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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2710

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

By Sesha Samarajiwa

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. That’s how the pithy American saying goes. But US Senator Patrick Leahy didn’t use that colloquialism. Instead, he put it another way. He said that the US$11 million allocated to Sri Lanka by the Millennium Fund – an American aid fund giving money to various needy countries –“is not a blank cheque”. Presenting a situation report on Sri Lanka to the US Senate, Senator Leahy made it clear that they won’t give the money unless Sri Lanka behaves as they decree. The money, as usual, would serve as a carrot or a stick.

So what does the inadequately informed Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Chairman of the Senate Sub Committee on Foreign Assistance and Appropriations want Sri Lanka to do? Several things. For starters, he wants Sri Lanka to allow UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour to set up a human right monitoring mission there. She came for the purpose just a while back but Sri Lanka said no thanks. She has handed over the baton to another heavy-hitter. Mr Leahy also wants journalists – read Western journalists – open access to anywhere in Sri Lanka to report on anything. And he wants Sri Lanka to negotiate with the Tamil Tigers.

How do we negotiate the non-negotiable?

Senator Leahy rebukes both the democratically-elected government of Sri Lanka and the fascist Tamil Tiger insurgents. Yet, while deploring Tiger terrorism, Senator Leahy gives them a totally undeserved pat on the back, stating: “We are also aware that the LTTE has, at times, shown a willingness to participate in serious negotiations, as well as to respond to human rights concerns. These overtures should be pursued,” thus revealing that he hasn’t got the real picture.

Senator Leahy wants Sri Lanka to negotiate with the Tamil Tigers, the very Tigers who walked out of the last two peace parleys in Geneva – the last delegation led by the late S P Tamilselvan who served as his master's voice – declaring that a separate state is a precondition for talks. The LTTE does not accept a unitary Sri Lanka. For Sri Lanka, the break up of the country is a non-negotiable issue. If Senator Leahy or his assistants bothered to browse the Tiger propaganda site Tamil Net, they would have found these words: “Tamil sovereignty is the basis of any peace talks.”

Since the onset of hostilities in 1984, the Sri Lanka state, under various leaders, has offered the LTTE olive branch after olive branch, to no avail.

In 2003, the then prime minister Ranil Wickramasingha engineered a truce of sorts with the LTTE. The Tigers made use of that intermission to prepare for war, by stockpiling weaponry and strengthening their fortifications. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power, he held the truce, while the Tigers tested him with grave, unprovoked violence, until they grabbed and shut the Mavil Aru sluice gate, cutting water to 30,000 acres of paddy fields.

But Senator Leahy can’t be so naïve as to be unaware that the Tigers have always used negotiations as a tactic to buy time and ceasefires as opportunities to rearm and fortify themselves to wage war in the future. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission would have surely informed him that the Tigers also broke the ceasefire by unprovoked hostile acts on more than 3000 occasions over the three-year duration of the ostensible ceasefire while the Sri Lanka armed forces held fire. They also went on a killing spree in the city of Colombo, murdering rivals, military personnel and the former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgarmar, whose efforts resulted in the Tigers being proscribed in various Western countries. It is perplexing how Senator Leahy can take for granted the words of the LTTE that they are willing to seek a peaceful solution: it’s an old Tiger trick.

As many observers, including most recently the French terrorism expert Gerard Chailand, underscore, the Tigers always use negotiations as a ploy; despite their claims to the contrary, the terrorism expert stated unequivocally that they have never had a genuine desire for a negotiated settlement. Tamil Net, the LTTE propaganda site, clearly spells out their policy: whatever Sri Lanka offers, they will not settle for anything less than Eelam. And they will strive with single-minded purpose towards that goal.

Perhaps Senator Leahy can share with us the lessons learned by America 'negotiating' with Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, if such a thing was ever contemplated or attempted.

Negotiate with Interpol’s most wanted criminals?

There were some positive notes in his speech, indicating that at long last, someone has been briefed that the Tigers do not represent all Sri Lanka Tamils, although they have taken great pains (by decimating most Tamil rivals and menacing the rest) to project themselves as the sole representative of the Tamil people.

That realization makes Senator Leahy say: “We also recognize that the LTTE should not be equated with the Tamil community. There are many ethnic Tamils living in and outside of Sri Lanka who do not condone acts of violence and terrorism against civilians. Many have been victims of the LTTE themselves. ”

Absolutely.

