Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Run the gauntlet in Geneva



Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga confers with TNA leader R. Sampanthan, MP, at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. Deputy Indian High Commissioner P. Kumaran is seated between them. 

(Pic by Nishan S. Priyantha)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The presence of Deputy Indian High Commissioner, P. Kumaran at a recent political function attended by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader, R. Sampanthan, MP, on the afternoon of January 28 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), Colombo raised many an eyebrow.

When the writer sought a clarification from the Indian High Commission in Colombo, its spokesperson stressed that Kumaran was there as an invited guest. The government turned a blind eye to the Indian diplomatic presence at the launch of the recommendations for promoting religious harmony.

Kumaratunga used what the event organizer, Indian funded South Asia Policy and Research Institute (SAPRI) dubbed as a forum on inter-faith dialogue meant to build religious tolerance and an inclusive society to censure President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Kumaratunga lashed out at the Rajapaksas, accusing them of suppressing the people.

The former SLFP leader didn’t mince words when she declared that the public feared the authoritarian Rajapaksa government. Kumaratunga echoed Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird. Obhrai, having visited Jaffna ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) last November, accused Sri Lanka of depriving the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people even the basic democratic rights.

Obhrai, an Indian of Tanzanian origin had been here as Canadian Premier Stephen Harper’s representative. He made highly demeaning remarks addressing LTTE activists after having returned home from CHOGM.

It would be pertinent to point out that in January 2009, the Government of India recognized Deepak for his contribution to strengthen Canada-India relations by awarding him the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award, which is the highest honour given to overseas Indians.  The year before, India Abroad newspaper named Deepak as one of 35 most influential Indo-Canadians in Canada.

India is most likely to honour an American of Indian, origin US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal, for her role in undermining Sri Lanka.

While Kumaratunga was addressing the gathering at the SLFI, UNP National Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Democratic Party Leader, General Sarath Fonseka led separate demonstrations elsewhere in Colombo, attacking war winning President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Kumaratunga continued her attack when she addressed the sixth international women’s conference organized by the Art of Living (AOL) in Bangalore last week. In spite of the presence of Sri Lanka’s First Lady, Shiranthi Rajapaksa, Kumaratunga lashed out at the Rajapaksas. Commenting on leadership, Kumaratunga said: "…when an individual in power begins thinking of himself, corruption begins. A leader begins to think that power is God’s gift and begins to do whatever he wants. In order to rock, he (the person in power) needs to consolidate power and to consolidate power he builds his family around him, this becomes terrible as he tries to eliminate opponents."

The ongoing Opposition project should be examined in the backdrop of the US-UK decision to move a resolution targeting Sri Lanka at the forthcoming United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva.

Having moved two successful resolutions in 2012 and 2013, the US and its allies are working overtime to work out a resolution acceptable to the majority of UNHRC members. But their primary objective would be to secure New Delhi’s backing as early as possible. India backed previous US led resolutions much to the anger of the Sri Lankan government. An early announcement by New Delhi in support of the US-UK move would simply bring the Sri Lankan government to its knees well ahead of the voting day. Therefore, it would be the responsibility of the Sri Lankan government to ensure that all relevant facts were presented before the international community.

Leaving aside diplomatic niceties, the government would have no option but to take up at the UNHRC, accountability on the part of India. Although Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga during a recent visit to Washington recollected the deployment of the Indian Army here (July 1987-March 1990) he stopped short of explaining the circumstances under which New Delhi subverted Sri Lanka under the very noses of the UN and Commonwealth, leading to the deployment of a 100,000 strong military and para-military contingent.

Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to question New Delhi’s moral right to vote against Sri Lanka after having created the LTTE as well as several other terrorist groups.

The second US resolution received the backing of 25 countries, including India. Thirteen countries opposed the resolution, eight abstained, and was 1 absent. Under heavy Tamil Nadu pressure, India directed its permanent representative in Geneva, Dilip Sinha to issue a strong statement condemning Sri Lanka. Sinha declared: "We reiterate our call for an independent and credible investigation into allegations of human rights violations and loss of civilian lives."

India should be reminded that building houses for those displaced during the conflict and a range of other projects wouldn’t absolve itself of responsibility for the death and destruction caused by its intervention. It would be pertinent to mention that the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered the destabilization of Sri Lanka in the early 80s as she felt Colombo was getting too close to Washington. But today, India is playing a different tune. Indian political parties have conveniently forgotten that India was responsible for thousands of deaths, including over 1,500 Indian security forces personnel during their deployment here. Perhaps India cannot stomach that Sri Lanka was able to crush the LTTE after having disarmed all other groups, namely the EPRLF, TELO, and PLOTE et al over the years. Perhaps India never felt Sri Lanka had the resolve to destroy the LTTE which considered it invincible on the battlefield.

India and Western powers remained confident of the LTTE having the muscle to halt the Sri Lankan advance until troops crossed the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road at Elephant Pass during the first week of January 2009. Veteran columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj, as late as the last week of December, 2008, asserted that the LTTE had the wherewithal to halt the Sri Lankan offensive, encircle troops on the Vanni east front. But in April 2009, the army encircled a large group of terrorists, including the cream of fighting cadre killing about 600 persons.

