Assault on Sri Lanka from Three Fronts: Tamil Diaspora - UN - the West
You could, of course, sit back, slack-jawed, thinking about how mindlessly repetitive Sri Lanka's foreign policy, public diplomacy and strategic communication are these days. Or you could wield all sorts of fancy analytic words to ex
plain it; using professorial language or plain road-side rhetoric which doesn't make much of a difference.
Or you could just settle for a few simple ones that are appealing to the broader masses, and to the ears of the bosses, to demonize foreign advocates, and dismiss diplomacy without getting into the root of the issues using fancy phrases like Sovereignty. Dumb. Stupid. Dimwitted. Internationalization. Thick-headed.
Or you could ponder for a moment to understand, learn and reasonably assess the situation in the wider world of public diplomacy and strategic communication while looking inward at least to get a sense that there are three fronts in that wider world with unanimity on an unceasing assault on Sri Lanka.
The three fronts need not work in unison or with harmonious agreement; but their message tallies very well. Two of the fronts do not envisage to bifurcate Sri Lanka: but the third's agenda has. And the third's agenda is greatly helped by the advocacy, actions, pronouncements and pressure of the other two.
Sri Lanka's challenge is to comprehend the advocacy of the other two and take steps to prevent the 'third front' achieving its goal that Sri Lanka believed was buried with Vellupilai Prabhaharan and the 'internal' demise of his Tamil Tiger movement: the creation of a Tamil homeland with a separate, independent and sovereign state for Sri Lanka's Tamils.
The three fronts that Sri Lanka is currently getting hit are (1) UN and its Human Rights Commission with Navy Pillay playing a pivotal role (2) The Western nations led by the United States and, (3) Vanguard organizations of the Tamil Diaspora.
A Sri Lanka government statement, through its UN ambassador, on 14 February said that it is against the internationalization of the post-war reconciliation process in the country.
In fact, Sri Lanka is partly responsible for the internationalization of its issues, and it needs to figure out how it happened and how to get out of the situation. And, devise a strategy to affect reasonable changes within its borders to disable the activities of the two fronts which will largely frustrate the 'agenda' of the Third Front, the organized Tamil Diaspora which is moving toward the creation of an atmosphere within the international community to convince the necessity of an 'internationally supervised referendum' among the Tamils in Sri Lanka: the initial step toward the creation of a separate homeland for the Tamils.
Would pragmatic and rational Sri Lankans understand that normalizing relationship with the West and UN could help starve pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora of oxygen? For that, Sri Lanka has a part to play.
The United States is active in advocating changes in Sri Lanka moving one resolution at the UNHRC in Geneva last year and another this March. Some of the political rhetoric emerging within Sri Lanka from time to time targeting the U.S. needs some explanation to put Sri Lanka-US relationship in correct perspective.
The history of cordial U.S.-Sri Lanka relations has been based in large part on shared democratic traditions. For a considerable long period the U.S. policy supports efforts to reform Sri Lanka’s democratic political system in a way that provides for full political participation of all communities; it never endorsed the establishment of another independent state on the island. The U.S. opposed the Tamil Tiger call for a separate state.
Throughout, it condemned the LTTE terror tactics, its mass killings of members of all ethnic communities, its autocratic rule in the country’s northern and eastern districts making the Tamil residents a captive group with absolutely no democratic and human rights. It is this pragmatic approach that compelled the U.S. to give vital and valuable intelligence they gathered to Sri Lanka's intelligence network one of which that destroyed a fleet of vessels that was bringing heavy military equipment to replenish Tiger armory that would have prolonged the war beyond 2009. The FBI cracked down arms procurement endeavors and money laundering of Tamil Tiger agents on American soil facilitating Sri Lanka's war on terror. The US Supreme Court in 2010 in a landmark verdict, in response to an appeal of a fundamental rights law suit jointly brought by a pro- LTTE Tamil Diaspora group and Turkey's PKK, was very clear that even providing 'expert advice' to a foreign organization listed in the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization was a violation of US Federal laws that warrant prosecution with prolonged jail time.
There is no argument that the United States opposed the terrorist tactics of the Tamil Tigers in declaring it in 1998 as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and opposed the bifurcation of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless the State Department was fully convinced that the LTTE emerged in the late seventies due to issues that affected the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka which were described as obstacles to obtaining equal opportunities with the majority Sinhalese. Throughout, the State Department also believed that the Sinhalese nationalist/chauvinist elements had a controlling stakes in Sri Lanka’s governance. And therefore, it was reasonably sensed that the United States did not want the Tamil Tigers totally annihilated but wanted it disarmed and controlled to become a ‘pressure group’ to check the influence of the Sinhalese chauvinistic elements in Sri Lankan’s polity to address issues that confronted the Tamils.