But then why does the senator want Sri Lanka to negotiate with the Tigers? Is it because he believes like Mao did and Gandhi did not that all power flows through the barrel of a gun?

The senator can’t be unaware that that there are influential Tamils in Sri Lanka who do not parley with guns, for example, the surviving leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front? The Tigers killed off the rest of the TULF leaders some time ago, along with thousands of Tamils, which in effect, make the LTTE the biggest and most horrific killer of Tamils of all time. The American ambassador in Sri Lanka, Robert Blake should have briefed Senator Leahy about Tamil political parties and Tamil people who hold views diametrically opposed to the racist dictator Prabhakaran – and that they are for an undivided Sri Lanka? What Senator Leahy fails to understand is that Sri Lanka, like America has done on many occasions in many places, sees ‘regime change’ as critical to pave the path for peace in Sri Lanka. Seems like what’s good for America is not good for others.

Mr Leahy seems blind to the tyranny the people of the Vanni are trapped in, and that many, especially youth, are trying hard to escape the warlord’s headhunters trying to rope them into fight and die for his obscene war. He seems unaware about the Tiger tactic of using captive Tamils as shields, as they clearly did in the East and in the North, and that they shoot people trying to escape. Certainly 54 percent of Tamils live away from Tigerland, preferring to live among Sri Lanka’s other communities. It’s unlikely that they would rush to the Promised Land of the Tamil Tigers.

The Charges

Emphasizing their increasing concerns, Senator Leahy highlights abuses by Sri Lankan government forces which, he is quick to point out, is not based on LTTE “disinformation” or “misinformation” but from the UN and human right organizations. He observes that there has been a steady increase in “serious human rights violations by both Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE since the collapse of the ceasefire.” Then he charges the Sri Lankan government of being complicit in the recruitment of child soldiers, attacks on civilians and forced disappearances. “With few exceptions, the Sri Lankan government has yet to bring the perpetrators, including members of government security forces, to justice,” he states.

Observing that “the Sri Lankan government’s respect for human rights and rule of law has deteriorated even outside conflict-affected areas,” Senator Leahy informed the house that the Millennium Challenge Corporation suspended more than $11 million intended for Sri Lanka because of the deteriorating security situation and the government’s worsening performance on human rights.”

The Conditions

Senator Leahy, like Louise Arbour, pushes for a UN Human Rights field presence, which he says “is long overdue … given the gravity and scale of the violations witnessed in Sri Lanka, and particularly the inability of the Sri Lankan government to monitor the abuses taking place in areas held by the LTTE, such a presence would help protect lives, document abuses by all sides, and support the government and civil society in protecting the civilian population. The Department of State has publicly endorsed such a role for the United Nations.”

Further, “they would require the Sri Lankan government to be bringing to justice members of the military who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights; end unreasonable restrictions on access in the country by humanitarian organizations and journalists; and agree to the establishment of a field presence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.”

Me Leahy wants to see “a Millennium Challenge compact for Sri Lanka, but these problems must first be recognized and effectively addressed.”

He goes on to say: “It is due to this information, from reputable sources, that the Senate attached three conditions to our assistance to the Sri Lankan military in the Fiscal Year 2008 State, Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Anyone who reviews those conditions should agree that they are reasonable and appropriate."

As a matter of fact, they are somewhat reasonable, not wholly appropriate, and even dubious. Above all, for Sri Lanka, the imperious arrogance of a powerful functionary of the new Rome dictating terms to far-away natives is absolutely demeaning.

“It is regrettable,” says the senator, “that rather than explain why the Sri Lankan government should not meet such reasonable standards when it is seeking millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer assistance, some Sri Lankan officials have attacked our motives and falsely attributed our actions to LTTE propaganda. Others have insisted that they are meeting these standards already, when the facts clearly indicate that far more needs to be done.”

The LTTE has run a sophisticated propaganda campaign, combined with lobbying influential people – practices the senator would be familiar with. However, impartial one may claim to be, it is very hard not to be influenced to some degree by such activities. Besides, not all human rights rapoteuers are free of biases and agendas and doctored reporting. Some in the human rights industry are racketeers.

