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Thursday, March 08, 2012 - 6.03 GMT
Why the resolution isn’t right Second showdown in Geneva :
By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

 

The US resolution at the UN HRC in Geneva has deepened the schisms in Sri Lankan society. That resolution will have the same polarising function as did the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in defining each political tendency in the popular mind for a while to come.

Today the country is tragically dividing between those who accuse the Government of mounting protests against the US resolution at the UN HRC resolution against Sri Lanka as a diversion from issues of the rising cost of living, and those who claim that the demonstrations against the rising cost of living are wittingly or not, part of a foreign plot to de-stabilise the government which is defending national sovereignty.

That’s a debate easily resolved. If the government is using protests against the HRC resolution to mask the cost of living, that’s no excuse not to protest against such a resolution. Rather, it is a reason to protest either independently against that intrusive resolution while also protesting against the cost of living, or moving in parallel with the government on this issue while proceeding against it on the domestic front. Any other stance and tactic would only be tantamount to support of a move against one’s country; a move which has doubtless incensed the vast majority of or citizens.

Conversely, if oppositional protests (allegedly involving NGOs) are helping de-stabilise the government and undermine our defence of national sovereignty, then the answer surely is to cease and desist from those policies and actions that generate those protests, and to never meet such protests with responses that can only trigger more protests and international criticism which help the project of undermining our sovereignty.

The dominant elements of the centre-right Opposition, the UNP (apart from its ‘Reformists’, that is) opine that there is nothing wrong, or particularly anti-Sri Lankan, with a resolution that calls on the state to implement its own LLRC recommendations. The TNA has, after a sporadic show of realism, finally taken the line of the Tamil Diaspora’s pro-Tiger lobby by calling on the member states of the UNHRC to support the resolution. For the most part, the cosmopolitan civil society commentators are cheering the resolution on. On the left, the JVP opposes the resolution but opposes the government still more, on economic issues and dismissively terms the government’s anti-resolution mobilisation, a mere tactic. The breakaway Movement for People’s Struggle (Jana Aragala Vyaparaya) is strangely silent and submerged. Both these currents of the radical Left make no reference and give insufficient attention to the stand of China, Russia, Cuba and the NAM on the Resolution, and are ambiguous on the LLRC. For their part, the leftists within the government are firmly against the US move and for the LLRC’s implementation.

The reasoning of the Opposition’s leading ideologues is flawed. The problem with the resolution is not that it calls for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. The problems are (a) where the Resolution is coming from, (b) the body of the text that precedes the seemingly innocuous points about the LLRC and (c) the sleight of hand where it expresses disappointment about the LLRC report and goes beyond it to issues of ‘accountability’. Furthermore, a resolution would provide a UN mandate – as was sought, and would have done, had we not outdrawn and shot it down at the UNHRC in May 2009. UN resolutions are notoriously elastic (Russia and China haven’t forgiven the endgame in Libya, behind the mask of UNSC 1973, meant to institute a no-fly zone for the protection of civilians in Benghazi). Even without the mandate of a resolution, the UN SG’s Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka , originally meant to advise him on standards and norms of accountability, monstrously mutated into a 190 page indictment. The three ‘expert panellists’ co-authored a piece in the New York Times a few days ago, calling for stringent action on Sri Lanka by the UN HRC at this session, thereby amply demonstrating the partisan prejudice and politics of their project.

Certainly the implementation of reform recommendations of the LLRC report must be fast-tracked, and a compressed time–frame committed to by the government, preferably so swiftly as to pre-empt the US resolution by removing its purported basis. Even if it fails in prevention, this would help us rally the support to defeat it. However, this commitment must be made to and in the Sri Lankan Parliament. The Government of the Republic of Sri Lanka is primarily responsible to the citizens of Sri Lanka . That is what popular sovereignty in a res publica, a republic, is about. The popularly elected government of Sri Lanka is not responsible in the first or last instance to any international forum or intergovernmental body comprised of governments responsible to their respective citizenries. Sri Lanka ’s Opposition may do well to move a resolution demanding a time frame and suggesting one for the implementation of the LLRC report. The push or indeed drive for implementation of reform must be from within our society, with the international solidarities and multipliers of our choosing.

