Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Near disintegration of a Commonwealth country



British HC in Colombo James Dauris looks on as former lawmaker and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland addresses representatives of Australia, Canada, South Africa and the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry. India wasn’t represented while the Maldives remained out of the Commonwealth. Canadian HC David McKinnon sits next to Dauris (pic courtesy BHC)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) member Ian Paisley being suspended from the House of Commons for two undeclared free luxury family visits to Sri Lanka, in 2013, courtesy the war, winning Rajapaksa government, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government received Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who once provided costly legal advice to the Maldives, another Commonwealth country. Controversy surrounded Scotland’s involvement with the Maldivian government. She threw her weight behind the Maldives to cope up with the pressure exerted on her by Commonwealth powers for committing anti-democratic acts.

One time Maldives High Commissioner, to the UK, Dr Farahanaz Faizal, is on record having described the Maldives hiring of Scotland as ‘absolutely shocking. If the government wanted legal advice to support the Attorney General’s Office, the proper way is to request the UK government bilaterally.

"To think that someone of her caliber would undertake an assignment to check if Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Jamaica, and others of CMAG had acted against their mandate is disgraceful," Dr Faizal said.

Scotland has been previously probed by the UK media, in 2009, after she was found to have been employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in her posh London home.

The first woman to secure the prestigious post, Scotland, in April 2016, succeeded Indian Kamalesh Sharma, who held the privileged position since 2008. Obviously, the Commonwealth didn’t find fault with Scotland for professional examination of CMAG decision.

Scotland was here as part of an 11-day visit to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Brunei.

Paisley’s sojourns-two visits (altogether 17 days) cost hapless Sri Lanka a staggering Rs 22 mn, though the British lawmaker couldn’t help Sri Lanka’s efforts to influence the then Premier David Cameron. Cameron was hell-bent on backing politically motivated resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and finally succeeded in October 2015 with the support of the US.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government created history by sponsoring a resolution against Sri Lanka, in respect of accountability issues. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Paisley’s party affiliation has been changed on the British Parliament website from being a member of the DUP to ‘Independent’.

The North Antrim MP is set to serve a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons. The lawmaker has also been suspended from the DUP pending the outcome of a further investigation. The British media quoted a spokeswoman for the House of Commons as having said the change in his status on their website was standard procedure.

She said: "If an MP is suspended by their party, they are classed as an independent MP."

It would be pertinent to examine Scotland’s involvement with the Maldives, several years ago, at a time that country was under tremendous Western pressure following accusations by the then President Mohamed Nasheed, who quit under duress on February 7, 2012 as a result of military and police intervention.

Maldivian Attorney General’s 2012 audit report revealed that the former UK Attorney General and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Patricia Scotland receiving £50,000 extra in addition to an agreed fee for legal advice following their suspension from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). The controversial payment was in addition to 75,000 Sterling Pounds the lawmaker received in accordance with Terms of Reference (ToR). The staggering extra payment was 66 percent of the consultancy fee.

The audit report also reveals that the Maldives spent US$7,062 on plane tickets and accommodation for Scotland and her assistant for a visit to the Maldives.

Before further examining the UK’s role as well as that of the Commonwealth here and also in the India-dominated region, let me reproduce verbatim a contentious issue raised by the British media during UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher first visit to Sri Lanka.

Thanks to Margaret Thatcher Foundation the full text of her question and answer session with Sri Lankan and the British media at the President’s House in Kandy on April 12, 1985, can be accessed on its website. The media took up the issue of the UK turning a blind eye to Indian-sponsored Tamil terrorists using the UK to procure arms, ammunition and equipment. This was two years before India forced Sri Lanka to accept the deployment of its Army in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

The Times correspondent Michael Hamlin: "Sri Lankan government officials have indicated their concern about the activities of Tamil extremists based in London, particularly in buying arms and military supplies to support the terrorism in the north of the island here. I wondered whether there was anything that you felt the UK Government could do to clamp down on this activity."

Prime Minister Thatcher: "We do everything possible to stop the purchase of arms for such a purpose and that will not surprise you, because as you know, I asked the United States Government to do everything possible to prevent the purchase of arms for the IRA through NORAID, and we do everything possible to see that no such arms are purchased."

