by Malinda Seneviratne
There’s a bill currently at the ‘Committee Stage’ in the UK’s House of Lords which that country’s High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton, cannot pretend to be unaware of. It’s called ‘The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill.’ The second reading of the Bill was passed by Parliament last September by 331 to 77.
It was essentially a bipartisan piece of legislation with just 18 Labor MPs opposing it, along with the SNP and Liberal Democrats. The Labor leadership urged Labor MPs not to vote against it. They were ordered to abstain, warning that those voting against it would have to resign any posts they held. MPs Olivia Blake and Beth Winter duly stepped down from their roles. Nadi Whittome, the shadow health secretary’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS), was sacked.
The Bill is said to be part of the UK government’s response to ’the judicialization of war: the extension of human rights norms to overseas combat operations and the birth of a litigation industry that has unleashed a torrent of “vexatious claims” against British forces. ‘Lawfare’ is what the UK wants to trump. In short, it would give British forces the license to do whatever, absolute or near absolute impunity is what is to be legislated.
Now what has all this got to do with Sri Lanka? Well, we’ve had Hulton making noises about Sri Lanka and human rights. She tweeted, ‘UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of #COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC.’ Meanwhile UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, has said that his country would be considering the new UN Human Rights report on Sri Lanka at the upcoming session of UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). That’s more diplomatic, but then again both Braithwaite and Hulton know the adage ‘charity begins at home,’ but they are far away from their respective villages and washing dirty linen in public is not their business. Understood.
Hulton is worried about how dead bodies are to be disposed of, i.e. of Muslims who succumb to Covid-19. Hulton could of course have expressed serious concern about the blatant violation of the principle of equality and especially the open subjugation of women embedded in several pieces of legislation including but not limited to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. The living oppressed aren’t her concern. They don’t disturb the likes of Braithwaite and that’s all good as far as the other interlocutor Aliana B Teplitz, the US Ambassador, who also talks of the cremation issue and condescendingly wants Sri Lanka to come up with a meaningful plan at the UNHRC, the body which her government withdrew from after calling it ‘a cesspool of bias.’
Now, in December 2020, Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court concluding the preliminary examination of charges against the UK regarding war crimes in Iraq, stated that members of the British armed forces had indeed committed the war crimes of willful killing, torture, inhuman/cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and/or other forms of sexual violence. The Office has identified a confined number of incidents which, while not exhaustive, appear to correspond to the most serious allegations of violence against persons in UK custody. It is no surprise that the ICC, despite all this, cited ‘the UK’s willingness to genuinely investigate and prosecute these war crimes’ as sufficient reason to close the examination. We don’t know how on earth Ms Bensouda concluded ‘genuineness’ considering the deliberate moves on the part of the UK to decriminalize war crimes through ‘anti-vexatious claims’ legislation. Indeed her copout statement is vexatious in the extreme.
One wonders if Ms Hulton and Ms Teplitz ever met the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Ms Hanaa Singer. Singer does meet with the leaders of Tamil political parties and probably advises them on how to draft petitions to the UNHRC, human rights outfits and of course submissions to the Experts’ Committee on drafting a new constitution. It’s an old game. You script it, the script is played and the script-writer explains, ‘what a performance, what a script!’
If these individuals do meet it is quite likely that they talk of (if not plot) moves against Sri Lanka. One wonders if, say during a break or in a lighter moment, they guffaw about US and UK war crimes. One wonders if Singer chuckles and tells Hulton ‘isn’t it a hoot that you are planning to drag Sri Lanka over the coals and at the same time want to legislate against lawfare, so-called?’
Here’s a question none of them would have considered or would wish to be put to them: ‘What if Sri Lanka did a xerox of “The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill,” only expanding its relevance to include all operations including those targeting terrorists and terrorism at home?’ What if Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena invited Ms Hulton, Ms Teplitz and Ms Singer for tea/coffee, cookies and bibikkan, handed a copy of proposed legislation along those lines, remarking with a chuckle, ‘we were inspired by our former colonial rulers, the mother country, the empire on which the sun never sets and the fact that neither the USA nor the UN seem to find anything wrong with the bill,’ and ask, kindly, politely, ‘could you help us by tweeting warm and supporting comments?’
Could happen, but probably won’t. At least not in this way. Still, it’s something that the government could think of. If not for anything but to call out the humbuggery and to drive home the point that none of these people give a hoot about human rights and that the circus is about persecution. Vexatious persecution, in fact.