With the total demise of the LTTE 'within Sri Lanka' the State Department did not waste time to advocate its agenda to the GSL, and classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks clearly manifest what the United States envisaged. In doing so, the U.S. agenda became the agenda of the United Nations and its Human Rights Commission in Geneva strangely similar to what the Tamil political parties' demanded or agitated from the sixties through the turn of the century. This scenario greatly synchronized the issues raised by all three groups, and the group that largely benefited from it was the most active pro-separatist conglomerate within the Tamil Diaspora.
Compatibility of issues raised by the Three Fronts
The U.S. ambassador to the UNHRC in Geneva Eileen C. Donahoe in a statement at its 14th Session on November 1 last year made very clear what actions they expected from the GSL. The recommendations were:
1. Implement the constructive recommendations of the LLRC, including the removal of the military from civilian functions; creation of mechanisms to address cases of the missing and detained; issuance of death certificates; land reform; devolution of power; and disarming paramilitaries.
2. Transfer NGO oversight to a civilian institution and protect freedom of expression and space for civil society to operate, by inter alia investigating and prosecuting attacks on media personnel and human rights defenders.
3. End impunity for human rights violations and fulfill legal obligations regarding accountability by initiating independent and transparent investigations, which meet international best practices, into alleged violations of international law and hold those found culpable to account.
State Department, stressing the need for reconciliation since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, highlights, in the words of deputy assistant secretary Zimmerman "Reconciliation is so critical to ensure that the wounds of the past heal cleanly".
The U.S. largely believed successive Sri Lankan administrations governing outlook created an atmosphere detrimental to the minority Tamils, and the failure to undertake remedial actions was due to pressure from Sinhalese nationalist elements. But most strikingly the U.S. saw the LTTE-professed political agenda for the Tamils had clear resemblance to what the Federal Party demanded since its inception in 1951 i.e., the recognition of Tamils as a distinct nationality, Tamil homeland, self-determination of the Tamil people within a unitary state etc., and the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) interpretations given since the dawn of the eighties to U.S. Foreign Service Officers stationed in Colombo and their counterparts in Washington that the LTTE manifested the aspirations of the 12% Tamils in the island calling the U.S. to give some legitimacy to the LTTE agenda short of recognition to its main demand – a separate independent Tamil nation - forcing the hand of the Sri Lankan administration to rearrange the polity to award self-rule in predominantly Tamil north and east within a unitary state.
The U.S. has not departed from this position which is similar to what the Tamil Diaspora is internationally professes. In fact the Tamil Diaspora organizations in Western nations, since the annihilation of the LTTE, have adopted the same stance Prabhaharan took, an independent, sovereign state of eelam for Sri Lanka Tamils due to many issues that are underscored by all the three fronts.
The question is will Sri Lanka as it approaches the fourth anniversary of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers undertake to address some or many concerns of the State Department which were clearly spelled out by Ambassador Donahoe last November. Will Sri Lanka comprehend that seriously addressing the issues will neutralize the UN and the West which will have a domino effect in depriving the separatist Tamil Diaspora lobby- group issues that bring the UN and the West to their fold? Would pragmatic and rational Sri Lankans understand that normalizing relationship with the West and UN could help starve pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora of oxygen? Does Sri Lanka recognize that longer these issues form the basis of the Agenda of the West and the UN more the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora movements intensify their international campaign to isolate Sri Lanka, convince the UN and the West for the need of a referendum in the north and east of the country and intensify the campaign to try Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes in an international tribunal?
The UNHRC report of Navi Pillay issued 11 February highlights "Reconciliation and Reparation", the Tamil Diaspora organizations in the West are convinced will never occur in present day Sri Lanka.
The sentiments expressed here is recognizably similar to that of what the Tamil Diaspora declared in the past and vigorously pursue currently to bring the West and the UN in line with their thinking.
The UNHRC report states: (Quote) Following the end of the armed conflict, memorialization, an integral component of reparations, has been non-inclusive, a fact that risks further disaffecting the minority population. While memorials to soldiers and war museums have been built by the Government, it has to date made no effort to commemorate civilians who lost their lives in the war. Furthermore, most of the memorials have been built in the Tamil-majority Northern Province and tend to use triumphalist images from which the local population feels a strong sense of alienation. LTTE cemeteries, which also utilized militarist images, have also been destroyed. Furthermore, since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009, the military has reportedly prevented civilians in the north from holding private and religious ceremonies to commemorate family members, both civilians and combatants, killed in the war.
