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Human Rights and War Crimes : Sri Lanka’s ignorance matches that of US



By Daya Gamage
Foreign Service National Political Specialist (ret), US Department of State

The Capitol Building, which houses both legislative branches of the United States – and the Sri Lanka Embassy are not very far apart in Washington, DC. The Capitol Building has an office for Congresswoman, Deborah Ross, who along with another four Members submitted a resolution against Sri Lanka on 18 May (2023) to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on the day when the 14th anniversary of the conclusion of Eelam War IV fell.

It seems that Congresswoman Ross and the Sri Lanka diplomatic corps have a serious communication gap, which allowed Ross and her staff to engage in a dialogue with a pro-Eelam organisation, the Tamil American United Political Action Committee in Raleigh, North Carolina, which she represents in the Congress, to draft a resolution and submit it to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, castigating Sri Lanka on issues of human rights and alleged war crimes; the Sri Lankan diplomats in the other building failed to remember that it was Ross who had previously submitted a resolution, against Sri Lanka on 18 May 2021, and neglected their diplomatic responsibilities.

They did not meet her to refute the ill-informed pronouncements in the 2021 resolution. Both Resolutions – 2021 and 2023 – are similar. The writings and pronouncements in the Tamil American United PAC Committee website found themselves into the Ross’ resolution of 2023, due to manoeuvrings by Murugiah Muraleetharan, the President of the association.

Then, the Sri Lankan media reported that Foreign Minister Ali Sabry had summoned the Canadian High Commissioner to ‘protest’ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement that Sri Lanka had committed genocide its war with the LTTE. There were no media reports that Minister Sabry had informed the Canadian diplomat that it was the LTTE that engaged in genocidal acts, forcibly removing Muslims and Sinhalese from the LTTE-controlled Northern Province.

Minister Sabry brought it to the attention of the Canadian diplomat that since the anti-Tamil riots, in 1983, there had been no harassment of Tamils, despite the Tamil Tigers infiltrating the Sinhalese areas, in the south, and massacring Sinhalese villagers and Buddhist monks. There were no indications if Sabry told him that when the war was over, in May 2009, there were 40% (out of the national 12%) Tamils living among the Sinhalese, in the South, far away from the North and the East, and that at present about 50% Tamils are now living outside those provinces.

The State Department’s misconceptions about the final phases of the Vanni war were due to inadequate and incompetent reporting thereon by the American Embassy in Colombo. Questions about Embassy Colombo’s reporting were raised by the State Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) during a routine assessment of Embassy operations during the period from August 2009 through September 2010. The period under review coincided with the release to Congress by the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice on “Crimes Against Humanity in Sri Lanka”, which drew heavily on Embassy reporting.

OIG reports always identify weaknesses in the Embassy’s performance, but this report on Colombo was particularly critical of the political reporting section, whose personnel are inexperienced and lack proper training. The inspectors found that the American reporting officers in Colombo had not travelled adequately around the country and their reports were insufficiently analytical. No surprise the US Embassy and its Ambassador,accepted uncritically the views of the UN and other sources.

US government officials who denounce Sri Lanka for human rights violations appear to have no proper understanding of the evidentiary weaknesses of their accusations. Worse still, they apparently are ignorant or unmindful of reports by others in the USG and the organisations that attest to these empirical shortcomings. Three important reports relevant to Sri Lanka were published by reputable investigative bodies between December 2008 and September 2009—a period that bracketed the worst alleged crimes by Sri Lanka.

The first of these was produced by the Genocide Prevention Task Force co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defence, William Cohen and convened jointly by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the United States Institute of Peace. This report noted in general terms, “When our diplomats and intelligence reporting from the post is inadequate, analysts in Washington are left to make judgments from ambiguous and frequently conflicting information and assessments.”

The latter two reports published shortly after the end of hostilities in Sri Lanka were drafted by the US Congress’ independent investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The two reports disclosed very serious weaknesses in policy decisions taken at the highest levels in the State Department as a result of ambiguous and frequently conflicting information and assessments provided by overseas diplomatic missions that are ill-equipped to handle required reporting.

It should be stated here that US lawmakers in both the Senate and the House, apart from getting distorted views from the pro-Tamil Eelam lobby, draw heavily from State Department reports and analyses. Worse, the Washington-based Sri Lankan diplomats as well as Sri Lankan agencies that deal with foreign-international affairs were either blind to reality or conveniently ignored what needed to be presented to the international community (IC).