In response to another query, Thatcher said: "The matter of the Tamils is a matter for the Sri Lankan Government. With regard to my own view about terrorism, it has not varied and will not vary. Terrorism must never be seen to win. If it does, it is the end of democracy. There is a democracy in Sri Lanka and I believe that, as in Britain, the problems must be solved through democracy—at any rate by all who believe in democracy."

Thatcher was here for the ceremonial commissioning of the Victoria Dam under the JR Jayewardene government’s flagship accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme. The UK provided 130 mn Sterling Pounds for the construction of the dam by the British joint venture Balfour Beatty and Edmund Nuttall Ltd.

At the State banquet, later in the day, the then President JR Jayewardene told Thatcher: "I am against violence. I said so at the Commonwealth Conference presided over by Mrs. Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, at Delhi, in November 1983, at which you were present, Madam Prime Minister. The Goa Declaration accepted my idea and included Non-violence."

But, the UK and Commonwealth did absolutely nothing to prevent Commonwealth giant India from destabilizing Sri Lanka to such an extent the country almost disintegrated. Commonwealth powers, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand turned a blind eye to what was going on here with Indian trained terrorists causing mayhem. In early Nov. 1988, Indian trained People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) raided the Maldives. The then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom escaped the PLOTE assassination attempt made at the behest of Abdullah Luthufee. This writer is the only journalist so far to interview Luthufee following his release from the Maldivian custody several years ago. Although the Maldives earned the wrath of the Commonwealth and was suspended from CMAG – the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm – and placed on its formal agenda following Nasheed’s allegation that he resigned "under duress" on February 7, 2012 amid a violent mutiny by sections of the police and military, the Commonwealth never found fault with India for sponsoring terrorism. Even after the raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained and equipped Sri Lankan terrorists, the Commonwealth never bothered to take meaningful measures to discourage /discontinue the New Delhi project. Western powers never referred to Indian culpability in Sri Lanka destabilization project resulting in an assassination attempt on the Maldivian President. India unashamedly claimed credit for its forces coming to the rescue of Gayoom. What they didn’t want to admit was two trawlers carrying PLOTE terrorists quietly left Sri Lanka’s Mannar under the very nose of the Indian Navy and reached the Maldives undetected.

The Commonwealth has suspended several countries, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Fiji. Although no country has been formally expelled some quit, including Zimbabwe (2003), Gambia (2013) and Maldives (2016).

But, large scale destabilization projects carried out by India never received the attention of the Commonwealth. In fact, the Commonwealth rewarded India by naming senior diplomat Kamalesh Sharma as the Commonwealth Secretary General. Sharma, who had been New Delhi’s Permanent Representative to the UN (1997-2002) before being appointed High Commissioner to the UK (2004-2008) received top Commonwealth appointment on April 1, 2008. Sharma enjoyed the perks of the Office for eight years. Commonwealth refrained from at least urging the LTTE proxy, the Tamil National Alliance to request the LTTE to give up human shields ‘employed’ on the Vanni east front. The Commonwealth failure should be examined against the backdrop of Scotland recently meeting TNA leader and the leader of the Opposition during the recently concluded visit to Colombo.

Scotland, who once represented the Maldives, in her new capacity as the Commonwealth Secretary-General issued the following statement in the wake of the Commonwealth member announcing her decision to quit the organization: "I have received news that the Maldives Government has today decided to leave the Commonwealth.

"The Commonwealth family at large – its member governments and its peoples worldwide – will share my sadness and disappointment at this decision.

"The Commonwealth Charter reflects the commitment of our member states to democracy and human rights, development and growth, and diversity. We will continue to champion these values and to support all member states, especially small and developing states, in upholding and advancing these practically for the enduring benefit of their citizens.

"Therefore, we hope that this will be a temporary separation and that the Maldives will feel able to return to the Commonwealth family and all that it represents in due course."

India’s military, particularly its navy, claimed credit for saving the Maldives from PLOTE mercenaries. The Indian media, too, talked in glowing terms of the operation code-named ‘Operation Cactus’ to save Gayoom. The Indian navy even mentioned it in an anniversary publication, ‘The Indian Navy: A nautical tryst’ alongside ‘Operation Pawan’ launched to liberate the Jaffna peninsula, in October 1987. The Indian navy also pointed out that success of ‘Operation Cactus’ promoted TIME magazine to feature the Indian Navy on its cover, hailing it as the ‘the Next Military Power.’