What’s the government’s response, is the question that we need to ask. Reactive or proactive? It looks like the former. Typically actions against countries, honorable and otherwise, are long-drawn affairs where the planning begins at the conclusion of one session with all manner of interventions carefully phased to climax at the next session. Those at the receiving end of vexatious moves ought to do the same. We are less than four weeks away from ‘Geneva.’ There will be other Genevas. The balance of forces obviously is skewed against Sri Lanka and this will be the case into the foreseeable future. All the more reason for round-the-year work on these issues, not just to counter outrageous claims, but to tell our story and get our house in order.
On the other hand, as the anti-Sri Lanka lobby well knows, UNHRC resolutions are non-binding and what teeth they have depends on co-sponsorship. It’s at the General Assembly that things can get hot. And that’s where we have to fight the hardest. And that’s where we have to figure out who our friends are.
There’s talk about taking a nonaligned stand with regard to the play of global powers in the Indian Ocean. That’s all bunkum. There’s no such thing as neutrality. There are no ethics. There is lawfare. There are vexatious claims. There’s threat, as a more cost-effective arm-twister than its execution. In the long run, countries such as Sri Lanka are best served by unity and maybe Sri Lanka could take the lead in reviving the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Of course many of the NAM members are aligned (read, subservient) to one or more of the major powers. Some have moved on, like China, which is set to take over the No 1 spot from the USA before the decade is out.
A 21st Century version of ‘The Tricontinental’ championed by Ernesto Che Guevara is an option, but that’s a long term plan and obviously a long shot. What do we do right now? The USA is, as pointed out, slipping. It has to hold hands with India, Japan and Australia to counter China. The UK wants to join this ‘Quad,’ a ‘Quin’ is the shelter that country seeks. What does Sri Lanka do? Where does Sri Lanka go?
The answer is ‘tried and tested.’ Obviously the US is not a friend. The UK? Well, they are yet to return the loot and compensate for genocide, ethnic cleansing, cultural erasure and other forms of vandalism and outright theft. The UN is a creature of the USA, notwithstanding damning censure of its ‘soft’ (arm-twisting) arm (UNHRC) as, as mentioned above, ‘a cesspool of bias.’
China. That country has been vilified no end by the leaders of countries that have no moral authority to do so and of course by their lackeys. China: a country that has always stood with Sri Lanka against vexatious prosecution/persecution. China: never said ‘change your constitution or else…!’
It looks like Sri Lanka will not have to choose. The choosing is being done by the likes of Teplitz, Hulton and Singer.
India? Well, India has kindly offered to help counter the Covid-19 pandemic via vaccine diplomacy. India decided to send a bunch of stuff, FoC. Sri Lanka will have to pay for the rest. It’s a decent price, admittedly. We don’t know if this ‘decency’ is the price India pays to take control of the Colombo Port, beautifully positioning that country to obtain full control of transshipment business in the region by a) wrecking operations here, and b) developing a home port in South India.
The vaccine is cheap in other ways too. In any case 99.5% of the infected recover. No vaccine is 100% reliable. That unreliability could be less than 0.5%, more than 0.5% or 0.5%. In other words, hardly something to go wild about. It would, however, boost confidence in the entire public and that’s fundamentally necessary to get life back on track. Thanks are due to Prime Minister Modi, let us not be ungracious.
Let us also retain perspective, though. And perspective, right now, means we cannot drop our guard. We should not be persuaded to roll over and die in Geneva. We are not required to remain silent when we can and should call out the humbuggery. Vexatious Persecution: that’s a term that the Foreign Ministry needs to learn. And use!
Dudley and Gopallawa: two simple leaders
Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd.) Edward Gunawardene
Barely a week had passed after the election ended I was in for a surprise. I received a message from the IGP that I had been appointed as the ASP in charge of the security of the Hon. Prime Minister and His Excellency the Governor-General. As expected Dudley Senanayake had been appointed the Prime Minister and he was in the process of forming the Cabinet. William Gopallawa was the Governor-General. He had taken over from Oliver Goonatilleke after the attempted coup of 1962.
The VIP Security Division fell within the purview of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police. I was not given any indication as to where I was to take up residence. As the only official police bungalows were the large ‘C’ type houses on Brownrigg Road (now Keppetipola Mawatha) I knew that as a bachelor I had no chance of getting one of these. Furthermore all these were occupied mainly by the DIGs and SPs.
