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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

US Senate and the politics of double standards

By Raj Gonsalkorale

It is reported (Sri Lankan Sunday Times Political Column of 16th September 2007) that a hitherto unpublicised vote in the United States Senate on September 6 approving the State Department Appropriations, if approved by President George W Bush, will have a serious impact on Us Military assistance to Sri Lanka. Section 690 of the document reportedly states:

"None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading 'Foreign Military Financing Programme' may be made available for assistance for Sri Lanka, no defense export license may be issued, and no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Sri Lanka pursuant to the authorities contained in this Act or any other Act, unless the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that –

(1) the Sri Lankan military is suspending and the Sri Lankan Government is bringing to justice members of the military who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial executions and the recruitment of child soldiers;

(2) the Sri Lankan Government has agreed to the establishment of a field presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

The Sunday Times political column goes on to say that the passage of this provision was the result of an amendment moved by Senator Patrick Leahy. However, the amendment will become law only after the Act receives the assent of the President of the United States, George W. Bush. Sections of the Bush administration are of the view that the President may overrule the provision. One surely hopes so, considering what the US government is practicing elsewhere.

But if it does become law, there will be no US aid to buy non lethal equipment as we have been doing so far. There will be no radars, fire finders, night vision equipment and the like.

Nor will there be Coast Guard cutters, spares for C-130 Hercules transport planes and for Bell helicopters. The proposed law also contains other references to Sri Lanka less onerous, but a first. According to reports from Washington, differences between the US House of Representatives version and the Senate version of the State Department Appropriations have been agreed upon. This is during a Senate-House conference.

If it does become law in the United States, the Leahy Amendment would be a major blow to the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. Since the tenure of the then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, military co-operation between the United States and Sri Lanka grew considerably. Following Wickremesinghe's meeting with President Bush, the US Government sent a high-level team from the US Pacific Command in Hawaii to carry out a detailed assessment of the Sri Lankan Security Forces. They identified the strengths and drawbacks in a voluminous report. In the wake of it, US military co-operation grew considerably.

The fact that it would come to a complete halt if the Leahy Amendment becomes law is a major blow to Sri Lanka. More so when more military co-operation would have been forthcoming with the ongoing US war on terror. In recent years, the US has intensified its so-called war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, while Pakistan has been warned the US will launch unilateral strikes if the Musharraf government does not take tough action against terrorists operating on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

By themselves, the Leahy amendments are worthy amendments as they are directed towards the Sri Lankan government, as a legally and democratically elected government, being accountable to its citizens for good governance while maintaining law and order while fighting the menace of terrorism. No citizen will accept less from the temporary custodians of the affairs of the country and the Rajapaksa administration has to make sure they address, and also are being seen to be addressing any issues relating to human rights violations by its own Forces, or by non governmental elements that have the direct or indirect backing of the government if indeed sections of the Forces or sections of the government are suspected of doing so.

Those who constantly respond to such statements by stating that no one points out gross violations by the LTTE, it has to be remembered that the LTTE is not a legal entity and they have not been elected by any section of the people they claim to represent and they are not a democratic organization. In short, they are not answerable to anyone, except to the mass murderer Prabakaran. The responsibilities of a legally elected government are far greater and there can never be any comparison with an illegal outfit like the LTTE. Any comparison will only give legitimacy to the LTTE. Having said this, it must also be said that the US Senate attitude is both ludicrous and duplicitous.

On the one hand, they continue to chase an enemy they themselves created in Iraq and in the process have killed more than a million people there according to some estimates, they are engaged in a war in Afghanistan, and saber rattling against Iran and Syria and making threats of unilateral military forays into Pakistan territory. The Senate after all, almost unanimously approved the Iraq invasion, although some Senators, including Presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton, is now supporting a US troop pull back first having supported the invasion.

It begs belief that the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan is free of human rights violations, and in killing a million or hundreds of thousand of people, there have not been human rights violations! It appears to the ordinary onlooker that human rights of Iraqi’s are being violated all the time considering there are over 170,000 foreign invaders on Iraqi soil. The issue is not about violating human rights during a war or on the pretext of a war, as it is simply not right to violate them in any situation by a legally elected government.

What one sees as double standards is that the US Senate should deem fit to lecture to Sri Lanka about human rights violations while their own record is questionable and very few countries or institutions would have the strength or the power to point out to the US their own violations and duplicity. Thanks to the much respected former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, Dr Alan Greenspan, there is now respectability and credibility to what many have been saying from day 1 of the invasion, that the US went to Iraq because of oil and not to rid the world from Saddam Hussein’s non existent weapons of mass destruction.

From a Sri Lankan context, another factor that the US Senate has not taken into account, deliberately or otherwise, is the outcome of agreements that Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe may have had with President Bush about the LTTE, when he was the Prime Minister. Such an agreement may have included entering into a political dialogue with the LTTE to end the war, judging by Mr Wickremasignhe’s own unilateral declaration of a ceasefire with the LTTE although he did not have the constitutional authority to do so. A Wickremasinghe/Bush agreement is another example of the US administrations duplicity as entering into a dialogue and a political settlement with a terrorist organization in Sri Lanka clearly was at odds with US policy elsewhere. Events have now demonstrated that Mr Wickremasinghe’s policy of appeasement with the LTTE, very likely carried out at the insistence of the US Administration, was ill judged and not in the best interest of Sri Lanka.

US policy should be clear about terrorism. They cannot entertain shades of terrorism. This is different to saying the US administration or the Senate should not use their good offices either to point out any real or perceived human rights violations and other practices that a legally elected government should not be engaged in. It is also not saying that the US administration and the Senate should not use whatever persuasive powers they have to get the Sri Lankan government to enter into a dialogue with democratic Tamil political parties and influential individuals to work out a political settlement to address the ethnic conflict.

But, it is saying that the US administration must be unwavering in their support to end terrorism in Sri Lanka, so that moderate minded Tamils and Sinhalese and Muslims can work out a way out of the mess that the country has been in for so many years because of LTTE terrorism. Assistance for eliminating terrorism cannot be confined to words of support.

It must extend to providing the necessary modern technology and weaponry to eliminate them. In fact such assistance will also help in containing any human rights violations, as the Sri Lankan government will be less dependent on wheeling and dealing with detractors of the LTTE, and being under obligation to such detractors who are also not legal entities and who may not be the best observers of human rights, if they had the technology and the weapons that the US does have to deal with terrorists.

- Asian Tribune -

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