From the briefings that the UNHRC technical mission received on development and reconstruction initiatives in the north, it noted that several Government representatives viewed these efforts as benevolence on the part of the State, particularly towards the conflict-affected and minority populations, rather than the fulfilment of the State’s fundamental obligations towards its citizens. As a result, this may be a missed opportunity to couple the framework for development with a national reparations policy in which rights-holders are entitled to redress. (End Quote)
Alistair Burt the Parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government in a statement following his visit to Sri Lanka in February noted despite the “fading of the manifestations of conflict, the root causes are not”. He further said "If you don't make every effort to give people a stake in politics and if you fail to hold to account those responsible for the crimes of the past, you sow the seeds for future conflict".
He observed "But whilst the manifestations of conflict are fading, the root causes are not. The military has retained its tight grip on the north. Yes there are fewer soldiers on the streets, but the Army’s presence is still palpable in many aspects of people’s lives; Military Intelligence still question those who speak to NGOs and journalists. The transition to genuine civil administration is not moving fast enough. Likewise, not enough is being done to progress a political settlement that would give all Sri Lankans a clear stake in a prosperous, peaceful future. New roads are not a substitute for this".
The stark feature in this debate is that the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora groups in the West are least interested in 'reconciliation' and 'reparation', and their advocacy in the absence of those two elements within Sri Lanka, in their opinion, is the inevitability of 'separation of the Tamil Nation'.
Here is the cue for Sri Lanka: seriously addressing the reconciliation and reparation, the main plank of West advocacy, could be the initial step to facilitate the break of the West and the UN from the advocacy of the pro-separatist vanguard organizations of the Tamil Diaspora.
As a catalyst to the separate Tamil state advocacy of vanguard organizations of the Tamil Diaspora, both the U.S. and the UN have been helpful in highlighting the Land Issue and Internal Displacement among the Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
The State Department has been continually advocating the release of lands, now under the domain of the military, be awarded to the rightful owners of the Tamil community some of whom are displaced. Tamil networks repeatedly accuse the GSL of grabbing land rightfully belonged to the Tamils. This was one of the 'plights' of the Tamils living in the north and east of Sri Lanka being presented to the international community by the vanguard organizations of the Tamil Diaspora.
This continuous pleas of the Tamil Diaspora has now become one of the main advocacy planks of the West and the UN.
Obviously the GSL allowing the West and the UN to express their displeasure on the land issue and internal displacement has given oxygen to the separatist call of the vanguard organizations of the Tamil Diaspora.
The U.S. ambassador to the UNHRC in Geneva Eileen C. Donahoe in her statement at its 14th Session on November 1 recommended the GSL to undertake 'Land Reforms' in the north.
The 11 February UN's Navi Pillay report similarly touched on this issue.
The report states despite the GSL's LLRC "ensuring that State policy on land is not used as an instrument to effect unnatural changes in the demographic pattern of a given province" no steps have been taken to establish a national body for that purpose.
The Pillay UN report further states "The resolution of land-related issues is essential to attaining durable solutions for internally displaced persons", and goes on to note "The lack of clarity on the Government’s approach and policy in this regard not only hinders the resolution of associated issues for the displaced but also exacerbates feelings of mistrust and suspicion in minority populations, which account for the majority of all displaced persons".
Militarization of the North issue has been the one that the Tamil Diaspora highlighted when it met policy and lawmakers in Western nations and human rights organizations immediately after the annihilation of the Tamil Tiger movement. In all forums the vanguard organizations of the Diaspora held since the internal demise of the LTTE have underscored this issue that subsequently picked up by the Western nations and the UN when they assembled their reports on Sri Lanka. The Diaspora forum held in December in London and the first week of February in Malaysia highlighted this issue. The international Tamil conference scheduled for mid-May in the United States in which one of its vanguard organizations the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) expects to promulgate the 'Freedom Charter for Tamil Eelam'' on May 18 envisages to take up the issue of 'militarization of the north'.
The issue is raised by the West, the UN and pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora organizations is a significant development that needs to note here.
At the Malaysia forum of the TGTE it was declared "The heavily militarized zones in the Tamil areas are instilling fear and terror on the people with rape, murder, and torture". Using the presence of the military this is how the pro-separatists exaggerate the issue. The international community consumes this jargon.
The State Department officials who visited Colombo in the final week of January for talks with the GSL very diplomatically and strategically declared "We stand by ready to help to build the capacity of civil society so that the military will have a strong civil society to which it can pass off responsibilities that it has naturally had to undertake in the post-conflict environment".
Continued 'militarization' in the north and east of Sri Lanka is something that the State Department and the Defense Department want to see an end. Sri Lankan expatriate Tamil lobby in the United States and EU nations have been highlighting this fact saying that the minority Tamils are subject to military rule. Tamil political parties too have brought this matter with the GSL and the foreign ministries of Western nations.
