Sri Lanka in International Diplomacy – Policies and Fallacies
Posted on February 24th, 2011

Dr Bandula Kothalawala

According to some informed sources in London, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been in consultation with the Government of Australia on how to “handle Sri Lanka” at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Perth in October this year. Apparently, the FCO is adamant that there should be “minimal direct contact” with the Sri Lankan delegation, especially with President Mahinda Rajapaksa held responsible for “war crimes” allegedly to have been committed in the final stages of the conflict in 2009. This is, perhaps, no news to those knowledgeable about the British Government’s policies towards Sri Lanka.

The FCO and its ministers, like anybody else, are, of course, entitled to their views and to the policies of their Government which they seem to be formulating with substantial input from the rump of the LTTE in London. I do hope that the Sri Lankan Government will address their “concerns” in due course. In the meantime, I should like to refresh the memories of those concerned (Mr Hague’s predecessor is reported to have spent 60% of his time on Sri Lanka!) on the conflict. Following paragraphs look very briefly at the significance of the end of the war, examine in some detail how the governments in the West have treated other heads of state or government accused of wrong-doing in the past and point to mind-boggling hypocrisy that characterises their attitudes and policies towards Sri Lanka. I hasten to emphasize that there is no intention of defending any head of state or government in developing countries referred to in the article.

Ending War

The Government of Sri Lanka under the leadership of President Rajapaksa fought a war to safeguard the country’s independence, preserve its territorial integrity and uphold its sovereignty against a ruthless terrorist outfit banned in the European Union, United States, Canada, India and Sri Lanka. The LTTE had usurped the control of some 24% of the territory through violent means and had trampled upon its citizens’ democratic rights for over 25 years. It had claimed about 70% of the country’s coastline and its activities had caused the death of at least 80,000 people and maimed many more for life. Over 100 suicide attacks had been carried out killing scores of politicians including President Ranasinghe Premadasa of Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and Foreign Minister Laksman Kadirgamar, servicemen, civilians etc. The LTTE had systematically eliminated all moderate Tamil politicians, civic leaders, intellectuals, academics etc. The people of Sri Lanka had lived through this trauma for nearly three decades before it came to an end in May 2009.

 Death and destruction has been synonymous with war from time immemorial. The 30-year bloody war in Sri Lanka was no exception. There is no denying the fact that there have been civilian deaths “”…” fact that we shall all profoundly regret for ever. I should like to mention in passing that it took nearly eight years for Mr Tony Blair “”…”one of the chief architects of the illegal war in Iraq which has caused immeasurable suffering and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths “”…” to utter a syllable of regret on the hecatomb inflicted on a country that had never done any harm to Britain.  Mr Rajapaksa has committed no crime other than that of defending his motherland and his people in spite of almost insurmountable obstacles and in defiance of severe threats, covert and overt, from all quarters against a blood-thirsty terror outfit and of making it possible for all citizens to live in peace, harmony and dignity. Let us see how the lily-white governments have treated other heads of state or government accused, rightly or wrongly, of wrong-doing in the past, depending on whether they suit their agenda or not.

Leaders from Developing Countries

The British Government bestowed a knighthood (Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath-KCB) during the Premiership of John Major despite the well-documented evidence of the horrific massacres committed by the Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwean army in Matabeleland in the early 1980s. Some 20,000 “dissidents” loyal to President Mugabe’s rival Joshua Nkomo were alleged to have been murdered in cold blood, the details of which were known to the British authorities in 1994 when he was received in pomp and pageantry on a state visit to Britain. Following his fall from grace, President Mugabe has few friends in the West now and was stripped of his Knighthood in 2007. Since President Mugabe fell out with the former colonial power, politicians of all persuasions in the UK have been falling over themselves to condemn his regime. In 2002, Prime Minister Tony Blair[1] regretted not having the powers to ban the England Cricket team playing in Zimbabwe!  

A Libyan Intelligence agent was convicted of causing an explosion with a bomb planted on a Pan Am flight killing 243 passengers and 16 crew members over Scotland on 21 December 1988. 11 residents in Lockerbie also died when parts of the aircraft hit their houses. Colonel Kaddafi of Libya was roundly condemned by the US, UK and other EU nations for his alleged involvement in the massacre. In 1999 six Libyans were convicted in a trial in absentia for their alleged involvement of the explosion on board a UTA flight, killing 156 passengers and 14 crew members over Niger in 1989. Not only did the Libyan Government accept the responsibility[2] for the massacres concerned in a letter to the Security Council in 2003, but it also agreed to pay compensation to the victims. One might think that the self-righteous nations in the West would shun Colonel Gaddafi for ever for the heinous crimes. Besides, the very same pious nations wax lyrical about their passion for democracy, good governance, rule of law, human rights and whatnot. Curiously, things turned out rather differently, to say the least.

