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Implications of the Geneva vote


The recent vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was upsetting, and it would make sense for Sri Lanka to assess what happened and work towards ensuring that such a situation does not occur again. However there seems little chance of that, since the same was obvious a year ago, but nevertheless nothing was done, except to sit back and hope disaster would not strike twice.

The only efforts at analysis we saw from the Ministry of External Affairs were leaks to the effect that the vote engineered by the United States had put Sri Lanka back on track to working with what were described as its traditional allies. Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam were denigrated as having tried to turn us towards what were described as virtually rogue states such as North Korea and Cuba.

That juxtaposition revealed very clearly where the thinkers in the Ministry of External Affairs, if that is an appropriate word, were coming from.

Cuba, loathed by the United States, is a model as far as foreign relations are concerned, and we would do well to try to understand why internationally it gets support from almost all countries in the world except for the United States and its absolute dependents.

North Korea is a different phenomenon, and the idea that Dayan or Tamara would advocate getting ourselves into that particular category is absurd.

But, as far as the mandarins in the Ministry are concerned, there is no need to make distinctions; as J R Jayewardene advocated when he turned to the West after 1977, we should be even more bitter than the West is in denigrating its opponents.

That philosophy underscored his appalling attitude to India. The attitude of the United States to India then explained however our attempts to take on India, even though we should have realized – and the United States indeed make this clear to us – that they would not come to our rescue in the event of conflict.
International relations

What is astonishing however is that, despite the rapprochement between the United States and India, our Cold Warriors still continue to denigrate the latter. The vicious misrepresentation of the very positive attitude of the Indian Opposition Leader (working in terms of the bipartisan approach to international relations that India manages to sustain however bitter political rivalries are) made clear what was going on.

However, even though, as suggested by the President, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking that the prevailing destruction of our international image be investigated, nothing has happened. Clearly the persistence of the attitudes of the eighties is condoned, despite the world having moved on.

This absurdity extends to the failure to build up alliances in areas where we had so many advantages four years ago. The manner in which Tamara Kunanayagam, as our ambassador in Brazil and then Cuba, built not just positive relations but even admiration and affection for this country throughout South America, has been forgotten.

Instead we have entrusted Cuba to an envoy who seems to think what it has achieved in the last half century is as nothing compared to the joys of being within the American sphere of influence.
Human rights

For me perhaps the most significant aspect of the latest vote in Geneva is the fact that Brazil voted against us. Our apologists will claim that Brazil was under pressure from the United States, but it was under pressure in 2009 and voted with us.

Its ambassador was one of Dayan’s most affectionate allies, who gave us advice on how we should move forward, but supported us in the belief that we intended to do this expeditiously.

Instead then of getting angry with Brazil for voting against us, we should rather consider as to whether we should not be doing more to win support from a country that should be a natural ally.

The point is, the efforts the United States is making have very little to do with human rights, but reflect an effort to change the architecture of international relations. Sri Lanka is a convenient guinea pig for this, as we saw five years ago, when Gareth Evans and his ilk were trying to turn us into the first stamping ground for the enlarged version of his infamous doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect. The manner in which he twisted the provisions of that doctrine as approved by the United Nations, to suggest that unilateral actions were acceptable, is not something we should treat lightly, given what happened in Iraq and Libya, and what is happening now in Syria.
Extraordinary letter

Brazil, like India, is not a country that would approve of such adventurism. But instead of making the point about the principles involved, we have simply, as one erudite Indian journalist put it, simply been asking for votes, with no efforts to explain and illustrate our position in between sessions of the Council.

I still recall the manner in which one South American diplomat, who was given the paper that Tamara and I prepared to show the importance of Reconciliation, when I went against my will to Geneva in March 2012, said that had he seen these arguments earlier, his country’s position might well have been different.

The petticoat diplomacy that destroyed us in Geneva between Dayan and Tamara did not bother to explain, perhaps because the intellectual capacity to explain was lacking in someone who got into the Ministry through the back door.

It simply pleaded, and then engaged in abuse when things did not work out, as was seen in the extraordinary letter sent to Navanethem Pillay recently. The fact that this came from the same Ministry that had let down Tamara when she objected on principle to what Navy was up to some months back makes clear the complete absence of either thought or policy planning in the Ministry.

This must change if we are not to be destroyed soon. But it seems that no one cares.

~ ~ By: Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP


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