Why the resolution isn’t right
Second showdown in Geneva:
The US resolution at the UNHRC in Geneva has deepened the schisms in
Sri Lankan society. That resolution will have the same polarising
function as did the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in defining each
political tendency in the popular mind for a while to come.
Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka
Today the country is tragically dividing between those who accuse the
government of mounting protests against the US resolution at the UNHRC
resolution against Sri Lanka as a diversion from issues of the rising
cost of living, and those who claim that the demonstrations against the
rising cost of living are wittingly or not, part of a foreign plot to
de-stabilise the government which is defending national sovereignty.
That's a debate easily resolved. If the government is using protests
against the HRC resolution to mask the cost of living, that's no excuse
not to protest against such a resolution. Rather, it is a reason to
protest either independently against that intrusive resolution while
also protesting against the cost of living, or moving in parallel with
the government on this issue while proceeding against it on the domestic
front. Any other stance and tactic would only be tantamount to support
of a move against one’s country; a move which has doubtless incensed the
vast majority of or citizens.
Conversely, if oppositional protests (allegedly involving NGOs) are
helping de-stabilise the government and undermine our defence of
national sovereignty, then the answer surely is to cease and desist from
those policies and actions that generate those protests, and to never
meet such protests with responses that can only trigger more protests
and international criticism which help the project of undermining our
People protesting against the anti-Sri Lanka resolution at
the 19th UNHRC sessions in Geneva. Picture by Nissanka
The dominant elements of the centre-right Opposition, the UNP (apart
from its ‘Reformists’, that is) opine that there is nothing wrong, or
particularly anti-Sri Lankan, with a resolution that calls on the state
to implement its own LLRC recommendations. The TNA has, after a sporadic
show of realism, finally taken the line of the Tamil Diaspora's
pro-Tiger lobby by calling on the member states of the UNHRC to support
the resolution. For the most part, the cosmopolitan civil society
commentators are cheering the resolution on. On the left, the JVP
opposes the resolution but opposes the government still more, on
economic issues and dismissively terms the government's anti-resolution
mobilisation, a mere tactic.
The breakaway Movement for People's Struggle (Jana Aragala Vyaparaya)
is strangely silent and submerged. Both these currents of the radical
Left make no reference and give insufficient attention to the stand of
China, Russia, Cuba and the NAM on the Resolution, and are ambiguous on
the LLRC. For their part, the leftists within the government are firmly
against the US move and for the LLRC's implementation.
The reasoning of the Opposition's leading ideologues is flawed. The
problem with the resolution is not that it calls for the implementation
of the LLRC recommendations. The problems are (a) where the Resolution
is coming from, (b) the body of the text that precedes the seemingly
innocuous points about the LLRC and (c) the sleight of hand where it
expresses disappointment about the LLRC report and goes beyond it to
issues of ‘accountability'.
Furthermore, a resolution would provide a UN mandate - as was sought,
and would have done, had we not outdrawn and shot it down at the UNHRC
in May 2009. UN resolutions are notoriously elastic (Russia and China
haven't forgiven the endgame in Libya, behind the mask of UNSC 1973,
meant to institute a no-fly zone for the protection of civilians in
Even without the mandate of a resolution, the UN SG's Panel of
Experts report on Sri Lanka, originally meant to advise him on standards
and norms of accountability, monstrously mutated into a 190 page
indictment. The three ‘expert panellists’ co-authored a piece in the New
York Times a few days ago, calling for stringent action on Sri Lanka by
the UNHRC at this session, thereby amply demonstrating the partisan
prejudice and politics of their project.
Certainly the implementation of reform recommendations of the LLRC
report must be fast-tracked, and a compressed time-frame committed to by
the government, preferably so swiftly as to pre-empt the US resolution
by removing its purported basis. Even if it fails in prevention, this
would help us rally the support to defeat it. However, this commitment
must be made to and in the Sri Lankan Parliament.
The government of the Republic of Sri Lanka is primarily responsible
to the citizens of Sri Lanka. That is what popular sovereignty in a res
publica, a republic, is about.
The popularly elected government of Sri Lanka is not responsible in
the first or last instance to any international forum or
intergovernmental body comprised of governments responsible to their
respective citizenries. Sri Lanka's Opposition may do well to move a
resolution demanding a time frame and suggesting one for the
implementation of the LLRC report. The push or indeed drive for
implementation of reform must be from within our society, with the
international solidarities and multipliers of our choosing.
