The US has decided to back Sri Lanka’s ‘domestic war crimes probe’. It has also undertaken to move a resolution in Geneva next month, calling upon the UNHRC member states to support that mechanism, we are told. Uncle Sam’s change of heart has come as a surprise!
What has really caused the US to soften its stand on Sri Lanka as regards alleged accountability issues? Visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal has, addressing the media, attributed the US decision to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s willingness to engage the international community constructively.
Are we to gather that America’s hostile approach to the issue of Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes at previous UNHRC sessions stemmed from its antipathy towards the Rajapaksa administration which ruffled its feathers? Big countries are not to be trifled with and the Rajapaksas made the mistake of pitting themselves against the US in Geneva.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who made a public display of his hostility towards the West, was seen to be a kind of wannabe Chavez in South Asia. His pro-Chinese leanings, diplomatic battles with the US and the utterances of some of his belligerent ministers riled the US and its allies beyond measure. He was no threat to the West as such, but the super powers do not tolerate irritants. So, on Jan. 08, Rajapaksa did not know what hit him! Now, the US has struck a conciliatory note.
The US can have a resolution favourable to Sri Lanka passed in Geneva next month with ease. What determines the fate of resolutions in Geneva is the power as well as influence of strategic alliances and not the global community’s concern about human rights. The world powers have done bigger favours for their friends. It may be recalled that when the then UNHRC Chief Navi Pillay issued a statement condemning Bahrain for using brute force against protesters who were calling for reforms, she was made to retract it. Pro-western King Al-Khalifa had the last laugh, Pillay cut a very pathetic figure.
The architects of what has come to be known as the January Revolution—a better term would have been Serendip Spring—may claim that the US backing for a domestic war crimes investigation is a huge diplomatic victory for the new government. But, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How domestic will the ‘domestic’ probe be? Only powerful nations are capable of conducting such investigations without being troubled by other countries.
The problem with domestic probes in developing countries dependent on foreign aid is that they get internationalised. There have been occasions when some meddlesome foreign envoys interfered with domestic investigations into human rights violations here. One of them went so far as to waylay a commissioner concerned in a car park, of all places, as we reported a few years ago.
Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE was essentially an internal affair, but it was manipulated in such a way diplomatically and politically that it became an international issue. Some countries even hijacked a ‘peace process’ here and subsequently sought to stop military operations to save the beleaguered LTTE leaders.
The involvement of the self-appointed Tokyo Co-Chairs (the US, Norway, the EU and Japan) in the ‘peace process’ here which commenced in 2002, is a case in point. Clausewitz has famously described war as a continuation of politics by other means. Similarly, it may be argued that the proposed probe into alleged accountability issues here is a continuation of the war by other means.
We are living in a world where big powers control smaller states and engineer regime changes to further their geo-strategic interests. So, there is no guarantee that Sri Lanka’s domestic war crimes probe will not be internationalised.