The holy trinity “”…” US, UK and France “”…” which never miss an opportunity to express their abhorrence of terrorism and its perpetrators, lost no time in wooing the Libyan leader despite vehement protests from victims’ families, as soon as the UN Sanctions were lifted. President George W Bush fully restored relations with Libya in October 2008 by Executive Order, enabling US companies to resume their activities,   some of which had already started doing business there, anyway. Libya, according to a presidential spokesperson in the ElysƒÆ’†’©e Palace, had become “a strategic partner” for France, with which she signed a number of framework partnership agreements running into billions of dollars. As for Britain, remember the (obscene) scene of a mealy-mouthed, professedly devout Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, (he converted to Catholicism after leaving office), snugly embracing a cadaverous Gaddafi, impassive, but visibly surprised by the unexpectedly warm gesture by his guest. Presumably, a handshake would have been less productive in terms of prospective commercial deals. Tony Blair, while Prime Minister, allegedly lobbied Colonel Gaddafi on behalf of Shell which has won contracts worth some USD 500m[3]. Petrol is a slick catalytic agent with marvellously effective properties for ablution and indeed for absolution! Petrocracies and petrocrats are afforded special privileges and immunities by these angelic nations and their leaders. President Gaddafi’s venial and mortal sins were quickly washed away with millions of barrels of crude oil, endearing him to the heads of state in the West and smoothening his way into their good books. The attitudes of Western governments and those of their acolytes in the Western media towards the heads of state or government accused of wrong-doing very much depend on the latitudes. In general, heads of state in developing countries are guilty until they are proven innocent while those in the West are innocent until they are found guilty!

EU Leaders and others

In 1983, on the orders of President FranƒÆ’†’§ois Mitterrand, the French intelligence services[4] had a jeep filled with deadly explosives placed in front of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, and attempted to explode it. Fortunately, all their attempts to cause an explosion, apparently targeted on Iranian embassy officials, proved futile. According to Admiral Lacoste Plan B of “Operation Satan” which consisted in causing the explosion using a bazooka, too, failed!  Please, note that this was done on the orders of an EU head of state who had mastered the art of preaching to the entire humanity on human rights and that of condemning terrorism in strongest possible terms. That the “Operation Satan” was carried out in response to a devastating attack[5] on French and American troops on 23 October 1983 in Beirut is no justification for an abominable act of state terrorism which could have caused a horrific carnage claiming hundreds of innocent lives. It was sheer providence or perhaps, the incompetence of those who planned it that averted the disaster. It should be noted that the operation was carried out only 10 days after the attack on the French and American soldiers and it is hard to believe that the French authorities had sufficient evidence of Iranian involvement in it. On the other hand, if they had been aware, even vaguely, of an Iranian plot, one wonders why they did not act to prevent it. I am not aware of any government in the West or elsewhere calling for UN Panels to investigate these acts of terrorism by the French Government. President Mitterrand was certainly not snubbed or shunned or the French Government stigmatized by anybody anywhere for ordering a callous and calculated bomb attack. I cannot recall a murmur from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch in this regard.

There is not an iota of doubt over the involvement of the French authorities at the highest level in the sinking of Rainbow Warrior “”…” boat used by Greenpeace activists in their protests against French nuclear tests in Moruroa in the South Pacific and the murder of a photographer on board in July 1985. It was a cruel, senseless and gratuitous act of terrorism by the French Government carried out through their intelligence services[6]. It was also an egregious violation of international law and the territorial integrity of New Zealand and an affront to decency and civilized behaviour among nations. Moreover, the French authorities persistently denied any involvement and, in fact, joined the “international community” in the condemnation of an act of terrorism, until the authorities in New Zealand provided proof of French involvement beyond any doubt. Even after accepting the responsibility for the terrorist act, the French Government shamelessly resorted to economic blackmail, abusing its influence in the European Community to secure the release of the two convicted criminals. Yet the governments in the EU and beyond had no qualms about dealing with the French government as if nothing had happened. As far as I can recall, no one dared to suggest that President Mitterrand or Prime Minister Laurent Fabius or Defence Minister Charles Hernu be given the cold shoulder because of their association with a terrorist attack and the subsequent cover-up.

Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy, is due to stand trial on 6 April this year on charges of prostitution involving an under-aged girl and of undue interference with justice in her release from custody when the girl concerned was under arrest for theft. Moreover, he is alleged to have bribed the husband of a former British minister[7] to give false testimony in his favour in 1997, in addition to being accused of fraud and embezzlement over the acquisitions of TV rights. Nevertheless, there is no trace of evidence to suggest that he is being ostracized by his peers in the European Community or elsewhere. The heads of state or government including Mr David Cameron, British Prime Minister, who take part in EU summits and other events, show no sign of embarrassment and seem to be enjoying his company. Of course, Mr Berlusconi is no ordinary mortal. His fortune is estimated at over USD 9bn. Only a few heads of state in the developing world can match his wealth. If they can, they will, no doubt, be duly recognized. Western capitals were vying with one another in rolling out the red carpet for the infamous kleptocratic Joseph Sese Mobutu (1965-1997), President of Zaire “”…” now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. President Mobutu and his spouse made a state visit to London with a state banquet held in their honour in Buckingham Palace on 11 Dec 1973.   

Mon Valery-Giscard d’Estaing, former President of France (1974-1981), was accused of having received valuable personal gifts including diamonds from Emperor Jean BƒÆ’†’©del Bokkasa (1966-79) of the Central African Republic. Emperor Bokkasa stood trial on charges of treason, murder and cannibalism, was found guilty of both treason and murder and sentenced to death. No one ever suggested that Mon Giscard d’Estaing be shunned because of the allegations against him. Since leaving office, Mon Valery Giscard-d’Estaing has served as a member of the Trilateral Commission and French Constitutional Council and is a member of the French Academy. Personally, I have no difficulty in believing the former French President’s version of events and in accepting his refutation of the accusations against him[8]. However, a head of state from a developing country accused of receipt of personal  gifts from a man who stood trial on cannibalism would certainly be ostracized by the sanctimonious  crowd in the EU and elsewhere.

President Nicolai Ceausescu of Romania “”…” darling of the West in his heyday “”…” was wont to make numerous state visits to European capitals including one to Britain where he was showered with all manner of honours including a KCB, an honorary degree for his spouse and, funnily enough, a black Labrador puppy. As in the case of President Mugabe, the honour was discreetly withdrawn from him in the last days of his reign and the Romanian President had to die a plain Ceausescu! The President of Romania was also the recipient of the LƒÆ’†’©gion d’Honneur from France and the Order of the Elephant from Denmark. Once again, the poor old Ceausescu was stripped of the honour from Denmark just in time on 23 December 1989 before he was summarily executed on Christmas Day. Needless to say that he was demonized as a corrupt autocratic ruler (which he was) who oppressed his own people when the leaders in the West realised that, following the near collapse of the Romanian economy in the late 1980s, they could no longer sell a packet of crisps to him, let alone supersonic jets.

Just-in-time abandoning technique 

The heads of state or government in the West have no hesitation in wining and dining with corrupt aging dictators in the developing world and milking them for their personal gains as well as for the benefit of the businesses they lobby for and in dumping them unceremoniously when the relationship no longer serves any purpose. In 2001, Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family had a six-day holiday in Egypt at the expense of the Egyptian Government[9] and is said to have made a donation to a charity to salve his conscience. Now, you may want to read the statements made by the UK Government following the departure of their dear old friend, Hosni Mubarak, after nearly thirty years in power!

The modus operandi is almost always the same. They keep a careful watch on the unfolding events, not quite knowing which way things are heading, calibrate the tone and contents of their utterances skilfully and make sure that they are, to start with, not only anodyne, but also ambiguous enough to be easily turned and twisted into whatever interpretation they choose to give later, depending on the circumstances. It is the kind of verbal gymnastics they excel in. Remember how President Obama emphatically said “now means now” on Egypt. Nevertheless, it seemed that he actually meant “later”. It took Mr Obama nearly a week to utter a few words on Libya. As for his Secretary of State, her tongue was, perhaps, stuck in crude oil. Maybe, both had learnt a lesson from the self-righteous French Foreign Minister. On 12 January 2011, Madame Michelle Alliot-Marie, French Foreign Minister, in her speech on Tunisia to the National Assembly, offered the Tunisian Police the French know-how to handle the security situation. Surely, Madame Alliot-Marie was personally aware of the situation, for she had come back from a lovely holiday in Tunisia which included a free jaunt in a private jet of a friend of the Tunisian President. In addition, as former Minister of the Interior, Madame Alliot-Marie is well equipped to advise the Tunisian Police on repression!  

