National sovereignty needs to be protected at all costs
Posted on April 5th, 2010

Ajit Randeniya

The matters relating to the concept of national sovereignty raised by Dr Nihal Jayawickrama in a recent Sunday newspaper article deserve comment and response due to the sacrosanct nature sovereignty to Sri Lanka, and to the developing countries of the world in general.

The fundamental issue Dr Jayawickrama raises is that Sri Lanka’s claim that attempts by Western nations to meddle in its internal affairs violate its national sovereignty is based on a “ƒ”¹…”constitutional myth’. He asserts that the doctrine of sovereignty has “ƒ”¹…”long been eroded’ by international treaties such as those on slave trading, the Geneva Conventions on war, and the peace settlements that followed the First World War. Dr Jayawickrama also asserts that Sri Lanka may be confusing “ƒ”¹…”sovereignty’ with the now defunct international legal concept of the “ƒ”¹…”State’.

 Dr Jayawickrama’s main supporting argument is that the establishment of the United Nations (UN) resulted in a new set of superior international standards that require conformity by all national legal systems: he cites Articles 55 and 56 of the UN Charter to support his assertion.

 These key points raised by Dr Jayawickrama however, do not hold up to scrutiny in the light of a holistic consideration of the concept of sovereignty in a historical perspective, the UN charter, or the legal domain within which the UN sponsored international treaty making and enforcement takes place.

 Sovereignty is a concept that refers to a nation’s supreme, independent and absolute authority over its territory, restricted only by a national constitution, a Rule of Law infrastructure and the culture and customs of the particular nation. The key element of sovereignty in a legalistic sense is the exclusivity of jurisdiction it entails. The principle of sovereignty however, does not deter agreements among sovereign states, through treaties, on legislation to address issues involving common (international) territories, or more than one nation.

 Recognition of national sovereignty has been the foundation of civilised international relations in the East for thousands of years: according to the Anguttara Nikaya, sixteen “ƒ”¹…”sovereign’ Mahajanapadas (great nations) existed in 6th century BC India, before the time of the Buddha. European nations adopted the concept as a means of instilling political stability much more recently, following the end of the thirty years war, at Westphalia in 1648.

 Dr Jayawickrama’s assertion that there exists a body of international legislation that has been “ƒ”¹…”eroding’ national sovereignty constitutes an overstatement in the least, in view of the fact that there is no “ƒ”¹…”world legislature’ with the authority to make obligatory international laws. The examples Dr Jayawickrama has cited are the only treaties the world consented to, due to the egregious nature of the crimes of slavery and genocide, that they be enforced by the international community if the need arose. International treaties could not, and do not, distract from national sovereignty in any way.

 While Articles 55 and 56 of the UN Charter mentions  that international law could prevail over the national law of a country under certain circumstances, Article 2 states that “The Organisation [UN] is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members”. The UN operating as a global enforcer is anathema to the founding principles of the organisation.

 The limited instances of international “ƒ”¹…”use of force’ against UN member states, such as the US-led NATO action in the Balkans and the Iraqi invasion of 2003, were committed by the United States without the express authorisation of the UN Security Council, under the pretext of protecting the “ƒ”¹…”human rights’. The UN General Assembly has demonstrated its disapproval of such unilateral action in no uncertain terms.

 It is extremely unlikely that the principle of national sovereignty as a governing principle of international relations would ever be “ƒ”¹…”outdated’ or become “ƒ”¹…”unnecessary’. All in all, Dr Jayawickrama’s argument that Sri Lanka could not, or should not, invoke national sovereignty to ward off uninvited interventions in its internal affairs by Western powers with vested interests is spurious and disingenuous.

 From a developing country stand point, the principle of national sovereignty served as their “ƒ”¹…”saviour’ from European colonialism in the 20th century, and it continues to serve as a “ƒ”¹…”bulwark’ against future neocolonialist adventures. The militarily powerful Western nations of course, hold the view that sovereignty is tantamount to their “ƒ”¹…”freedom’ to use force, or threat of force, over states with weaker military capability or political will.

 As a developing country emerging from the ravages of a civil war that included a period of loss of its national sovereignty, Sri Lanka is entitled to fight to protect its territorial, political and economic sovereignty.  Any foreign attempts to intervene in Sri Lanka’s national affairs therefore, needs to be repelled on the grounds that such attempts violate Sri Lanka’s national sovereignty.

