to know the past experiences and the past history of ethnic problems .  U.S provide ships for SriLankan Navy even in  the period of  Peace process.We are not diplomats but we know the past peace activities.All are support to the war held in Vanni directly or indirectly;  Several Nations play with  innocent civilians lives .What is the role of  U.N?WHO ARE THE WAR CRIMINALS? WHO ARE THE TERRORIST?

Guest

Is it Sri Lanka's 'game of diplomacy' or far more likely DECEIPT! To also say Rajapakse is not Robert Mugabe and Sri Lanka is not Zimbabwe is palpably false. Did Mugabe kill his civilian citizens en masse by the tens of thousands by resort to aerial bombardments in 'no fire zones' using WMDs like napalm bombs, fuel exhaustion bombs and cluster bombs in combination with shelling such areas including hospitals and make shift treatment places? No  Did he impose trade embargoes even on food and medicines to ethnic minorities areas? Not as far as is known. Sri Lanka practices apartheid policies and laws, torture and murder as weapons against its opponents under the PTA, also borrowed from former S.Afrika. Justice, the rule of law and security of persons are dead.  The LLRC Report and the so-called Human Rights Plan are mere fig leaves to fool the IC and the rest of the world. The so-called democracy is only for the ethnic and religious minority and this too at the time of elections and anything goes according to the corrupt rulers at other times.  What has been sorely mssing is accountabilty. Hold the state accountable and responsible for its crimes against the people!   

Kumudhini Hettiaratchi

Sri Lankan governments of past and present are masters in the art of fooling the International Community. The word 'Democracy' is the most abused word in Sri Lanka. This word has been the defensive coverfor their past atrocities against the minority Tamil Community. The UN and the West cannot see through this. The Tamil people of Sri Lanka have become defenceless and they are sitting targets for the current Rajapakse Mafia who are totally corrupt Sinhala Nationalist, like all other past Sinhala regimes, and basically anti-tamil. Their colonisation programme in the tamil areas are designed to make the Tamil people minority in their own land. This is in full swing now. The sooner the International Community understands it, the better it is for the fast disappearing Tamils. They live in fear and have been silenced under IC's watch.

Gnanalayam

It is hightime that the whole humanity to support tamils to get their share in the island, at least as a penance for their inaction during the klimax of GENOCIDE.

S.Thiagarajah

It is true what happened was genocide of Tamils.They have done this genocide in small measure before also and will continue in future also if tamils live under them.Therefore USA  and Western Nations should initiate moves to get the Tamil Kingdom back from Sri Lanka.Tamil Kingdom consisting of North and East was taken over by Sri Lanka in the 194os.It belongs to the Tamils.

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