The disgraceful double-standards of Washington policymakers and lawmakers – and, of course, their overseas diplomats – in dealing with Sri Lanka’s ‘national issues’, since the advent of the separatist war in the north, and the insurrection in the south, in the 1980s, are now very broadly dealt with by two persons who worked within the US Department of State for 30 years in the area of foreign affairs. One is this writer, who is a retired Foreign Service National Political Specialist, once accredited to the Political Section of the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, and the other Dr. Robert K. Boggs, a retired Senior Foreign Service (FS) and Intelligence Officer, who served as Political Counsellor, at the Colombo Mission, with a very broad knowledge of India’s ‘role’ in Sri Lanka. Their manuscript, ‘Defending Democracy: Lessons in Strategic Diplomacy from US-Sri Lankan Relations” is nearing completion with disclosures, analyses and interpretations based on their up-close and personal knowledge and understanding how Washington used ‘double standards’ in handling its foreign relations to reduce Sri Lanka to a client state.

The USG has for years pressed for an international mechanism to judge Sri Lankan military officers for decisions they made in leading their nation’s fight against militants the USG had designated as terrorists. The USG has done this despite its stated policy of recognising “a state’s inherent right to defend itself from armed attacks, including those by non-state actors such as terrorist groups, and expects both states and non-state actors to comply with their international legal obligations.”

For decades Sri Lankan policymakers have demonstrated a poor understanding of how the American foreign policy establishment works and how they might use public diplomacy and strategic communication to counter the influence of the Tamil Diaspora. The persistent ineffectiveness of Sri Lankan diplomacy in Washington has been a major reason why in the final months of the war (March/April 2009) the USG threatened to block a $1.9 billion IMF loan in the hope of dissuading the GSL from continuing its final military campaign. The US threat proved unsuccessful (mainly for intra- governmental reasons), but the additional stress it placed on bilateral relations could have been avoided if the GSL had developed better rapport with Washington through more professional diplomacy.

A serious lack of professional diplomacy, the naive manner in which it dealt with international/foreign affairs, having absolutely no research-investigative ability, Sri Lanka couldn’t understand the following scenario to develop its own diplomatic prowess to deal with Washington:

At the time the United States was pressuring Colombo to accept “national, international, and hybrid mechanisms to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared,” the USG had not itself ratified the UN convention of 2006 requiring state party to criminalize enforced disappearances and take steps to hold those responsible to account. Despite a resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on November 19, 2020 calling on the USG to ratify the international convention, this still has not happened.

America’s long history of rejecting accountability is strongly rooted in legislation. The American Service-Members Protection Act (ASPA) was an amendment to the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 4775) passed in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the launch of the so-called Global War on Terror. The ASPA aims to protect U.S. military personnel and other elected and appointed officials of the government against prosecution by an international criminal court, to which the US is not a party.

Among other defensive provisions the Act prohibits federal, state and local governments and agencies (including courts and law enforcement agencies) from assisting the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It even prohibits US military aid to countries that are parties to the Court. In 2002, during the administration of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the GoSL signed with the US an “Article 98 Agreement,” agreeing not to hand over US nationals to the Court.

US policy was based on an inadequate understanding of the underlying causes of the civil war in Sri Lanka—an understanding that does not include inter-caste tensions within the Tamil community, the political obduracy of upper caste elites, unwilling to adapt to the post-Independence democratic order, the origins and dynamics of two competing nationalisms, demographic and economic pressures in an island state, and the imperative in a young democratic system of policies to expand economic opportunity to the disadvantaged majority within both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities.

There has been a perverse lack of appreciation internationally of the threat that an autocratic, criminal, terrorist organisation posed to the security of the great majority of Sri Lankans including Tamils. Tragically, Washington’s simplistic perception of an ethnic majority oppressing a ‘righteously rebellious’ minority prolonged the bloodshed, alienated a historically reliable partner, weakened a beleaguered democracy, and strengthened the influence of US antagonists in the region.

Washington ignored or glossed over the complex skein of factors that dominated ethnic politics for decades. (To be continued)


Lingering world disorder and the UN’s role



The 9/11 Twin Tower horror in New York.

Russia could very well be questioning the legitimacy of the UN system by currently challenging the right of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to arbitrate in the conflicting accusations of genocide brought against each other by it and Ukraine. Russia has countered Ukraine’s charge of genocide, occasioned by its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by accusing the latter of perpetrating the same crime in the rebel region of Eastern Ukraine, which is seen as being within the Russian sphere of influence.

As is known, when Russia did not participate in a hearing sanctioned by the ICJ on the charge of genocide brought against it in March 2022, the ICJ called on Russia to halt the invasion forthwith. Russia, however, as reported in some sections of the international media, reacted by claiming that the ICJ has ‘no jurisdiction over the case since Ukraine’s request does not come within the scope of the Genocide Convention.’ The main sides to the Ukraine conflict are at present reportedly stating their positions in the ICJ with regard to the correctness of this claim.

