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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 15 September 2013 07:49
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Sunday Pol logo*Top US diplomat for South Asia puts Sri Lanka on notice
*Sri Lanka slammed at UNHRC sessions in Geneva

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“It’s better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die.” – Steve Biko


It is an age old adage that goes on to say that you reap what you sow and for the Mahinda Rajapaksa government this is now slowly, but surely becoming a reality.
The government is now being questioned on its actions past and present by the international community who are sending warning signals of what lies ahead. No Sri Lankan would support any external interference in the functions of the country, but it all depends on the actions of the government in power, its policies and the honouring of pledges made locally and internationally.
The forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) could also become a forum where the government would be questioned on its actions.
The Rajapaksa government cannot use its criticism against the TNA and its election manifesto for the North to respond to the questions posed by the international community on accountability. This is not an endorsement of the TNA’s recent actions, but emphasis on the fact that the Sri Lankan government would have to be more pragmatic in its approach to dealing with what lies ahead.
The Rajapaksa government also has to bear the responsibility in re-igniting communalist sentiments in the country, which happened long before the TNA released its Northern election manifesto.
It is no secret that there are many racist elements in the country representing different communities. The likes of the TNA stands for Tamil communalism, while the SLMC for Muslims and the JHU for Sinhalese.
When the TNA came out with its election manifesto, the JHU announced that it would not participate in the parliamentary select committee (PSC) that was appointed to decide on the proposed amendments to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
JHU General Secretary, Minister Champika Ranawaka claimed that the PSC was acting against the national interest.
As far as Sri Lankan political history goes, the problem of communalism commenced with the formation of political parties representing different communities.
However, the situation was made worse by the Rajapaksa government who turned a blind eye to extremist actions against minority communities and allowing extremism by the ethnic majority.
It is therefore the government that has inadvertently paved the way for the TNA to present its controversial Northern election manifesto.
The TNA for its part without addressing the short to mid-term needs of the people in the North have used the Northern Provincial Council elections to re-introduce its “internal self-governing” concept.
The TNA leaders while canvassing for their ideology would also have to respond to the criticism that most of them hardly visited Jaffna and that their visits become frequent only during election times.
While their political leaders are busy politicking and using them as tools to further their political careers, the sufferings of the people in the North continue.

Warning

Amidst the heavy campaigning for elections in three provinces that is to conclude this week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) commenced sessions in Geneva last week.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi PIllay who recently visited Sri Lanka warned the Rajapaksa government against reprisals targeting human rights defenders, journalists and communities she met during her recent visit to the country.
Making her statement on the opening day of the sessions, Pillay has noted that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights is before the Council at the current session.
It refers to cases of alleged reprisals, or intimidation, against persons as a result of such cooperation, from 16 June 2012 to 15 June 2013.
“I will be reporting on my observations later in the session, but wish to stress my immediate concern for the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and communities I met during my visit from any reprisal, intimidation or attack,” Pillay has said.
She has noted that she was grateful to the Government of Sri Lanka for facilitating her recent comprehensive visit, which allowed her to assess the progress being made towards reconstruction, reconciliation and accountability in the aftermath of the war – as well as the broader human rights situation, including religious intolerance, governance and the rule of law.

Govt slammed

The Rajapaksa government was also criticized by several other key members of the UNHRC on the opening day of the sessions.
The US, EU, German and Austrian delegations have slammed Sri Lanka over the alleged threats faced by people who met the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay during her recent visit to Sri Lanka.
The US in a statement has urged the government to make use of the UN offer of technical assistance on addressing human rights related issues.
US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe has said the US also welcomed Pillay’s recent visit to Sri Lanka.
She has observed that Pillay was able to examine outstanding concerns on human rights, justice and democratic governance.
Meanwhile, the EU has also welcomed Pillay’s recent visit to Sri Lanka and has called on the government to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
The EU has also raised concerns over reports that people who met Pillay had been intimidated or threatened.
Meanwhile, Germany has said it was “appalled” about the reports that people Pillay had met in Sri Lanka were threatened.
The German delegation has added that this showed the level of threats faced by human rights defenders and journalists in Sri Lanka.
Also making a statement at the Council, the Austrian delegation has urged the government to respond to allegations of intimidation, reprisals and attacks against local human rights defenders and journalists.

Put on notice

A key US diplomat for South Asia last week put Sri Lanka on notice by saying that pressure would be exerted towards an international process.
The US has stated that if Sri Lanka fails to address accountability issues through its own internal process then there will be pressure exerted towards an international process.
The statement was made by President Barack Obama’s nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Nisha Desai Biswal said in her statement before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in her confirmation hearing.
“As Sri Lanka works to rebuild its society after a devastating civil war, I will, if confirmed, continue to stress the importance of reconciliation and accountability and for the government to meet its commitments to all of its population,” she has said.
Senate member Marco Antonio Rubio has reportedly noted during the hearing that there were reports of 30 churches being attacked by Buddhist extremists in Sri Lanka and that he was not aware such a thing took place in Sri Lanka.
Senator John Mccain while noting about continued reports from human rights organizations of significant human rights abuses taking place against the Tamils following the end of the war has asked Biswal if the US should be more active in condemning the ongoing serious human rights abuses.
“The US has been very active and very engaged with Sri Lanka and with the international community in expressing our concern about both accountability and reconciliation between minority populations and majority populations in Sri Lanka. We have made clear that we believe that if Sri Lanka does not address through its own internal processes that there will be increasing calls for international processes to address these issues,” Biswal has said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Desai will become the first person of Indian or even South Asian origin to head the bureau. Biswal will then take over the South Asian Affairs division from former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, who is to take office as the new US ambassador to Indonesia.

Focus on India

Biswal has also spoken about further strengthening ties with India.
Biswal has pointed out that that India’s growing economic power makes it a vital anchor for the vision of regional engagement as well as a cornerstone of America's strategic rebalance to Asia.
She has said, “If I am confirmed by the Senate, advancing India-US Strategic Partnership will be of paramount importance.”
She has noted that India and US relationship has broadened and deepened in the last decade, Desai told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the two countries are already strong partners in combating terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“India’s growing economic power makes it a vital anchor for the vision of regional engagement as well as a cornerstone of America’s strategic rebalance to Asia,” Biswal has told the Senate committee.
“If confirmed I will endeavour to strengthen and expand these efforts,” she has said.
Be that as it may, Biswal’s statement before the US Senate committee is yet another warning to the Rajapaksa government. Apart from the direct reference made by her to Sri Lanka, Biswal’s proposal on further strengthening ties with India would be another area the Rajapaksa government would have to be focussed.
The government might have to now rethink its recently adopted attitude of not caring for Indian sentiments.

Meeting with Foreign Ministers

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Professor G.L Peiris according to the External Affairs Ministry is to meet with Foreign Ministers from the Commonwealth during a meeting in New York later this month.
The External Affairs Ministry has stated that Peiris will be attending the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in New York on September 26.
According to the Commonwealth Secretariat, the meeting will take place at the UN Headquarters building in New York.
The meeting will take place while the Foreign Ministers are in the New York for the UN General Assembly which begins that week.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also expected to attend the Un General Assembly.
The External Affairs Ministry has stated that Peiris will brief the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers on the Commonwealth Summit scheduled to be held in November.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who has been critical about the Sri Lankan government over human rights issues, is expected to attend the meeting.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 September 2013 07:49