As soon as it becomes evident that the days of their cronies are numbered and that the situation has reached a point of no return or, in plain language, that the government has fallen or is about to fall, they go on a voyage of discovery on the length of “the reign of terror unleashed on the population”, lack of democracy and associated freedoms in the country, innumerable violations of human rights etc, spit out a few insipid remarks, mainly, for the local media and trout out a plethora of sickeningly didactic statements extolling the verities of democracy. Of course, the ritualistic press releases replete with ministerial quotes on the ban of exports of arms and ammunition including tear gas canisters and water cannons which could be used for internal repression inevitably follow. Apparently, one British minister[10] thought that Bahrain was purchasing water cannons to wash graffiti off the walls in Manama and appeared to have been totally innocent of intended use for tear gas.

Make hay while the sun shines

Mr David Cameron, British Prime Minister, has found time, despite his busy schedules and certainly out of avuncular concern for the safety and welfare of the people in the countries in turmoil, to visit the Middle East, inter alia, to give the new rulers a pat on the back to encourage them on the journey ahead to democracy. Incidentally, Mr Cameron, thoughtful as ever of citizens’ safety, has made sure that his retinue includes an impressive array of arms dealers, just in case emergent democracies in the Middle East need any more weapons. Of course, Mr Cameron is not the sort of world leader to fish in troubled waters “”…”just make a little hay while the sun shines!

Truth in international diplomacy is, indeed, stranger than fiction.

Dr Bandula Kothalawala


[1][1] There are no legal powers available to the government to ban a sporting team from participation. However, in the light of the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in the country, ministers have made clear that if the decision were for them, England should not play in Zimbabwe.”, Tony Blair, 30 Dec 2002, The Guardian 

[2] See SC Resolution 7868, adopted by 13 members with France and the US abstaining

[3] The Times, 27 April 2010

[4] See the account given by Admiral Pierre Lacoste, Head, DGSE, in the documentary titled Histoire des services secrets francais, FR 5, 2011

[5] 243 American marines and 58 French paratroopers died in the horrific terrorist attack in Beirut on 23 Oct 1983.

[6] DGSE (Direction GĮՠթnĮՠթrale de la SĮՠթcuritĮՠթ ExtĮՠթrieure)

[7] David Mills, husband of Tessa Jowell, former Labour Minister

[8] Mon Giscard d’Estaing gives a detailed account of the gifts he received from the Emperor and convincingly refutes the allegations in his autobiography, Le Pouvoir et la Vie,1991

[9] Mr Blair is reported to have made a donation to an Egyptian charity although the amount was not disclosed. 

[10] Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt

One Response to “Sri Lanka in International Diplomacy – Policies and Fallacies”

  1. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    Though there are many British politicians who are quite supportive and friendly towards SriLanka, the British political leaders are a shameless opportunists bunch. Today it seems they are unashamedly taking instructions from Tamil terrorists on how to treat SriLanka and these bankrupt politicians are falling over one another for funds from any source including the dirty money collected by Tamil terrorists and Libya’s Gadafi.
    As for protection of human rights of the victims of British/US/EU aggression, one cannot depend on organisations controlled and funded by Western nations, such as the HRW and AI, which have lost their credibility a long time ago. The human rights violations and other crimes committed by the British in the colonies for centuries cannot be surpassed by any other nation or terrorist group, but HRW and AI pretend not to be aware of them. In fact Adele Balasingham, one time Tiger terrorist leader who trained tamil girls to kill innocent non-tamil peasants, have chosen UK to live, as she knows British justice and the so called human rights organisations would not disturb her. Instead they are after the SriLankan leaders who were brave enough to rescue over 300,000 hostages from the Tiger terrorists and also eliminate the Tiger Terrorist leaders who the Western powers were depending upon to break up India and as well as get rid of the Chinese from the Indian Ocean nations.

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