Prospects for 'Humanitarian Intervention' in Sri Lanka

Many Sri Lankans, particularly the 'patriots' are so fixated in defeating the LTTE that they tend to minimize the possibility that the real defeat of Sri Lanka may come from the so-called 'Humanitarian Intervention' of the International Community (IC for short) which in reality is from America which is the self-appointed leader of the IC. The effect of the global 'War on Terror' is only now being felt with the LTTE gradually starved of the funds from the Tamil Diaspora that it has come to rely on. The fact that the LTTE is still a going concern is due to the incompetence of the political and military authorities in SL who have failed to capitalize on the favourable international conjecture to liquidate the LTTE. While international events have reduced the capacity of the LTTE to continue as a military force it has also given a lever to the IC (and America) to destroy Sri Lanka's territorial integrity and bring about the creation of a 'Tamil homeland'. This is by the IC playing the Human Rights (HR) card and imposing sanctions on Sri Lanka. The Hela politicians confronted with an economic crisis will succumb to the pressure of the IC and give in to their demand for devolution. So we may have the ironical situation that where the Tigers failed the IC may actually succeed in creating a situation in SL which is similar to what the LTTE had been fighting for. This possibility is the substance of the argument of Tisaranee Gunasekara in the article (reprodued below). However there is the usual fallacious reasoning of this writer which has to be exposed.

Tisaranee says that the "US has no moral right to preach human rights to others" yet at the same time calls this "an irrelevant truth". Far from being irrelevant it is the most important argument that SL has to counter the HR card played by the IC. By any comparison the HR violations of the principals of the IC in their own War on Terror far exceed whatever HR violations that may have occurred in SL's own war on terror. Moreover HR violations occur not only on the side of those fighting terrorism but even to a greater extent by the actions of the terrorists themselves. What needs to be done initially is to blunt the HR argument of the IC. Unfortunately the incompetence of the GOSL in diplomatic and foreign relations matters has made this almost impossible. The LTTE realized that there was no one who could succeed Lakshman Kadirgarmar as Foreign Minister, that is why they assassinated him. This has been vindicated by the succession of foreign affairs blunders done by GOSL since the killing of Kadirgamar.

There is no end in the number of Hela peaceniks who argue that GOSL should give some kind of devolution to the Tamils. Both MahindaR and RanilW are agreed on this, any differences relating to such matters as the unit and the scope of this devolution. But it is the very principle of devolution (or 'power sharing' the term preferred by MahindaR) that is at fault. Once the principle is granted any caveat relating to limitation of the extent of devolution can easily be overcome. Tissaranee argues that capitulation to the IC demand is necessary because "we need American money, weapons and military technology". This argument can be contested, but what is relevant here is that Tisaranee and Helas who think like her are prepared to concede the seed of Eelaam, oblivious of the fact that in the fullness of time this seed will grow to an irremovable tree. Recently MahindaR appointed Dayan Jayatilleke , the alleged partner of Tisaranee and a like-minded thinker, to a high diplomatic position. Little has been heard of what he has accomplished in this important position, no doubt with all the perks. But this very appointment shows that the GOSL of MahindaR is steadily capitulating to the peacenik lobby.

Tisaranee too points out that the Tigers are using the IC doctrine of "HR Intervention" for its own ends. This doctrine has already been used in many places; Kosovo and East Timor have been cited. Whether it would be applied to Sri Lanka is still debated. Perhaps it may never be because SL is not worth it (with no worthwhile resources that will attract the IC), and the Tamils cannot be relied on even by the IC. The MahindaR regime is so weak that the same result could be achieved by using NGOs and Hela traitors. But the mere threat of HR intervention is sufficient to frighten the MahindaR regime. Look at the fuss made at resettling displaced Tamils and Muslims, when Sinhalas chased away by the Tamil terrorists are still languishing in camps. But anyone can see through this facade of pandering to Tamils. That is why the IC will not give any credit to whatever the MahindaR regime will do in this regard to Tamils. The MR regime is simply wasting its time.