Whereas, the law-abiding the world over would have expected the ICJ’s word to prevail in the Ukraine conflict, this does not seem to be the case. More precisely, it is the moral authority of the UN that is being questioned by Russia. Given this situation, the observer cannot be faulted for believing that Russia is ‘sticking to its guns’ of favouring a military solution in the Ukraine.

Considering the foregoing and the continuing lawlessness in other geographical regions, such as South-West Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, the commentator is justified in taking the position that little or nothing has been gained by the world community by way of fostering international peace over the decades.

Most distressing is the UN’s seeming helplessness in the face of international disorder, bloodshed and war. The thorny questions from the 9/11 New York twin-tower terror attacks, for instance, are remaining with humanity.

One of the most dreaded questions is whether the UN Charter has been rendered a dead letter by the forces of lawlessness and those wielders of overwhelming military might who couldn’t care less for moral scruples. Those state actors who display these traits risk being seen as destruction-oriented subversives or terrorists who are impervious to civilizational values.

Commentators are right when they point to the need for UN reform. This is, in fact, long overdue. Of the original ‘Big Five’ who went on to constitute the permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) at the end of World War 11 and who oversaw the establishment of the UN, only the US and China retain major power status in the true sense of the phrase today.

The rest of the original heavyweights cannot be considered ‘spent forces’, but there are other powers of more recent origin who could easily vie for their positions. Some of these are India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Inducting some of the latter into the UNSC could help constitute a more globally representative UNSC. That is, they will help put together an UNSC which is more faithfully reflective of the current global power distribution.

Theoretically, a more widely representative and inclusive UNSC could be a check against the arbitrary exercise of power by the more ambitious, expansionary and authoritarian members of the UNSC but a foremost challenge facing the UN is to induce such new members of the UNSC into representing the vital and legitimate interests of the ordinary publics within these states and internationally. Minus such representation of the world’s powerless UN reform could come to nought. In fact, this could be described as a prime challenge before the UN which could decide its enduring relevance.

Admittedly, the challenge is complex and defies easy resolution. Not all the countries that are seen as prospective UNSC members are democratic in orientation. That is, they would not be people-friendly or egalitarian. Most of them are governed by power elites that are part of what has been described as the ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’ and could be expected to be repressive and parasitic rather than caring or egalitarian. How then could they be expected to be committed to re-distributive justice within their countries, for example?

In the short and medium terms, the UN system could bring into being systems and institutions that could make it comparatively difficult for the power elites of the world to be parasitic, exploitive, self-serving and unconscionable. Strengthening and giving added teeth to systems that could prove effective against money-laundering and allied practices of self-aggrandizement is one way out.

Ironically, it is perhaps the UN that could lay the basis for and provide these mechanisms most effectively and non-obtrusively. It would need to work more with governments and publics on these fronts and lay the foundation for the necessary accountability procedures within states. It should prepare for the long haul.

In the longer term, it’s the coming into existence of democracy-conscious governments and ruling strata that must be sought. Here too the UN could play a significant role. Its numerous agencies could prove more proactive and dynamic in inculcating and teaching the core values of democracy to particularly poor and vulnerable populations that could fall prey to anti-democratic, parochial political forces that thrive on division and discord.

UN aid could be even directly tied to the establishment and strengthening of democratic institutions in particularly impoverished countries and regions. Thus will the basis be laid for younger leaders with a strong democratic vision and programmatic alternative for their countries. Hopefully, such issues would get some airing in the current UN General Assembly sessions.

Accordingly, the broad-basing of the UNSC is integral to UN reform but the progressive world cannot stop there. It would need to ensure the perpetuation of the UN system by helping to bring into being polities that would respect this cardinal international organization which has as its prime aim the fostering of world peace. Democracy-conscious populations are an urgent need and systems of education that advocate the core values of democracy need to be established and strengthened worldwide.

The coming into being of rivals to the current Western-dominated world order, such as the BRICS bloc, needs to be welcomed but unless they are people-friendly and egalitarian little good will be achieved. Besides, undermining the UN and its central institutions would prove utterly counter-productive.

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Country Roads …concert for children



Sponsors and Country Music Foundation officials - from left: Dmitri Cooray (Jetwing), Maljini Jayasekera (Cargills), Feizal Samath (President CMF), Susaan Bandara (LOLC), Deepal Perera (SriLankan Airlines) and Spencer Manualpillai (Dilmah)

I’ve always wondered why those who have hit the big time in their profession, as singers, have not cared to reach out to the needy.

They generally glorify themselves, especially on social media, not only with their achievements, but also with their outfits, etc. – all status symbols.

I’m still to see some of the big names grouping together to help the thousands who are suffering, at this point in time – children, especially.

However, I need to commend the Country Music Foundation of Sri Lanka for tirelessly working to bring some relief, and happiness, to children, in this part of the world.

