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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met US foreign secretary HIllary Clinton.
Courtesy Reuters/Cameron

In the last two years Myanmar embarked on a series of reforms that promise to bring democracy and to open up the country. The Burmese people are in desperate need of involvement from the international community, but it is very likely that the first who will come in Myanmar will be the usual suspects. The country is blessed with natural resources, from oil to gems, not to mention its strategic position. In fact China already built port facilities for what the US called “the String of Pearls”. So it is very important to monitor the way investors are coming in Myanmar. In this article1 , civil society groups express their concern for the pace of development, too fast, with no attention for the humanitarian cost. Norway in particular is leading the way in funding peace-building in community affected area. The head of the Norwegian mission, Mr Petrie declared:

 

Charles Petrie, Head of MPSI in Myanmar.
Courtesy: UN Photo / JC McIlwaine

The real concern [of activists and civil society groups] is the fact that the political process hasn’t started or has not been developed sufficiently far enough… On the part of government officials, there does seem to be a commitment to dialogue, but I think that some of the groups want a clearer idea of how that is going to proceed,”

According to Petrie, MPSI’s aim is to provide immediate support for the tentative ceasefires through humantiarian relief as well as building trust between the government and ethnic minority communities through development projects. MPSI is funding projects in Rakhine, Chin, Shan and Mon states.2

Petrie criticized severely the government in 2007 and was expelled. His words are an important warning. And everybody should listen, including Norway. Indeed as recently as a couple of weeks ago, Norwegian prime minister Stoltenberg, vowed to strength cooperation about energy, hydropower, oil and gas, fishery and communication3. This angle of the news came from the Chinese agency Xinhua. Other sources are of course highlighting the Norwegian effort in building peace and easing the tension amongst minorities.4

Norway’s Prime Minister Stoltenberg visits Burma’s President Thein Sein.
Courtesy Myanmar Government

The lesson is that Norway is coming to Myanmar with a real concern for human rights and a real interest in the country’s natural resources. It is a good way to bring attention for the humanitarian aspect when dealing with economic development. You can call it best practices. Yet the Norwegian endeavour is far from being dispassionate. And we must remember this. Very often the West criticized action of other countries, in primis China, but they rarely debate the fact that we are talking of a competition, that the race for natural resources must be win. And one of your tool can be the humanitarian groups, but it is crucial to recognize that is a tool, for the real purpose of economic exploitation.

Petrie led the internal report on the UN action in Sri Lanka.
Courtesy: Sky News

Otherwise the objectivity of the debate becomes very questionable. It is worth to mention that Petrie issued a very critical internal report against the UN agency in Sri Lanka during the end of the civil war in 2009. The UN intervention in Sri Lanka was a massive failure, missing the very purpose of its presence, namely protecting civilians. So it is more than welcomed the internal review of such misconduct. Yet, the fact that Petrie was appointed to lead the committee raised some question about conflict of interests5. Especially if you consider the past involvement of Norway in the Sri Lankan peace process. If you advocate for the principles, then be careful to follow your own preaching.

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An article of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge will always protect my conviction in the power of words.1 In his last column, Wickrematunge denounced his killers and linked it to the president Rajapaksa. He was aware of the danger of his editorial freedom and his last gesture stands as a temple of courage, intelligence and justice. His magazine’s mission, the Sunday Leader was the critical conscience of civil society in Sri Lanka. After his death, Frederica Jansz, took over and you can say she maintained the spirit of the founder.

In a famous article, she questioned the almighty defense’s minister, state brother Gotabaya on a petty incident. The reaction of the Rajapaksa was arrogant, brutal and violent. Few months after, the struggling Sunday Leader accepted a new owner. And in weeks, the new publisher sacked Frederica.

On the 18th of November it published an apology for the episode2.

It is clearly a heartache for me to read on the same column of Wickrematunge such cowardliness is painful.

But paradoxically this apology screams even louder the arrogance of power, the oppression over freedom of expression and the danger of criticizing the regime than a polemic editorial.

 

Sri Lanka is heading rapidly towards an authoritarian regime and this apology represents a desperate call for freedom.

I just hope that any member of the civil society in Sri Lanka realizes the danger of supporting the Rajapaksa regime, regardless of the short term benefit that could obtain. Any dissent is increasingly seen as anti-patriotic.

This article one time more is denouncing the climate of rising fascism in Sri Lanka. In a convoluted and sad way, the Sunday Leader is still accusing the government, but what a shame that we need to hear it with such oxymoron.

1http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/13/wickrematunga-final-editorial-final-editorial

Episodes of unrest in Greece.
Courtesy BBC

In States governed by the rule of law, governments have a monopoly of violence, but it is restricted to specific occasions and circumstances. It is a failure of the rule of law when a state commits a murder. Always. There are countries which consider themselves at war; this is the case of Israel. Recently a leader of Hamas has been killed1. What is the legitimacy of actions like that? In principle, very low. A governmental entity should always bring to justice any person that is labelled an enemy. A proper tribunal will verify the charges and eventually, sentence to death. This is legitimate.

You can advance an exception when there is an immediate danger for public security: killing one man to save many. To our knowledge, this wasn’t the case. But Israel claims it is in a permanent state of war. The consequence we can draw is that Israel is in a state of suspended legality.

Osama Bin Laden

A second situation in recent history is the killing of Osama Bin Laden. This is a high profile case. Two wars have been declared on the basis of his responsibilities; he wasn’t an immediate threat. The whole event is surrounded by mystery and suspicions. The impression is that the dimension of his personality was growing completely out of control. He was an icon and the US were quite disturbed by his popularity, which was extending beyond the Middle East. His statements about his own actions but also his involvement with the US secret service would have helped a lot in understanding the recent events of world history. The killing of Osama seems very much like cleaning up an uncomfortable and disturbing presence, more than the elimination of a security threat. Legitimacy absent, but not even in discussion: it’s the case of national interest and it’s a curtain on truth and legitimacy.

