YAHAPALANA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Part 11
Posted on September 21st, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Those opposing American rule in Sri Lanka has now woken up to the need to internationalise the matter. In August 2019, a group of Opposition MPs handed over a letter to the High Commissioner of South Africa in Colombo, to be handed over to the Secretary-General, Indian Ocean Rim Association,  Ambassador Dr. Nomvuyo N. Nokwe based in Mauritius. The letter was handed over to by Professor Tissa Vitarana, representing the signatories.

THE FOLLOWING IS TEXT OF THEIR LETTER:

We, the undersigned, have the honour to refer to the decision of the Council of Ministers of the Indian Ocean Rim Association at its meeting in Bengaluru in November 2011 to assign Maritime Safety and Security as its top priority area of focus, acknowledging the importance of a safe and secure Indian Ocean for socio economic development. We also wish to refer to IORA’s recognition that ‘maritime security’ includes “elements of international peace and security, sovereignty/territorial integrity/political independence, security from crimes at sea, security of resources and environmental security. “

In this regard, we wish to invite your attention to a new situation that has arisen in relation to Sri Lanka that is likely to pose a grave threat to regional and international peace and security, given its geostrategic location on the maritime route linking East and West.

The people of Sri Lanka, their Parliament and President, have only recently learned of three military or military-related agreements between the United States of America and Sri Lanka that have been secretly and hurriedly elaborated, negotiated and signed or are on the verge of being signed. Together, they form part of a larger project to transform Sri Lanka into a US strategic military hub in the Indian Ocean, a project that is incompatible with the Purposes and Principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and violates the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

We highlight below some of the provisions of relevance to the aims and objectives of IORA. Since neither the Government of Sri Lanka nor the Government of the United States has released the text of the agreements to the public or to Parliament, the information provided is based on excerpts leaked to the press:

1 Under Acquisitions and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), formerly known as the NATO Mutual Support Act, signed on 4 August 2017, Sri Lanka agrees to provide the United States with logistical and other support for, inter alia, “unforeseen circumstances or exigencies.” In other words, it allows utilization and exploitation by US forces of Sri Lanka’s strategic harbours, airports and military installations for large-scale power projection operations in and through the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) area of responsibility, which will transform Sri Lanka into a Launchpad for attacks of aggression against third countries in our region, as defined in General Assembly resolution 3314 (XX1X), and in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law.

2. Secret negotiations are ongoing on a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which permits Department of Defence (DoD) military and civilian personnel, as well as DoD contractors, to occupy the entire territory of Sri Lanka, including, inter alia, for “other activities mutually agreed,” in addition to its use for “ship visits, training exercises, (and) humanitarian activities;” exempts DoD personnel from criminal jurisdiction; grants them diplomatic privileges and immunities; authorizes their entry into the country with only US identification; allows their free movement to any part of Sri Lankan territory, wearing military uniform and carrying weapons; allows also the free movement of their vessels and vehicles; and exempts them from any inspection, restriction, taxes or duties of any equipment, records or other material they import, export or use.

3. Millenium Challenge Compact (MCC) is a third secret agreement signed on 25 April 2019 involving a land project and a transport project that will create an “economic corridor” involving 8 districts and which reportedly covers 1,2 million acres and divides the country into two parts. An electric train will connect the strategic northeastern port of Trincomalee to Colombo’s international airport and harbour in the west, thus facilitating the movement of US troops and other DoD personnel between Sri Lanka’s strategic ports and airport. Under the land project, the US has imposed drastic reforms of land laws that will permit privatization of state lands and purchase of unlimited extents by foreigners. Through this mechanism, state lands, which under existing laws are granted to landless farmers for their use, or used for public schools and hospitals, parks, or natural reserves, will be transferred to foreign transnational corporations. The area covered by the MCC project contains a wealth of natural resources and strategic assets, including energy deposits, rare earth elements, and other minerals, rich biodiversity, water resources, and UNESCO world heritage sites. Its implementation will lead to a massive displacement of populations; the plunder of their wealth and natural resources; stripping them of their livelihood and depriving them of public utilities, schools, hospitals, places of worship, cemeteries, etc.; and, causing irreparable harm to environment and loss of biodiversity.

All three agreements have been negotiated in secret and imposed upon the people, without any public participation or parliamentary oversight, with the President of the country himself being misled. Negotiations were/are conducted under duress with regular threats of unilateral coercive trade and economic measures, blatant Western interference in the internal affairs of the country, and the selective targeting of Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council by the US and its Western allies, including through successive US-led resolutions to provide legitimacy to its unilateral project. It is significant that the pressure intensified following the tragic Easter Sunday massacres that saw the arrival in the country of significant numbers of US and other Western intelligence and military personnel.