Country Roads is said to be Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s longest running charity concert for children, and this year, they say, the show will be even better.

This concert has consistently donated 100% of its proceeds to children’s charities in Sri Lanka. Over the past 35 years, this has resulted in several million rupees worth of aid, all of which has contributed directly to addressing the most pressing issues faced by children in Sri Lanka, a common practice since the concert’s first edition was held in 1988.

In 2014, the concert contributed Rs. 500,000 to Save the Children Sri Lanka, to support its mother-and-child programme for local plantations. During the same year, another Rs. 100,000 was given to the Oxonian Heart Foundation, to help treat impoverished and destitute children suffering from heart disease, while a further Rs. 100,000 was donated to a poor family caring for a special needs child. In commemoration of its landmark 25th anniversary concert in 2013, CMF donated a million rupees to aid in a special UNICEF project.

Astrid Brook from the UK

The 2023 musical extravaganza will feature the bright lights and panoramic cityscape of Colombo, as its backdrop, as it will be held at the picturesque Virticle by Jetwing, which is situated high above the city, on the 30th floor of the Access Towers building, in Union Place, Colombo 2.

The 35th anniversary Country Roads concert for children will take place on Saturday, 7th October, 2023.

Feizal Samath, President of the Country Music Foundation (CMF), the concert organisers, commented: “We are very much looking forward to this event as it’s being held after a lapse of five years, due to unavoidable circumstances.”

Fan favourites the Mavericks from Germany and Astrid Brook from the UK will once again return to headline the 2023 concert, and joining them on stage will be local outfit Cosmic Rays, as well as the Country Revival Band, with Feizal and Jury.

Dirk (from the Mavericks) has this to say to his Sri Lankan fans: “2018 was the last time we were in your beautiful country with the Mavericks band. Then Corona came and with it a long break. I missed you very much during this time.

“It has now been five years since my last visit to Sri Lanka. A lot has changed. The sponsorship that has always made this trip possible for us is gone. But we didn’t just want to end this tradition, which we have learned to love so much since 1992. That’s why we’re travelling to Sri Lanka this year entirely at our own expense, because it’s an affair of the heart for us.

Mavericks from Germany

“We very much hope that it won’t be the last Maverick performance in Sri Lanka. We hope that this unique journey will continue, that there will also be a Country Roads concert in the years to come.”

The 35th anniversary edition of the Country Roads concert for children will be supported by Official Venue Virticle by Jetwing, and Official Airline SriLankan Airlines, as well as its other partners, Jetwing Colombo Seven, Cargills, LOLC, and Firefly.

Tickets are currently available, for a charitable donation of Rs 2,000 each, at Cargills Food City outlets at Kirulapone, Kohuwela (Bernards), Majestic City, Mount Lavinia (junction) and Staples Street.

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Healthy, Glowing Skin



Give your skin a boost by including the following into your diet:

* Avocados:

Avocados contain healthy fats which can help your skin stay moisturised and firm.

They also contain vitamin C and E – two important nutrients that your body need to support healthy skin and fight free radical formation.

Avocados are also rich in biotin, a B vitamin that some nutritionists believe can help promote healthy skin and hair. A deficiency of biotin can lead to skin problems, such as rashes, ache, psoriasis, dermatitis and overall itchiness.

* Carrots:

Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which fights against sunburns, cell death, and wrinkles. Vitamin A also adds a healthy, warm glow to your skin.

You can get vitamin A by consuming provitamin A through fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Your body then converts beta-carotene into vitamin A to protect your skin from the sun.

Provitamin A can also be found in oranges, spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers, broccoli and more.

* Dark Chocolate:

Dark chocolate is beneficial for your skin because cocoa powder boasts a bunch of antioxidants. These antioxidants hydrate and smoothen your skin, making your skin less sensitive to sunburn and improves the blood flow of your skin. Make a healthy choice by opting for a bar of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa for more antioxidants and lesser added sugar.

* Green Tea:

Green tea has been said to protect the skin against external stressors and ageing. This is because it is antioxidant-rich and contains catechins that protect your skin, reduce redness, increase hydration, and improve elasticity.

A diet rich in antioxidants along with adequate hydration may even out your skin texture, strengthen your skin barrier and improve your overall skin health.

Avoid adding milk to green tea as the combination can reduce the effects of the antioxidants present in green tea.

Additional tips for healthy skin…

Don’t forget to stay hydrated because water plays a big part in the appearance of your skin. Water ensures your skin has enough moisture, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps with nutrient absorption, removal of toxins and blood circulation.

Besides food and water, it is important to observe proper hygiene. This means no touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. Your hands carry more bacteria than you think and the occasional touch here and there can add up. After a long day out, cleanse your face thoroughly.

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