25 September 2020

Quō vādis, ‘Core Group’?

Rita French: wide-eyed or is that eye-wash?

There’s a ‘Core Group’ on Sri Lanka operating in international circles. It is made of five European countries (Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK) and one North American, Canada. A political bloc, then, essentially and one whose general ideological and political thrusts are no secret. It would have been better if there was a ‘core group’ that was more representative both geographically and politically, but then this is what global-slant does. Fine.

Now the Core Group (CG) has issued a statement on Sri Lanka during the UNHRC sessions in Geneva. That’s probably a requirement. So what have they said?

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, delivering the co-statement, makes some interesting assertions. There’s the brag about the UNHRC creating in 2015 ‘a consensual framework to help Sri Lanka heal the wounds of its past and to address unresolved serious violations and abuses documented by the High Commissioner. This framework was renewed twice by this Council by consensus and with the explicit support of Sri Lanka.’

Consensus and consensual are interesting words. Yes, Sri Lanka went along with the US-drafted Resolution 30/1. The then Government, thereby, in its wisdom, kicked an own-goal, agreeing to cede part sovereignty. That political alliance was routed at three successive all-island elections. So much for ‘consensus’ at this end. Of course that ‘punishment’ was not just for going overboard in Geneva, but that was certainly an issue which their political opponents took up with the people. What the Yahapalanists did was essentially to throw a noose around the country’s neck which the likes of Michelle Bachelet and Ms French could tighten at will. They have referred to 30/1 and they will continue to do so, even though Sri Lanka has withdrawn support for it since.  

Resolution 30/1, according to those who drafted and backed it was, certainly, about healing wounds. The problem is that those ‘wounds’ weren’t clearly defined. If it was about the wounds suffered by those who either supported or were spoken for by the aggressor (the LTTE, a terrorist outfit and a ruthless one too, Ms French) or those aggrieved that preferred outcomes did not materialize, then yes, 30/1 might have done the trick. Those weren’t the only wounds and they weren’t the only wounded; a point clearly left out in the discourse, from Ms French’s end, if you will, and Sri Lanka’s end.

For example, immediately after the Yahapalanists came to power in 2015, all documentation related to the conflict, it’s unfolding and its resolution was wiped off the state websites, in particular www.defence.lk. Remove all that, and you are left with a sob-story by those who backed the LTTE or were against the Government of the time.

So ‘resolution’ was about delivering the demands articulated by the aggressor, the LTTE, albeit in diluted form. ‘Eelam this side of flag, national anthem, currency etc etc.,’ or ‘stepping stone to separation.’

If ‘resolution’ is creating conditions for renewed, long and bitter inter-communal conflict, then yes, 30/1 might have done it. Only, the Yahapalanists didn’t have the skill nor the backing of the people. They had deliberately and perniciously misinterpreted the will of the people (‘Mahinda Rajapaksa should be defeated’) as ‘resolving issues in favor of the Eelamist agenda, thereby satisfying our friends in North America and Europe.’ When Brexit came, these worthies realized that their friends were in decline, globally, but that’s another story. Now are we surprised over the composition of the CG? Nope.

Since reconciliation is what’s on the table, does the CG know that pre-2015 the then government worked diligently on many areas and post-2015, not only was nothing done, but even records of work done deleted from ‘official records’? Here are the areas: a) Humanitarian demining and reconstruction, b) Resettlement of IDPs, c) Rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-LTTE combatants, d) Lifting of Emergency Regulations, f) Restoring democratic governance in the North and East, g) Removal of High Security Zones in the North and East, h) Reducing military presence in the North and East, j) Release of private and Government lands in the North and East occupied by the military, k) Detention of LTTE cadres and legal issues thereto, l) Access of next of kin to detainees following establishment of a database, m) Investigating allegation related to accountability, n) Civilian casualties during the war, o) Engaging with the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and the ICRC, p) Engaging with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and q) the 13th Amendment.

What did the Yahaplanists do between 2015 and 2019, does French and her CG friends know? Essentially the following: a) attempting to smuggle in legislation that would satisfy Eelamists, b) painting the Sri Lankan military and the then political leadership as the villains of the piece and a implementing a hands-off policy on terrorists and terrorism, and d) using all relevant institutional processes available to frame military officials considered loyal to the Rajapaksa regime. In short, they healed no wounds, but created new ones.

The CG talks of ‘serious violations and abuses documented by the High Commissioner.’ French could be referring to the laughable (being kind here) report of the Darusman Panel. Numbers conjured by politically compromised people and inflated by those as or more compromised without any serious effort at verification doesn’t amount to ‘documentation of violations and abuse.’ It’s just documentation of claims made by unreliable sources.

French and her friends obviously didn’t do the homework. Consider the following.

‘In the meantime we continue to hear concerns about an increasingly difficult operating environment for civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka. Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons.

Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah. Sri Lanka’s dynamic and diverse civil society lies at the heart of its vibrant democracy. The Core Group expresses its strong solidarity with Sri Lanka’s civil society, and human rights defenders, and calls on the government to take all steps necessary to allow them to operate freely.’

A 'dynamic and diverse civil society,’ the CG claims is ‘at the heart of [Sri Lanka’s] dynamic democracy.’ Dollar/euro dependent NGOs don’t constitute ‘civil society’ although they call themselves that. They are a small Colombo-based coterie of individuals who have registered outfits with grand names and routinely award/reward one another for work done on peace, reconciliation, religious tolerance etc., etc. They are tools of nations whose interest in Sri Lanka is political and strategic and has nothing to do with democracy, reconciliation, peace, healing-wounds etc., etc.

Hejaaz Hizbullah is under arrest. Correct. One hopes he gets a better chance to clear his name (if indeed it can be cleared) than the Yahapalanists and ‘Civil Society’ gave those they were hell bent on taking down. One case. Immediately pluralized to ‘individuals.’  The CG slipped, though, and how!

‘In the meantime we HEAR…’ so they begin. HEAR, did you hear? Hearsay is what all these narratives are about and therefore the reliability of the talkers (who they listened to) needs to be examined.

Quō vādis. That’s Ecclesiastical Latin meaning ‘Whither goest thou?’ The answer is obvious: going to whatever lengths necessary to obtain political/strategic objectives. The better question would be, unde venis et quo vadis? ‘Where do you come from CG’ or rather, ‘What’s your agenda?’ It’s certainly not reconciliation, healing-wounds, democracy and all those goodies they talk of.