‘SHINING CITY UPON A HILL’
Posted on July 17th, 2010

Upali Cooray

The human rights advisory panel appointed by U.N Secretary General is the toughest challenge; the Sri Lanka Government has to face since the end of the war. Though it is too early to forecast the outcome of this standoff between UNSG and Sri Lanka government, there is no doubt that this imprudent step taken by the UNSG could bring dire consequences to our country if allowed to take place.    It is evident that the decision of the UNSG is sponsored by the West and the Tamil Diaspora. We in Sri Lanka in countering the UNSG, very often argue that Ban Ki – Moon is terribly prejudiced towards our country and he should firstly be fair by our country and secondly, he should use the same yardstick to much more serious human rights violations and war crimes in the world committed by western powers.  Here lies our mistaken understanding of geopolitics of the world. One would recall that this latest move by UNSG is in spite of the United Nations human rights council on May 27 2009 passing a resolution overwhelmingly in favor Sri Lanka that ignored calls for an international investigation into alleged abuses during fighting.  Ban Ki-Moon is nothing but a “ƒ”¹…”Puppet’ who is being manipulated by those western countries that equate the terrorist LTTE with the democratically and legally elected Government of Sri Lanka, which operated a secret agenda of evolving a two state solution to the three decade long conflict. The current Sri Lanka political scenario is not to the liking of countries of the west which would leave no stone unturned to ensure that a regime favorable to them is placed in power in Sri Lanka. The human rights violations and tortures committed by them are not a matter for a small and puny country like ours with only an ego of pride after eradicating one of the world’s most brutal groups of terrorists. Logically,  Sri Lanka has to be given space to apply its own system of investigating of war crimes and human rights violations if any, for which already an initiative has been made by the appointment of a Commission on “ƒ”¹…”Lessons Learned and Reconciliation’ to look into the last seven years of the conflict.  Then what is the logic in the UNSG interfering in our internal affairs against all norms in the U.N charter?

The concept of “exceptionalism” which is an unwritten law in world affairs is currently conspicuous in relation to Sri Lanka.  The dictionary definitions of exceptionlism is the condition of being exceptional or unique /the theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm.   City upon a hill is a phrase from the parable of Salt and Light in JesusSermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:14, he tells his listeners, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” It is commonly used in invocations or criticisms of American exceptionalism. Many countries of all kinds, which includes the modern United States, Britain, Imperial Japan, Israel, Iran, Spain, the USSR, France and Germany have claimed exceptionality. Historians have added many other cases, including historic empires such as Ancient Rome, the Ottoman Empire and China, along with a wide range of minor kingdoms in history. In each case, advocates have offered a basis to the reasons why the country is exceptional compared to other countries, drawing upon circumstance, cultural background and mythos and self-perceived national aims.

When Sri Lankans argue their case against the UNSG’s intervention in internal affairs, they often compare our situation in relation to worse situations where human rights have been violated by world powers especially by the U.S in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is in addition to the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who died as a result of the draconian United Nations “sanctions” following the 1990-91 Gulf War. This includes a million children who died of malnutrition and preventable diseases, far more than the estimated 130,000 Kurds, Shiites and communists killed by the murderous former U.S ally turned enemy, Saddam Hussein.

In 2001, shortly after the American invasion of Afghanistan, hundreds or possibly thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord on the payroll of the C.I.A. Over the course of three days, the captured prisoners were allegedly packed into shipping containers without food or water. Many suffocated, while others were reportedly shot by guards. The mass grave has never been fully exhumed, and human rights groups allege that the Bush administration discouraged investigation of the matter, even after the urging of officials from the F.B.I., the State Department and the Red Cross.

Certainly, there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation of these war crimes. What happened, who authorized it, and if chemical and radiological weapons were used, did that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity?  The thing that really struck a raw nerve right at the beginning was the scapegoating of low-level soldiers like Lindy England. The U.S administration argued that that this was just a matter a few rotten eggs, when actually high-level officials were responsible. We have only heard of some lower ranking officers of the U.S army being punished for Abu Graib torture. George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld the architects of these wars go scot free. Their decisions are exempted from any probe.  When questioned by CNN whether he would probe the Fallujah massacre in Iraq where over eight hundred civilians suppose to have been killed and thousand injured during Bush regime, President Obama vaguely replies that “If such a thing has happened we have to know about it”. 

The hypocrisy behind the actions of UNSG in applying dual standards on super powers of the world and the powerless downtrodden countries of the world is a glaring example in exceptionalism at play. In the absence of any substantive steps being taken on reconciliation and addressing grievances, the Sri Lanka government is providing ammunition to the likes of UNSG.   If the Sri Lanka government’s claim is that probing of what happened during the war is an internal matter, it should prove its genuineness by going ahead with the probe through the government appointed LLRC so that no external forces would interfere with us again. The silence of India and the lack of consensus among the non – aligned nations on the latest Sri Lanka issue unlike when Sri Lanka was supported overwhelmingly when UN human rights council resolution was passed in favor in May 2009 has to be a reminder to the government that unless it proves it’s genuineness in solving the grievances of the minority and probing the alleged war crimes if any, the world is not going to tolerate us.

Sri Lanka has a very poor record of appointing committees and Commissions whose recommendations are just gathering dust somewhere. There is a certain justification in the belief that these commissions and committees are used as an eye wash to get over certain situations. Then they are allowed to fizzle out when the entire country’s is attention is drawn to a new issue. Some examples are APRC on constitutional reforms, committee on corruption in the Colombo Municipality, Killing of AFC volunteers etc. For the leader of the opposition appointing of committees is a strategy to procrastinate the pressure brought on him from within the U.N.P to give up the leadership.

“The shining city upon the hill” is there for countries like Sri Lanka to gawk at but, will never be given parity.  

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