Killing of Top-LTTE member Parithy in France.
Courtesy of SL Defence Ministry.

And we have a third, recent case. The killing of Parithy, a Top LTTE member in Paris2. War in Sri Lanka is over; there is more than one issue, but they are grievances of the Tamil community, not of the Sri Lankan state. On the contrary, the misconduct of the government during the final stage of the conflict is dragging down also the UN, with an internal report due to be published in weeks, highlighting the failure of the United Nations in protecting the civilian population3. So no national interest was involved, on the contrary Sri Lanka should have better adopted a low profile. If you want justice and reconciliation is always better to bring to the judiciary authority any person, who is deemed responsible for crimes. And the Sri Lankan state should have also captured the leader of LTTE, Prabhakaran, instead of murdering him. Very much like Osama, the government was uncomfortable in dealing with a personality that could have cast more than shadow on the government’s doing. The LTTE was considered a terrorist organization; the trial of its leader could have been a opportunity to come to terms with its own history for Sri Lanka. Of course this is a painful process and it was much easier to eliminate the problem.

UK and France Foreign Ministers Miliband and Kouchner in Sri Lanka, during the attacks on civilians.

I want to conclude with a small observation with regards of killing of Parithy. Sri Lanka is not the US or Israel; it doesn’t have the negotiating power to impose a killing on French sovereign territory. Parithy has been jailed for a couple of years on the accuse of terrorism; he was freed. The Sri Lankan secret service killed him with the complete consent of Paris. This was an act outside the rule of law, so France is an accomplice of the killing. The clue is important to clarify the European position with regards of Sri Lanka. The West was quite moderate and mild in condemning the massacre of 2009. More than 40 000 have been killed, but it could be a staggering 140 000, according to the respectable source of the Bishop of Mannar. Miliband and Kouchner (UK and France foreign ministers at the time) staged a consequenceless drama during the most severe moments of the killing. Europe was culpably silent. This last favour to Sri Lanka shows that they were also associate with those actions.

The last responsibility is for the civil society and for the Tamil diaspora for not being able to convey this simple message to the public opinion in the West, which sleeps in a state of oblivion with regards of justice, accountability and legitimacy.

 

Tamil civilian victims in Mullivaikal, 2009 Sri Lanka.

The international community faces a curious challenge with regards of Sri Lanka. In fact we are in presence of a massive violations of human rights, happened during the end of the war, not to mention also the continuous incidents of unlawful abductions, suppression of press freedom and abuses from the military and organized thugs. The point of the clash is about sovereignty on internal affairs; the argument from Sri Lanka, China and Russia is that any state is absolutely sovereign in disputes within its borders. The way to deal with internal dissent, discontent or even open revolt is entirely national. So not matter how disproportionate can be the reaction against these dissenting forces, it would be always regulated by internal mechanisms.

The West challenges precisely this notion, that any kind of violence is admissible. But it is a opposition largely on principles. In fact it is always too well known that the West screams loudly against violations of rival countries, whilst with allies and friends the protests are definitely quiter.

People’s unrest in Bahrain has been stopped with brutality
courtesy BBC

The example of Lybia and Syria on one side and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the other. You don’t need to be a genius of geopolitics to see that the cases are precisely the same and only a decision of convenience makes them different.

You can consider Sri Lanka as a test. Colombo is leaning very clearly towards the non-Western front of China and the World South (Africa, Asia and Latin America), but is not yet a enemy. And this indecision is becoming an accusation against the West. Evidences of violations and war crimes during the end of the conflict are there. Even the UN, even Ban Ki Mon is (almost) tempted to say something. Satellite pictures, mobile footages, Wikileaks reports are so in front of your eyes that it seems almost a joke their denial.

The killing of civilians in Syrian civil war has been firnly condemned by the West and largely publicized.
REUTERS/Shaam News Network

And now we come to the point. Why it is so difficult to make a move and tarnish Sri Lanka with the same accusations? The main justification is about diplomacy: it will cause more harm than help to the victims and to the refugees, such a direct confrontation. It is better to wait. Why? In Syria and Libya you didn’t need any time to wait. With Saudi Arabia and Bahrain the case is already closed. The supect is that you can really decide whether Sri Lanka is an open rival or a distant friend. Only when it will be sorted out, then you’ll know whether Sri Lanka committed the crimes or not. In other terms the violations are against the alignment with the West, not the human rights.

If you can’t decide whether a violation has been committed or not, because you can’t decide on the alliance, then you reinforce the arbitrariness. The defence of human rights is becoming more and more a soft power of the West against China, Russia and other countries of the World South.

China’s vote in the United Nations’s security council
Xinhua

But rapidly this hypocrisy will backfire. The protection of human rights is a principle; if it can be bent to arbitrary necessity, then it is not a principle any more and countries like China are entitled to see these accusations merely as an intrusion.

The case of Sri Lanka reflects even too much this duplicity: the pressure is directly proportional to its distance from the West. The paradox is that if you raise the tone, the country will quickly move far away, so the necessity of escalating the case will make duplicity even more patent. If you remain silent, you’ll gain “points” in other cases, but then you’ll reinforce the negotiable nature of your battle for principles. This is the paradox of Sri Lanka, that prosecution on its violations will uncover the hypocritical fight of the West.

The solution to paradox is of course very simple: you need to stand for human rights always. It is a principle, therefore is not negotiable. The argument is that those principles are better protected by the West, even when they are violated. I don’t know your opinion, but to me this sounds dramatically unconvincing.