Is there a Geneva crisis? | Sunday Observer

Is there a Geneva crisis?

12 September, 2021

The 76th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) will commence in the United States on Tuesday, September 14. As usual, it will start judging with lenses unique to the United Nations the real or perceived or imagined, purported crimes of nations; generally small nations that the superpowers that first mooted the concept of the UN destroyed through colonisation, plunder and war.

Sri Lanka, tagged by the UN as a potential ‘war criminal’ for the past 12 years since it freed the country of terrorism, will once again have to listen to the outcome of the latest ‘deliberations.’ How it will face yet another UN tamasha, this time in a Covid-19 backdrop (with Sri Lanka continuing to ignore its traditional medical expertise), and continuing to resort to foreign made vaccine costing billions, is yet unsure.

Ultimate power

Generally governments of any country are equipped with that strange breed of humans called politicians and what is good (if any) is mixed up like a needle in a haystack with what is bad. Limitations and potential jostle each other but what is common knowledge is that the ultimate power is with the masses.

The masses have the salient power to act in the best interest of their country and guide governments as opposed to being blindly destructively critical. Each person of a country in that respect is a leader, provided that human beings use wisdom, prudence and genuine love for the country and all of the people that inhabit the land. Therefore, the contributing power of wise citizens to the matters related to the country cannot be stressed enough and this is Sri Lanka’s vacuum.

Yet, in a small way, this gap was filled last week. Sri Lankans, within the country and domiciled abroad, representing three non-State groups, got together to organise an online event to discuss primarily the way forward concerning the Geneva issue and also the Port City economic potential.

Based on two recent publications by the Ambassadors’ Forum of Sri Lanka titled ‘The Geneva Crisis: The Way Forward’ and the ‘Port City Colombo and International Financial Centre,’ an online event was organised on September 5 for deliberations, especially on the Geneva issue. The organisers were the London Initiative (ushered by a grouping of Lankan origin professionals based in the UK to promote peace and reconciliation), the Ambassadors’ Forum of Sri Lanka and the Ontario Centre for Policy Research in Canada. The combination of mainly Sri Lankan representation alongside two internationally located think tanks provided the leverage for Sri Lanka to get its voice heard at a wider spectrum globally regarding the Geneva issue it faces.

The Lankan perspective reaching Western ears is a lacuna that Sri Lanka repeatedly faces each year, amid the relentless lobby by the pro-LTTE faction of the Tamil diaspora. It should be noted that although most of us refer to the Tamil diaspora as an overall segment and often insinuated as being supporters of the LTTE, that there are large sections of the Tamil diaspora who have left Sri Lanka because of LTTE threats and are staunchly patriotic to Sri Lanka.

It is Sri Lanka’s misfortune that we have not strategised strongly as we should, to lobby with these segments and to work with them for the good of the country and for redeeming the name of the nation internationally. Although the September 5 event did not specifically provide an opportunity for these pro-Lankan Tamils to attend, it certainly laid the base for it.

This writer will now attempt to impartially review the described online event.

Unlike many similar events, the organisers of this forum had absorbed persons who usually do not grace typical government events; for example, Dr. Jehan Perera, of the National Peace Council. Importantly, there were many independent outspoken academics and diplomats who could be safely categorised as ‘independent thinkers.’

The Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York and former Chief Justice, Ambassador Mohan Peiris in his opening remarks at the forum said that he did not see the Geneva process on Sri Lanka as it stands as a ‘crisis’ but rather as an opportunity. A discerning listener would agree that this is quite true.

His key take was that Sri Lanka has fulfilled in general the requirements of the UN and that the operation against the LTTE was a humanitarian operation. In reviewing his comments, any objective analysis would be ‘don’t tell,’ show.’ If it was indeed a humanitarian operation and opinion is divided on this, locally and internationally, then the task of Lankan diplomats representing Sri Lanka should be to go well beyond rhetoric and think on how whatever that is said could be proved.