With no other alternative and my presence in Colombo urgently needed I decided to occupy a room in the Officers’ Mess. I telephoned Jamis the butler and told him to prepare a room for me. All my furniture was piled up in one room of the Kegalle house and the HQI was requested by me to look after the premises. My successor in Kegalle had not been appointed. My clothes were packed into two old suitcases. My shoes, riding boots, football boots, guns, fishing rods etc were packed separately. Chandradasa and I left Kegalle to the Officers’ Mess with just these few things. There was no time for farewells, not even a farewell parade or guard-of-honour. To me and Chandradasa the Mess was not a new place. During my CID, Colombo Div. and Nugegoda District days I had lived in the Mess and Chandradasa had been my personal servant.
Because I left Kegalle very early I was able to be at the Mess by 9 a.m. Having changed my clothes and wearing shirt and tie I went to the CID office on the fourth floor of the New Secretariat building and reported to the DIG CID John Attygalle. He was very cordial. A room was allocated to me with a telephone, a Sub-Inspector, a PC and a civilian clerk who could also type. He also told me that my duties would be such that I will have to spend little time in the office. The vehicle allocated to me was a new Peugeot 404. When the DIG indicated this to me, I told him that I would use this only when I travel out of Colombo for official purposes. I preferred using my Peugeot 203 for my usual travel in Colombo. He appeared to be surprised by my decision.
After taking over duties as the ASP, VIP Security and reporting to the DIG CID there were two other important tasks to perform. They were to introduce myself to the Prime Minister and also to the Governor-General. The former was no stranger to me, after lunch and a short nap at the Mess I was driven to ‘Woodlands’ by my new orderly PC Fernando. The gate was manned by two PCs. My car was stopped. When my orderly spoke to them, both of them came up to the window on the side I was seated and saluted me smiling broadly.
When I got down at the portico there were several people on the verandah. There were also a Sub-Inspector and two or three constables in uniform. When I disclosed my identity to the Sub-Inspector he saluted me and told me that the Prime Minister was in. From the verandah I walked into the quite spacious office room. A handsome man dressed in white and a red tie was seated at the large desk. His white jacket hung on the wall behind him.
When he saw me, he got up smiling. Stretching out his hand he said, “Hello Eddie. We were expecting you”. This was Joe Karunaratne, the son of Professor W.A.E. Karunaratne who had assumed duties as the private secretary to the Prime Minister. Joe and I had been at kindergarten together in St. Joseph’s College in the early 40s. He had left St. Joseph’s and joined St. Benedict’s and was my junior at Peradeniya. He told me that the Prime Minister was busy finalizing the Cabinet with Bradman Weerakoon. Until Bradman joined us, Joe and I reminisced about our old friends and the days as kids. Happy Karunaratne was Joe’s twin brother. A happy-go- lucky young man he had died early.
After about 45 minutes Bradman came out of the Prime Minister’s room. He was dressed in a cream tussore lounge suit. After I was introduced to him by Joe we had a brief chat. As he was in a hurry to get back to his office, the room adjoining the Prime Minister’s room in the Senate building, he excused himself and left. Bradman was a member of the Ceylon Civil Service. Commencing with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike he had worked for every prime minster. A model public servant he commanded much respect even after his retirement. As the security chief of the Prime Minister it was necessary for me to work closely with the Secretary and the private secretary. Naturally the three of us became friends.
As the Prime Minister was busy with several ministers, I told Joe that I would visit Queen’s House, study the security arrangements there and return. When I went to Queen’s House it was about 4.30 pm. Inspector Bongso received me. Apart from Bongso the other security officers consisted of two Sergeants and four constables. The uniformed personnel at the gates and a tactical patrol through a passage between the perimeter wall and a Madras-thorn hedge were provided by the Fort Police Station.
Although the residence of the Governor-General everything at Queen’s House appeared very simple. Bongso took me round the premises of this sprawling Dutch building adjoining the Gordon Gardens. I was impressed by the simplicity of William Gopallawa when I was taken to the kitchen. The main area of the kitchen with a long table, a large electric cooking range, two deep freezers and numerous other gadgets did not show signs of use. In a small room next to the extensive kitchen there was a man dressed in sarong and banian preparing a meal. The room had a refrigerator and an electric cooker. This cook from Matale was preparing two vegetable curries to be eaten by “hamuduruwo” with two slices of toast for dinner! It is unimaginable indeed that a kitchen that had seen nothing less than turkey and ham served by liveried waiters even during the early post-independence years, readying such a frugal meal for a simple head of state in 1965. Having told Bongso that I would visit the following morning I left to Woodlands.