Tisaranee speaks of the "trap that the Tigers are setting" but urging the UN and the IC to use the doctrine of "Humanitarian Intervention" to meddle in SL's domestic affairs. They presumably want a UN intervention force to guarantee the frontiers of the de facto Eelaam that they have in the North of the country. Not only Yugoslavia and Timor, but also more recently the Sudan and Iraq has seen foreign intervention ostensibly to rectify a purely a domestic problem. A similar situation is now being orchestrated in Burma where the Buddhist monks had made the wrong decision to engage in politics just as our own JHU monks have done. With the MahindaR regime running out of international allies it is possible for LTTE proxies like Norway and many other countries to build up a case for such intervention in Sri Lanka. This is the new threat that SL faces if it is going to protect its traditional unitary status.

According to the Tisaranee there are already many instances that could justify humanitarian intervention. She refers to "the killing of 5 students in Trinco and 17 aid workers in Mutur" as "atrocities". Whatever the culpability of GOSL may be for these actions they fall far short of "atrocities" as this term has been recently used. She then speaks of GOSL attempts "to change the ethnic composition of the East" when the reality is that GOSL still has no control on what is happening in the East (even the principal government agent there was recently assassinated. Ethnic cleansing has only been successfully carried out in SL by the Tamils. Thus there is neither justification nor the possibility of foreign humanitarian intervention in SL. Why then are peaceniks like Tisaranee raising this bogey? I think they realize that this is sufficiently to frighten GOSL into making devolution concessions to the Tamils.

The other argument of Tisaranee that GOSL cannot defeat the LTTE without American aid is equally incorrect. The LTTE has nothing intrinsically superior to that which is now at the control of GOSL even without any American assistance. The LTTE does not have a high tech military machine. What they have can be matched by GOSL forces. In fact they are much inferior to what GOSL has. On the question of manpower it is clear that the LTTE has great difficulty in this area and has to resort to child enlistment. Everyone knows that a child soldier is inferior to a regular soldier. Moreover the strength of the SL armed forces greatly exceed the cadres said to be available to the LTTE. So the military defeat of the LTTE is a feasibility even without American military assistance.

There is a great deal of discussion about the Yugoslav situation but Tissaranee has missed the relevant lesson for Sri Lanka. This is that Federalism based on ethnic differences is an unstable formula and will lead to dismemberment. It is true that Yugoslavia managed to hold together under Marshal Tito. This is an exceptional situation largely the result of Tito's leadership in the fight against the Nazi occupation, and his subsequent grip on the Federation. When his hand was removed the Federation did not last long before imploding. In Sri Lanka there is no leader like Tito and all our recent leaders have been noted for their incompetence and corruption. A Federal system based on ethnic devolution does not stand a chance to hold the nation together except for a short period.


Potential Futures

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Asian Tribune : 2007-10-14

The state will perish where…. incomprehension makes decisions. Schiller (Demetrius)

The future is unknown. However some potential dangers are foreseeable and therefore avoidable. The Leahy Amendment which would stop US aid and ban the sale of American weapons and technology to Sri Lanka is awaiting the approval of President Bush. Consequently the fact that the issues raised in the Leahy Amendment were echoed by the US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and further reiterated by Ambassador Robert Blake cannot be taken lightly.

The US has no moral right to preach human rights to others. The country which invaded Sovereign Iraq, caused a war which has claimed more than one million Iraqi lives, engages in abducting foreign nationals suspected of 'terrorist activities' and runs illegal detention centres in which torture is an officially sanctioned practice has no right to preach to others about rule of law and safety of non-combatants. The administration that lied and dissembled shamelessly to create war hysteria so that special (oil) interests could be furthered under the guise of national interests has no right to preach to others about morality and ethics. American conduct in Iraq would be sufficient to keep a half-way independent international war crimes tribunal busy for many years. But for us in Sri Lanka, at this point of time, this is an irrelevant truth.