Sri Lanka has failed in this. We have failed because we have a large number of Lankan diplomats using their appointments as a paid holiday and then wake up dizzy somewhere early September or early February. We should once and for all stop the rhetoric-diplomacy and see to it that new workable ideas are manifested into action in the international sphere. This cannot be done without diplomats being open to constructive criticism on how they have represented their country.

Independent effort

Given this scenario, the September 5 event was a significant endeavour because it was not bound by any governmental restriction and was an independent effort although many of the representatives were generally associated with the State.

Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, former commander of the Navy, based on his experience shared comments on how Sri Lanka has been trapped in international agendas. He spoke of the agendas of local and international Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). His comments could be categorised as valid but the question is that whether we like it or not, local and international NGOs have a solid power base internationally whether justified or not. Another point of review would be that to label all NGOs lock stock and barrel as enemies of the State or as traitors of the land would be foolish. Citing this does not mean that the Admiral did this generalising.

Why this point is mentioned is to highlight that as a country – as a people – that Sri Lanka should strategise and come up with a communication strategy aimed at ushering goodwill. Done in depth, honestly and keeping to Buddhistic principals will ensure a productive change when dealing with the UN dilemma. This does imply that we get the licence to preach to the UN Buddhistic high ideals that we ourselves sometimes fail to implement. It means that we take stock of the situation with a clear mind and be open to whatever criticism and take what is beneficial from it and genuinely practise it and strategise our local and international communication based on it.

For example, the comment by Admiral Samarasinghe that Sri Lanka has pardoned and rehabilitated the LTTE fighting force. Yes, we have done this but this has not been showcased internationally as strongly as it should be. This is what many others, including this writer have queried in many platforms.

Have we used the rehabilitated mid or senior level former LTTEers to speak at international forums including the UN at many of the events that could be organised prior, during and after the UN main for a?

However, there is another way of looking at it; that is to consider the counter view as a Buddhistic wisdom based strategy of winning hearts and minds.

Having sent the online digitally recorded version of the September 5 event to a Sri Lankan Tamil Professor of Psychiatry, who I have high respect for, for his non biased, non-affiliated assessments, responded as a personal communication to this writer on the rehabilitation of the LTTEers. He said that he does not agree that the rehabilitation went fully well because the aspects of psychological trauma were not comprehensively addressed.

He said, specifying with facts that some rehabilitated have committed suicide. I responded by thanking this Professor of Psychiatry and asking for more details so that authorities could be contacted for comments and follow up as needed with regard to practical action.

D. Prathiba Mahanamahewa, an Attorney-at-Law in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka who has membership in the International and the Sri Lanka Bar Association, a former Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, in his statements gave a comprehensive analysis on how Sri Lanka can make a valid case internationally on its fulfilment of human rights in the context that the UN focuses on. He said that the Channel 4 documentary was one of the main drivers of pro-LTTE allegations that Sri Lanka was turned into killing fields of genocide.

The fact that there was no genocide to merit that horrific word, any moderate, fact respecting Sri Lankan Tamil will agree. This writer knows many of them across Sri Lanka and the globe. Why are we not engaging them for the UN discourse? We should also understand that our final goal should be to change the pro-LTTE diaspora. There are many high profile, internationally highly respected Sri Lankan Tamils who fellow Sinhala and Muslim intellectuals can work with to ensure that we do not become a playing field of international genocide of defamation and neo-imperialism.

A key point made by Dr. Mahanamahewa was the importance of carrying through the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a fully Sri Lankan initiative attempting to heal the nation from the scars of 30 years of meaninglessness. It is time that we reviewed some of these recommendations and use it in our country, not because the UN wants it but because we want it. Then, we will be in a position to politely and with facts tell the UN and those Western countries holding much power over this purported neutral world body that ‘human rights’ should be seen as a mole; a mole which should be cast out from one’s own eyes before attempting to remove the speck from the eye of their brother.