When I reached Woodlands it was about 6.30 pm. Joe was still there talking to a person who had come from Dedigama. Just then Robert walked in with young Rukman who went inside and came out saying “Mahappi is resting.”
“He will be up in a few minutes Eddie. We can have a chat. Don’t go away”, said Robert turning to me. It did not take long. Carolis came to us and indicated that “Hamu’ was up and that he had just lit his pipe. He added that Hamu’s Brilliantine was over and all his efforts to get a bottle had failed. I immediately telephoned OIC Pettah and told him to get two jars of — Yardley Brilliantine and send them to me at the Officers’ Mess. No other hair cream had the rich aroma of Yardley brilliantine and Carolis said this was an urgent necessity as ‘Hamu’ would not use any other brand.
Pleasant looking in gold rimmed glasses Carolis had a fine sense of humour. Saying, “Sir, a wonderful thing happened today”, he related a story that made all of us laugh. Ruskin Fernando the MP for Moratuwa had come to Woodlands when the Prime Minister was not in. Carolis had told him that ‘Hamu’ was busy making (hadanawa) the Cabinet. Putting his palm on his forehead Ruskin had blurted, “Why didn’t he tell me. I could have turned out a special cabinet for him! As everybody knows Moratuwa is famed for its carpenters.
More on Villa Venezia
Tissa Devendra’s lament for Villa Venezia, Sri Lanka’s first University Library, prompted a letter from Mr. Rohantha Fernando, a relative by marriage of Sir. Marcus Fernando, who has long lived in the UK, enclosing some photos of the villa from a Plate annual published in the 1930s and a brief description of the house published below.
After Sir. Marcus, a prominent physician and legislator sold the house, he lived in another palatial mansion, Deveronside, on Sir. Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7.
The description of Villa Venezia:
QUEEN’S ROAD, COLOMBO.
The Residence of Sir Marcus Fernando.
Architects: – Messrs. Edwards, Reid and Booth, F. & A. A. R. I. B. A.
1. The main staircase runs up from the marble octagonal hall to the First Floor ante room. The dome is similar in shape and colour to a lotus flower.
2. The ball room verandah on the First Floor. There is a similar verandah on the other side of the ball room, which in addition to the great height of the ball room ensures that the latter is always cool.
3. The Ground Floor Drawing Room. This room leads out of the Octagonal Hall and the Dining Room and is flanked by two verandahs. The exterior of one of these is depicted on plate 4.
4. The central feature of the elevation towards Queen’s Road. The great height of the Ball room is marked by this feature. The character of the building is Adriatic.
Is India in the West or East, that’s the question
by Malinda Seneviratne
What if the British High Commissioner in Colombo, Sarah Hulton, met with the Ambassador of South Korea, Woonjin Jeong, on Tuesday, May 2, 2021? What if he was accompanied by the former Foreign Minister and the man who happily tossed Sri Lanka under the UNHRC bus driven by a warmongering Uncle Sam? What if Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, David McKinnon, held discussions with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 7, around the same time?
Now there are no laws against diplomats meeting other diplomats. There are no laws to stop diplomats meeting citizens of the country they happen to be posted in. However, it is significant that both South Korea and Bangladesh are members of the Human Rights Council. It is significant because in a few days time a vote will be taken in Geneva on a resolution on (well, ‘against,’ really) Sri Lanka. It’s a one country-one-vote situation, and therefore every vote can count. Indeed, if it is a close affair then that one vote becomes even more significant.
The Resolution is not just against Sri Lanka; it is a vote which, if succeeds, will set a dangerous precedent and effectively turn ‘human rights’ into an even more ironic, preposterous and pernicious weapon that the worst thug-nations in the world can deploy to wreck nations and regimes refusing to toe the line. In other words, it would give credence to vexatious persecution
The earth is not flat; this we know. Neither is Switzerland despite the lovely mountains, except in the dullness of the flavors pertaining to political economy. Countries might have equal voting worth on paper, but then again few would not have heard of that stinging truism ‘some are more equal than others.’ That oft quoted Golden Rule makes sense: he who has the gold makes the rules (we’ll come to that shortly). One can add ‘guns’ to the equation except that such killing-instruments are outdated in a world where there are nuclear weapons and countries which possess them have not hesitated to use biological weapons.