 

4 Responses to “National sovereignty needs to be protected at all costs”

  1. cassandra Says:

    Yes, everything that is necessary needs to be done to protect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, and every effort at unwarranted external intervention in the affairs of the country needs to be resisted stoutly and with determination.

    And it is good to bear in mind that the threats to the country’s sovereignty are very real and never far off. No less important is it to realise that when a more powerful nation is involved – never mind, the international community – it is not going to be overscrupulous about how it regards Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. Remember India’s intervention in the 80s? India was clearly not too concerned about Sri Lanka’s sovereignty when it made the infamous ‘parippu drop’ in the North, when it forced JR’s government to call off the action against the Tigers when the Tigers were close to being beaten, when it coerced JR into signing the Accord and accept the 13th Amendment and surrender the country’s unfettered freedom to deal with the Trincomalee harbour.

    Dr Jayawickrama has presented his case with great lucidity and logic. But as the writer’s article shows, understandably, not everyone will accept all he has said. But I don’t think anyone can quarrel with Dr Jayawickrama’s observations that “it does no credit to this country or to its citizens to continue to use abusive language against international institutions and foreign governments and their personnel who exercise their right to highlight our failure to fulfil our treaty obligations. They will only be silenced if we remedy our own shortcomings” and that “if we begin to address these issues now, seriously and with commitment, the international searchlight will surely cease to be focused on us”.

    Sri Lanka prides itself on being a civilised and cultured nation. If this is indeed the case, in entering into formal international covenants to uphold such things as human rights, the country will have done no more than affirm ideals it already holds sacred. So, when such things as Dr Jayawickrama has cited – “summary executions, abductions, disappearances, and arbitrary detentions” and “corruption, impunity and lack of accountability”- occur, the country itself should firstly be concerned.

    Invoking the concept of sovereignty in response to international criticism smacks of an attempt to evade the issues. These issues need to be properly dealt with, and in this regard the country needs to put its house in order.

  2. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    Thanks for your article. Those talking about the treaties should understand where natives of America ended up by signing such things. The reference to a Nation is essentially a reference to an ethnicity and is diluted to undermine the sovereignty. The sovereignty was originally identified with the ethnic identity to reflect the unique values that make an ethnicity, which remained outside the sphere of influence by others. However, the notion of sovereignty is diluted by English with ulterior motives and credence to their machinations come from the people who get qualified by them. Some of these have become tools of English to undermine their own people to achieve English objectives, a danger within.

    I wonder why smaller nations joined UNO and become willing partners to almost all the western values envisioned in its formation. What they truly meant by human rights is an insult to modern humanity that respect natural rights as westerners have other means well entrenched in their countries to keep the population under pressure by holding their natural rights as ransom. Instead of these criminal rights, we must choose natural rights as the tool of judgement. The Geneva Convention is the most ridiculous obligation undertaking by many nations. This favours aggressors, essentially English as proven by history, and not countries like Lanka who have no such aggressive mood. In fact, non-adherence should work as a deterrent.

    Though there are serious questions as to the authority to sign any treaty that undermine the will of the community, international relations depend on our ability to enforce such obligations, essentially by tools of war. Historically, those who expect settlement by verbal means have failed. I think the best option to balance the international relationships is the strengthening of military muscle as the most important tool of trade.

  3. ajit.rand Says:

    Thanks Cassandra nad Priyantha

    On Cassandra’s point “it does no credit to this country or to its citizens to continue to use abusive language against international institutions and foreign governments and their personnel who exercise their right to highlight our failure to fulfil our treaty obligations. They will only be silenced if we remedy our own shortcomings” and that “if we begin to address these issues now, seriously and with commitment, the international searchlight will surely cease to be focused on us”, the problem is that such charges are highly selective, subjective and are loaded with vested interest. An aggressive response against such attempts, as President Rajapakse showed against Miliband and Kouchner, is the only way to repel them.

    Jayawickrama was ‘exploited in early 2000s for the Canadian led effort to prepare the ground for R2P fraud. Attack on sovereignty was essential before they could promote the concept of intervention.

    Be assured, they will not stop these types of ‘intellectual movements’ using third world academics such as Kumar Rupesinghe and Nihal Jayawickrama!

  4. cassandra Says:

    ajit.rand your comments are noted.

    As I noted earlier, India was not too concerned with the niceties of sovereignty when it decided to intervene in Sri Lanka in the 80s. We cannot exclude similar foreign intervention if we give them enough ‘reason’ to do so. And that is why Nihal Jayawickrama’s statement, that the best way to prevent it is to put the country’s house in order, makes such good sense.

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