Two Essayists Lambast the British Government for their Positions on Terror, the Pro-LTTE Tamils and the Brigadier Fernando Incident
ONE = Sara Dissanayake: “Anti-Terror Laws & British Hypocrisy,” in Colombo Telegraph,” February 2018,
The recent incident involving the throat-slit gesture made by Defense Attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando in response to the Eelamist protesters in London has, rightly so, stirred much controversy. Developments following the incident also sparked ample debate, prompting the public to take sides under the prevailing circumstances.
Instead, this incident compels me to shed light on another grave issue that continues to undermine Sri Lanka’s national integrity: the hypocrisy of the British state and its law enforcement. Needless to state, this is nothing new. Over the years we have repeatedly encountered diplomatic hypocrisy exerted to Sri Lanka, when it comes to the Tamil cause. With the conclusion of the war, this seems to have amplified. We are all too familiar with how the West typically responds to terrorism in other parts of the world. At this point, we reluctantly accept that double-standards, political opportunism and muddled diplomacy seem to be the signature traits of a world power. Having said that, it is imperative not to shy away from vocalising the issue, in every instance reality hits our face.
In the wake of the aforesaid incident, few British Members of Parliament with vested interests were quick to issue a letter of condemnation, urging Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, to withdraw Brigadier’s diplomatic papers and expel him from the UK. I refer to the letter dated 5 February, signed by Labour Party’s Joan Ryan MP and Siobhain McDonagh MP, Vice Chair and Senior Vice Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Tamils, respectively. Conservative Party’s Paul Scully MP who is the Chairman of APPG for Tamils followed suit the next day. In the interim, the special branch of the Metropolitan Police is reportedly interviewing the complainants, with a view to press charges against the Brigadier. Furthermore, James Dauris, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka lodged a strong official protest with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs. The entire ‘holier than thou’ political tamasha is rather flabbergasting, albeit carried out at the expense of holding the country’s rule of law in contempt. Sadly, the involved parties are either oblivious to the existing counter-terror laws of their own land, or they have no regard for the law in general.
While it is not a criminal offense in the UK to call for the creation of an independent state, need I not remind that the LTTE has been proscribed in the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000. Section 13 clearly stipulates that “A Person in public space commits an offense if he (a) wears an item of clothing, or (b) wears, carries or displays an article, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or a supporter of a proscribed organisation”. Photographs and video footages of the protest in question depict participants brandishing the notorious LTTE flag chanting “Our Leader Prabhakaran” in the presence of police personnel. Some are seen wearing a black customised sweatshirt with the slain leader’s photo in the front, with an Eelam map printed on the back.
Apologist would argue that flying flags does not necessarily constitute as supporting and glorifying terrorist acts, but such naïve logic does not hold water. Peaceful protests demanding an end to land grab, information on the missing persons and the right to self-determination are indeed acceptable within the law. However, when that message is exemplified by voluntarily and strategically flying a designated terrorist flag, along with publically accepting a megalomania who sanctioned brutal and indiscriminate terrorist acts as their leader- this surely elevates the issue to a whole new level. If this is not called supporting a proscribed organisation, I fail to comprehend what is. It is beyond comprehension how such flagrant violation of the anti-terror law is systematically turned a blind eye. Not only is the criminal activity overlooked, but talk about the pot calling the kettle black: the focus is shifted to removing Sri Lankan diplomatic personnel for offensive behaviour.
The British law enforcement employs selective application when executing their legal provisions, as each case concerned is supposedly ‘circumstantial’. Back in 2004, a man was convicted in Scotland under Terrorism Act 2000, when he was spotted wearing the ring inscribed with the initials of the Ulster Volunteer Force on his wedding finger. In 2015, the Metropolitan police was slammed for failing to arrest a man was walking in Westminster draped in a supposed Islamic State (IS) flag, with his small child who was also waving the flag. He was questioned on the spot, but evaded arrest on the grounds that the police was not able to establish that the man was direct support of IS. Conversely, two pro-Palestinian protestors were arrested in 2015 for offenses under Section 13 of the same anti-terror act, for flying the Hezbollah flag in London. Similarly in 2017, the Metropolitan Police gave an advance warning of arrests if anyone carries the Hezbollah flag at an anti-Balfour march in central London.
Once upon a time in April 2009, the UK police issued repeated requests for LTTE flags to be removed during the protests in support of the Tamil cause. Subsequently, two protestors were held on suspicion of carrying the said flag, which was later seized by the police. Since then however, the British law enforcement seems to have conveniently forgotten that the Tigers are a proscribed terrorist organisation. The Tigers flag has been making an appearance in every anti-Sri Lanka demonstrations in the past decade, and regardless of the occasional official protests made by the Sri Lankan High Commission, there have not been any attempts by the police to arrest or convict people displaying the flags in public. Ergo, the British state is effectually aiding and abetting terrorism in her own territory by disregarding its own anti-terror laws. At the same time, such ‘à la carte’ application of the law unfortunately signifies a diplomatic defeat for the Sri Lankan state.
What we can essentially take away from this incident is that Sri Lanka needs to take a more proactive approach in engaging with the UK. The inaction of the British law enforcement against flagrant pro-LTTE activism is likely to continue, given the inherent hypocrisy of superpower politics. We cannot expect either the Eelamists or the British state to change its approach: the tiger cannot change its stripes, both literally and figuratively in this case. Nonetheless, the fact that the British government is able to brazenly ignore its own anti-terror laws vis-à-vis the LTTE speaks volumes of her regard to Sri Lanka as a sovereign nation. The recent invitation of Prince Edward to Sri Lanka for the Independence Day Celebrations may have ticked a diplomatic to-do list in an failed attempt to appease its colonial masters, but it merely served to showcase the asymmetrical dynamics of UK-Lanka relations.
