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Significance of Libyan situation for Sri Lanka: Responsibility to protect is not a dead letter

by Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

A lot has been written and said about the popular uprisings in the Arab world and some have opined on the possibility or lack thereof of similar events in Sri Lanka. Suffice it be said that the situations in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya are different to that in this country. Over thirty years we have had armed insurgencies in the south and in the north and east of the country. The challenge is to move beyond conflict and whilst it is often the case that the trajectory of international and national politics is unpredictable, the possibility of any such uprising in the short or medium term is slim as the first phase of the local election results indicate, contested though they are by the opposition.

There are a number of factors for this ranging from the practice of democracy however flawed in Sri Lanka, the popularity of the president augmented by the war victory, the state of the opposition, the expectation of economic take off even in the face of economic hardship, apathy, fatigue, fear and the crushing of dissent.

Yet, the response of the international community, in particular, to the events in the Arab world is not without significance to us in Sri Lanka.

UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes the international community to take all necessary steps short of the deployment of ground forces to defend the citizens of Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya from the forces of Muammar al Qadaffi. The resolution was sponsored by the UK, France and Lebanon and has the support of the Arab League.

Whilst no single member of the Council voted against the resolution, India, Brazil, Germany, China and Russia abstained.

The latter two have subsequently gone on record stating their opposition to the use of military force and calling for an immediate cease-fire. The Western states aside, Nigeria, South Africa, Colombia, Gabon and Lebanon voted in favour. Earlier, the Council reported Qadaffi to the International Criminal Court.

Arguments of double standards – why Libya not Yemen?- notwithstanding, there is an UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against the Qadaffi regime.

What would the Rajapaksa regime have done if Sri Lanka were a member of the Council? Indeed, what is the Rajapaksa regime’s position on the UN Security Council action against one of its nearest and dearest friends?

In the Libyan case there is no question of a war without witness. The international media is there in Tripoli and in Benghazi and reports on an hourly basis on what is going on including the Qadaffi regime’s bombing of civilians.

The Council acted when it was clear that Qadaffi was determined to take control of Benghazi and against the backdrop of his warnings that he would do so without mercy. Responding to action by the Security Council he has warned that if the world intended to go “crazy” over Libya he would do so too!

The Rajapaksa regime has allegations against it of war crimes, which are the subject of an investigative panel set up by the UN Secretary General. The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect or R2P has been rubbished by the regime and its apparatchiks and declared a dead letter and yet it seems to have more than a bit of life in it.

After all, Security Council action over Libya is part and parcel of the responsibility to protect civilians against regimes that inflict violence on them. Were it to be the case that Libya has breathed life into a doctrine that was declared defunct by our local pundits and patriots, will it be the case that the Rajapaksa regime could have to deal with action by the UN, facilitated by similar abstentions in the Council?

A lot will depend on the regime continuing to convince its supporters that Sri Lanka is an entirely different case. It will also depend on the enduring nature of their strategic interests in Sri Lanka and the wider region. Most of all it will depend on the report of the Secretary General’s Panel and what he intends to do with it.

Down the line, it is not entirely fanciful to speculate that were the report to be strong on the question of war crimes and were it to come to the Human Rights Council in any shape or form, for its reception there may well be different to the resolution on Sri Lanka in 2009 which the regime frequently refers to as the barometer of international opinion in its support. Will there be changes in the body of Arab support and will India be pro-active in the regime’s defence as it was in 2009 or be passive?

A key factor in the regime’s response will be the LLRC report since the regime has insisted that the LLRC is the answer to all questions about accountability in respect of human rights violations and war crimes.

As to what will happen is yet to be seen. The Secretary -General could sit on his Panel Report in the same way that our chief executives have done with numerous commission reports.

It is clear though that if damage limitation is going to have to be the order of the day, it will have to be done by a foreign service that is not demoralized and superceded by ineffective cost intensive lobbying firms but one with clear direction and competence. Moreover offence may not be the best form of defence, either, in these circumstances.

This may be asking for too much of a regime that is firmly convinced that any softening of its position on accountability constitutes the thin edge of the wedge which will eventuate in its undoing. It has shown itself to be more comfortable with confrontation, placating international opinion with yet another commission, only when it has run out of options.

Will the diplomats in the LLRC ensure that the LLRC will conclude that game or at least conclude that it cannot be played any longer?

And, will we ever know.


These people, it seems, have no vision at all. This demand for pound of flesh - accountability - is based on the fact that LTTE is no more there to answer for their part. This unilateral imposition will land Sri Lanka in the biggest quagmire. If you can punish Rajapaksha without creating the impression in the minds of the majority that it is they who are being punished I don't care at all. As I always say if you can punish the Sinhalese with no resultant effect on the majority of the Tamils then by all means go ahead and do it.

Then again if it is a "war without witness" how do you propose to carry out a successful investigation? People of the caliber of Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu should be more exacting in their logic. They should insist that there are plenty of witnesses for an investigation before international community begin to mobilise their resources.

An uprising like in Libya? Yes it did happen in the last week - didn't you see?

In this article Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is bearing all his true intensions. He wishes to see IC doing the same thing as they are presently doing in Libya. Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, even if you drop an atom bomb on Colombo more Tamils will die than Sinhalese.

