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One of the most disappointing aspects of some international criticism of recent events in Sri Lanka was blatant recourse to double standards. When anyone connected to government did anything that seemed inappropriate, the whole of government was promptly condemned. Entertainingly enough, given recent Western affection for Sarath Fonseka, his conduct provides perhaps the most obvious examples of this tendency – though I will confine myself here only to his pronouncements, which are clear enough and do not need further investigation.

Several of his more idiosyncratic comments, about Sri Lanka belonging essentially to the majority community, about the politicians of Tamil Nadu being jokers, about the need to expand the army wholesale, had to be placed at a remove from government policy, even while not letting him down by suggesting  that he was shooting his mouth off. Such explanations however failed to convince those who were determined to declare that the whole government suffered from chauvinistic majoritarian paranoia. The fact that the army was not expanded, that the concerns of Indian politicians were treated with respect (even while obviously they could not all be indulged), that anxious efforts were made to persuade all Tamil politicians to talk, in between the various luncheon appointments Mr Sambandan was making with Western diplomats, meant nothing in comparison with the pronouncements of the Army commander.

Conversely, when UN staff members launched attacks on the Sri Lankan government, they were supposed to be acting on their own. Even when the media cited them as though they had the full authority of the UN behind them, those in charge at the UN seemed to feel no need to repudiate their pronouncements. Gordon Weiss thus continued to perform as the UN’s principal contact point with the media even when it was crystal clear that he was conducting a crusade against the government. He was assisted in this, I am told, by a fellow Australian called James Elder.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2010
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