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Colonialism, Human Rights, and Scoundrels

Article Index
Colonialism, Human Rights, and Scoundrels
Oil Interests
African Dictators
Mercenaries
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The European Union is baring its white imperialist fangs after being outmaneuvered by Sri Lanka in its bid to strongarm Colombo into a ceasefire. The real purpose of adding the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt to the ride taken by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Minister David Milliband to Colombo is quite clearly stated in Bildt’s blog writings:

Writing on April 26 about his then impending trip to the island Bildt says: “International human rights must be respected. …The intention is to – as a way to - support the UN’s efforts – increase the pressure for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow civilians to leave the conflict area unharmed … the importance of a strong European voice in the matter - must be given priority.”

When Colombo made it clear that it would only entertain the French and British ministers, on a bilateral basis, the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, flexed collective EU imperialistic muscle and said Sri Lanka had made a ‘grave mistake.’ There would be ‘repercussions in Europe [that] will influence further relations between the Sri Lankan government and European states,” he warned.

Despite such sound and fury, the Rajapaksa administration did not blink. The combined EU-UK Mafioso tactics failed miserably and Miliband and Kouchner left empty handed – no ceasefire, not even a visit to the Civilians Safety Zone. Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa discounted the expressions of ‘humanitarian’ concerns as nothing but a ‘ploy’ to try to save the skin of the LTTE leader – a sentiment shared by the majority of Sri Lankans.

That may sound like the rhetoric of a nation frustrated with the constant haranguing and lecturing by foreigners who are removed from ground reality. But a review of the backgrounds of the three foreign ministers commissioned to bully Colombo into submission shows their human rights and ‘humanitarian’ credentials to be as phony as a Ph D from an online diploma mill.

At the center of this Sri Lankan flap that has captured international media interest is, of course, the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt. There’s, perhaps, no one less qualified than the 59-year old former Swedish prime minister to lead the call for a cessation of war, considering the role he played in pushing President George Bush’ s war agenda.

If President George Bush is to be tried for war crimes, then Bildt should not be too far behind since he was among the high profile members of a neocon group that aided and abetted the launching of the Iraq war – which, let’s not forget, killed 700,000 people in the name of ‘democracy.’

Bildt was a member of the hawkish Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), an NGO founded in 2003 by hardcore conservatives including CIA director James Woolsey. CLI described itself as a "distinguished group of Americans" who wanted to "free Iraq from Saddam Hussein" and whose goal was to "promote regional peace, political freedom and international security through replacement of the Saddam Hussein regime with a democratic government that respects the rights of the Iraqi people and ceases to threaten the community of nations." In reality, the group was formed on the initiation of President Bush and served as his mouthpiece for shoring up public backing for sending troops into Iraq.

Bildt was also a member of another war-mongering group -the Project for the New American Century (PNAC ) – which was closely allied to the CLI and had as its governing mission the exaltation of the US‘ imperialistic militarism. President Bush is believed to have based his ‘global hegemony plan’ on the PNAC’s blueprint, which included the launching of ‘Pre-emptive wars’ if the U.S. believed a country was becoming too powerful and/or could provide some sort of competition in the "benevolent hegemony" region. The PNAC doctrine said mini nukes could be employed in regional wars, that international treaties and opinion could be ignored whenever they interfere with U.S. imperial goals and that the new policies "will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia."

Bildt was among the 225 signatories to the PNAC doctrine which automatically guaranteed a permanent and expensive arms race with Communist China, North Korea and Iran.


Oil Interests

Bildt waxes eloquent in his blogs on humanitarian issues, but the acquisition of wealth through oil is undoubtedly the central theme of his life – which may have been one of his motives in supporting the destruction of the Saddam regime. In 2007, following a complaint from the Green Party, Swedish prosecutor Christer van der Kwast launched an investigation into Bildt’s shares in the gas and oil investment company Vostok Nafta, is tied to Gazprom, the Russian gas export monopoly. The investigation ended without prosecution, but Bildt’s interest in oil has a more explosive little secret, tied up in the sands of Sudan and an oil company called Lundin Petroleum, which is 40% Swedish owned.