The issue is now being taken up by the UNHRC and Navi Pillay's UN office. The 11 January Pillay report declared "The ubiquitous military presence in the north is not confined to the overt physical presence of military personnel, but extends to the deep involvement of the military in civilian matters through direct power transfers and exercise of power, and by indirectly preventing the capacity-building and effective development of civilian institutions". And says "the military is also involved in various economic activities with an adverse impact on the local population’s right to livelihood".
The report continues "The heavy military presence heightens the vulnerability of women and young girls to violence and harassment and thereby restricts their freedom of movement, which has an adverse impact on other aspects of their lives, including their livelihood opportunities and access to education".
One could see how the exaggeration of 'rape, murder and torture' propagated by the Diaspora eelamists gone into official documents of the UN.
Alistair Burt said "The military has retained its tight grip on the north. Yes there are fewer soldiers on the streets, but the Army’s presence is still palpable in many aspects of people’s lives".
Why does Sri Lanka allow a broad coalition between the West, the UN and the pro-separatist Diaspora vanguard organizations to exist when it can take meaningful steps to bring an end to the association of these strange bedfellows?
We repeat: Would pragmatic and rational Sri Lankans understand that normalizing relationship with the West and UN could help starve pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora of oxygen? For that, Sri Lanka has a part to play.
All these issues lead to Accountability and Transparency.
American foreign service officers (FSO) stationed in Colombo and their counterparts in Washington were in fact advocating from the early eighties the importance of 'reconciliation and reparation' in the Sri Lankan society, in their opinion, to bring justice and equal opportunities for the 12% Tamils.
The lack of these two as expressed by policy and lawmakers of Western nations and UN agencies and their operatives made them to travel further embracing the sentiments and strong voices of the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora activists on accountability and transparency.
The operatives of the vanguard organizations of the Tamil Diaspora having had easy access to policy and lawmakers of Western capitals have already convinced them that it is their bid to use their international power to subject Sri Lanka to accountability and transparency.
Instead the international power players were seeing, in the words of Navi Pillay-written UN report "There are currently eight outstanding requests to visit Sri Lanka by special procedures mandate holders: on minority issues; freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; freedom of opinion and expression; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; enforced or involuntary disappearances; human rights defenders; independence of judges and lawyers; and discrimination against women in law and practice. At the time of writing, none of these visits had been agreed to by the Government".
Why did Sri Lanka leave space for Ms. Pillay to note such sentiments in a major UN report? Why did Sri Lanka allow the 'Tiger' to crawl on this report to leave its print? Didn't the advocates of a separate state receive additional oxygen to maintain their cohabitation that Sri Lanka allowed to develop with principal players of the international community?
It is this long trend of events that the February 11 report of the Office of UN High commissioner for Human Rights declared "The High Commissioner noted the views expressed by many stakeholders in Sri Lanka, including prominent community leaders, that the attention paid by the Human Rights Council to issues of accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka had helped to create space for debate, and catalysed positive steps forward, however limited at this stage. The High Commissioner encourages the Council to continue its engagement and build on this momentum. In this regard, she reaffirms her long-standing call for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, which could also monitor any domestic accountability process".
The UN report declaration and the US State Department pronouncements the need for international scrutiny which has been a catalyst for the international players of the Tamil Diaspora to declare, in London, Malaysia and in May in the United States the establishment of an independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam.
Breaking The Cohabitation
The 'Three Fronts' were not necessarily in a single coalition but have cohabitated on common issues. The 'Third Front', the pro-separatist operatives among the Tamil Diaspora who emerged with the internal demise of the LTTE and subsequently grouped together in many Western capitals to establish vanguard organizations were first to engage in dialogues with principal players of the Western World when Sri Lanka had had a prolonged celebration following the defeat of the Tigers, an achievement many in the West and elsewhere have acknowledged as an extraordinary feat.
The operatives among the Tamil Diaspora vanguard organizations' goal was what Vellupillai Prabhaharan failed to achieve: a separate, independent and sovereign state of Eelam. This campaign's initial public diplomacy and strategic communication endeavors greatly influenced the mind-set of the West or, in another way, consolidated the elements of the mid-set that this columnist saw in close quarters that were steadily taking shape since the eighties.
What Sri Lanka failed to understand is how to devise a strategy to break this cohabitation. Or did Sri Lanka sensed such a cohabitation was emerging? It is this cohabitation, in three separate fronts, emerged to hit Sri Lanka that we see is injured in the international arena. And, the front organizations of the Tamil Diaspora in Western nations, a substitute for Velupillai Prabhaharan's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a different form with totally different strategy framework, is moving ahead to convene its major parley in the United States from May 11.-
- Asian Tribune -