by Tamara Kunanayakam
It should by now be obvious to any keen observer of events in Geneva and vacillations of Sri Lanka’s ruling class that the ‘human rights’ game being played out has little to do with the Sri Lankan people and everything to do with the island’s strategic location on the Indian Ocean as vital maritime link between a declining West and a rising East, with China at its centre, and strategic observation post, and with Washington’s fundamental commitment to maintaining a unipolar world in which it has no peer competitor. Sri Lankans matter only insofar as they constitute obstacles to that goal, or would-be collaborators, or opportune victims to be used and abused as and when strategy requires.
Yesterday, Sri Lanka got too close to China and Russia, and regime-change was in order. Today, having obtained the support of collaborators within the Yahapalanaya regime to subscribe to a resolution devastating for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, all efforts concentrate on stabilizing its auxiliaries in Colombo by ensuring implementation of a precedent-setting joint resolution whose reach extends far beyond Sri Lanka’s shores or its relations with Washington.
Washington’s ambitions are not just geopolitical, but the erection of a new international architecture that will permit its unilateral, preemptive, and preventive use of force, anywhere, at any time, unconstrained by the rules and norms of the multilateral system of international relations that is Charter-bound to respect sovereignty.
Washington’s obsession with Sri Lanka cannot be divorced from this Grand Strategy. The justification advanced by the neoconservatives who continue to influence the current US Administration is the need to respond to terrorism, new global threats that former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the “unknown unknowns … things we don’t know we don’t know.” Such threats do not require evidence because invisible (“absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”) and can only be combat in this manner. President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy views virtually any form of economic, social or environmental disruption as strategic security issues that potentially justify US military intervention, “unilaterally, if necessary.”
Abdication of sovereignty, devastating admission of inability to govern by ‘Good Governance’ government
Washington’s problem in implementing this Grand Strategy is the sovereignty principle, which, therefore, must be recast. Such threats do not respect borders so neither can Washington. According to this neoconservative vision, countries that harbour terrorists by consent or are unable or unwilling to combat such threats forfeit their rights of sovereignty. The reader will here recognise a version of the infamous third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) utilised in the human rights arena to unilaterally intervene in countries that Washington considers are unable or unwilling to protect their own population.
In Sri Lanka’s case, the “support to terrorism” argument was untenable. On the contrary, it had succeeded in defeating terrorism within its own borders and without external (read US) intervention. It is a bad example to be crushed, flying as it does in the face of Washington’s Grand Strategy, hence, the resort to R2P’s third pillar, which underlies all resolutions against Sri Lanka.
Given developing country resistance to the onslaught against their independence and sovereignty, Sri Lanka included until the arrival of Yahapalanaya, the US-led resolutions of March 2013 and 2014 conferred this interventionist role on its proxy, OHCHR, technically part of the UN System, although under Washington’s thumb. It was only in October 2015, due to a servile new Government, Washington succeeded in making the leap and introducing foreign elements from outside the multilateral system, in the form of judges, prosecutors, investigators and defense lawyers.
The unprecedented authority to intervene conferred upon OHCHR is part of broader efforts to put in place a system in which sovereignty is the monopoly of the US, but conditional for countries that challenge its ambitions. By co-sponsoring the resolution, Sri Lanka freely abdicated its sovereign right to govern, a devastating admission of inability to govern by a Government that was voted in on the promise of ‘good governance’!
OHCHR, a Washington proxy
The timing of the visit of the High Commissioner is significant, it comes in the wake of a controversy at the summit of power over implementation of a recommendation relating to foreign involvement in a domestic judicial mechanism that is central to a resolution aimed at limiting State sovereignty. Contradictory declarations emerging from Colombo confirm that the new Government may be a reliable ally, but not a stable one.
In June this year, the High Commissioner must submit an oral update to the Human Rights Council on progress made on implementation of the resolution. If the regime in Colombo fails to do so, it is not only the credibility of an ally that is at stake, but the credibility of Washington and its ability to achieve the broader goal. Given the extreme fragility of the regime and the existence of an alternative, the US and its auxiliaries are determined to ensure that the new Government stays its course and unconditionally implements the Geneva decisions.
The High Commissioner will echo this demand. Since its establishment in 1993, following the collapse of the Socialist Bloc, Washington has heavily invested in fashioning OHCHR in its own image, an example of the type of international institution that can respond to its demands. Financed largely from voluntary funds and staffed overwhelmingly by the donors, it has become a privileged weapon in Washington’s soft-power arsenal. Today, the High Commissioner functions as UN Secretary-General bis and it is no surprise that countries posing a challenge to Washington’s grand design are channeled through the human rights system.
The High Commissioner will also seek to establish the hard-fought for OHCHR field office accepted by the Government in the October 2015 resolution when agreeing to the recommendations in the High Commissioner’s report. That Office, as I pointed out in a piece prior to its adoption, will have the combined function of investigation, monitoring, and governance, and will be the Trojan Horse that will permit direct US intervention in Sri Lanka.
OHCHR’s insidious role
The insidious role played by OHCHR in coordinating the campaign that triggered the March 2012 US-sponsored resolution was revealed in an email written only hours after its adoption by a triumphant Rory Mungoven, Head of OHCHR’s Asia-Pacific Division, paying tribute to staff who provided substantive and political support for the initiative, including the Darusman Report. Its adoption, wrote Mungoven, “seemed unthinkable” in the “the dark days of the conflict or the special session in May 2009.” The adoption in 2012 was “the culmination of the sustained and determined work by many in the team and other parts of the house over the past few years.” He lauded the staff for their support to the Darusman Panel, “without which this would not have been possible,” and paid special tribute to those involved in monitoring activities “who added a powerful dimension to our advocacy.” Anticipating the next steps, Mungoven went on to marshal support for “a good follow on strategy” to make most of “new opportunities ” opened by the resolution, “and “to pursue this agenda further.”
Mungoven, who is accompanying the High Commissioner to Colombo, is former Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, which has close ties to the US State Department and interventionists in the current Administration. He has been a constant in external interventions in Sri Lanka ever since his appointment as UN Human Rights Advisor following the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in 2002. According to then Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Mungoven, whose job it was to assist the Sri Lankan Government in strengthening the Human Rights Commission’s regional offices, had been, instead, involved in “propagating a campaign of deceit that the Commission was illegal,” making it impossible to obtain international assistance. Mungoven, he said “had proconsular ambitions.”
Wikileaks cables reveal Mungoven’s privileged access to Washington as far back as 2004, his regular reporting on confidential information to US diplomatic missions in Colombo and Geneva, and their close coordination on OHCHR actions, in particular, the establishment of a field office, one that would go beyond technical assistance to “a robust monitoring and reporting function as well.”
There is a continuum in the unfolding of events in Geneva. If we fail to comprehend the bigger picture, underestimate Sri Lanka’s strategic importance, and refuse to see ourselves as Sri Lankans, we will find ourselves, again, in a fratricidal war that will provide fertile ground for marauding invaders. It is urgent that the people of Sri Lanka regain their sovereign right to govern themselves from those who, in Geneva, betrayed their trust by surrendering the authority accorded to them to external forces whose interests are antithetical to ours, thus also demonstrating their inability to govern.