YAHAPALANA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Part 17
Posted on October 20th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Sri Lanka should take a look at the way other countries are dealing with USA.  We could start with Iran. USA’s interest in Iran started due to its oil. American companies were drilling Iran’s oil. USA got rid of Iran’s popular ruler, Mossadegh and replaced him with the awful Shah Reza Pahlavi. The Shah’s secret police SAVAK was assisted by CIA and Israel’s MOSSAD. The Shah was unpopular and the USA had to take him away. A theocratic Iranian state, openly hostile towards USA, came into being.

USA then started its present day battle with Iran. Iran has loomed large in American politics, despite the distance, observed analysts. There was the ‘Iran hostage’ crisis, the ‘Iran Contra’ issue, ‘Iran nuclear programme’  and so on.   Iran returned the compliment. Iran criticized USA at every turn. When you click on Al Jazeera today, there is sure to be an Iranian authority on the screen, scolding USA. Iran is simultaneously fighting three cold wars, Israel, Saudi Arabia and US, commented TIME. Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei, has ‘confounded every US President’ for the last 30 years, said TIME.

Then there is Venezuela. USA is   meddling in Venezuela too. USA wants Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro to go. USA is supporting opposition leader Juan Guido, who has declared himself ‘Interim President’ without any constitutional right to do so. Guido’s wife was invited to the White House to meet President Trump.  The US, Canada, EU and many OAS countries have recognized Guido as the Interim President, making the country have two Presidents, observed analysts.

But there is   support for Maduro too. Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and dozens of other countries at the United Nations have joined together  to show support for Venezuela in its showdown with the United States, said France 24” (on 14.2.19). Maduro is winning in Venezuela, said analysts speaking on France 24” (on 2.10.19)  Maduro told Trump ‘don’t repeat a Vietnam in South America’

Venezuela   formed a support group of its own in the UN, of around 50 countries. When he spoke to the media in February 2019, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister was flanked by the ambassadors of several countries including Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, North Korea, Syria, the Caribbean countries and the Palestinian representative.

Venezuela and Palestine on behalf of the Non-aligned Movement, presented a draft resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2019 condemning the imposition of sanctions by the United States and its allies against Venezuela and other member states. The document also reaffirms the “inalienable right” of every country “to choose freely and develop, in accordance with the sovereign will of its people, its own political, social, economic and cultural systems, without interference from any other State or non-State actor.”

The draft resolution was approved with 28 votes in favor, 14 against and five abstentions. “I am grateful for the overwhelming support of the member states of the UN Human Rights Council for the resolution presented by NAM in favor of Venezuela, said Maduro.

India is now having second thoughts about its link with the USA. India has already established contact with Russia and now it is trying to settle its disputes with China. China and India met at a summit in Chennai in October 2019.   This is the 19th occasion that they have met since Indian Prime Minister   Modi took office, said analysts. Some meetings were informal visits.

At this meeting India wanted China to do something about India’s trade deficit with China. India has a trade deficit of USD 53 billion in China’s favor, the biggest India has with any country. China said it was willing to address the issue.

India’s  drug industry and India’s IT services have long sought  market access to China.  China said both were welcome. In return, China wanted India to consider Huawei’s bid for India’s proposed 3G network and not be swayed by U.S. pressure. The United States has asked its allies not to use Huawei equipment, which it says China could exploit for espionage.

China also seeks to link some of her relatively backward, land-locked Western regions with India’s North-East. India’s North-East is rich in strategic resources, such as, mineral and energy reserves, said analysts.

Yahapalana on the other hand is continuing its link with USA. Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India, Austin Fernando paid a courtesy call on the US Ambassador to New Delhi in December  2018 at the US Embassy there. The High Commissioner held cordial discussions with the US Ambassador on a wide range of affairs covering subjects such as economy, bilateral and multilateral relationships of Sri Lanka, trade relations with the United States of America and the country opinions on foreign relations and governance issues. The High Commissioner briefed the US Ambassador on the political situation in Sri Lanka and the need for robust involvement of the US in the economic front and promoting economic assistance to Sri Lanka.

