A challenge to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and self respect
By Rohana R. Wasala
A small country like Sri Lanka with no economic or military power has only two things to its credit – sovereignty and self respect. If we lose sovereignty and self respect, we lose everything.”
- The late Lakshman Kadirgamar, Minister of Foreign Affairs (1994-2001), quoted in THE CAKE THAT WAS BAKED AT HOME: SNAPSHOTS OF THE MAN’S LIFE BY HIS DAUGHTER AJITA KADIRGAMAR/August 2015, Colombo, p. 216
The late great Lakshman Kadirgamar was the most efficient, the most professional and above all the most patriotic, and hence the best, foreign affairs minister that Sri Lanka ever had. At no time will his absence be more keenly felt than now. The appointment of a person who is by no means his match in the same capacity at this juncture is problematic to say the least. But the appointing authority seems to have faith in his ability to learn and fine-tune his performance. Let’s hope he won’t disappoint the latter. Of course, the Lankan diplomats who are already in Geneva must be laying the groundwork for the country’s defence.
The Island/August 27, 2021 reported TNA MP MA Sumanthiran as having asked for US mediation in Sri Lanka: Sumanthiran wants US as mediator here” by Dinasena Ratugamage. This is astonishing. It is as if Sumanthiran is unaware of what is currently unfolding in Afghanistan as a result of two decades of US mediation in that country. (In a later clarification the paper published Sumanthiran’s denial of that claim. He had not asked for US mediation in Sri Lanka. But it is common knowledge that Sumanthiran has always wanted to mediate here. So, please let me proceed.
At a news briefing held in Jaffna the previous day, he had demanded that the government present a solution to the issues allegedly faced by the Tamil people in the North and the East, and that the US should study and approve the government’s solutions! Tamils living in that area accounted for only 11% of the total population of the country, and less than half of all Tamils living in Sri Lanka who formed 15% of the island’s population in 2012; the rest 4% comprised Tamils living outside of that area, including those in the plantation districts in the interior.
Sumanthiran believes that Michelle Bachelet occupying the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is a great advantage for obtaining support for the TNA’s proposal on Tamil issues. What advantage do they hope to get from Bachelet that they are not hopeful of getting from a different UN human rights chief? Why does he think that she will extend preferential treatment to a portion of one ethnic community over the rest 89% of Sri Lanka’s population? Does he expect her to violate UN’s founding principles such as the equality of member countries, respecting the sovereignty of fellow members, and non-interference in their internal affairs, in her handling of Sri Lanka? What other world body (than the UN) is there to which Sri Lanka could turn for succour in a context where she is being punished for having lawfully defeated a lawless terror outfit?
Sumanthitan’s mention of Michelle Bachelet reminded me, as it would have done any observer without something lacking upstairs, of how all of his ilk reacted to the conclusion reached by the Beta Analytical Testing Laboratory in Florida, USA, in March 2019 (still during the yahapalanaya regime) that the skeletal remains discovered at a construction site in Mannar in 2018 belonged to the period between 1499 and1719: The TNA and their separatist allies and sympathisers in Western countries and certain biased officials of the UNHRC were thoroughly disappointed by this result given by the reputed scientific institution based on carbon dating. They had already arbitrarily concluded that the bones were those of Tamil victims of an army massacre allegedly committed during the civil war. Bachelet seemed to surmise that other grave sites containing incriminating evidence against the Sri Lanka army would be found in the future, and she wanted the capacity of the forensic sector, including the domains of forensic anthropology and genetics enhanced for carrying out proper investigations!
But the US laboratory dating of the 308 skeletons unearthed in 2018 (However, investigations had been going on there from 2013) which included those of children provided evidence for the historical truth that local historians know about that period of Lankan history: In 1544, the Hindu king Cankili I of Jaffna marched to the island of Mannar (a part of his kingdom) leading a force of some 5000 soldiers and massacred 600 Catholic converts including children from the ‘paravar’ caste; he put to the sword all those who refused to forsake their new faith. (Incidentally, a little less than a century before this time in 1450, king Parakramabahu VI of Kotte (1412-1467) conquered the rebel Jaffna kingdom and brought it under his rule. That was the last time a Sinhala king unified the country. However, just ten years after this, Jaffna and Kandy broke away again. The country remained divided till the British unified it in 1815.) Ill-informed foreign officials should not make pronouncements on the country’s internal problems unless they are equipped with facts.
Can Sri Lanka expect equitable treatment at the UNHRC in these circumstances? The LTTE carried out many massacres during its existence. Probably, the most heinous of these was the killing of 600-774 unarmed policemen and 10 soldiers in the Eastern province on June 11, 1990. Has the UNHRC ever raised any concern about such crimes by separatist terrorists on behalf of whose allegedly violated human rights it is so preoccupied with?
MP Sumanthiran said that the TNA had asked for an appointment with the president to discuss their proposals with him ahead of the UNHRC session (scheduled for September-October 2021), and also to talk about implementing the recommendations made during previous sessions. But the incumbent Sri Lankan government withdrew from the co-sponsorship of Resolution of 40/1 on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka in February 2020.
It seemed that Sumanthiran was following on from TNA leader R. Sampanthan, who had complained to US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz that the provincial council system was not enough to resolve the issues of the Tamils in the North and East, and that the two provinces should be merged and administered by the ‘Tamil people’. He had also discussed the UN resolution against Sri Lanka and the UNHRC recommendations with Teplitz.
I told the Ambassador that all governments were not sincere in their proposals to resolve the grievances of the Tamil people in the North and the East. Therefore, this issue had been dragging on for decades,” Sampanthan was reported as telling the ambassador. He urged the international community’s intervention on behalf of the struggle of the Tamils” in Sri Lanka.
Concerned ordinary Sri Lankans have some serious issues to raise with the likes of Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. Why do they run to international civil servants pleading with them to solve what you call issues faced by the Tamils of the North and the East, which must be sorted out through debate among the elected representatives that constitute the august assembly called the Parliament, maintained at great cost by the self respecting sovereign people of Sri Lanka? Are those provinces devoid of other communities? How can Tamils there have problems that are not shared by those including Tamils living in other provinces of the country? (Tamils living outside the North and East outnumber Tamils living in those two provinces). What exactly are the problems faced by Tamil people in the North and East or for that matter Tamils living anywhere else in the country?
Why don’t Sumanthiran and his colleagues talk about the Muslim and Sinhalese people living in the two provinces? Why doesn’t Sampanthan get the consent of the Sinhalese and Muslims also inhabiting the East who together form a majority there, before asking for a merger of the two provinces? Why don’t these leaders talk about the problems faced by the Sinhalese who form 75% of the population? Aren’t they human and don’t they too have a claim to human rights?