TIME magazine didn’t even bother to point out that the PLOTE was one of the Indian trained groups, which had operated alongside the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), deployed in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. The PLOTE also maintained offices in India and worked closely with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Today, the PLOTE is represented in Parliament through the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA). During the war the TNA represented the interests of the LTTE, both in and outside parliament until the very end. The unprecedented TNA-LTTE relationship or working partnership since late 2001 automatically resulted in all other Tamil political parties/groups being marginalized. The TNA cannot absolve itself of the death and destruction that had been caused by the LTTE after its parliamentary group unanimously accepted terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s leadership. The TNA really believed the LTTE conventional military capability could somehow overwhelm the Sri Lankan military. Soon after the parliamentary polls in April 2004, the European Union in no uncertain terms condemned the TNA’s partnership that allowed the grouping to enhance its parliamentary representation with the LTTE stuffing ballot boxes on its behalf. In spite of the UK being in the EU, Commonwealth wasn’t bothered at all. While the UN, Commonwealth et al looked the other away, the TNA on behalf the LTTE engineered Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at November 2005 presidential polls by depriving the Tamil vote to the UNP leader. The LTTE-TNA action helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure the presidency and set the stage for all-out war. Those who repeatedly accuse the Rajapaksas of bribing the LTTE to engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat never bothered to seek an explanation from Sampanthan. Parliament definitely owed an explanation to the public as to why the issue was never raised with the TNA over the past 13 years. Having served the LTTE from 2001 to 2009, the TNA threw its weight behind war-winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election. In spite of accusing the Sri Lankan military of massacring Tamils on the Vanni east front, the TNA, at the behest of the United States, joined the UNP-led coalition in Fonseka’s abortive presidential bid. Commonwealth should at least now examine its failure in Sri Lanka.

Let me reproduce a statement issued by Sampanthan’s Office soon after Scotland met the Opposition Leader, who is now under pressure to step down as the Joint Opposition group in parliament consists of nearly 70 against his 16. The following is the text of the TNA statement: "Sampanthan pointed out that even though the war has come to an end, we still don’t have complete peace and harmony among the people. Speaking further Sampanthan said, "People had a great deal of hope with the change of Government particularly the minorities. They expected the government to deliver on the promises it made both locally and internationally. A new Constitution which will alter the structure of the governance and give more powers to the regions, ascertainment of truth and justice, reparation, dealing with missing persons, return of civilians lands occupied by the armed forces, release of people held in custody under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act are some of those promises but the delivery on these matters has been slow and inadequate, said Sampanthan.

Sampanthan highlighted that there is a commitment to make a new Constitution, "a unanimous resolution was adopted in Parliament in this regard, on account of political factors there is a delay on the part of the Government in pursuing this matter.

The TNA Leader said "there were reasons why this country faced a war, one cannot address these reasons by not being firm, one cannot abandon these issues being addressed because of extreme elements. The Government must take a firm stand and lead the country in the right direction. Adopting a new Constitution will be a big step in taking the country forward", said Sampanthan.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General briefed the Opposition Leader on the continuous support provided by it to Sri Lanka to promote Democracy, Rule of Law, Good Governance and Environmental related issues and said that the Commonwealth would continue to support the new Constitution making processes. Further, the Secretary-General appreciated Sampanthan for his moderation and for being an ambassador for peace.

Assuring his continuous support Sampanthan said, "We will extend our fullest support to achieve true peace and harmony in this country". Sampanthan also urged that the International community including the Commonwealth has a role to play in achieving harmony amongst the people."

Following her meeting with Sampanthan, Scotland tweeted: "Delighted to have the opportunity to hear from the Leader of the Opposition of #SriLanka, Hon R. Sampathan, on efforts for strengthening good #governance and enhancing post-conflict reconciliation."

The Island learns that none of the Sri Lankan politicians and officials briefed Scotland regarding the need to review accountability issues against the emergence of evidence that disputed the original accusations leading to Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015.

Interestingly, Indian High Commission wasn’t represented when British High Commissioner James Dauris hosted Scotland and representatives of Commonwealth countries, based in Colombo, at his residence on Aug. 3. Perhaps, India High Commission wasn’t bothered about Commonwealth. The meeting was attended by representatives from the High Commissions of Australia, Canada, Pakistan and South Africa, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka.

The British High Commission issued a statement that dealt with Dauris meet with Scotland and other Commonwealth representatives. The statement acknowledged the absence of Indian representatives at the meeting. Perhaps, the Commonwealth is irrelevant to the regional power….