The barrage of angry rhetoric from officialdom and other quarters proclaiming the absolute right of Sri Lanka to do whatever it wishes to do without interference from any person or institution outside the Country is echoed by a substantial section of our population. The highly vocal personalities who trumpet the inviolability of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty are lauded by their supporters as true patriots. All others who do not go along with this point of view are often branded as traitors.
In view of the sharp emotions that are aroused with regard to this matter, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) deems it important to examine what are the grounds on which several international actors have got involved in matters which many in Sri Lanka think are its private business and of no concern to anyone else.
Some opinion-makers here advocate the theory that there is an international conspiracy to attack Sri Lanka for reasons best known to the plotters. Some believe that there is a hidden agenda by some powers to see that China’s economic tie-up with Sri Lanka does not get so strong as to convert Sri Lanka into a Chinese satellite state. With a land area of only 60,000 sq.km, Sri Lanka has already gained an Extended Economic Zone of about 450,000 sq.km of the mineral-rich ocean surrounding it, and has a strong claim to another 450,000 sq.km of attached Continental Shelf. These may be attractive to many countries which are technologically or economically more powerful than Sri Lanka. But then, are there not many other technologically and economically weak countries also in possession of rich resources? Why do the EU, India, the US and similarly interested countries not act against those countries as they do against Sri Lanka?
Minister Wimal Weerawansa has claimed that the offensive against Sri Lanka “… is vengeance against Sri Lanka for ending terrorism”! Whilst this explanation may appeal to the more vainglorious of our citizens, it is at odds with the fact that the EU, India and the US banned the LTTE long before Sri Lanka took any steps in that direction and also gave military supplies and intelligence to help Sri Lanka to fight the separatist war. For example, it is well known that it was on information supplied by the US secretly to Sri Lanka that the Sri Lanka Navy was able to go a couple of thousand miles away from our shores and effortlessly sink four deadly armaments supply ships which belonged to the LTTE. Clearly, therefore, we need to look elsewhere for better answers.
Every citizen is aware that, when the People of a country undertake to live together in a peaceful manner, they need a set of laws that all of them agree to honour. The rules of conduct that they accept are enshrined in a Constitution, which becomes the supreme law of the land. Usually, the People delegate their legislative powers to the legislature, their executive powers to the executive and their judicial powers to the judiciary, and agree to abide by whatever lawful decisions are taken on their behalf by these three arms of government. On the other hand, the People do not delegate two important rights, viz. their fundamental rights and the franchise.
All citizens are obliged to act in conformity with the Constitution whether they like it or not. What this amounts to is that every citizen surrenders a large proportion of his sovereignty to the Constitution.
When we consider the legal obligations which apply to countries, the position is rather different. For example, every country is required to conform to certain laws which have universal application, eg. international humanitarian law. Apart from this, countries find that they have much to gain by becoming members of various groupings of countries. Two of the more useful advantages are in fields of trade and the delineation of national boundaries. A classic example would be the rights that a small country like Sri Lanka has gained over large areas of the surrounding ocean as mentioned in the third para of this article. No other country, however powerful, is going to bulldoze its way into seizing any part of this area. And who secures us this protection? Basically it is the UN. But then, how did the UN become our protector in this regard?
The UN was formed in 1945 whilst World War 2 was coming to an end, principally under the leadership of China, France, the UK, the Soviet Union and the US. While these five countries reserved to themselves the privilege of permanent membership of the Security Council and the power of the veto, they succeeded in securing the agreement of around 50 other independent, but less powerful countries, to form the UN. All of them, including the Big Five, undertook to observe the provisions of the UN Charter and of whatever treaties, protocols and other commitments that the member countries would produce subsequently by long and arduous negotiation. In short, all these countries surrendered a part of their sovereignty to the UN Charter.
Countries that were unable to join the UN initially had to apply later and agree to abide by the rules of membership which had been formulated by the founder members.
Although the UN was formed in 1945, Sri Lanka applied for membership only in or about 1948. It was in a group of aspiring members who were sponsored by the US. There was another group which was sponsored by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union vetoed the US nominees and the US vetoed the Soviet nominees for various reasons. However, they compromised later and most of the sponsored countries became members of the UN. Sri Lanka had then to sign on the dotted line and undertake to honour the UN Charter. Later, Sri Lanka also agreed in the respective committees of the UN to a multiplicity of other treaties and protocols, which were subsequently ratified by our Parliament. In doing so, Sri Lanka willingly and wisely surrendered a part of its sovereignty in return for the protection and other advantages provided by the UN.
When contentious issues, such as the complaint against Sri Lanka, are raised, the UN expects the Secretary-General and the UN machinery to carry out the necessary investigations and report their findings to the Security Council, which will then issue the requisite instructions to the Secretary-General. If there is prima facie proof of the violation of the provisions of the UN Charter by a member country, the Security Council is empowered to apply increasing degrees of pressure to force the errant country to get back into line. As in all similar situations, the law of the jungle does apply here. Thus, large countries violate the spirit and even the provisions of the UN Charter when it suits them but they employ every possible diplomatic weapon to appease at least the Permanent Members of the Security Council, if not the General Assembly of nearly 200 countries. Small countries, such as Sri Lanka, if accused of some infraction, can employ diplomatic delaying tactics up to a point but resorting to personal abuse directed at Bank Ki-Moon, Navi Pillay, Robert Blake or a couple of dozen other “bogeymen” and engaging in violent street protests to keep the local population aroused against the alleged enemies of Sri Lanka will not have any effect other than to convince the UN of the credibility of those who have complained and continue to complain against Sri Lanka and its secretiveness, arrogance, offensiveness, lack of democratic processes, compromised security and judicial systems. Furthermore, the disregard and blatantly wrongful manipulation of our own laws against opponents of the government have discouraged other nations from helping us as much they would otherwise have done.
We, too, have the law of the jungle operating openly every day in Sri Lanka and are hardly in a position to complain about it when we are at the receiving end. How many persons who are credibly known to have taken commissions, raped helpless women or committed serious assault, arson or murder are walking around freely because they have powerful connections whereas hundreds of ordinary Sri Lankans are languishing in jail because their crime is that they could not pay a small fine?
Whilst Sri Lanka can prolong the process at Geneva and in New York by relying on dilatory tactics, the better path would be to bring this whole business to a quick end, with minimum damage and loss, by engaging constructively and openly with the UN as soon as possible. Negotiating an agreement to appoint a Truth Commission with international participation and granting a wide-ranging amnesty would be the first steps in arriving at a pragmatic solution that will turn down the heat.