Hail and farewell with UNanswered questions
Aug 30 2016 (The Sunday Times – Sri Lanka) – The United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon visits Sri Lanka on Wednesday for what is a virtual farewell call as he completes his term of office at the helm of the 193- nation world body. According to unconfirmed reports he is now a possible contender for the Presidency of his native land, South Korea.
His last visit to Sri Lanka was under different circumstances. Sri Lanka had just ended a military campaign for a separate state; bloody and bruising, it also hurt the pride of Western powers that had wanted the fighting to stop, a call the then Government had refused to heed. The UNSG’s visit came in the backdrop of those harrowing days of 2009 and to say the least, due to pressure from those Western countries. Today, those very countries are grappling with home-grown terrorism, and Sri Lanka seems one of the few safe havens in the world.
The UNSG’s visit in 2009 was to have after-shocks for Sri Lanka in the form of a joint communiqué issued at the time. The then Government of Sri Lanka agreed to set in motion an accountability process for the way its Armed Forces defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organisation. This was to set the stage later for a Resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva formalizing a virtual war crimes tribunal – by whatever name one calls it.
The then President was ill-advised that the Western powers would not pursue such a Resolution against Sri Lanka. The setting up of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as an alternative to a ‘war crimes tribunal’ fell short of expectations in Geneva because the then Government did not follow the Commission’s recommendations. It was also too little too late to pacify the West.
In-between, Ban-Ki moon muddied the waters further by appointing a committee, later to be dubbed the Darusman Committee after its chairman, to do its own investigation into what happened during the last stages of the armed insurgency against the state of Sri Lanka. He was up for re-election as UNSG and needed the backing of the Western powers. A UNSG has to ‘play ball’ with the Western powers if he wants to sit on that seat; ask one of his predecessor’s Boutros BoutrosGhali, the Egyptian UNSG who did not get a second term.
Not to be seen as entirely dancing to the tune of the Western powers, Ban-Ki moon said that the Darusman Committee’s findings were merely for his own enlightenment. It was not a formal UN committee. But, he went back on his word and the substantively unsubstantiated findings of the committee were leaked to the UNHRC that was by then prosecuting the state of Sri Lanka in Geneva. He ignored the legitimate protest of the Government of Sri Lanka and took no action against his Assistant SG, an appointee of his, who did the leaking.
Compounding matters was the basis on which the committee members were chosen and the obvious bias they showed in accepting ex-parte evidence not subjected to the test of proof. The credibility of the Darusman Committee members was later exposed. One of them, in particular, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa was seen on pro-LTTE platforms later. The Darusman Committee report became a handy whip against the state of Sri Lanka and Ban-Ki moon has to take the personal rap for this.
This was a time when Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was in a shambles; antagonising India and the West, losing votes at the UNHRC; fast becoming a fiefdom of China, nepotism reigning supreme in appointments domestically, and High Commissioners getting slapped by Monitoring MPs at restaurant bars in New York. It was a time the Government’s left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. Having derided the Darusman Report home as illegitimate, a secret delegation was sent to meet the committee at the UN headquarters in New York to argue Sri Lanka’s case, thereby legitimizing it. What bungling!
The United Nations political standing has been severely eroded in recent years. Its apex Security Council is seen by many around the world as a mere rubber-stamp endorsing the West’s global agenda; it is a testament to the UN’s failures in maintaining world peace. Selectively pursuing human rights abuses and grave violations, and the killing of non-combatants, including children and the destruction of property in war theatres but exempting the West’s NATO or NATO allied forces committing the same crimes as reported daily from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other countries, the UN is under scrutiny. There are no Darusman Committees sent by the UNSG to these bleeding hot-spots.
What has the UNSG to say about the R2P (Right to Protect) concept mooted during the period of his predecessor, by Western powers to get a foothold in sovereign nations not tocing their line? Did the UN factor in the culpability of bigger countries destabilising smaller states in the first place? Take the case of India’s intervention in Sri Lanka.This triggered the military campaign for a separate state on this island-nation for three decades. The UN maintained a deafening silence all along.
Is not the Palestinian problem, the tragic sore festering in the world for the past seven decades with injustice, poverty, bondage and human rights violations rampant. Why has the UN outsourced the solving of this problem to the US, which given the influential Jewish lobby in America, can hardly be an ‘honest broker’?
While the UN has displayed its partisanship on the political front – the UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka being a textbook case, the organization nor Ban-Ki moon has been entirely a disaster to the world. One has only to imagine a world without the UN to comprehend what it would otherwise be. This is an imperfect world and there are no level playing-fields. That is in Utopia, not on planet Earth. It is somewhat like religion. Despite wars fought in the name of religion, imagine a world without religion, whatever the Rationalists may say. And with issues like climate change creeping up on humanity, who would coordinate the fight against it.
The ‘good side’ of the UN gets little kudos — the several agencies of the UN that do immense work outside the political arena. Sri Lanka has played its part in the organisation over the years. Our UN Ambassador ShirleyAmerasinghe was a shining example having chaired the Law of the Sea Conference and GamaniCorea heading UNCTAD was no second. A host of other Sri Lankans have served in these specialized agencies providing their expertise to the world community. Sri Lanka has punched above its weight by way of human resources and expertise to the UN and right now, the irony is that its Army plays a significant role in the UN Peace Keeping Forces in the world’s troubled areas even as the conduct of this same Army is being questioned by another UN agency.
President MaithripalaSirisena leaves for the UN General Assembly sessions in New York next month after the UNSG’s visit. Last year, he was feted as a ‘conquering hero’ by Western leaders who had assembled in that city for defeating an anti-West Government in Sri Lanka, but the UNHRC’s Geneva Resolution sponsored by those very countries continues to hang like the Sword of Damocles over this country.
This editorial was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka