Is Sri Lanka the 3rd highest HR hot spot for the US? Why?

Ramanie de Zoysa

On International Human Rights Day (8 December 2008) the US Secretary of State Ms Condoleeza Rice awarded three people for various HR related performances par excellence. There were no surprises in the selection of countries that US found lacking in HR when the US honoured Russian journalist Yulia Latynina with a Freedom Defenders Award and the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr James D. McGee with the Diplomacy for Freedom award. Given the traditional antipathy US has held towards Russia and with the cold war between the two countries notching up towards freezing temperatures again the US was bound to pick on Russia. Mr Mugabe, once a plant of the CIA who turned into a nasty oppressor of white people in Zimbabwe was bound to be the next target. The awarding of either the journalist who looks to handover on a platter ‘dirt’ that can be held to justify any future action towards Russia or the man who is feeding the US with vital ‘information’ on wrong doings that can be used to dethrone Mr Mugabe’s raises no eyebrows. It is the Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award bestowed on Mr Michael DeTar, the chief of Political Section of the US Embassy in Colombo, which people who know Sri Lanka well find impossible to reconcile with.

Sri Lanka is no Russia or a Zimbabwe but a thriving democracy with sound socio political and economic indicators. Countries with no history to speak of don’t seem to be appreciative but Sri Lanka also has over 3000 year history of rule of law and culture.

Finding creative & pragmatic ways to engage

In any contest the prizes go to the contestant who not only succeeds but also tackles a hard enough job and succeeds. Does the US consider Sri Lanka as being the third-most tough job to handle in terms of HR violations in the world?

Mr De Tar received the award for ‘finding creative and pragmatic ways to engage constructively with Sri Lanka while underscoring our (US) human rights concerns’ according to Ms Rice. In specific Ms Rice referred to Mr De Tar

· playing a leading role in the ‘stabilization and recovery of the conflict-torn Eastern Province, focusing on disarming and demobilizing paramilitaries there’,

· being a ‘key actor in the international effort to monitor an official Commission of Inquiry investigating high-profile cases of human rights abuse’ and

· attending ‘quickly and effectively when journalists and other activists have been threatened or arrested’.

Two facts that are relevant to HR that Mr De Tar has obviously not reported to the US on and which Ms Rice has not taken into consideration were that:

· Sri Lanka is the only country in the world that has been taking care of food, sanitation, health and education needs of the people living in terrorist overrun territories over the last 25 years knowing very well that lion’s share of the free food and other sustenance is used by the terrorists.

· Sri Lanka is the only country that opts to send its soldiers inch at a time on foot to clear enemy occupied territories so that ‘collateral damage’ (to use former Secretary of State of USA Ms Marilyn Albright’s term defending the killing of civilians of another country by US Forces) is minimised. Minister of Foreign Employment and Military Spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella interviewed by Shanika Sriyananda of Sunday Observer of 14.12.08 confirms this: “Nowhere in the world that an internal war is fought in this manner with zero casualties. We have shown the world that we are fighting a war against terrorists but not against the innocent civilians.”

My impression is that the De Tar resume seems rather light to merit an award yet the US seems to consider his work as being on par with that of a journalist in Russia and the US Envoy in Zimbabwe. Is there a hidden agenda that was taken into account in selecting Mr De Tar for the award which was left out of Dr Rice’s speech?

Handy work of the fifth column

Mr De Tar is said to have acted ‘using his extensive network of civil society and media leaders’. He is not a well known name in Sri Lanka as a great social worker but seems to have been working behind the scenes engaging with the “civil society” and “media leaders” to gain “facts” to report back to the US.

The term “civil society”, which is a another name for the paid NGOs and INGOs, is a cunning phrase that gives the reader the impression that views labelled as “civil society views” are those expressed by ordinary appuhamys and meenachchis who perhaps drop by the Embassy on the way home after a hard days work to give Mr De Tar their opinions on issues at hand. It is certainly better to present a view as coming from “civil society” rather than presenting it as a view coming from the dollar greedy local hangers-on who depend on the foreign currency payouts to support their lavish life styles. The term “civil society” takes away the sting of reality where someone writes what his paymaster wants to read for personal gain. These are the very “civil society” members who receive fancy honoraria and awards from overseas. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council who more or less repeats ad nauseam the LTTE view rather than the ordinary citizen’s view recently won the 2008 Peace City Sakai Prize for Contributions to Peace from Centre for the Study of Peace and Reconciliation (CsPR) of Japan. Was he part of Mr De Tar’s “civil society”?

“Media leaders” is another misnomer given to a fringe of journalists who write that which fetches approval from rich overseas countries. Sonali Samarasinghe, the Editor of Morning Leader newspaper received the Global Shining Light Award in Norway for her work “to reveal misuse of power and corruption in Sri Lanka”. With an impressive array of anti- Buddhist and anti- Rajapakse government ‘reports’ under her belt it was no surprise that Samarasinghe is the darling of certain countries with Christian missionary agendas. While accepting the award Samarasinghe is reported to have said “I cannot accept this prize without remembering my colleagues in Sri Lanka. This year, 12 journalists have been killed, and one has been held hostage for 180 days,” Her colleague J.S. Tissainayagam had in fact been in Police custody for 180 days detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act rather than being “held hostage”. Tissainayagam was indicted by the courts recently for the offences he was charged with. Truth obviously has no currency in the international arena. Was Samarasinghe one of the ‘media leaders’ ‘engaging’ with Mr De Tar?

Ambassadorial concerns- flowing directly from US foreign policy?

While Sri Lankans are heartened by the interest the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka Mr Blake and his Embassy is taking on the country, the majority of Sri Lankans have been disconsolate at the amount of destructive interference in the internal affairs exerted by the US Embassy. It is the consistent advice offered by US Ambassador Blake on there being ‘no military solution’ to the LTTE terrorist problem that has generated vast amount anger among Sri Lankans. On September 21, 2007 at a Seminar on "Sri Lanka: the Way Forward" organised by the Fullbright Association Ambassador Blake remarked that military ‘successes should not tempt the Government to re-consider whether Sri Lanka’s conflict can be won by military means’. He urged the Sri Lankan Government to demonstrate that ‘it represents the interests of all Sri Lankans, not just southern Sinhalese’- this to a government that bends over backwards to accommodate every whim and fancy of the minorities; to a country where wealth, power & freedom statistics are skewed in favour of the minorities!

One year and one month later on 24 October 2008 Ambassador Blake repeated the same script in the capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai but with a few adjustments to suit the audience. Mr Blake’s talk at the University of Madras appeared to have been tailored to the audience in its ‘anti-war’ and ‘blame it on the Sinhalese’ rhetoric. Ambassador Blake rejected Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s view that political talks could come only after the LTTE was wiped out or disarmed. “A military solution is going to be very, very difficult,” he said, citing Sri Lankan Army Chief Sarath Fonseka’s statement that even if the Army occupied all of northern Sri Lanka, residual guerrillas force of at least a thousand LTTE fighters would go underground. It is not clear why 200,000 strong Sri Lankan Armed Forces who took on the entire rag tag army of LTTE successfully can not flush out over time ‘a residual force’ of LTTE vermin that may inter-mingle with ordinary citizens. What is not in favour of the anticipated ‘residual force’ of the LTTE is the vast experience the Sri Lanka Armed Forces have gained over 25 long years in combating terrorism in both guerrilla and conventional warfare.

As much as Sri Lankans are sick of hearing this worthless piece of advice, Envoy Blake himself must be sick of repeating it. Then, why does he keep repeating? Is he exceeding his role as the Ambassador to a friendly country or is this his role assigned to him by his Government in conformity with US foreign policy?

The officially stated goals of the foreign policy of the United States, as mentioned in the Foreign Policy Agenda of the U.S. Department of State, are "to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community”. HR seems to be a latter day expansion of the “benefit of the international community” bit. These expansions and elaborations of US foreign policy come from different sources, some of the most important players in shaping U.S. foreign policy being outside the government. "Think tanks" and NGOs serve a major role in shaping and critiquing American interactions with the rest of the world.

Take one of these outfits, The United States Institute of Peace (“USIP”) which introduces itself as “an independent, non-partisan, national institution established and funded by Congress”. One might even think that the terms “independent” and “established and funded by” are contradictory terms. One of USIP’s goals is the “supporting of policymakers by providing analyses, policy options, and advice, as well as by sponsoring a wide range of country-oriented working groups”.

A roundtable discussion held by USIP on 24 March 2000 (before 9/11!) addressed the need to enhance the role of US Ambassadors’ role in interpreting and implementing U.S. HR policy abroad. This discussion was participated by a distinguished group of former U.S. ambassadors including Ms Teresita Schaffer an ex- Ambassador to Sri Lanka. USIP’s Special Report No. 61 dated 30 August 2000 titled ‘The Role of the Ambassador in Promoting U.S. Human Rights Policy Abroad’ compiled by Emily Metzgar and Debra Liang-Fenton reported on the discussions at this workshop. This report talked about how the US human rights agenda which 25 years ago “fell well outside the parameters of classical realpolitik and was often categorized as "low policy"” is now general foreign policy priority.

This report compiled as far back as 2000 found that “The ambassador is also integrator among various interest groups with a role to play in helping promote U.S. human rights policy objectives in-country. Such interest groups include the business community, media, and local and international NGOs.” Given the list of dollar hungry traitors Sri Lanka has within these groups it is no wonder that Mr De Tar did a fine job of “reporting”!

participants to the above USIP workshop noted that people in host countries may see the US envoy attempting to implement US HR agenda overseas as being ‘meddling’ in internal affairs of the host country but did not seem to think that was a ‘problem’!

The report also identified that the US may need to take a “case by case” approach in the implementation of HR in the host countries which may show as if the US was having one rule for one and another for others. Under the heading “Strategic Interests versus Human Rights Objectives” the report stated that “Each country must be managed on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. government does not have a clearly defined list of priorities that can be applied to all countries uniformly. Consequently, where there is a major, overriding priority (such as the peace process or oil in the Middle East), the ambassador must skilfully manage to contribute to the peace process or to preserving energy security, while also working away at some of the world's worst human rights problems.” Is this not confirmation that where a benefit to the US such as the supply of oil was at issue HR would become a non-issue in the scheme of things while ‘preserving energy security’ takes prime stage? The corollary to that is where there is a hidden agenda such as where the US feels the need for a regime change in a country HR would become a handy tool to bring down a democratically elected government? CIA Fact Book of 2008 identifies LTTE and Velupillai PRABHAKARAN which to date has slaughtered 70,000 people and is armed to the teeth as a “Political pressure group and leader” while National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT) and other “Sinhalese Buddhist lay groups” who carry no arms and have not killed or maimed a single person are identified as “radical chauvinist Sinhalese groups”. Is it the US view that NMAT and other “Sinhalese Buddhist groups” and the Buddhist clergy pose the highest risk to its agenda, whatever that agenda may be? Is this why Sri Lanka gets the third prize in HR violations?


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