USA is determined to capture Sri Lanka, politically and militarily. The most important  of these  for USA, at the moment is  the military aspect. Robert. O. Blake, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 2006 to 2009, visited Sri Lanka  in May 2019. He said that Sri Lanka is a very attractive partner  and  a military role is expected of Sri Lanka. Military links between USA and Sri Lanka are getting strengthened, he said. USA military and Sri Lanka military train together. There are joint exercises with all three services.  The US embassy and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have separately  denied  that US plans to set up a military base in Sri Lanka.

In addition to US-Sri Lanka military-to-military partnership, Sri Lanka  also entered into a ‘Comprehensive Partnership Agreement’ (CPA) with Japan in October 2015. Japan is part of the USA Quad. The recent tripartite agreement between Sri Lanka, India and Japan on Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port should be examined taking into consideration Western powers seeking to dominate Sri Lanka,   added Shamindra Ferdinando, in June 2019.

Yahapalana is also trying to link Sri Lanka with ASEAN. Sri Lanka has asked ASEAN to include Sri Lanka as an ASEAN Sectoral Dialogue Partner to strengthen engagement with ASEAN and its member countries. Sri Lanka submitted its dossier for Sectoral Dialogue Partnership to ASEAN in March 2019 ASEAN has links to USA. The United States began engaging with ASEAN as a dialogue partner in 1977, and has cooperated with ASEAN ever since.

USA wants Sri Lanka to sign two agreements which will benefit USA militarily. The first of these, ACSA, has already been signed. An Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA)  between Sri Lanka and US was first signed in 2007 by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as Defence Secretary and expanded in 2017 by the Yahapalana government, said Yahapalana .

The ACSA between the two states provides for ‘logistical support, supplies and services’ to each other’s militaries. While the support is said to be ‘reciprocal’ it may be inferred that the agreement is weighted heavily in favour of the US, since Sri Lanka  army does not engage in military adventures abroad, said critics.

Both agreements say  that the USA army can come into Sri Lanka in   an unforeseen situation.  However, unlike the 2007 agreement, the 2019 agreement has annexures which  list by name, the various military units which can come in.  With the signing of ACSA, we are no longer non-aligned, announced  Tamara Kunanayagam.

Critics  are pursuing this matter of ACSA because it has not been made public. Opposition wanted to know why even after two years the signed text of the ACSA was not tabled in Parliament  by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The  agreement  has not being presented to the Cabinet, Parliament and the people, they complained .

Yahapalana offered excuses. Yahapalana said that  the ACSA  Yahapalana  signed with USA had less number of pages than the ACSA signed in 2007. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said in Parliament that You don’t measure the harmfulness of an agreement based on the number of pages. That depends on the content.”

Wimal Weerawansa  responded to Prime Minister’s observation that the new ACSA signed had only five pages.” I am tabling the Agreement signed during Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s period. It has only eight pages and no annexures. The  recent ACSA document  has 83 pages with more than 50 annexures .I have a copy of it. I also have with me the Sinhala version forwarded to the Cabinet. This contains only the primary section, concluded Weerawansa..”

Once ACSA was signed the USA  moved onto the second agreement, the SOFA. Although the full details of the proposed SOFA pact still remain largely confidential what is now known should surely ring alarm bells among those in this country concerned about its sovereignty and security, said Sunday Times. From the little that is known about the SOFA, its terms will reduce the host state to the level of a neo-colony.

A draft copy of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), now under negotiation between the US and Sri Lanka, obtained by the Sunday Times, reveals a number of Washington’s demands that would impinge on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

The agreement said  The US is seeking that aircraft and vessels of the US Government to be free from boarding and inspection.” This means none of the state security arms, like the Navy, Coast Guard or the Customs can board any US military vessel or aircraft when it is in a Sri Lankan airport or sea port – or even vehicles on land and helicopters, an internationally accepted sovereign right of a country. The US wants exemption from licence, Customs duties, taxes and any other charges within Sri Lanka.

The US is also seeking authorization for its troops to wear uniforms whilst ‘on duty’ in any part of Sri Lanka, carrying arms and radio communications equipment.Both in terms of the Sri Lanka Constitution and normal laws, only the armed forces and the Police are empowered to carry out this task. The only exceptions are Sri Lankans who are authorized by licence. In addition, Washington wants US troops and contractors to be allowed to enter and leave Sri Lanka, individually or collectively, with the use of only their US identification. This will mean they will carry no passports or visas.”