Bildt was a board director of Lundin for several years until October 2006 when he resigned after becoming foreign minister. Human rights and aid organizations accused Lundin of large-scale displacement and destruct ion, as well as of hiding the reality of the armed conflict going on in an exploratory area called Block 5A, where the construction of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) pipeline to the red sea was taking place. In 1999, the World Food Program put out an SOS stating it feared “a worsening humanitarian crisis’ as it was unable to deliver urgent relief assistance to tens of thousands of people trapped by the fighting.

In 2001, Christian Aid, a London-based charity funding relief, education, health, and community-building activities in southern Sudan, issued a report, The Scorched Earth: Oil and war in Sudan quoting evidence from victims about Sudanese government troops and militias burning and depopulating the entire length of Lundin’s oil road in 2000 in order to make way for Lundin’s operations. Christian Aid also demanded that Carl Bildt who was on the Lundin board at the time resign as U.N. Special Envoy to the Balkans saying his position as a U.N. peacemaker was incompatible with his ties to Lundin Oil which did business with the Sudanese government, which was gaining notoriety for human rights violations.

Backed by an indifferent Swedish government, Bildt refused to resign from the Lundin board or his U.N. peace position, and instead countered his critics with press releases. Lundin would eventually respond to the Christian Aid report with an expression of concern, saying “the company has not witnessed the acts alleged and would not accept violations of human rights within its sphere of operations.” It said it would monitor the situation and look further into the allegations. It stated that its environmental impact study contained information indicating low density population settlements in the area It did not reveal when the study was done, nor if its activities or army operations had any impact on these people whose presence was admitted.

Unconfirmed reports say Bildt still owns shares in Lundin – but don’t check his blogs – there’s no admission of his ugly ties to Sudan – a country whose name is synonymous with dark human rights violations.


African Dictators

Consider now the French FM, Bernard Kouchner – the focus of a controversial book Le Monde Selon K, (The world according to K) by Pierre Péan, which alleges that t Kouchner used his political clout to secure lucrative contracts from two impoverished African countries run by dictators: Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville.

Kouchner, much admired for co-founding the Noble-prize winning Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) in 1971, allegedly mixed humanitarian aid with money-making self interests. According to Pean, from 2002 - 2007, Kouchner as a private consultant on health policy for two firms owned by his close associates , Danon and Jacques Baudoin billed Gabon, an oil-rich dirt poor nation run by dictator Omar Bongo, and Congo-Brazzaville (Denis Sassou Nguesso) a total of 4.6 million euros (£4.1 million). The billing was for reports Kouchner a doctor by profession and a former health minister had written on reforming the health insurance systems of the two African nations. Péan claims some of the money was recovered after Kouchner was named foreign minister in May 2007 - in a clear conflict of interest.

Kouchner, a member of the Socialist Party until he left the party to become foreign minister under right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, has denied any wrongdoing. "Péan's accusations against me are abominable and grotesque," he said during a parliamentary debate on Feb 4.

A report by IPS news agency confirms that the last payment by the Gabonese government to Kouchner was made when he was already serving as foreign minister, in 2008. In addition, Kouchner has appointed his two friends, the ones with the African connection, to important posts at the foreign ministry. IPS also details real estate holdings in France by the African dictators – totaling millions of dollars and raising red flags on the extent of Kouchner’s involvement with them.

IPS quotes Pean as saying: "What I find reproachful is that Kouchner has cultivated an image of an immaculate knight whose behavior is firmly rooted on ethics. But this image does not fit his business dealings."

