Exactly a week after the so-called ‘international community’ had its day at the UNHRC, in the vote on the US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had his say with an important message to the world of the confidence that remains in this country.
Addressing a large foreign audience of export related business persons at the launch of Expo Sri Lanka 2012, President Rajapaksa underscored that the large foreign investor presence at the event was both a strong and valuable vote of confidence in Sri Lanka, as well as an expression of trust in the new opportunities for export trade in a country that was famous for international trade from ancient days.
While many forces that were elated by the Geneva vote were working hard to bring additional pressure in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan President told the foreign audience that what is on show at Expo Sri Lanka 2012 is proof that Sri Lanka is fully open to business. Talking in the idiom of business and international politics he said that the large presence of investors here showed the failure of the efforts of those who still support the agenda of separatist terror that prevented development in Sri Lanka for more than three decades.
It was an important message at a time when one sees the Western countries ganging up against Sri Lanka, with the lead given by Hillary Clinton and the US State Department, while India makes excuses for its support of the US move; and even the group of ‘Elders’ led by Nelson Mandela seem ready to see only the pro-LTTE propaganda side of the developments in Si Lanka.
The unverified, unsubstantiated, unproven allegations against Sri Lanka, by a non-UN Committee that masquerades as UN Advisors that readily echoes the pro-LTTE lobby, remain in focus because they are so hugely inflated as to blind even an elder such as Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, to demonstrate extreme myopia in her views on Sri Lanka.
President Rajapaksa expanded on his theme in telling the investor audience that, “You are here today, with a measure of confidence in Sri Lanka that has not been diminished by false propaganda that is currently spread by those who are trying to prevent investment flowing to our country and the large international presence at this event is a clear indication of the growing awareness in the world of the new investment opportunities in Sri Lanka.”
“Sri Lanka is in the midst of peace won at great sacrifice. We are progressing on the path of peace and reconciliation. Our government is committed to walk that extra mile to establish permanent peace through reconciliation. That is our commitment to our people and no one has to tell us what to do,” President emphasized.
Dissent in India
That the efforts by New Delhi to show it was not acting against Sri Lankan interests by its support for a country specific resolution sponsored by the US, is not as widely accepted among those who study Indian politics; both the “coalition compulsions" as stated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the related foreign policy issues for India.
There are strong concerns now emerging from opinion in several sections of the Indian Media. On the one hand there is the criticism of the centre in New Delhi giving in to domestic compulsions, without considerations for the consequences of this vote for India's its own record on Human Rights, while the other strong criticism is from the Indian Foreign policy point of view.
The strongest criticism so far of the Indian move in Geneva came in the Indian ‘Mail Online’ of March 29, headlined: “India’s UN ‘yes’ vote was a wrong move on Sri Lanka”. Kanwal Sibal, a former Foreign Secretary of India, said: “Many arguments can be made against our decision to vote against Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a decision highly questionable from the foreign policy point of view... In the case of the vote on Sri Lanka, irrespective of the reality of the human rights situation there, we have departed from our principled position on these matters.’
He raises the important question whether, “In voting against Sri Lanka on a Western sponsored resolution, have we now concluded that the West's treatment of human rights issues has become universally acceptable and even-handed in its treatment of friends and adversaries?”
“Domestic compulsions seem to have outweighed foreign policy considerations in this case. India and the West have been at odds on how best to address the issue of human rights internationally. India shares the view that the West uses the issue to embarrass, destabilise or topple politically uncongenial governments.
India, until recently, has been under stress too (on Human Rights). With improved India-US ties the US government now disregards periodic reports from international human rights organizations on our alleged human rights infringements in Jammu and Kashmir in particular, but the issue has not disappeared.
Sibal states that: “Because the West uses the issue of human rights selectively, targeting adversaries and protecting allies, India has taken a principled position all these years at Geneva to oppose or abstain on human rights resolutions against individual countries in the Human Rights Commission and its re-incarnation under US pressure as the Human Rights Council. Other key excerpts from this criticism of the Indian vote include: "India has not believed in this name and shame game played for cynical ends by powerful countries who claim the high moral ground on humanitarian issues, but whose own international actions, often hugely costly in human terms, are shielded from any formal censure because of their dominant position. India also believes that the principle of sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs should be respected.
“While India shares the values of democracy, pluralism and human freedoms with the West, it differs with it on the degree of activism to spread these values worldwide.
“In India's thinking, promotion of values should not be a cover for an aggressive promotion of self-interest. India does not want to be in the business of shaping the global order according to the values it espouses as a country, as that entails passing judgments on how countries run their internal affairs and assuming burdens on behalf of the citizens of a foreign country that rightly fall within the purview of national governments.
“In the case of the vote on Sri Lanka, irrespective of the reality of the human rights situation there, we have departed from our principled position on these matters.
“The irony is that in the past we have stood on the side, explicitly or implicitly, of China, Sudan, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Iran, Syria and so on by voting against or abstaining on resolutions. “And, if for delicate political reasons we do not want to rock our relations with these countries by joining others in indicting them, how will we justify in retrospect our vote against Sri Lanka? ...In voting against Sri Lanka on a Western sponsored resolution, have we now concluded that the West’s treatment of human rights issues has become universally acceptable and even-handed in its treatment of friends and adversaries?
“That we amended the US/EU sponsored resolution to make it less intrusive, more balanced and more respectful of Sri Lankan sovereignty is not sufficient justification for joining with distant powers to pick on Sri Lanka at Geneva. We should be in control of our relationship with Sri Lanka instead of following the lead of others or seeking to achieve our own political ends through them.
“Our foreign policy risks becoming erratic and capricious if domestic pulls become overly influential in shaping its direction," Sibal concludes.
Also, the ‘Times of India’ of March 25 in a leading opinion piece by Anahita Mukherji titled: “Sri Lanka on trial, but case against India” referring to important cases of torture and custodial abuse of persons in India, states:” The government might find itself in a very uncomfortable situation if the UNHRC turned the spotlight on India - on the mini Camp X-rays that exist in police lock-ups and the secret safe houses, where people are kept in illegal detention.” “For a country that does not believe it is at war, India's track record on human rights is rather pathetic ...While India has a poor human rights record, Sardesai (sociologist Nandini Sardesai) points out that no country in the world is free of human rights violations. After all, the US, which moved the UNHRC motion against Sri Lanka, is a well-known perpetrator of war crimes in other countries.
Nepal, Bhutan and India may have a deceptively clean image, thanks to the troubled neighbourhood they're in. But the Sri Lankan case has opened a can of worms that may finally bring attention to its neighbours’ equally bad rights record.”
In this context it was important for President Rajapaksa to tell the world through Expo Sri Lanka 2012 that: “As you can see at this event and as you travel freely in our country and also as you interact with your business partners and counterparts it will be very clear to you that the period of conflict is now over.
“Friends, I will assure you that we will not allow forces of separatism and terror to raise their ugly heads again, certainly not in our motherland.
“Sri Lanka is in the midst of peace won at great sacrifice. We are progressing on the path of peace and reconciliation. Our government is committed to walk that extra mile to establish permanent peace through reconciliation. That is our commitment to our people and no one has to tell us what to do.”