Among the privileges that the US has asked for, is the right of US military personnel to carry weapons and be subject not to Sri Lankan jurisdiction but to US law in the event of some crime or criminal activity. They will be beyond Sri Lanka’s jurisdiction even if one of them kills or wounds a local person with his weapon.

Those stationed in Sri Lanka will be using their US driving licences which need not be produced before any local authority. Nor would their passports or other travel documents be inspected . Their vehicles on Sri Lankan roads cannot be inspected or boarded. They could kill anybody and get away with it as they would just wave their diplomatic papers. There is also a clause that exempts US vessels and aircraft being boarded and inspected by Sri Lankan authorities. It also exempts equipment and other articles and material being used under this agreement, from inspection within Sri Lanka.

Ranil Wickremesinghe   said in Parliament  that SOFA was not an agreement but an exchange of letters signed between the US Embassy and our Foreign Ministry. These agreements generally establish the framework under which US military personnel operate in a foreign country. SOFA provides for rights and privileges of covered individuals while in foreign jurisdictions and how the laws of foreign jurisdictions apply to US personnel.

This has been going on from 1995, he said. Such letters were exchanged in May, 1995 during the Presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga. One of the letters is as follows: The (Foreign) Ministry is pleased to inform the above-mentioned personnel that US military personnel, civil employees of the Department of Defence will be accorded the same status as provided to technical and administrative staff of the Embassy of the United States. The Ministry also wishes to inform that this reply shall be considered an agreement effective May 16, 1995. This shows that diplomatic privileges are already accorded to US military personnel and civil employees of the Department of Defence, he concluded.

Since there was  so much  opposition to SOFA, the USA changed SOFA’s name to  ‘Visiting Forces Agreement.’ A Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is a version of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that only applies to troops temporarily in a country. Philippines President Duterte threatened to abrogate the VFA the Philippines had with the US, but found that  the  treaty can only be repealed by an Act of the US Congress.

President Sirisena said in August 2019  that SOFA should not be signed without his approval. He made it  clear that he was the Minister of Defence and SOFA was a subject that came under his purview. S   said that it will suspend talks on  SOFA until the presidential election is over. The US embassy hopes to take it up again after the Presidential election of November 2019.

The Sri Lankan  intelligentsia wanted  clarification about these agreements. This was the first time that the public had even thought about such matters.  Until now,  sixty years past independence,  the intelligentsia had shown no interest in the agreements that  the  government  were signing.   They trusted  the government not to sign anything  mad. This time it was different.  The intelligentsia were concerned as to what mess Yahapalana was getting them into. They made inquiries.

The law  relating to treaties says that the Head of state, Head of government and foreign minister can sign  on behalf of the country, said Palitha Kohona when consulted.   In US A  these officials cannot sign a treaty until US  Senate had approved it. Sri Lanka has no such safeguards.

These agreements are legally binding, Kohona  told his concerned audience.  Once you enter into an agreement you are bound by it. We sign these things  voluntarily   and then find that we are obliged to  realize the provisions.  With superpowers there is no easy way out of it, he said. You can get out of a treaty only on the treaty’s own conditions.

Tamara Kunanayagam  added to this.There may be an International law of Treaties but still they cannot go against the UN Charter. We are entitled to protect our resources, our land. There is a right to permanent sovereignty, said Tamara Kunanayagam.” Future government must say it will not recognize the treaties.

The intelligentsia debated   on how to get out of these treaties, when the next President comes in. Military treaties will being in troops. If the Americans come how to get rid of them, pondered the intelligentsia. Land grabbing is violation of international law but it may be difficult to throw them out, if US leases our land.

The best way, the intelligentsia decided was to keep them out at the start itself. A new organization named STOP USA was started in Colombo in June 2019. The objective is to prevent the three USA treaties.” The organization was joined by many lawyers, politicians and artists, reported the media.The organization seems to be going strong. In August there was a Stop USA meeting at Gampaha.

There is a third US-Sri Lanka  agreement, the Millenium Corporation Compact. The time frame for MCC Sri Lanka Compact has now ended said the US  Ambassador in August 2019. This was the first time that this kind of situation has arisen in the final stages of signing the agreement, she said, adding that it will be very difficult  to convince the MCC board that they should continue with the deal. The government is still undecided. I don’t know what to do as there is not much we can do now,”  she said.