If it has come to a point where local diplomats have been directed by their respective governments to canvass votes then it simply means that the bosses driving the resolution have got jittery. Now one might be persuaded to imagine these diplomats sipping green tea and trying to persuade the relevant counterparts to join the club. However, persuasive arguments were never part of the story. It’s never been about right or wrong, good or evil. No. It’s about proposals that end with ‘or else…’ directly stated or suggested. Bribes too are part of the story. ‘How about if we…’ could be the ice-breaker in such situations.
Considering the geographical (and yes, ideological) location/orientation of the key players, this is essentially a West vs East game. This brings to mind a curious case of ‘seeing the light’ not too long ago. Let me elaborate.
It is no secret that the UNP faction of the previous regime was cosy with the political West. You could, if you are generous, call it ideological agreement of course but there has always been a streak of servility that prompts one to think and label, ‘colonial remnants.’
That dispensation, led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, banked on the West. Mangala Samaraweera, Foreign Minister of that government, played ‘local agent’ to the extent that he bent backwards to get Sri Lanka to dig a hole and crawl into it. He’s gone now, but he (and all those in that government who either cheered, watched in silence or looked away) essentially laid a minefield for those who would arrive later to walk on. This is why ‘Geneva’ is still in the news.
This, however, is not about that kind of political intrigue. It’s about the West (and therefore, obviously, the East). Wickremesinghe’s cabal, sweethearts as far as the West was concerned, operated as though we live on a planet so misshapen that there was only the West. Obviously the word means nothing if there’s no East, so maybe they operated as though the East, existent though it is, was inconsequential.
Brexit hit them between the proverbial eyes. Wickremesinghe came up with a classic and ironical observation: ‘we will look to the East.’ OMG! Wickremesinghe, thought of as some kind of whizkid in things economic, we learned, hadn’t heard of China or known that China and Japan own North American and European debt! OMG all over again!
So then, that’s how we need to frame this charade. East vs West. T.S. Eliot, in his iconic poem ‘Wasteland’ had a pretty and perceptive line (if it’s ok to interpret it in terms of a tectonic shift in ‘seeing’ and true domination):
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The above is obviously a description of someone moving from West to East. We can think of it as an ideological shift or even a re-alignment of philosophical orientation, but at a more mundane level, it’s about a shift in the balance of global power. In that sense, the Geneva Circus of Vexatious Persecution using/abusing Sri Lanka is but symptomatic of a last gasp effort on the part of those who have called the shots for a long century and are suddenly realizing that they are going to lose their voices.
The title has ‘India’ in it. Why India, someone might wonder. Well, India seems ideologically confused and geographically challenged right now. The West (or rather the spokespersons for the ideological and political camp that uses the locational term as identifier) has made it’s position clear: ANTI-SRI LANKA. The key voices of the opposite camp, led of course by China, have backed Sri Lanka. Even Japan and Australia (the other two Quad members) haven’t shown any of the belligerence of the world’s worst human rights offender over the past several centuries, Britain (yes, add ‘perpetrator of genocide, common thief, generator of inter-communal conflict, pyromaniac’) and her present day allies. India hasn’t mimicked the ‘Mother Country’ of course, but the noises are not supportive. They are marked by grumpiness. So much so that it would not be unfair if the relevant authorities assume ‘India will side against Sri Lanka.’ India could abstain, but at this point, it would be silly for India to assume that Sri Lanka would applaud such a position.
It’s simple, really. India has an issue with a strident China. India can play pawn and scoot over to the country that raped her. India might even be envisaging a future world order that is divided between two new superpowers, China and India. India could, on the other hand, envisage a new world order led by powerful nations which will not settle things with guns and bucks, even if they have the bombs and the gold. Instead of carving up the world (as the European powers carved up —and impoverished — Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884), India, with China, could use new found sway to heal the world and make it a better place (for you and for me, as MJ said).
India has a single vote. However, the stand that India takes will be taken note of. Sri Lanka certain would. Other nations would too. Sometimes, arms need not be twisted (as the British and Canadian mission heads in Colombo might very well be doing — Bangladesh and South Korea are proud nations, we still believe, by the way). A threat is often more powerful than its execution, as the great Polish and French chess master Savielli Tartakower once said.
So. India. Where is it located or rather where does India wish to locate itself? That’s the question. The answer will be important for Sri Lanka because it could persuade Sri Lanka to reassess her location (as nations do from time to time).
[The writer is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].
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