Sunday, March 03, 2013 - 5.25 GMT
US DOUBLE STANDARDS in Sri Lanka and Asia
By Lucien Rajakarunanayake
"My concern here is that we are looking at such a small little sequence, of this two or three months that now we are questioning. And the reason why we have this resolution before the United Nations Human Rights Council; but forgetting the fact for 29 years that the Sri Lankan government has had to deal with this terrorist organization that I just could not believe the atrocities that were committed by these people...And now overnight we just thought that we've got to hit this resolution against them: this is where my concern is with double standards."
That was the Ranking Member of the US Foreign Affairs subcommittee, Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, expressing his deep concerns over the double standards applied in US Foreign Policy towards Sri Lanka, at the Subcommittee hearing on "The Rebalance to Asia: Why South Asia Matters" last Tuesday (26).
On the same day across the Atlantic in Geneva, Priyanga Wickramasinghe, Counsellor of the Sri Lanka's Permanent Mission to the UN there, urged that Sri Lanka should be encouraged in its reconciliation process, rather than being singled out for any disproportionate attention by the UN Human Rights Council.
Exercising a 'right of Reply' to a statement by Ms Esther Brimmer, US Assistant Secretary of State for international organisations during the High Level Segment of the 22nd Human Rights Council, Counsellor Wickramasinghe said "it is especially so, at a time when having overcome a 30-year long terrorist conflict, as well as having averted what many feared would be a 'humanitarian catastrophe', Sri Lanka is implementing a comprehensive process of reconciliation involving all communities based on the National Action Plan on the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC".
Double standards and disproportionate attention to the last few months of the battle to defeat the terrorism of the LTTE in Sri Lanka are coming out very clearly in the criticisms of the US led move to adopt a strong resolution against Sri Lanka at the current sessions of the UNHRC.
Congressman Faleomavaega had much more to tell the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, after a first-hand study of actual developments in Sri Lanka in recent weeks.
Underscoring that US should find a better way forward than using UN resolutions to improve its relationships with a strategically important country such as Sri Lanka, he said: "After a 30-year terrorist conflict or war the challenges Sri Lankan government faces are enormous. But the strides the government has made to rebuild in a way that establishes lasting peace and equality for all citizens should be firmly acknowledged."
"Regrettably in the resolution it intendeds to submit again to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the US fails to mention one , not even one, positive development for Sri Lanka.
Such failures suggest that the United States is not being even handed when it comes to dealing with sensitive human rights issues across the globe."
"And I am, Mr. Chairman, deeply concerned that our inconsistent policies which lead to a loss of credibility for the United States which would negatively impact our relations in the Asia Pacific region for years to come."
He therefore called "upon my government, the United States of America to find a better way forward rather than using United Nations resolutions to destabilize developing nations like Sri Lanka while ignoring human rights abuses in nations like Indonesia, where our geological strategic and military interests supersede our Human Rights Agenda."
"The US led United Nations resolution should also be withdrawn for focusing only on the last few months of the war and failing to acknowledge therefore almost 30 years, Mr. Chairman, the Tamil Tigers hacked to death innocent men, women and children in Sri Lanka, carried out some 378 suicide attacks more than any other terrorist organization in the world."
The Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee was clear in his agreement with the Kerry-Lugar congressional report which declares we need to re-chart US strategy in Sri Lanka beyond humanitarian and political reforms ... The US simply cannot afford to lose Sri Lanka due to its strategic importance," he said.
Describing his knowledge of the situation in Sri Lanka he said: "Last week I had the privilege of visiting Sri Lanka and met with President Rajapaksa for more than two hours. I also met with Governor of the Northern Province. And personally visited Jaffna because I wanted to see for myself the post conflict developments since 2009, when Sri Lanka finally became the first country in the world to eradicate terrorism on its own soil, by defeating the Tamil Tigers - which remains listed as a terrorist organization by 32 countries including our own country Mr. Chairman, India, Canada and the members of the European Union, and dubbed by the FBI as one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world."
Minister on Pillay
It was a similar message of the necessity for objectivity, impartiality and fair play that Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, the President's Special Envoy on Human Rights gave the UNHRC on Wednesday. "We expect our actions to be assessed in their totality, in a spirit of objectivity and impartiality in this Council. Our interlocutors in this body must also take into account the considerable progress made. During the UPR process for instance, a clear majority of delegations did acknowledge and appreciate the advances we have made since 2009.
This only encouraged us to do better and is what we consider constructive. However, the focus of some other intrusive initiatives that only emphasize a few areas which need further action, are less than constructive and we consider these unhelpful. These subjective measures based on unsubstantiated assertions aimed at 'naming and shaming', are indicative of a different agenda unrelated to the objectives of this Council. We need time and space, Mr President, to complete our work and we are confident that we will be able to deliver for our people and our country."
Minister Samarasinghe also had very strong observations to make of the report by Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressing the assistance extended to her the invitation to her to visit Sri Lanka (not availed of), and the subsequent highly biased report she has submitted. He said that: "In granting the team unfettered access, the government acted in the good faith expectation that it would in fact prepare the ground for her visit.