Those supporting the United States of America praised the MCC agreement. It is only a critic of the most destructive kind who would see the compact as having nothing of value to Sri Lanka, they said. The MCC Compact should be seen as having essentially the same aims as other foreign-aided development ventures, including those funded by, for example, the numerous UN agencies operative in Sri Lanka. What goes for the latter goes for the MCC Compact as well. It needs to be noted that the Compact has been and will be worked out in collaboration with the Sri Lankan government, said   USA’s admirers.

The Colombo-Trincomalee railway link   which the public associate with the MCC,  would not be dividing the country, it would be linking it more strongly, they said.  In Japan, there is a high-speed railway line between Tokyo and Nigata. The bullet train takes less than two hours to complete the journey and  no one has access to the bullet train track. This train track has not divided the country or the people, but actually connected them with a fast and safe mode of transport. A high-speed railway link between Colombo and Trincomalee ,  would   also connect the two places . It will  accelerate income growth and job creation, bringing about economic benefits to people, as well.

Those who were anti-USA flatly rejected this. ‘There’s nothing called a free lunch’ they said. The intended Compact falls into the sort of  lunch which carries a price. It could serve certain foreign policy aims of the US and could be described as designed to meet specific national interests of the USA.

The Trincomalee –Colombo link is going to be Sri Lanka’s first electric rail link. It  is viewed with suspicion because it is suggested by the USA. It has a clear  military  importance to USA, but for  no one else. USA has brought in military items by plane  to Katunayake and then transported them by road to their ships in  the Trincomalee sea. High speed train will be better.

The USA is busy trying to create another military opening  to try and enter Sri Lanka . The doctrine of Right to Protect (R2P). R2P  has been developed as an excuse  to justify international intervention by sovereign countries in  the domestic affairs of other countries. it is viewed with concern by the countries that the US is trying to get into.

 R2P   flies in the face of the founding principles of the UN, said analysts. The UN Charter already  covers the objectives of global peace based on sovereignty and equality. the way to achieve this is given in chaps 6, 7, 8 of the Charter. UN agencies have been successful in  maintaining global peace and R2P is unnecessary. 

The International Commission on Intervention and state Sovereignty (ICSS) established in 2000 and headed by Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group,  issued in 2001, a report titled ‘Responsibility to Protect’ . This presented the idea that the international community has the responsibility to  intervene militarily, when there are  crises in  sovereign states, in order to bring ‘security and justice’ to the victim population.

 The ICISS report was not accepted by national governments. The idea was projected at various  summits such as 2005 World Summit, and member states reluctantly agreed after a lengthy debate to include reference to R2P in the outcome document, limited to two paragraphs 138 and 139. in 2006, UN Security Council resolution 1674 of 2006 reiterated the reservations of paragraphs 138 and 139.

in 2009 Ban Ki Moon put forward a report ‘ implementing the responsibility to protect’ it was debated in General Assembly in 2009 with 94 member states voicing concerns and the resulting resolution only records that it had taken note of the resolution. UN Secretary General’s report  of 2010  only refers to the existence of R2p in paras 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome, concluded analysts.  

The US has put in place a set of ‘interfering agencies for R2P’ said G.H.Pieris. . They include government agencies associated with foreign affairs in powerful countries, key humanitarian activists in and around the Office of the Un High commission for Human rights, scholarly ‘think tanks’ at leading universities, international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty international,  International Crisis Group and the  ‘Chicago R2P coalition’. The global advocacy networks  for R2P includes elite level NGOs in operating in third world states and key personnel in powerful media firms. R2P has not developed any further, but Sri Lanka must take note of the fact that R2P is  still hovering in the air.

Currently USA is the largest single contributor to the UN paying 22% of the budget. This gives them financial clout. With the creation of a  Human Rights Council to replace UN Commission on Human rights, in 2006 a busy special procedures regime  was established to monitor Human Rights in particular countries.  The Universal periodic review of member countries is used by the US to blackmail non compliant countries. US  also expanded the operational coverage of UNHCR to included IDPs and other affected populations. A global NGO movement was  nurtured  parallel with this.  More than 3000 NGOs have been named as official consultants to the ECOSOC with many more contributing unofficially through the embassies, said Kamal Wickremasinghe. (CONTINUED)

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