That ‘immaculate knight’ image is particularly irksome in the Sri Lankan context because in addition to the shadows of monetary greed and dubitable ethics there’s the issue of Kouchner’s approach to war. Kouchner, called ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’ by one of his critics, has the distinction of being one of the few French leaders to support the Iraq war, on ‘humanitarian’ grounds’ -- a line of reasoning and justification that he would deny to the legitimately elected Sri Lankan government in its effort to eliminate a brutal Pol-Pot type dictator who is holding thousands of civilians in concentration-camp type surroundings .

In 2007, a ‘Freudian slip’ by Kouchner urging that the world be ready to wage war with Iran for its nuclear program made world headlines and he was sharply rebuked for such irresponsible hawkishness by UN's chief nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei .

As for British Foreign Secretary Miliband, despite his youth, he has mastered, like his French and Swedish colleagues, that remarkable feat of political double speak and is shameless in the way he postures for political gain. In January of this year, just days before President Obama’s inauguration, he started thundering about the US-led war on terror being a ‘mistake.’

“.. the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation," he declared. A number of newspaper editorials questioned Miliband’s motives, reminding him that British troops were waging a war against al Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan. “The Foreign Secretary's unhelpful comments are prompted more by personal political positioning than anything else,” said the Telegraph.

Miliband’s thunder, however, avoids any mention of the number of civilians being killed by US drones in Pakistan and the continuing intensity of the US-UK-backed war on the Taliban in the midst of civilian populations.


Mercenaries

Even so, the Miliband’s own record on human rights is in shambles following the shocking revelation earlier this year that ‘a significant number’ of British M15 security agents and their Pakistani counterparts have routinely engaged in the torture of terrorism suspects, including British Muslims. In addition, he has been criticized as colluding in the torture of prisoners for refusing to disclose US documents relating to the treatment of Guantánamo detainee and former British resident Binyam Mohamed. The documents are believed to contain evidence about the torture of Mohamed and British complicity in his maltreatment.

Miliband is also facing fire from an anti-poverty charity named War on Want which legally challenged him over the human rights violations by British mercenaries and private security companies working in Iraq. War on Want published a report titled ‘Getting away with Murder’ and called for legislation, including a ban on mercenaries' used in combat. The report cited hundreds of human rights incidents which have involved guards from Aegis and another British firm ArmorGroup. There are even allegations that they were involved in the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners.

While acknowledging seven years ago that legislation was needed to regulate private security companies, the British government dragged its feet and has just now released a plan: much to the horror of many who were following this, Miliband has recommended that mercenary groups be left to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct through which they can police their own operations! Inspite of their human rights violations, releasing the report on April 29, he praised private military companies for their "important role" alongside British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said mercenaries were "essential" to Britain's future military action abroad.

In essence, Miliband has subordinated human rights to monetary gains. Britain’s private mercenary companies have become a lucrative export commodity. To give just one example: Aegis’ 2003 turnover of £554,000 rose to £62 million in 2005, three quarters of which came from work in Iraq. It became one of the world’s largest private armies with the awarding of a US$293 million contract in Iraq in May 2004, at a time when the company was two years old and had no experience in that country. The company is run by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer, former chief executive of Sandline International, of the 1998 Arms to Africa scandal. (Spicer was accused of breaching a UN resolution by arranging for a shipment of 35 tons of Bulgarian-made AK-47 rifles to Sierra Leone.)

Of course, privatization of the military also allows a government the luxury of "plausible deniability:" it does not have to take responsibility for human rights abuse and other misdeeds of mercenaries. What a nice copout!

Given all of this evidence, Defense Secretary Rajapaksa was not far out when he discounted the humanitarian concerns of the visiting foreign ministers as a ‘ploy.’ In fact, the drama of the three foreign ministers’ visit, complete with the dangling of sticks and carrots, presents a microcosm of neo-colonialism. In the nineteenth century, it was the bible, now it is ‘human rights.’

To parody a famous line by Samuel Johnson: ‘Human rights’ is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

By Hassina Leelarathna

~ www.srilankaguardian.org ~

 

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