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Having been away during the visit of my old friend Robert Blake, I was surprised at the very different interpretations of what he had said. One email I got asked what I made of efforts to renew charges of war crimes. Though it was not clear whether this referred to Blake’s pronouncements, I was also told on return that he had basically read the riot act, and said that there would be a much tougher resolution on Sri Lanka in Geneva next March unless we did better.

Conversely I was assured by the Ministry of External Affairs that the visit had passed off extremely well, and that negative interpretations were simply due to the media playing its usual games. That seemed to me too sanguine. Unless there was actually misreporting, some of the things quoted seemed very definite, for instance ‘“I emphasized the importance of progress in reducing the role and profile of the military in the North, and full respect for human rights,” he said.  On issues of accountability, Blake said the US hoped that three years after the end of the conflict, there can be a credible and transparent accounting, investigation and prosecution of some of the outstanding and serious allegations of human rights violations, as well as progress on the missing. “I also urged that the Northern Provincial Council elections be held as soon as possible and encouraged an early resumption of talks between the TNA and the government to agree on powers to be devolved to the provinces,”

What the United States wants then seems clear. Unfortunately, following the debacle in Geneva, and what we were told by Foreign Ministry sources was a decision to cleave to the West, there was an assumption that all was well and, since we were firmly allied to the West, we would not be persecuted again.

This is a nonsensical view, though not unexpected in those who think international relations are conducted on the ‘machang’ basis that now seems to characterize many policy decisions. Clearly there are principles that we need to uphold, and we must work systematically to assert their primacy, and make it clear we are doing this. In particular we need, as we have often pledged, to strengthen our human rights mechanisms, and we need to move swiftly on implementing the LLRC Recommendations, at least as approved by Cabinet.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2012
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