The American creation of opposites

Over the last couple of weeks Sri Lanka has had to face a number of attacks and critiques, most obviously the latest film from Channel 4, but also reports from both Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group. These focus, often directly, on the resolution about Sri Lanka that has been proposed by the United States of America, and is being lobbied for by that country and some of its allies in an intensive fashion all over the world, in a manner that few countries have had to face.

Why is this? Why did the American Permanent Representative here tell ours last September that, whether or not the LLRC Report was a good one, they would get us this time round? Perhaps she spoke in the heat of frustrated persuasiveness, perhaps she was misunderstood, but this intensity is strange, and seems immensely at odds with what the resolution is presented as, namely a way of supporting Sri Lanka in its efforts at Reconciliation after several decades of brutal conflict.

The actual wording of the resolution however belies that claim, as Sri Lanka’s most accomplished student of foreign policy, as well as one of its best diplomats, Dayan Jayatilleka, made clear in his recent deconstruction of the resolution. It not only asserts that the Report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is inadequate, it flouts all principles of the United Nations and the principles of this Council in trying to impose external mechanisms on a country that is simply suspected of not doing all that others want it to do.

The absurdity of the allegations now being advanced is strengthened by the way in which goalposts have shifted over the years. Whenever one query is satisfied, another is produced in its place. Those who were at the Human Rights Council in May 2009 will remember the allegations being made at the time that several European countries had demanded a special session because they were worried about the fate of the Tamils of the Wanni who had been displaced by the conflict, and about the future of former LTTE cadres. This concern was belied by the assertion in the House of Commons by the then British Foreign Minister, David Miliband, that the special session was meant to be about war crimes, a startlingly hyocritical statement from a government that had cooked up evidence about Weapons of Mass Destruction and driven a brave scientist to suicide, if that indeed is how he died, when he tried to expose the deceit.

We have now resettled all the displaced, more quickly than in any similar situation elsewhere in the world, and rehabilitated nearly all former cadres, but the persecution continues. Later we were told that the LLRC could not be trusted because it had been appointed by government and included individuals whom some elements in the international community thought untrustworthy. Then, when the LLRC produced a sharp and potentially very productive report, which was welcomed with few reservations by almost all countries except the United States, we are told that we will not implement it.

Why this sustained persecution? The answer I think lies in the way in which some of the auxiliary forces drawn in to support the resolution concentrate so heavily on what they present as the culpability of the present government, and in particular the President, for what they describe as war crimes and also what they claim are continuing problems in the country, though the evidence they produce for these claims is extremely thin.

The relentless attack on the President suggests that a change in leadership in Sri Lanka is what is most prominently desired.  The Channel 4 diatribe keeps stressing the role of the President, in what they term war crimes, though there is no evidence at all to connect him with any of this. Instead, in assessing how high responsibility went for these putative war crimes, they put on Sam Zarifi who simply asserts that ‘President Rajapaksa was the highest military official in the country.’

Another of the experts Channel 4 employed, who lives in a more tentative world declares ‘That is obviously a more heinous crime and more serious, if we can demonstrate this was actually directed at and controlled on orders from the top’. And Channel 4 ends by claiming that it knows President Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya were amongst those responsible, ending with a clarion call that, given that Sri Lanka was confirmed as the venue for the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the UN should act.

Sri Lanka refuses to be drawn into the oppositional view of the world that America thinks mandatory.

Why such personal denigration? I suspect it is largely because Sri Lanka refuses to be drawn into the oppositional view of the world that America thinks mandatory. We rather have a vision of the world as made up of concentric circles, to all of which we belong, but obviously our closest relationships must be with our nearest and dearest. We have found the support of our neighbours invaluable, and while we have gladly accepted advice from them, both about the conduct of the war, and the reconciliation process, we cannot accept dictation from those who have no understanding of the context in which we operate.

That does not mean that, given our world view, of inclusivity and the Non-Alignment we were privileged once to lead despite our small size, we reject anyone out of hand. We have had support from several  countries in distant parts, and from many individuals from all over the world, including those who are bemused now at what the leadership of their countries is doing to us. But to twist evidence, to suborn our officials, to keep accusing us in personal terms of excesses that pale in comparison to what has been excused and even celebrated in other conflicts seems to us shabby, if not wicked.

What is the evidence on which these charges are made? What have we denied that is manifest? An earlier report, intended to advise the Secretary General on accountability issues, which is now seen as a judgment, identified five areas of concern. The LLRC looked at those, and decided on the basis of study of allegations, not simply regurgitation as that previous report had done, that there were some areas which merited further investigation, and prosecution if appropriate. It is particularly hard on what are termed disappearances after surrender, and this is understandable given the specific allegations made, with details that can readily be investigated.

In other cases, we have had many generalizations, which I believe, having myself monitored all reports on TamilNet during the conflict, and called for explanations when large numbers of civilian casualties were alleged, are not evidence of criminality. The LLRC though does in some cases recommend further investigation, though I should note that, watching again Channel 4’s latest assault, I find that where the generalizations have been reduced to specifics, they are even more dubious.

The Island  19 March 2012 –