Brain over Brawn

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 17 2021

Dealing with the international community requires ‘brain’ because Sri Lanka is neither strong militarily or economically to exercise ‘brawn’. An example of ‘brain’ prevailing over ‘brawn’ was when India threatened to invade the island in 1987. India, in a ‘successful’ arm twisting exercise threatened to invade Sri Lanka, initially by sending its Air Force uninvited over Sri Lanka on 4 June 1987 that halted President J.R. Jayewardene’s military blitzkrieg over Tamil terrorism. Jayewardene defended his action by saying that ‘he cannot fight India.’ Nonetheless, Jayewardene, in a successful counterattack got the latter to fight Sri Lanka’s LTTE terrorist war which might have ended in 1989 if not for the newly elected President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s request to the Indians to withdraw from Sri Lanka that year. 

Howbeit, ultimately, Jayewardene’s politics neutralised India, leading to the LTTE’s ultimate demise on 18 May 2009. With the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord on 29 July 1987, all terrorist groups other than the LTTE and EROS disarmed, with EROS subsequently merging with the LTTE. Another occasion where Sri Lanka used brain over brawn was in dealing with the EU when the latter in June threatened to withdraw the GSP+ duty free facility over alleged human rights (HR) violations. EU is Sri Lanka’s third largest export market, behind the USA and UK. 

However with reference to political matters such as HR, the UK kowtows with the EU, thereby threatening Sri Lanka’s exports to that market as well. Knowing the seriousness of the EU’s threat, the Foreign Ministry in an immediate response, later that same month in June, informed the EU of action underway to revisit provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, No 48 of 1979 (PTA). “The EU was also informed of the decision made by the Cabinet of Ministers on 21 June to appoint a Cabinet Sub-committee and an Officials Committee to assist the Cabinet Sub-Committee, to review the PTA and to submit a report to the Cabinet within three months. 

Toward this end, the ‘Officials Committee’ was appointed on 24 June with senior representation from the Ministries of Justice, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Public Security; and the Attorney General’s Department, the Legal Draftsman’s Department, the Sri Lanka Police, and the Office of Chief of National Intelligence. The EU was further informed of the granting of pardon by the President, to 16 former LTTE cadres convicted and serving sentence under the PTA, on 24 June. The EU was also apprised of the process that has been set in motion to release detainees who have been in judicial custody for a prolonged period under the PTA. 

With reference to progress in ongoing reconciliation mechanisms, the Government informed the EU of the release of Rs 79 million to the Office of Reparations in June to settle 1,230 processed claims for reparation. An additional Rs 80 million was released on 29 June to settle a further 1,451 processed claims, out of a total 3,389 processed claims, the Ministry said. Howbeit, the ‘first’ shots on Sri Lanka’s ‘latest’ economic war was fired by UN High Commissioner for HR Michelle Bachelet at the HR Council’s 48th Session in Geneva on Monday, where she said that her Office is working to implement the accountability-related aspects of Resolution 46/1. “We have developed an information and evidence repository with nearly 120,000 individual items already held by the UN and we will initiate as much informationgathering as possible this year,” said Bachelet. 

Resolution 46/1 was adopted by the HR Council in Geneva on 23 March and was sponsored by the UK. The resolution called for the watering down of alleged discriminatory and extra judicial clauses in the PTA. Meanwhile, the US State Department issuing a statement the following day 24 March said that the USA in 2015 co-sponsored a resolution (Resolution 30/1) led by the UK and supported by the EU on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ The USA in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Core Group and likeminded countries, worked to include a mandate for the Office of the High Commissioner for HR (OHCHR ) of the UN to collect, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for violations of HR and international humanitarian law. 

“We hope to continue working through UN mechanisms and partner countries to support this major step towards accountability,” the State Department said. Bachelet in her speech also called on the Government to fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority, holding of provincial council polls, including in the North and the East in accordance with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Foreign Minister Professor (Emeritus) G.L. Peiris responding to Bachelet the following day Tuesday said that the Government rejects the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 while domestic processes are addressing relevant matters. 

External initiatives embarked upon without the cooperation of the country concerned cannot achieve their stated goals and will be subject to politicisation, he said. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that Resolution 46/1 is supported by Sri Lanka’s top three export markets the USA, UK and the EU. Therefore, Sri Lanka will have to tread softly in dealing with 46/1 without offending such markets.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 17 2021

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