Tuesday, 5 May 2015

War crimes, accountability and manipulation of int’l organizations




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Prof. Ashwani K. Sharma says powerful countries routinely influence international organizations to secure desired results. In an exclusive with The Island, Prof. Sharma said that powerful governments influence the decision-making process to achieve their objectives. Obviously, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is no exception,

Sharma is currently with the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS), at the Colombo University.

The Indian funded CCIS came into being, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency following an agreement between the University of Colombo and the Indian High Commission.

Part I of Prof. Sharma’s interview appeared in the Midweek Review last Wednesday.

Prof. Sharma said: "As an academic, I am sensitive to the debate on possible adverse impacts of accidents at nuclear plants on human lives and environment. In this debate, Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima Daiichi (2011) accidents are commonly cited as examples against nuclear energy. It is indeed important to point out that these nuclear energy plants were based on nuclear technology of the 1960s. In the last fifty years, nuclear technology has undergone revolutionary changes. Nuclear installations have become much safer. Safety mechanisms developed for nuclear plants have reduced the chances of accidents to minimal level. The nuclear waste disposal has also been made much safer. Nonetheless, there still remains a possibility of an accident, no matter how miniscule it is.

The western world, except Germany and Italy, still produces nuclear energy as part of the energy mix, and are going ahead with newer nuclear energy plants (Generation III reactors). Germany has decided to close all its reactors by 2022, and Italy has banned nuclear power. In China, India, and Pakistan, nuclear energy is an important part of the energy mix. Newer nuclear power plants are being established in these countries to cope up with the increasing demand for energy."

(Q) Since the conclusion of the conflict in May, 2009, various ‘experts’ tend to compare the Indian presence here with that of China. Many forget that Sri Lanka had no option but to depend on Chinese weapons, as well as Pakistani military training, though successive Sri Lankan governments also obtained armaments/equipments from Israel, China, US, Czech Republic et al. The then JRJ administration sought Chinese help consequent to New Delhi blocking Colombo from obtaining weapons from Western powers in the 80s. The bottom line is that India’s intervention resulted in the militarization of Sri Lanka. Strangely, India provided training to the Sri Lankan military while sponsoring terrorist groups during the 80s. During Eelam War IV, Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) provided by India joined some of the missions conducted on the high seas to destroy floating LTTE armories. Would you accept a particular country’s right to secure military support from any country, or an alliance, to face terrorism/war? Could China-Sri Lanka relations posed a threat to India/undermine India’s security?

(A) We live in a world of sovereign nation-states. Every country has the right to decide about its internal and external security concerns. Therefore, every country has the right to secure military support from any country or an alliance to eliminate terrorism.

I do not think China-Sri Lanka relations pose a threat to India or undermine its security concerns. In my view, India is capable of addressing its security concerns.

On the contrary, Sri Lanka has to take care of its security concerns in its relationship with China. As a student of international relations, I had read that Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was leased to the United States of America in 1966 for establishing naval and military bases during the height of cold-war. This was indeed the first instance in the post-World War II era when sovereignty of a nation-state over part of its territory was transferred to another country.

Sri Lanka is also in the process of negotiating its sovereignty. Sri Lanka has agreed to give 20 acres of land with ownership rights to China in the ‘Port City Complex’ in Colombo. In addition, 88 acres of land have been given to China on 99 years lease. The 20 acres in Colombo will be part of China. China will have all the right to hoist its national flag, and even issue visa for visits to that part. The 99 acres could well be converted into a ‘Mini Hong Kong’.

China plans to develop its land in the Port City Complex as a commercial hub. But it would have all the right to convert into a naval and military base in case its geopolitical and geostrategic concerns warrant that. International conventions do not seem to work well in hard times.

(Q) One-time Liberian President, Charles Taylor, had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for causing mayhem in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor was found guilty by a UN tribunal. Having paid a very heavy price to eradicate terrorist groups, once sponsored by India the Sri Lankan military today faces accusations of war crimes. Chief Minister of the Northern Province, retired Supreme Court judge, C.V. Wigneswaran, has accused Sri Lanka of genocide of Tamils since 1948. Geneva is demanding accountability on the part of both Sri Lankan political and military leaderships. Would you justify India’s terrorist war in Sri Lanka? (India lost nearly 1,500 officers and men fighting her own creation). Could you explain India’s culpability for causing so much death and destruction in a neighboring country?

(A) There is copious academic literature on the issue of civil war in Sri Lanka. Considerable serious research has been carried out on the issue. My well informed opinion is that India was neither the cause of the civil war in Sri Lanka nor did it engage in terrorist war in Sri Lanka. We should wait for the report of the internal commission of inquiry set up by the Sri Lankan government, and that of the UNHRC in September, 2015, before we crystallize an informed view on who was guilty of human rights violation.

(Q) Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists (members of the PLOTE) stormed Male in early Nov 1988. Their operation was meant to assassinate the then Maldivian leader. The operation went awry due to Maldivians resisting the raiders, until Indian forces landed. The rest is history. Would you give an Indian perspective to the Maldivian affair? Could India ignore her responsibility for the Maldivian mayhem? (In fact, a section of the international media praised India’s swift military intervention without making any reference to Indian trained terrorists carrying out the raid.