Senator Leahy says America wants to help Sri Lanka, but not unconditionally. “I believe the United States could and should play a more active role, with other key partners, in helping to facilitate negotiations on a political settlement.” Problem is we tried that before with the Norwegians and got burnt.

Are there UNHR Field Offices in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Senator Leahy chooses to ignore the fact that despite the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s declaration that the planned US-led invasion of Iraq was illegal, the Coalition of the Willing, masterminded by the United States, went ahead anyway. General Colin Powell and team essentially strong-armed the United Nations.

America damned the UN as a failed organization out of touch with reality. While making a cursory reference to America’s wrongdoings in Iraq, Mr Leahy disingenuously refrains any mention of the human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, the secret goings-on in Diego Garcia whose indigenous inhabitants were summarily dispatched to free the place for a US base and interrogation center, or that the US president refused to sanction a bill outlawing torture as a means of extracting information from hostile fanatics.

We don’t see any human right field presence in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the militaries of COW have been waging war against people deemed a threat to the West. Now the same US government wants the UN to do in Sri Lanka what it rejected.

I am not in any way condoning or denying human rights abuses in Sri Lanka or anywhere else. My purpose is to expose American high hypocrisy and the patronizing attitude towards small, powerless countries, without a thorough understanding of their particular situation.

Military solutions work only for the Bug Guns?

What the senator of the superpower with the world’s most deadly military machine, a country which is also the biggest maker of weapons (including weapons of mass destruction), and a nation which does not hesitate to seek military solutions wants Sri Lanka to do is contrary to what America does.

He says: “We want Sri Lanka to succeed in stopping terrorism, and we recognize that military force can be necessary against terrorist tactics. But there is no military solution to the Sri Lankan conflict, which has dragged on for more than two decades.”

Yet the United States follows its imperative to hunt down its enemies in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It has also threatened to invade Pakistan if necessary, to hunt down their Jihadhist enemies there.

The US government had no problem in extending support to Saudi Arabia to get rid of Al Qaida from that kingdom, which is, of course, an important friend of America, because the Saudis are the biggest oil producers in the world –and America has an unquenchable thirst for oil. Saudi Arabia does not subscribe to any human rights of the sort America wants poor countries to uphold. The Saudi Arabian dictatorship chops off arms of petty thieves, beheads people as a matter of course, thoroughly discriminates against women, does not condone freedom of worship, and certainly does not allow foreign journalist to traipse around. But then it’s Saudi Arabia, not Sri Lanka.

Mr Leahy wants Sri Lanka to give its enemy a break. Different strokes for different folks.

Let’s not be a White Man’s burden

Both Senator Leahy and UN human rights commissioner Louise Arbour raise some valid issues, especially about the necessity to uphold human rights. But as America and Britain and every nation that has faced war and ruthless terrorism would know, in a state of war and especially when facing terrorism deploying suicide cadres, it is virtually impossible to maintain a 100% clean human rights record. No one has done it because it’s humanly impossible.

But we must try to minimize abuses for two good reasons. For social stability and to deny the Tamil Tigers – whose purpose is to create a state of fear, uncertainty and anarchy in the country – a victory of sorts. That is why we must be as scrupulous about human rights as we can, and why we must uphold the sanctity and independence of the judiciary at all costs.

Senator Leahy says that “rhetoric about human rights and the appointment of ineffectual commissions of inquiry that have no credibility, only goes so far. The situation remains grave and those responsible for abuses are rarely punished, making a peace agreement more difficult to achieve.”

We agree with some reservations. But Sri Lankans themselves are capable of addressing these issues. Leaving aside the dollar-and-perks-driven human rights circus, there are genuine local, non-foreign-affiliated human rights activists. There is a vocal opposition and a gutsy media, watchdogs who not only bark, nut also bite hard. There is, mercifully, a functional, fearless judiciary.

What's more, Sri Lanka is no Rwanda or Congo or Kosovo or Burma.

It has a long democratic tradition. Wrongdoers may get away in the short term, but they pay sooner or later.

Do we need yet another white man in the form of Senator Leahy to carry our burden, when our own people are aware of the ill effects of these things, decry them and try to change things for the better? I certainly don’t think so. But I believe we must clean up our house as a matter of urgency. It would be of far more worth that 11 million dollars.

- Asian Tribune

Read also:

United States Senator Patrick Leahy Castigates Rajapaksa Administration

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