Unlike the UK, both the US and India provided decisive support for Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE in eelam war IV. Sri Lanka should be grateful, particularly for their support which enabled the Sri Lanka Navy to hunt down floating arsenals belonging to the LTTE on the high seas. Sri Lanka’s ageing fleet of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) included vessels acquired from India and US. But since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the US is taking an overtly hostile attitude towards Sri Lanka. In a way, US approach is very surprising as the Tamil Diaspora cannot manipulate US politicians as they do in some other countries, particularly in the UK and Canada. However, the Diaspora hasn’t been successful in Australia due t the excellent working relationship between the two countries to tackle illegal migration of Sri Lankans to Australia. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) recently undertook a special mission in Australia to explore ways and means of undermining the relationship between the two countries.

Sri Lanka should realize that the success of the Geneva resolution would entirely depend on India’s stand in Geneva. Even if the resolution managed to secure 46 votes out of maximum 47 still it would still be useless if India voted against it or abstained. The bottom line is that the Indian position in Geneva will be crucial for both sides. Having said that, it would be interesting to examine the Indian position vis-a-vis the Northern Provincial Council, particularly after the NPC passed a controversial resolution demanding an international investigation into atrocities committed during the last phase of the conflict.

On 27 January 2014, Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council passed a resolution calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the country’s armed conflict. The administration came to power in a landmark election in September 2013.

Did the US influence the decision taken by the NPC? Did the Chief Minister of the NPC, C. V. Wigneswaran and Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi member, Ananthi Sashitharan discuss the resolution when they met US Ambassador in Colombo Michele J. Sisson at Hotel Margosa, Chundikuli, Jaffna? TNA National List MP M.A. Sumanthiran too, was among those invited by the US ambassador for dinner at the star class hotel. Did the NPC consult India before the decision was taken? Did both US and India endorse the NPC move or whether the resolution was proposed by them? These are some of the questions the government needs to examine thoroughly to ensure it remains aware of what is going on.

For want of a cohesive strategy, the government hasn’t been able to exploit various situations to Sri Lanka’s advantage. It is a pity.

Those pushing for an international war crimes investigation targeting Sri Lanka are working to a plan. Statements are issued in Sri Lanka and various world capitals to pressure the Sri Lankan government. The NPC resolution, calling for an international investigation was timed to attract the maximum possible attention. Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive, Amnesty International India issued a statement supporting the NPC resolution while urging India to throw its weight behind the US led move. In fact, the Amnesty statement came the day after Kumaratunga, Wickremesinghe and Gen. Fonseka lambasted the Rajapaksa government.

India must support demands by civil society actors, UN officials and survivors of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka for an international investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the civil war, Amnesty International India said on January 29.

Amnesty noted that the elected administration of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province also reinforced such calls by seeking an impartial global probe. 

Amnesty issued the statement even as visiting Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Prof GL Peiris was meeting his Indian counterpart, Salman Khurshid, in New Delhi to discuss bilateral issues.

Last year, while supporting a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution asking Sri Lanka to conduct an "independent and credible investigation", India had noted that such an investigation must be to the "satisfaction of the international community". Given the lack of progress from the Sri Lankan government’s side, it is now time for facilitating an international investigation, Amnesty said.        

"An elected body of representatives calling for an international probe shows how little faith some people in Sri Lanka have in any domestic mechanism," said G Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive, Amnesty International India.

"India must take note of this resolution, and press Sri Lanka at every opportunity to conduct an independent international investigation into all allegations of crimes under international law committed by Sri Lankan government forces as well as the LTTE.

Amnesty India conveniently forgot that the five-party alliance led by Sampanthan would never have had an opportunity to contest the Northern Provincial Council poll as long as the LTTE remained, even without its conventional military capability. Amnesty never voiced concerns when the TNA recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people in the run-up to Dec 2001 general election. Since then, the TNA had the authority to take a political decision on its own without clearing it with terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The TNA plight came to light in November 2005 when the TNA at the behest of the LTTE ordered Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise at the presidential poll on Nov 17, 2005. The LTTE sabotaged the poll in spite of the then President Kumaratunga having requested Norway to help conduct the poll. Kumaratunga sought Norwegian assistance in September 2005 when she had an opportunity to meet the then Norwegian Premier Kjell Magne Bondvik, on the sidelines of the UNGA sessions in New York. Although Norway, in its capacity as the peace facilitator here took up the issue with London based LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham as well as the LTTE leadership in Kilinochchi, the LTTE went ahead with its plan (Norway to facilitate presidential poll, The Island, Sept 26, 2005). The TNA had no option but to cooperate with terrorists. The TNA declared the poll boycott order on November 10, 2005 at Kilinochchi. Although the TNA leadership now pretends that there hadn’t been any secretive understanding with the LTTE, no less an organization that than EU in early 2002 exposed the LTTE-TNA nexus. Having monitored the parliamentary polls, in which the TNA had emerged as the dominant political force in the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, the EU declared that it was made possible by violence unleashed by the LTTE at TNA’s rivals.

For some strange reason, the government is yet to expose the TNA at the UNHRC, though it has been critical of the grouping here in Sri Lanka. The government should review its position ahead of the next Geneva sessions. Whatever the consequences, Sri Lanka should place before the international community the origins of the conflict and the circumstances leading to eelam war IV. Those who had created the LTTE as well as those benefited from the group shouldn’t be allowed to act as paragons of virtue. The government remained silent when India voted against Sri Lanka at the 2012 and 2013 Geneva sessions. With parliamentary polls likely weeks after the Geneva session, India is not in a position to side with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka should be aware of ground realities as it prepares to face the Geneva gauntlet.