Subsequently the High Commissioner addressed a letter in November 2012 proposing possible areas of technical cooperation between the GoSL and the OHCHR. She also chose to introduce a new conditionality: stating that meaningful progress needs to be achieved in areas outlined for technical cooperation, before visiting Sri Lanka at some time in the first half of 2013.
Thus it now appears the team's agenda was purely to collect material for her present Report and not to "help prepare the ground" for a visit. The GoSL's reply in December 2012 was to emphasize that, since the implementation of the NPoA and the NHRAP, are continuously evolving national processes which were being monitored, in order to arrive at a considered opinion on the progress of human rights related issues, that there is no substitute for experiencing, at first hand, the ground situation.
"We reiterate that, therefore, a visit by the High Commissioner would be an ideal opportunity to view the developments objectively and holistically, imperative for the discharge of her mandate. As such, the bona fides of the High Commissioner's objectives may be called into question, by virtue of her shifting the goalposts and seeking to impose new conditionalities.
"We also note that an inordinate amount of attention is paid to Sri Lanka in the High Commissioner's statements within and outside UN forums. Whether it be in the UN Security Council or successive sessions of the Human Rights Council, democracy conferences or merely comments from her on incidents or events in Sri Lanka ranging from economic migrants to the judiciary, the High Commissioner, has had, from around the end of the conflict in May 2009, a regular negative observation to make. Her frequent comments to the media, some in close proximity to sessions of the Council, could well have the effect of influencing delegations, especially when there are Resolutions contemplated. This runs counter to the detachment, objectivity and impartiality expected from the holder of such an exalted office. Sweeping generalizations using such terms as "massive violations" of human rights and the constant targeting of Sri Lanka - based on unsubstantiated evidence founded on conjecture and supposition only supports the impression of a lack of objectivity.
The Report to the Council - A/HRC/22/38 - is also very much in similar vein. Very little attention is paid to the significant progress achieved in the post-conflict phase; matters that we placed before the Working Group in considerable detail during the UPR, in particular. However, in contrast, great emphasis is placed on the perceived negatives as they pertain to the Sri Lanka's process of reconciliation. This disproportionate emphasis on the negative to the virtual exclusion of the positive, gives the report a skewed and imbalanced character," Minister Samarasinghe said.
It would be interesting to go back to US Congressman Faleomavaega's observations drawing parallels from US history.
"I have mentioned in my statement about the double standards that we are applying in as far as violation of Human Rights and the sense that I have is why is the most powerful country in the world picking on a small little country like Sri Lanka- the size of West Virginia, 60,000 square miles with only three million people - and yet in Sri Lanka we are talking about 21 million people living there."
"The serious question that I have is that for 27 or 29 years this country was in the state of civil war. It is not a conflict. It is not the question of the Tamil people asking for more autonomy. We have to understand not all Tamils are members of this terrorist organization called the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers that our government along with 32 other countries also categorized as a terrorist organization."
US Civil War
"And in the process you are talking about for 27 years some eighty to hundred thousand Sri Lankans ended up dead. A lot of innocent men, women and children".
"What I am trying to seek here is that there also was a country that had a civil war. It was the United States of America, for four years we ended up with 600,000 of our soldiers died from that terrible conflict. And it was not the question of Southern States asking for more autonomy. They wanted to secede, pull away from the mother country, just like the Tamil Tigers wanted to do in their efforts in seeking this war against the government." "My concern here is that we are looking at such a small little sequence, of this two or three months that now we are questioning. And the reason why we have this resolution before the United Nations Human Rights Council, but forgetting the fact for 29 years that Sri Lankan government has had to deal with this terrorist organization that I just could not believe the atrocities that were committed by these people."
"And now overnight we just thought that we've got to hit this resolution against them this is where my concern with double standards."
"Our government to the 10 year period that we were in war in Vietnam. In Vietnam Mr. Secretary, let's ask the tens and thousands of women and children innocent civilians that we exposed to Agent Orange, when we were there for the ten year period. Let's ask the people in Laos and Cambodia for the six million pounds of cluster bombs we dropped there, and these countries never declared war on us."
"Where is the consistency in our standards as far as Human Rights are concerned? We are pointing the finger at this little country Sri Lanka, and the thing is that perhaps may be we need to clean up our own backyard, as suggested maybe we be a little more consistent, if we are going to do it against Sri Lanka. Let's make sure that we are clean ourselves."
With Sri Lanka the subject at the UNHRC, Geneva is now the centre of double-standards, non-objectivity, absence of impartiality and the focus on the shortest and the toughest period of the actual War on Terror in Sri Lanka, without the human casualties caused by drone attacks that get hurrah's from Washington and the White House.
Washington prefers to forget new Secretary of State John Perry's (and Sen. Lugar's) observations about the strategic importance of Sri Lanka that should transcend the narrow approaches on humanitarian and political reforms. This pantomime on human rights will go on for longer in Geneva, with the need to satisfy the representatives of terror with their lobbies of influence in the West.