Together, the three agreements contribute to the extension and strengthening of NATO activities in the region and cannot be isolated from the overall strategy of the United States in the region that it calls the Indo-Pacific. The US President’s National Security Strategy 2017 and the 2018 National Defense Strategy identified three sets of threats to America and its allies, all of them of concern to the Indian Ocean region: China and Russia; Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and “jihadist terror.”

The signing of such military agreements in the context of US bellicosity against powers in our region, including China and Iran, but also the conflict between India and Pakistan, and between India and China, poses a grave threat to regional and international peace and security and must be of concern to IORA and to its Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security.

In view of the foregoing, the undersigned appeal to IORA Member States, individually and collectively, as a matter of priority, to take the following urgent measures in conformity with their obligations under the IORA Charter and the Charter of the United Nations:

a) Ensure respect for, promote and safeguard the fundamental principles upon which international cooperation among states must be based, including, inter alia, respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, noninterference in internal affairs, peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit;

b) Evaluate the adverse consequences of the agreement for regional and international peace and security and communicate the results to the United Nations, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the UN Charter;

c) Take appropriate action under Chapter VIII, Article 52, of the UN Charter, concerning regional arrangements which authorises such arrangements “to deal with matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security in a manner consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations, and in no way impairing the authority of the General Assembly nd Security Council in such matters under Articles 34 and 35;”

d) Implement, through appropriate mechanisms of IORA and in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the UN Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace adopted by the General Assembly resolution 2832 (XXVI), which designates the Indian Ocean for all time as a zone of peace “within limits to be determined,” together with the airspace above and the ocean floor subjacent thereto;

e) Take appropriate action under Chapter V1, Article 35 of the UN Charter, concerning Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, which “authorizes any Member of the United Nations to bring to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly, any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.” (end of the statement) (Island 10.8.19 p 3)

Tamara Kunanayagam was associated with the drafting of the memorandum. ‘I fully share the concerns expressed by the signatories and endorse the content of the letter and its objectives’, she said. She went on to explain some of the items in the letter.

 The letter does not call for “UN intervention,” which would constitute a violation of State sovereignty prohibited by the Charte, Tamara said. Instead, and in conformity with the Charter, it draws the attention of IORA and its member States to a new situation that has arisen in relation to Sri Lanka as a result of the military or military-related agreements between the USA and Sri Lanka – ACSA, SOFA and MCC – elaborated, negotiated and signed (or on the verge of being signed), under coercion and in secret, and which are likely to pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.

The letter calls upon IORA member States, who are also members of the United Nations, to fulfill their obligations under IORA’s own Charter and the Charter of the United Nations.

The UN Charter is the only universally recognized rule of law that currently governs relations between States, based on sovereign equality. It stands opposed to the so-called ‘rule of law’ aggressively promoted by the US, based on unilateralism, external intervention and aggression, which seeks to maintain US hegemony, globally.

Under article 103 of the UN Charter, any agreement that conflicts with non-derogable peremptory norms of general international law, such as sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, is null and void.

 Secret agreements are moreover incompatible with the UN Charter, as are military agreements signed in the context of big power rivalry, including, in particular, those aimed at attacking third world States.

The UN definition of aggression includes “the action of a State in allowing its territory, which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression against a third State” (General Assembly resolution 3314 (XXIX) on Definition of Aggression).

The UN Charter prohibits external ‘intervention’ in whatever form by one State in the internal affairs of another. Instead, it obliges Member States to take effective collective measures, by peaceful means, to prevent and remove threats to the peace, and to suppress any acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.

Chapter VI of the Charter sets out the peaceful means whereby parties to a conflict or any other state should seek a solution. Under article 35, any UN Member State may bring to the attention of the Security Council or General Assembly “any dispute, or any situation” that “might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute.”

Chapter VIII allows regional arrangements to deal with matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security in a manner consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.

In the letter addressed to IORA Secretary General, the signatories call on Member States to apply the provisions under chapters VI and VIII relating to the peaceful settlement of disputes through regional and international cooperation, and not through intervention, and in a manner that respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

 It calls on IORA Member States to “ensure respect for, promote and safeguard the fundamental principles upon which international cooperation among states must be based, including, inter alia, respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit.”

The US views itself as a hegemonic power with the authority to dominate the entire globe, including outer space, and to act unilaterally, preemptively and preventively imposing on other states its own “rule of law.” This rogue state vision of the world blatantly contradicts the universally recognised multilateral order governed by the Charter of the United Nations. It is this unilateral vision that the signatories of the letter to the Secretary General of IORA unequivocally reject, concluded Tamara Kunanayagam. ( continued)

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