We need American money, weapons and military technology. We can do with American training. We need American cooperation to prevent the LTTE from gaining access to advanced weapons and military technologies. And though the Americans have no moral right to preach to others about human rights they have the sovereign right to give their money and sell their weapons to whoever they please. No amount of rhetorical flourishes and debating points can change that. Therefore we need to take seriously the concerns expressed by Messers Burns and Blake; we need to prove to American and international opinion that human rights violators on our side will not be permitted to evade justice. Proof does not consist of lofty speeches, loftier promises and a bewildering tangle of committees. Results are needed – suspensions, arrests, prosecutions and punishments. If these are not forthcoming President Bush may not veto the Leahy Amendment. And if America blacklists us, it will mark the beginning of the end of Lankan legitimacy in the international arena. Other countries will follow suit; the gap thus created cannot be filled by perennial friends such as Russia, China and Pakistan.

That is the immediate danger. Even if this is averted, it will be a case of danger deferred rather than eliminated. In about 14 months there will be a new President in the US. If the current political trends remain unchanged, that President is likely to be a Democrat - and likely to be Hilary Clinton. Under a Democratic President – be it Ms. Clinton, Barack Obama or any other – human rights and humanitarian intervention would replace the war against terror as the main 'justification' of America's imperial policy. Naturally this enhanced concern for human rights would have no bearing on Israel; but it could make a world of difference for Sri Lanka.

'Humanitarian Intervention'

The NATO's military intervention in the former Yugoslavia was spearheaded by the last Democratic President of the US. Protection of human rights was the watchword of that enterprise and saving Kosovo-Albanians from ethnic cleansing by the Serb Army its justification. One of the originators of the theory of humanitarian intervention – or rather its modern version – Dr. Bernard Kouchner (currently France's Foreign Minister) said of the NATO intervention in the Kosovo conflict: "We intervened within a country's borders that are what's known as the right of intervention. Everyone protested, but it worked" (interview with Red Cross, Red Crescent - 2001).

The Tigers in their letter to the UN asks the international community "to provide appropriate opportunities to the Tamil people to express their aspirations, as have been given to the people of East Timor and Kosovo". East Timor and Kosovo were the experimentation grounds for the theory of humanitarian intervention. As Kofi Anan, in his capacity as the UN Secretary General, explained, "The tragedy of East Timor, coming so soon after that of Kosovo, has focused attention once again on the need for timely intervention by the international community when death and suffering are being inflicted on large numbers of people, and when the state nominally in charge is unable or unwilling to stop it" (The Economist – 8.9.1999). It was a clever amalgam. The intervention in East Timor was beyond reproach; it was in reality what it claimed to be – an intervention to prevent the Indonesian army from committing genocide in East Timor which the Suharto regime invaded and occupied in contravention of international law, when East Timor was about to be granted independence by the Portuguese.

The Millennium +5 Outcome Document agreed upon by the UN General Assembly on 15th September 2005 contains a section on 'Responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity' which comes close to the R2P theory and will be used by a future Democratic administration in the US for selective interventions in sovereign states:

"139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapter VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" (emphasis mine).

Such are the contours of the trap the Tigers are setting for us. In order to justify 'humanitarian intervention' there would have to be persistent human rights violations by the Lankan side, which go unpunished. This is the road we are embarking upon with our continuous failure to bring to justice perpetrators of atrocities such as the killing of 5 students in Trinco and 17 aid workers in Mutur, our toleration of abductions, extra-judicial killings and child conscription in areas under our control in the North-East and our attempts to change the ethnic composition of the East. Our present policy of denial, prevarication and empty promises would not avail us indefinitely. It makes eminent sense to act before others act in our stead, using our failure to act as their justification.

Learning from Serbia

No two fates are identical. But there is much we can learn from the avoidable mistakes of others. In 1389 Ottoman Emperor Murad I defeated Prince Lazar of Serbia; the Battle of Kosovo Polje ended the existence of independent Serbian kingdom. Almost 600 years later, in 1987, Slobodan Milasovich, then a minor Serb politician, visited Kosovo Polje and assured the Serbs, "No one will beat you again".

