A response to Chris Johnson of the Age by HLD Mahindapala
Response of H. L. D. Mahindapala, to Chris Johnson, Political Editor of the SUNDAY AGE, an Australian newspaper. In his column last Sunday he was raising concerns about Australia handing over the chair of CHOGM for two years to Sri Lanka.
Even before the ink could dry in last Sunday’s AGE international events and facts were running against your conclusions on Sri Lanka. In your article you wrote: “The UK court gets it; Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets it; Amnesty International and the Australian Greens get it.” But the Lib-Labs (mainstream Liberal and Labour parties) don’t get it. However, contrary to your expectations, the next day David Cameron, the British PM, announced that he will attend the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo. So will 53 out of 54 heads of CHOGM. Despite the massive media barrage Colombo will host the next CHOGM. So who is it who got it wrong?
The only odd man out is Stephen Harper. He is like the Greens — both are playing up to their respective Tamil vote banks.
As a seasoned columnist of THE AGE you would agree that this is not ethics but politics.
Cameron, of course, agreed to attend, after much dilly-dallying, not because of politics but because of economics. The deciding factor, according to media reports, is the mega billion deal for Rolls-Royce engines for the Sri Lankan airlines. So much for ethics in politics!
Besides, the Commonwealth, as you know, is not power bloc with a heavy political or economic clout. It is more a ghost of the imperial raj with a nominal (or is it a phantom ?) head , Elizabeth II , who doesn’t even have the power of the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. So there you are! At best, CHOGM is pure political theatre which has no impact on mainstream global currents.
The moral posturing of the commentariat in the international media has come down to repeating the anti-Sri Lankan theme ad nauseam. There are some exceptional pragmatic assessments of CHOGM as in the leader of The Australian ( April 29, 2013) where it is argued that engaging Sri Lanka is a better approach than boycotting it. In the past Fiji and Pakistan were thrown out and Mugabe has quit altogether. What has been the impact? Does any one care?
Mark you, I am emphasising pragmatic and not moral considerations. Urging a principled stand you quote Amnesty International’s latest report slamming Sri Lanka. I was there at the last session of UNHRC in Geneva and quoting facts and figures I exposed the Canadian wing of the AI being funded by Canadian Tamil Congress, a front of the LTTE. The AI representative was rattled. The Canadian Ambassadress came to his rescue and said that in Canada anyone has a right to receive donations. I agree. But has AI the right to accept donations from the Mafia, Al Qua’ida, or the neo-Nazis, or the internationally banned LTTE? What does it reveal about the credibility and objectivity of AI?
It’s no better than the credibility of Gordon Weiss who was the UN representative in the last five months of 33-year-old war — the longest running war in Asia. The UN report held three parties responsible for the heavy casualties in the closing stages of the war which is not uncommon in any war. Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden are three examples. There was no need for Chruchill to carpet bomb Dresden when Hitler was on his knees and the Allied troops were at the gates of Berlin. But “Dirty” Harry, the commander of the Air Force, who authorised it, was knighted. And when the Queen paid a visit to Dresden in the hope of reconciling with the inhuman past ( 300,000 non-combatants died) she was booed by the Germans. I don’t have to speak of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But of the three accused in the UN report only Sri Lanka is pursued relentlessly. Why? What was Weiss doing? Was he busy collecting evidence to write his book, The Cage?
When he was located In Sri Lanka he said that the body count was 7,000. When he left the UN job and came to Australia he jacked it up to 40,000. When he was questioned in Melbourne he brought it down to 10,000. Does he know what he is talking about? Who counted the bodies for him? The commonly touted figure is 40,000. But it is universally accepted that both sides were firing. Undoubtedly, the Tamil civilians used as a human shield by Velupillai Prabhakaran, “the latest Pol Pot of Asia”, (James Burns of New York Times ) were trapped in the middle of firing from both sides. Does Weiss know whose bullet killed which Tamil civilian? Prabhakran was even shooting the Tamils who were deserting him and running into the arms of Sri Lankan Forces who rescued nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians held as hostage. But every Tom, Dick and Harry quotes the figure of 40,000 as if this total was the work of only the Sri Lankan forces.
Talking of human rights, you are also aware of what is taking place in Guantanamo Bay. Why isn’t there a cry from you to boycott America for holding people in prison without charges for years, or water-boarding, or torturing (the euphemism is “rendition’) ? Isn’t international humanitarian law violated each time a drone strikes innocent children in Afghanistan? Why pick only on Sri Lanka? I am not saying that Sri Lanka is a five-star democracy though it is the oldest voting democracy in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia. Universal franchise came to Australia in 1967 after the referendum gave the Aborigines the right to vote. Sri Lanka had universal franchise from 1931.
That apart, I would dearly love to know of another country which conducted wars with roses and lilies. Or returned to normalcy within four post-war years.
I am attaching the editorial of The Australian to refresh your memory, just in case you’ve forgotten that there is a better alternative than repeating what The Australian called the propaganda of “the well-oiled Tamil diaspora in Australia and elsewhere.”
H. L. D. Mahindapala
Editor, The Observer (1990 -1994)
President, Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (1991 – 1993)
General-Secretary, South Asia Media Association (1993 -1994)
Keep Sri Lanka in the fold
The Australian. [Editorial]. 29/04/2013.
FORMER prime minister Malcolm Fraser and Greens senator Lee Rhiannon are singing from the same song sheet as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but they are misguided in calling for a boycott of the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka in November.
Making that nation an international pariah is no answer to the human rights issues that have arisen since the Colombo government’s 2009 victory over the ethnic insurgency led by the barbarous Tamil Tigers, described by the American FBI as “the world’s deadliest terrorist group, worse (even) than Hamas”.
Legitimate questions need to be asked about human rights in Sri Lanka. That is hardly surprising after a 30-year conflict that claimed 100,000 lives and tore the society apart. Attention remains on the alleged killing of tens of thousands of civilians in the last five months of the war. There is also concern about alleged human rights abuses widely publicised by the well-oiled Tamil diaspora in Australia and elsewhere – enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, religious discrimination and intimidation of the judiciary and journalists.
While Mr Harper has announced that Canada would not go to CHOGM, it is important to note that Foreign Minister Bob Carr is not convinced the Sri Lankan government is engaged in human rights abuses. He notes that “some of the stories that have been put to us, when we’ve checked them out, have not been sustained” and has spoken of an improvement in the human rights situation, with former Tamil Tiger terrorists reintegrated into society and reconciliation in former Tamil strongholds. The need, as he argues, is not for the country to be isolated but for it to be engaged with the international community.
It is unlikely, after September 14, that Senator Carr will have to make the final call on our CHOGM attendance, but his position is sound. After one of modern history’s most horrendous conflicts, Sri Lanka deserves better than the ill-considered calls made by Mr Fraser and Senator Rhiannon to boycott a gathering to which it attaches such huge significance in its post-war recovery. The Sri Lankan government has shown sensitivity and skill in dealing with asylum-seekers. Isolating it would be counter-productive, turning it inward and making it more defiant of world opinion, further compromising human rights.