In a pamphlet on ‘The Parliamentary System of Government’ that was published during the Second World War, the British academic Sir Ernest Barker wrote that ‘One of the great principles which the genius of France has contributed to civilization is the principle of national sovereignty’. The last few years have taught us much about this principle, and the need to be perpetually vigilant about those who seek to erode it.
In this regard I had assumed during the last couple of years that I would someday write an account of the manner in which Sri Lanka managed to maintain both its sovereignty and its unity, against all odds as it now seems. I had thought there was plenty of time to do this but, given the recent pronouncements of the Secretary General of the United Nations, who seems to feel that, provided he is talking only about his own personal predilections, he does not need to abide strictly by the UN Charter, it may be useful now to run through the various threats we have recently overcome. We need to be aware that these threats may continue in the short term, and it would help to be aware of the various directions from which efforts to control us may arise.
There are in essence five sources of threats to our sovereignty, apart of course from the major threat from terrorism. Sadly the rump of the terrorist forces will do their best in the next few months to rouse those sources, so we need to bring into the public domain the ways in which they have operated.
Firstly there is the threat presented by the UN system, or rather those elements in the UN system that believe we live now in a unipolar world, and that they are the high priests of the dominant dispensation.
Secondly there are the Non-Governmental Organizations that purport to believe they somehow represent the best interests of the people of the countries in which they work, as opposed to the governments of those countries, even if such governments are democratically elected.
In addition there are particular countries, or rather individuals who hold official positions for those countries, who believe there is something wrong with the Sri Lankan government. Sadly, given the specious arguments they have used, and the unsavoury associations they cultivated, the conclusion must be that what was wrong with the current Sri Lankan government in their eyes was its unwillingness to submit to domination by interests that had begun to think this was a sort of pocket borough of theirs.
Then there are those politicians who believe that abandoning our sovereignty is the best way of achieving their own goals. Some of them may genuinely believe that, in what they see as a unipolar world, keeping the West – or their concept of what the West amounts to – happy is the best solution, others are probably more cynical, but do not realize that the West is more adept at using them than they are at using the West.
Finally we have purveyors of information that is slanted, some of it downright false, albeit not always deliberately so. There are various motives behind attacks that are unfair, some arising simply from the fact that journalists like scoops and the more sensational the better, some relating to political predilections, some springing simply from financial greed.
With regard to all these, we need ourselves to be careful to distinguish between firstly reasonable criticisms, which should be addressed through programmes and policies that will improve things for Sri Lankan in general, secondly what might be termed genuine errors, and finally the deliberate lies and distortions that are designed to destabilize the country as well as the government.
In the long run, it should be noted, these different sources of threat amount to the same threat. We might indeed adapt T S Eliot to suggest that ‘the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest’ is David Miliband, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed though, not like Eliot’s Teiresias, ‘blind, throbbing between two lives, old man with wrinkled female breasts’.
To put it more simply, as the Indian ambassador in Geneva put it, when we were discussing the Western domination of UN agencies, it is not just that the new breed of employees represented the same geographical region, they also came from similar backgrounds. Most of them hail from Non-Governmental Organizations and would head back into them if they could not clamber up the UN’s own ladders.
And of course it is precisely those NGOs that the Western countries now fund, so as also to fulfil through unofficial sources their own parochial goals. Thus the European Union puts all its money for what it terms humanitarian assistance into international NGOs. When I suggested that they work with local ones, the head of the EU aid agency said sanctimoniously, as though he regretted this, that he was constrained by EU regulations which insisted on working through international NGOs.
The wind was taken out of his sails when I pointed out that much EU funding for what is termed advocacy was given to local NGOs such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives, itself funded almost entirely by the West. He did note in mitigation that such assistance came under a different system, but it is obviously not an accident that local organizations cannot take the lead in helping our people, whereas they dominate the business of criticizing government.
This then allows the Europeans who wish to criticize government too to claim that they base their attacks on local informants. Thus, way back in 2007, the Head of Human Rights in Brussels, a man called Rolf Timans, actually called in our ambassador to protest against elections being held in the East. Mr Timans laid down that they had been told that elections would not be free and fair, and they believed this since their own observers had ruled that in 2004 the parliamentary election had not been fair.
He refused when we met to let me know who his informants were, but he did not deny it when I noted that we were aware that he had been visited recently - leaving aside Ranil Wickremesinghe’s regular briefings of the EU – by some TNA MPs as well as Dr Saravanamuttu of CPA. Mr Timans was obviously not aware that it was precisely the TNA that had benefited from the unfair elections in the East and North, and that some of their MPs held their positions by virtue of forced resignations and even murder. This was what had happened to those whom the people of the East voted for or would have voted for, namely Mr Kingsley Swaminathan and Mr Prabhakaran, father of the lady subsequently elected as Mayoress of Batticaloa.
Mr Timans was also clearly not aware that CPA benefited hugely from European funding, which is how Dr Saravanamuttu was able to travel so extensively to lobby against the Government. The British High Commissioner, Dominc Chilcott, in pointing out why he was unable to help the Peace Secretariat for peace related activities, noted that all their funds in this field went to NGOs, including CPA and FCE and FLICT. Surprisingly, when Liam Fox soon afterwards asked a question in Parliament as to how British aid had been disbursed in Sri Lanka, these names did not figure in the reply – but by then I had learnt enough to realize that this was not necessarily prevarication, but could have been based on the system of interlocking directorates that the chosen NGOs of the West had developed, so that tracing the use of funds was nigh impossible.
Thus CPA underlings sat on the FLICT Steeering Committee, which managed to grant nearly a hundred million rupees to Young Asia Television, with what seem no discernible outcomes. Interestingly poor Mr Tissainayagam was the second largest beneficiary of FLICT funds, but no one seems to have bothered to check on what he was actually saying in the various websites for which he received funding. These were supposed to ensure Conflict Transformation, but seem to have been concerned only with polarization. That indeed is why I feel more sorry than otherwise for Mr Tissainayagam, tempted with lavish funding into confrontational assertions that took him a long way from the scholarly analyst he once was.
But that seems to me typical of the manner in which the whole caboodle, donors and NGOs and their chosen instruments, worked together to precipitate the crises they claimed they wanted to avoid. In the process the government was left in the lurch, the victim of well funded attacks, designed in effect to subvert the democratic will of the people.