I rather doubt that the vast majority of Sri Lankan people want
Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha and Vaiko, still less the Tiger flag waving
demonstrators who will camp in Geneva from March 5 to the 23, to help
guarantee and hasten the implementation of the LLRC reforms. With
support like this, the LLRC does not need enemies.
None in Sri Lanka and India, who were supportive of the war against
the LTTE, are on the side of the resolution. Conversely, those who
practised appeasement of the LTTE, were against the war, were fellow
travellers of the Tigers (e.g. Vaiko, the TNA) or were lukewarm and
vacillating with regard the war and considered Mahinda Rajapaksa a
greater enemy than Prabhakaran, are all supportive of the resolution.
This congruity, and the presence of Tiger flag bearing demonstrators
outside the UNHRC in Geneva, will not be lost on the vast mass of the
Sri Lankan people. The people will also remember who in the world
community stands with and who stands against a Resolution which has so
greatly roused the enthusiasm of the Diaspora Tigers.
As for accountability, the number of civilians killed in North
Vietnam by the US bombing campaign named Rolling Thunder, commencing
February 1965, was 182,000. The number of children who died in the
sanctions on Iraq, according to Denis Halliday, the administrator of
that programme who resigned in disgust, was 5,000 a month. Guantanamo,
the vast prison camp located on the soil of a foreign country against
the wishes of that country, still remains open despite a presidential
pledge to close it. The National Defence Authorisation Act has
provisions only describable as draconian.
These are the guys whose draft resolution seeks to preach to us about
the observance of international law in the fight against terrorism? Of
course it must, but who are they to tell us that, when they are serially
responsible for the most egregious violations of international law,
ranging from the invasion of sovereign states on false pretexts, to the
practice of ‘extraordinary rendition'. Doesn't the hypocrisy just get to
you? And if it does not, what does that say about you?
In my closing remarks at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva after
the special session on Sri Lanka in May 2009, I equated the allegation
of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Sri Lanka, with
the charge that Iraq possessed WMDs and asked whether we should buy a
used car from the guys who sold the world the Goebbelsian Big Lie on WMD.
None of this is to say that all is well in Sri Lanka; far from it.
Let me explain by way of analogy. A stable functional piece of furniture
usually needs four legs. If it is to rest firmly, it needs these four
legs to be even. Politics and political discourses in Sri Lanka remind
me of furniture which either doesn't have four legs or which have one or
more legs shorter than the others.
Analogous to the four legs of a piece of furniture, the four pillars
that a strong successful state and a good society must rest upon
equally, are national sovereignty, popular sovereignty, individual
rights and self-determination.
National sovereignty means that a nation-state (or a pluri-national
state) is a political unit or community entitled to its unity and
territorial integrity, and has the right to determine its own path,
regulate its own affairs, without external domination, intervention or
interference in its internal affairs.
Popular sovereignty means that the right to rule rests with the
people, who decide who rules, how and for how long. If the rulers
violate this social contract, this sacred trust, the people have the
right to replace, even overthrow them. The Sri Lankan constitution makes
explicit that as a republic, sovereignty is vested in the people, who
exercise it through a regularly and periodically elected executive
President and legislature.
Individual rights pertain to the sovereign individual person; to the
equality of every citizen, who is inalienably possessed of a stock of
rights and freedoms which must not be transgressed upon.
Self-determination refers to the right of a collective to determine
its own destiny. The structural coordinates of that collective or
community impose limitations upon the degree to which the right of self
determination is exercised.
The right to set up an independent state belongs to a nation, not a
national minority. An established nation-state possesses the right of
The entire (multiethnic) nation and not one part of it, is the
legitimate agency of self determination. A nation which is under
colonial occupation or annexation has the right of self determination
(e.g. Occupied Palestine). An ethno-national minority, on the other
hand, has a structurally more limited right to self governance and self
administration, which may be termed the right to autonomy.
A society must rest on the equal recognition of all four of these
principles, rights and fundamental values. Though at different points of
history, one or the other may find itself emphasised due to the threats
posed and the tasks at hand, all four must be held in equilibrium; never
abandoned or counter-posed to one another.
This may require much struggle, change, transformation. But that will
be undertaken one way or another, by the sovereign citizens of Sri Lanka
at a time and on issues of their choosing, and with the solidarity of
allies of their choice.