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Sunday, 6 October 2013

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Sri Lanka needs true friends, not arbitrators

Every sovereign country has an inalienable right to protect its territorial integrity and every Head of State or Government is duty-bound to protect its people and uphold national security.

Some Western countries go that extra mile to protect its people and even enter the airspace of other countries to launch drone attacks on the pretext of national security. Hundreds of civilians have been killed as a result of US drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but surprisingly, barely anybody spoke about such incidents at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The US Government's right to protect its people against terrorism is by no means disputed. No right-thinking person would ever challenge that right as terrorism should be eliminated from the world at large, at any cost.

In this backdrop, Sri Lanka or any other sovereign nation for that matter, has a supreme right to combat terrorism and strengthen national security.

It is deplorable that certain Western countries do not adopt the same yardstick when it comes to Sri Lanka and its right to protect its citizens against terrorism, that too against the most ruthless terrorist group in the world!

But the self-same quarters which even disregarded others' right to protect their citizens against terrorism and inflicted misery on hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, brought two successive resolutions against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.

Despite these baseless allegations, the UNHRC chief Navi Pillay has overstepped her mandate in setting deadlines to take Sri Lanka to task, perhaps for becoming the first and the only country to eradicate terrorism.

Rather than commending Sri Lanka for its landmark achievements and exploit Sri Lanka's first-hand experience to crush world terrorism, some countries are now flexing their muscle to intimidate Sri Lanka. They seem to be equating the human rights of terrorists killed in action with civilians who had been used as a human shield by LTTE terrorists.

Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris, who was in New York last week, said the UNHRC and certain Western countries were discriminating unfairly against Sri Lanka as a result of disinformation circulated by the LTTE rump, and were demanding quicker action on accountability than they had of other countries which had suffered a similar fate.

Former Yugoslavia and Cambodia received extensive time to bounce back after conflict situations. In no other similar situation has there been this intensity of pressure in such a short period of time.

When Sri Lanka's relentless battle against terrorism reached its final stage, certain Western countries exerted undue pressure to thwart the Security Forces' operation against terrorism. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa took a bold decision that the humanitarian operation should continue until the last civilian was rescued from the jaws of LTTE terror.

Had the President called off the battle against terrorism due to mounting Western pressure, thousands of civilians would have been killed. Thanks to the President's political sagacity and the Security Forces' immense sacrifices, over half a million people in the North and the East were rescued.

It was indeed most heartening that Sri Lanka received unprecedented support at the recent UNHRC Sessions with many countries criticising Pillay's oral update based on her visit to Sri Lanka as 'showing double standards', 'imbalanced' and a 'pretext to exert political pressure'.

Representatives from over 20 countries spoke in favour of Sri Lanka while many others lodged strong protests, adducing that the discussion on Sri Lanka was politically motivated. A number of countries including Venezuela, Belarus and Cuba disassociated itself from the US-sponsored resolution.

Russia's remarks dealt a severe blow to interested parties who tried to use the human rights body to discredit Sri Lanka. Russia said that "using the UNHRC to settle political scores and gain geopolitical benefits is unacceptable". The Russian representative lashed out at Pillay's observations, saying that Sri Lanka's last four years without bomb explosions and deaths due to terrorism proved that the internal process is working in the interests of the people and the UNHRC should take note of it.

Russia also said that some assertions in Pillay's submissions can be construed as those beyond her mandate, noting that the elections in the North, where the TNA had won, were possible due to the defeat of terrorism. Emphasising that extending capacity-building and technical cooperation from the office of the High Commissioner should not be a pretext to exert political pressure, China asserted that the primary responsibility of promoting human rights lies within the respective country.

The UNHRC's conduct came into sharp criticism by Cuba which said the Resolution against Sri Lanka was one of the "most politicised resolutions moved in the UNHRC" and that Pillay's report does not recognise most of the country's achievements.

As the Pakistani delegate had quite rightly pointed out, Pillay's oral update does not give due regard, recognition or acknowledgement to Sri Lanka's significant strides. The country's milestone achievements in the aftermath of the victory outweighed the challenges facing Sri Lanka.

Belarus called upon the sponsors of the controversial resolution against Sri Lanka to re-assess their position and cooperate with Sri Lanka through engagement and dialogue. Venezuela rejected the selective interventionist attempts in the internal process of countries while Australia said that engagement and not isolation is the most effective way to promote human rights in Sri Lanka.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had no mandate to call for an external inquiry and set deadlines for Sri Lanka's internal probe. Hence, the controversial conduct clearly shows that Pillay had overstepped her mandate.

Moreover, Pillay has no moral right to poke her fingers in matters pertaining to Sri Lanka due to her South Indian origin. This is clearly a conflict of interest and the top UN official should stay clear of it. Her plethora of statements on Sri Lanka, before and after its victory against terrorism, are highly controversial, to say the least. These statements have helped promote terrorism and renewed fresh hopes in LTTE cohorts.

The Government, having restored normalcy, has also taken many positive steps to address accountability issues. Hence, Sri Lanka vehemently repudiates Pillay's assertion that if certain concerns are not comprehensively addressed, she believes "the international community will have a duty to establish its own inquiry mechanisms".

In this scenario, Pillay has no mandate whatsoever to make such a claim. Multiple mechanisms to address accountability are now under way in keeping with the LLRC proposals.

As highlighted by Sri Lanka on many occasions at the UNHRC, the disproportionate attention paid to Sri Lanka, largely at the behest of parties with vested interests, considerably complicates the ongoing delicate process of reconciliation.

It seems that Pillay and her UNHRC is hell-bent on talking about Sri Lanka at every Session. In the event they had this same concern over the human rights of Tamil civilians who had been subjected to untold misery when the LTTE was at its peak, the lives of thousands of civilians could have been saved. At this point of time, Sri Lanka does not need the UNHRC's urgent and immediate attention.

What baffles one and all are the extensive discussions on Sri Lanka, especially at a time when there are more flagrant human rights violations across the world.

Pillay, for reasons best known to her, keeps on rubbing Sri Lanka's old wounds, rather than commending the Government for the timely action to save the lives of thousands of people and rescuing over half a million civilians who had been forcibly held by the LTTE in the North and the East.

At this juncture, Sri Lanka needs true friends and not arbitrators. Self-appointed investigators would only hamper the ongoing reconciliation. The country's unique feats should by all means be commended and encouraged, not impeded.

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