Heyns & Alston

In trying to understand the extraordinary performance with regard to Sri Lanka of the present and the last UN High Commissioners for Human Rights, I am reminded constantly of what I was told by the previous Indian Ambassador to the Human Rights Council. When we were discussing the excessive number of UN employees from the West, he noted that, apart from that community of interests, they most of them came from the same sort of background. Thinking in terms of the interests of the Non-Governmental Organizations in which most of their work experience lay, they were unable to understand the basic principles on which the United Nations were founded, which gave primacy to the sovereignty of its member states.

UN - The Security Council Mural by Per Krohg

This doctrine has been attacked on the grounds that it allows governments that are undemocratic and abuse their own citizens to remain immune from criticism. There is some validity to this criticism, which is why the UN developed the concept of the Responsibility to Protect, which allowed for international intervention in situations of grave abuse. The conditions under which such intervention could take place were laid down clearly. These included approval by the Security Council, which functions in terms of the need to ensure a balance of interests as well as of power.

Unfortunately what might be termed opinion makers in the West have assumed that these conditions necessarily to abuse, with the big powers they resent – just two, as opposed to the three that represent Western interests – ensuring that the most gross abuse goes unscathed. This is of course nonsense, when we consider the fact that, when there was obvious fault – as with the invasion of Kuwait for instance, or the Afghan protection extended to perpetrators of the attack on the Twin Towers – no vetoes were exercised. Indeed more recently, when there were in fact questions about equity, given what was happening elsewhere in the region, no vetoes were exercised with regard to Libya. Conversely, we know perfectly well that the West too has extended protection to regimes that were in flagrant abuse of all decency, ranging from South Africa when it practiced apartheid to Israel in expansionist mode. The occasions on which the United States has exercised its veto make clear the fact that protection of client states is not a one-sided phenomenon.

Power of Communication

But, with the balance of power in the world having shifted distinctly to the West in the last couple of decades, and in particular the power of communication, the myth has spread that independent action is required to ensure adherence to norms that are both laid down and monitored by the West. Or, rather, since in fact most Western governments are less aggressive about intervention and flagrant abuse of ideals than what might be termed standard bearers for a particular patronizing point of view, these ostensibly independent actors reinforce the agenda of those who seek to extend the reach of their own particular world view.

Thus they demand interference with regard to countries where governments do not fall in with their predilections. The fact that this might lead to governments that do not appeal to the people they govern means nothing to such activists. So there is relentless criticism of what is termed the populism of leaders who have come to power democratically in South America, while at the same time there is no criticism whatsoever of governments that have shown no concern about democracy but which still fall in line with Western agendas.

The running in this type of effort to impose a monolithic view of what the world should be is made by those Non-Governmental Organizations that derive enormous amounts of funding from governments that use them as stalking horses, as well as by private donors who generally fall in with the wider agendas of such governments. And even more dangerously, their standard bearers now end up heading some UN agencies, moving seamlessly in and out of influential positions in those to influential positions in the NGOs that end up setting their agendas.

The most obvious example of this occurred when Louise Arbour, who never seems sure whether she is a spokesman for oppressed Munchkins or the Wicked Witch of the West who ensures conformity to her will, took over the leadership of the International Crisis Group from Gareth Evans, after serving as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. I was privileged to meet both of them, for the first time, when they visited Sri Lanka in 2007, and both staked a claim for a proconsular role in Sri Lanka.

Gareth Evans as President International Crisis Group with Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States

Gareth was quite brazen in suggesting that the Norwegians were making a mess of facilitation of negotiations during what was supposed to be a Ceasefire period, and in criticizing the work of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, he offered himself as an alternative. Louise Arbour was less vulgar, since she had an official position, and instead simply asked that an Office of the High Commissioner be established in Sri Lanka. It was left to her sidekick, Rory Mungoven, the shadowy character who was probably responsible for many of the attacks on Sri Lanka over the years, to say exactly what Gareth had done, that the SLMM was clearly inadequate and the UN High Commissioner’s Office would do a much better job.

Both were startled, and I think upset, when I said that I had great faith in the SLMM, as constituted in 2007, and they were doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances. Neither seems to have forgiven us for thwarting their own grandiose vision of themselves. Gareth it is true kept quiet for a bit, ashamed I believe of the misconceptions he had included in the speech he made in Sri Lanka when invited to make waves by Rama Mani, who had fallen in entirely with the plans of the R2P Centre to set up a sub-office here. He avoided however answering my queries, first lamely telling me when we next met that he thought he had done so, and then confessing that he had been told I was a dangerous person to deal with. It seemed ridiculous that a former Australian Foreign Minister should be afraid of a very junior administrator in Sri Lanka, but I suppose that is what happens when you begin to deal in lies.

Alan Keenan

His sidekick Alan Keenan however, who had written up the lies and half-truths for Gareth, had no such delicacies, and has returned to the attack with an intensity similar to that of the other shadowy figures he had known before they all ended up in Sri Lanka, Charu Latha Hogg of Human Rights Watch as well as Rama Mani. That familiarity is what made me wonder about the agenda they had all set themselves, of issuing statements they knew were untrue about Sri Lanka. But now that Alan works for Louise, I suspect we will have much more of the same, before Sri Lanka either succumbs to their machinations or breaks free through the democratic determination of its people.

Daily News 21 June 2011