I still remember how TNA expressed their joy and elation openly (while living amongst us)when LTTE attempted to bomb Colombo with their newly acquired aircraft.

Posted by: Soma | March 22, 2011 11:28 PM

As many eminent Sinhalese have told LLRC in September - November 2010 that i.successive governments since independence have done injustice to ethnic minorities ii.many commissions before it have failed to fulfil their duties and iii. urged it to go beyond its mandate to see that its recommendations are implemented, the government most reluctantly started ''talks'' with TNA a few months ago. The President has been saying all along that he will not go against the people's mandate. But whatever their mandate, he has been acting against it - instead of reducing the executive power as promised went on to increase it. Though there is nothing preventing him from implementing some other parts of it as regards holding provincial elections in Northeast and reducing high security zones.
The way the ''talks'' are going with TNA has already indicated what is to be expected:
i.sessions too far apart,
ii.a few ''tracks'' (one even comprising a bank manager) and
iii. even lying bizarrely about the list of detainees: instead of publishing it, when TNA asked the President he said it's available in database in Vavuniya. When the poor people travelled to Vavuniys, they were told there is nothing on database for them to see and that it's TNA election gimmick !!

Regular conferences on Buddhism(now 2600th year celebration in Kandy) has no meaning when the government refuses to apply the basic laws to all its citizens and hatches lies as it pleases.

R2P is a corollary of the Buddhist precepts(as well as that of the philosophy of all other religions).

Politicians as well as educators need to make note of the suggestions in the submissions to LLRC, ie if they want justice and peace in this country. Otherwise the children are going to repeat what the parents and grandparents have been doing in the last 63 years.

Posted by: eureka | March 23, 2011 01:16 AM

Bottom line is any regime cannot expect to get away with committing war crimes against its own citizens. That becomes even more acute when the regime is a non democracy. So simply put there are two lessons for the Rajapaksa family junta to take from the Libyan example 1. If you wish to legitimize your rule and actions of violence taken during the conflict, then strengthen democracy for no one is questioning the necessity for such actions in a fight against terrorism, 2. If you wish to be respected in the world act according to the rules of the civilized nations..yes yes there are double standards but yet the rules that say a government cannot massacre its civilians, kill journalist, bomb media institutions are not bad rules by any standards,,western eastern liberal or otherwise. Therefore rather than questioning the legitimacy of such rules and seeing international conspiracies every time someone suggests that we abide by such norms it would better serve the Madamulana junta to actually try and live up to civilized standards of governance...If not they might as well take a good look at what will happen to their BFF now hiding in some cave in the Libyan desert..

Posted by: Saman rathnayake | March 23, 2011 02:50 AM

I would beg Dr. Saravanamuttu not to make frivolous and fallacious comparisons between Libya whose situation is quite different from Sri Lanka.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2011 07:54 AM

Anglo-French-American consortium that got the resolution 1973 says; they are enforcing a no-fly zone to protect ‘civilians’ in Libya. But, we are not sure whether ‘rebels’ that demand the ouster of Kaddafi are civilians or indeed Libyan.

Take for instant, a BBC broadcast on March, 22, 2011 said; “meanwhile rebel leaders based in eastern Libya have had talks with United Nations officials on the humanitarian situation there.”

Now, for Libyan rebels to have talks with UN as a single entity, they should have been pretty organized. Moreover, no western media were ever explicit on who these rebel leaders were or how they happened to crop up spontaneously when there had been no organized opposition in Libya for forty years. We are curious to find out these details for we know what Anglo-French-American consortium had done in many countries in the past.

Another point, Tunisian, Egyptian, Bahrain, Saudi and Yemeni demonstrators didn’t have any weapons in their hands. But we saw that Libyan rebels have all sorts of weapons with them. BBC or other western media houses that clamor for the rights of demonstrators hadn’t told us how peaceful demonstrators got weapons in their hands.

To cover up all this flaws, Caucasian consortium, their media houses and backers started to write about brutality, atrocious acts and violence that Kaddafi had committed and have been committing against his own people since the beginning of demonstrations in Libya. They should have told us about Arab rulers that had not resorted to quash rebellion when they were under attack?

They have conveniently forgotten that no Arab ruler has ever been an egalitarian or a democrat of their mold. We thought obstinacy and intolerance stem from their religion and is the culture that is inbuilt to them. So Sarawanamuttu’s effort to compare Rajapakse to Kaddafi is lopsided one.

Posted by: Leela | March 23, 2011 01:06 PM

"Responsibility to Protect" principle is euphemism for "Humanitarian Interventionism - Imperialism" and the local version of it in Sri Lanka is the "Humanitarian Nationalism" that was put forward by the war mongers in Sri Lanka. Both of these parties have no right whatsoever to campaign for freedom, justice, liberty, rule of law etc.

The good thing about this phenomena is that now we can see a convergence of policies and ideals of so called liberal humanitarians and the nationalist demagogues like Wimal Weerawansa and Gunadasa Amerasekra or their Tamil equivalents in diaspora,Tamilnadu and in Sri Lanka.

Both are equally criminal and should be rejected and exposed vehemently.

Posted by: Nimal Sandaruwan | March 24, 2011 05:43 PM

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