Prof. Sharma politely declined to comment.

(Q) India voted twice against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Last year, India abstained at the Geneva vote on Sri Lanka. The interviewer is of the opinion that India’s role, too, should be inquired into as Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in this predicament if not for New Delhi’s intervention. Would you accept accusations that Geneva adopted double standards when dealing with influential countries? Would you comment on the US forcing the UNHRC to drop the Goldstone war crimes report that dealt with atrocities committed by Israel during Dec 2008 -Jan 2009 Gaza assault?

(A) All international organizations have a political process and structure of influence within it. Decision-making process is the core of the political process. Powerful countries can influence the decision-making process by setting the agenda, directing the discussion, setting the tone and tenor of the negotiating and bargaining process, and rallying its allies along. The outcome of the political process, therefore, becomes predictable. Thus, it is not uncommon, for powerful countries to influence international organization to get the desired outcomes. It is also not uncommon for powerful countries to adopt double standards.

Israel is a classic example of where ‘Nation’ is thrice the size of ‘Nation-State’. There are five million Jews living in Israel, and ten million outside Israel. Out of these ten million, six million Jews live in the US. It is a common perception that Jews in the US jump higher than their weight. The reason is that Jews in the US are relatively better off than others, and also control media and the finance to a significant extent. This makes them an economically and politically influential community. In this scenario, it will be almost impossible for the US to support any action against Israel.

(Q) Would you identify areas India and Sri Lanka could work together?

(A) There are many areas where India and Sri Lanka can work together. I would like to highlight two areas in particular: economic sphere, and higher education. Trade between India and Sri Lanka in goods has increased manifold since the signing of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2000. Now, the logical step is to go in for Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) so that trade in investment can also flourish between the two countries. Currently, Sri Lankan exports (tea: 21%, rubber: 8%, garments: 50%, etc.) have low value added content, and therefore export earnings are not high. Value added content can be increased by engaging in intermediate processes of manufacturing of industrial products. For example, Mercedes Benz is manufactured in the town of Jamshedpur in India. The investment for the project was shared between India and Germany. The design and technology comes from Germany and parts are manufactured in many countries across the world, including India. These cars are then exported. India, thus, becomes a part of the manufacturing chain of a high quality/high value added product. Similarly, Sri Lanka can become part of manufacturing chain of high quality industrial products. The value added component of Sri Lankan exports would thus increase many fold. In this process, cooperation with India can be of immense utility. Indian investment in Sri Lanka can facilitate setting up of parts of manufacturing chain.

The chambers of commerce and industry in Sri Lanka have raised concerns about CEPA as it might affect the industry and commerce adversely. Some of the concerns are legitimate and can be taken care of by listing some of the areas in the negative list of CEPA so that investment in those areas is prohibited. Similar concerns were raised in India when India initiated liberalization of trade in goods and services. Ultimately, India as well Sri Lanka has to become competitive in the global economy. Sooner it happens better it would be.

It is important to emphasize that the literacy rate in Sri Lanka is almost 100%. The country also has a sizable technically trained manpower. This can provide Sri Lanka with a comparative advantage in a range of intermediate processes in manufacturing. Business leaders, economists, and policy makers have to pool in their minds and identify such areas in Indo-Sri Lankan economic cooperation.

The other major area of cooperation between India and Sri Lanka is higher education. Some of the educational institutions in India have achieved high international standards and are listed amongst the best 300 institutions by the surveys conducted in the UK and the US. These institutions are: Indian Institutes of Sciences (IISs), Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and Delhi University. There are many private universities also doing very well. It might be a good idea for the universities in Sri Lanka (fifteen) and India to enter into a permanent collaboration. The collaboration should be well institutionalized and there should be regular exchange of students, research scholars, and faculty. It will help the institutions in both the countries to grow competitively in the world.

(Q) China provided the required wherewithal to Sri Lanka fight the LTTE. China also backed Sri Lanka at international forums, including the Geneva rights sessions. Without China’s support, the previous government couldn’t have managed the Geneva crisis. Would you expect Sri Lanka to give up its close relationship with China to facilitate a better Indo-Sri Lanka relationship?

(A) I would not at all suggest that. Indo-Sri Lankan relationship should grow independently of the close relationship that Sri Lanka has with China. The two relationships can develop in parallel.

(Q) Would you prefer a defence agreement between India and Sri Lanka to ensure Sri Lanka acquired her defence needs/training from India?

(A) India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour and is capable of fulfilling the defence requirements of Sri Lanka. I have limited knowledge of the defence agreements that India and Sri Lanka already have. But what I do know is that personnel of Sri Lankan armed forces have been undergoing training in India for a long time. Two Indian naval ships were at Colombo Port last month for a naval exercise.

(Q) Would you comment on the Islamic Terrorists organization?

Finally, I would like to discuss the failure on the part of the Commonwealth, as an organization, as regards the war in Sri Lanka. Could you explain the circumstances under which the Commonwealth turned a blind eye to a leading member of the Commonwealth destabilizing a smaller member in the 80s (interestingly, the Commonwealth declared support for military action against Afghanistan immediately, after the Al Qaeda attacks on the US)

Prof. Sharma declined to comment on the issue. (Concluded)