Slobodan Milasovich did not want the dissolution of Yugoslavia. He wanted its preservation, under Serb domination. Mr. Milasovich tried to save Yugoslavia through Serb nationalism; it only hastened the evil day of Yugoslavia's implosion into separate and warring entities. As the Prime Minister of Serbia and later as the President of Yugoslavia, Mr. Milasovich consciously undermined the elaborate system of checks and balances put in place by Marshall Tito which successfully impeded centrifugal tendencies by balancing diverse sub-national interests and checking Serb domination. Mr. Milasovich's strident Serb nationalism and his retrogressive policies scared the minorities and strengthened divisive tendencies within the Republic.

The NATO used genocide and ethnic cleansing as justification for its military intervention in the Kosovo conflict. According to John Pilger the FBI did not find any mass grave in Kosovo. "In November 1999, the Wall Street Journal published the results of its own investigation, dismissing 'the mass grave obsession'. Instead of 'the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect ... the pattern is of scattered killings [mostly] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army had been active'… One year later, the International War Crimes Tribunal, a body effectively set up by NATO, announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo's "mass graves" was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army" (New Statesman – 8.12.2004).

The next move of the Clinton administration was to engineer the electoral defeat of Slobodan Milasovich. The US spent more than $41 million to fund the 2000 'electoral revolution' which ended the Milasovich rule: "US funded consultants ran tracking polls, trained opposition activists, helped organise the parallel vote count. 5000 spray paint cans for student activists and 2.5 million 'He's Finished' stickers which became the catchphrase" (International Herald Tribunal – 13.12.2000). It was a classic case of regime change through imperial intervention but wily Bill Clinton was able to carry it out with finesse beyond the capacity of a blundering George Bush. Slobodan Milasovich, obdurate and short-sighted, failed to understand that his Serb supremacism and confrontationist attitude vis-à-vis the international community were as playing right into the hands of those who wanted to destroy Yugoslavia.

At Rambouillet the Serbs were willing to grant considerable autonomy to Kosovo. But Rambouillet was a trap. It not only proposed a degree of autonomy akin to de facto separation; a secret Appendix gave NATO forces access to all of Yugoslavia. As Lord Gilbert, the British Defence Minister of State said, "I think the terms put to Milasovich at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable. How could he possibly accept them? It was quite deliberate" (Minutes of the British Inquiry in the Kosovo War). The Serbs were damned whether they agreed to the proposal or not. The only avenue of escape was on the Road to Rambouillet. If the Serbs conducted their war with greater regard for human rights, if they tried to win over moderate Kosovo-Albanians by granting them some autonomy – thereby marginalising the KLA – Rambouillet could have been avoided.

Mr. Milasovich's comments on Kosovo invoke a sense of déjàvu: "Kosovo is important to us emotionally… Geographically the region is called Kosovo and Metohija... Metohija is a Greek word and it means 'church property'…. So half of Kosmet is the land that belongs to the Serb Orthodox Church. For every Serb, Kosovo is the heart of Serbia… Weber made a list of 1800 churches in Kosmet of international heritage…. How can anyone say: 'let's take this part of Serbia and give it to the Albanians? Take the situation of Texas. You have a huge Mexican population there. What would happen if they were to say that they want to take a part of Texas and unite it with Mexico? … It has nothing to do with democracy, with human rights. It has to do with separatism and separatist movement which uses terrorism as means to an end. This is why we had to respond to terrorism and stop it" (Interview with Washington Post – 16.12.1998).

The lesson is obvious. If we fail to deal decisively with human rights violations, if we delay a political solution to the ethnic problem, we will be enhancing the possibility of eventual international intervention. In that sense both the Sinhala supremacist Mahinda Rajapakse and the pro-LTTE Ranil Wickremesinghe are part of the problem and serious impediments to a solution grounded in a united Sri Lanka.