I rather doubt that the vast majority of Sri Lankan people want Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha and Vaiko, still less the Tiger flag waving demonstrators who will camp in Geneva from March 5th to the 23rd, to help guarantee and hasten the implementation of the LLRC reforms. With support like this, the LLRC does not need enemies.

None in Sri Lanka and India , who were supportive of the war against the LTTE, are on the side of the resolution. Conversely, those who practised appeasement of the LTTE, were against the war, were fellow travellers of the Tigers (e.g. Vaiko, the TNA) or were lukewarm and vacillating with regard the war and considered Mahinda Rajapaksa a greater enemy than Prabhakaran, are all supportive of the resolution. This congruity, and the presence of Tiger flag bearing demonstrators outside the UN HRC in Geneva , will not be lost on the vast mass of the Sri Lankan people. The people will also remember who in the world community stands with and who stands against a Resolution which has so greatly roused the enthusiasm of the Diaspora Tigers.

As for accountability, the number of civilians killed in North Vietnam by the US bombing campaign named Rolling Thunder, commencing February 1965, was 182,000. The number of children who died in the sanctions on Iraq , according to Denis Halliday, the administrator of that programme who resigned in disgust, was 5,000 a month. Guantanamo , the vast prison camp located on the soil of a foreign country against the wishes of that country, still remains open despite a presidential pledge to close it. The National Defence Authorisation Act has provisions only describable as draconian.

These are the guys whose draft resolution seeks to preach to us about the observance of international law in the fight against terrorism? Of course it must, but who are they to tell us that, when they are serially responsible for the most egregious violations of international law, ranging from the invasion of sovereign states on false pretexts, to the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’. Doesn’t the hypocrisy just get to you? And if it does not, what does that say about you?

In my closing remarks at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva after the special session on Sri Lanka in May 2009, I equated the allegation of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Sri Lanka, with the charge that Iraq possessed WMDs and asked whether we should buy a used car from the guys who sold the world the Goebbelsian Big Lie on WMD.

None of this is to say that all is well in Sri Lanka ; far from it. Let me explain by way of analogy. A stable functional piece of furniture usually needs four legs. If it is to rest firmly, it needs these four legs to be even. Politics and political discourses in Sri Lanka remind me of furniture which either doesn’t have four legs or which have one or more legs shorter than the others.

Analogous to the four legs of a piece of furniture, the four pillars that a strong successful state and a good society must rest upon equally, are national sovereignty, popular sovereignty, individual rights and self-determination.

National sovereignty means that a nation-state (or a pluri-national state) is a political unit or community entitled to its unity and territorial integrity, and has the right to determine its own path, regulate its own affairs, without external domination, intervention or interference in its internal affairs.

Popular sovereignty means that the right to rule rests with the people, who decide who rules, how and for how long. If the rulers violate this social contract, this sacred trust, the people have the right to replace, even overthrow them. The Sri Lankan Constitution makes explicit that as a republic, sovereignty is vested in the people, who exercise it through a regularly and periodically elected Executive president and legislature.

Individual rights pertain to the sovereign individual person; to the equality of every citizen, who is inalienably possessed of a stock of rights and freedoms which must not be transgressed upon.

Self-determination refers to the right of a collective to determine its own destiny. The structural coordinates of that collective or community impose limitations upon the degree to which the right of self determination is exercised. The right to set up an independent state belongs to a nation, not a national minority. An established nation-state possesses the right of self determination. The entire (multiethnic) nation and not one part of it, is the legitimate agency of self determination. A nation which is under colonial occupation or annexation has the right of self determination (e.g. Occupied Palestine). An ethno-national minority, on the other hand, has a structurally more limited right to self governance and self administration, which may be termed the right to autonomy.

A society must rest on the equal recognition of all four of these principles, rights and fundamental values. Though at different points of history, one or the other may find itself emphasised due to the threats posed and the tasks at hand, all four must be held in equilibrium; never abandoned or counter-posed to one another.

This may require much struggle, change, transformation. But that will be undertaken one way or another, by the sovereign citizens of Sri Lanka at a time and on issues of their choosing, and with the solidarity of allies of their choice.



 
 
 
   
   
     
   
   

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Last modified: March 08, 2012.

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