Sri Lanka can benefit more from proactively shedding its colonial past and adopting an independent foreign policy that is not driven primarily by external circumstances and appeasement. Yearning for superficial recognition by the international community and excessive economic dependence on the West has stripped Sri Lanka of her independence in the truest form. While professionalism of government officials are of utmost importance, at the same time, this incident should serve as an eye-opener to realise, once again, that Sri Lanka needs to stand up more firmly to assert her integrity and national interests. Let the vision for ‘A Country Enriched’ not be limited to socio-economic growth, but also to include a reformation of its foreign policy dynamics to emerge as robust nation with dignity and self-respect.
TWO: Neville de Silva: “Duplicitous Brits and diplomatic fallout,” Sunday Times, 25 February 2018
When Sri Lanka’s defence attache’ in London made a gesture running a finger across his throat some of Britain’s MPs with little to do ran to their computers to dash off letters calling for the military officer’s recall.
Not to be outdone by politicians who have a symbiotic existence with refugees and former combatants and supporters of an organisation which Britain itself declared as a terrorist group, the striped-pants brigade down Whitehall which calls themselves diplomats rushed to send off confidential messages to the British outpost in Colombo to make demands of the Sri Lanka Government.
Three gestures with a finger running across his own throat by Brigadier Priyanka Fernando standing in the porch of our high commission premises and facing a motley crowd of protestors desecrating Sri Lanka’s national flag and waving what seemed to be the LTTE’s own, was sufficient provocation for a tested military officer to react.
The problem is that the Brigadier’s gesture could mean many things to many people. In fact when some of the LTTE- supporting demonstrators shouted that Prabhakaran was their leader the military officer’s gesture was a reply to those who claimed VP as their leader. The brigadier’s response was to remind them that Prabhakaran had departed this world almost 10 years earlier.
But the protestors and their political lackeys who wish to cling onto their seats in parliament by supporting any morally reprehensible ‘cause’ that brings them even a fistful of votes chose to select the least likely but the most inflammable interpretation of the brigadier’s gesture.
So Joan Ryan and Siobhain McDonagh, two unfailing props of a crumbling terrorist (as defined by British law) edifice clung on to this independence day episode to work their pretentious anger now that their Labour Party appears to be running into all manner of troubles, even on Brexit.
To vent their public anger but private insouciance they sent a letter of protest to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who should have been paying more attention to the use of British weaponry to kill innocent Yemeni and Iraqi civilians than some Sri Lankans whose side lost the war but still live in a fantasy world.
Brigadier Priyanka Fernando’s gesture draws a quick response from the striped-pan brigade’s Whitehall sympathisers
The striped pants set at the South Asia desk of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) now supposedly in high dudgeon sent a missive to their man in Westminster House in Wijerama Mawatha to go and make a nuisance of himself at Republic Square where our own diplomutts were trying to rustle up their meager knowledge of the Queen’s English before confronting “Dauris the Daring” armed with his own excaliber.
The trouble was that poor Dauris did not know that our own King Arthur also known as “Maithri the Mighty” suffering these days with Hamletian doubts was also armed with a sword presented to him by Putin the Pernicious, had also threatened to smite anyone causing him vexatious moments.
To cut a long story short, as it were, everybody and their grandmothers know that the British are an unreliable and untrustworthy friend. Some might well remember that old tale about Britannia ruling the waves and waiving the rules. The worst of them was to be seen in the centuries of empire. That is not to say that today they have converted themselves to be leading guardians of international morality.
Today they preach their new gospel on human rights, war crimes, and international humanitarian law while their unsavoury acts committed during centuries of colonialism and even now are interred not with their bones as Anthony said of Caesar but with their inglorious history.
To relate Britain’s historical crimes which did not end with colonialism and the absolutely disgraceful manner in which their subjects were treated would require much more than a newspaper column.
Having lived and worked in Hong Kong for 10 years and written extensively about the 150 years of British rule one cannot easily forget the atrocities and atrocious manner in which the ordinary Chinese were maltreated while the rich Chinese entrepreneurial class was embraced and used much to the delight of the Hong Kong’s filthy rich upper class.
When the British were up to their old tricks and shenanigans there were no international humanitarian laws, conventions on human rights, no political and civil rights and of course no UN Human Rights Council.
But as one British writer pointed out, there was indeed a European Human Rights Convention when the British occupiers were killing opponents of their rule in Kenya in the 1950-60s.
Ten years or so later the British seemed to have had no compunction in killing unarmed civilian protestors in Northern Ireland. Today the great British MPS like the Ryans and McDonaghs demand that the brigadier be sent packing for his gesture but not a word from these preachers of morality on British violations of human rights laws and abuses including the illegal invasion of Iraq which their party leader “Phony” Tony Blair led the country into war.
A recital of the British treatment of the soldiers in the British Gurkha regiment, the people of Diego Garcia who were uprooted from their homes and unceremoniously dumped in Mauritius and some in Seychelles and the killings of Kenyan civilians whose next of kin filed action in British courts for redress have clearly documented but would have to await a later date for an airing.
Of those vote seeking politicians only some are entitled to human rights and should be protected — even if they have been guilty of terrorist acts — and others are less than human and so have no rights.
So when the British High Commissioner went to Republic Square breathing fire our functionaries called diplomats from what some call the messed-up ministry, capitulated like a pricked balloon and agreed to act stern against the brigadier. All that the ministry apparently forgot was to greet the Dashing Dauris with a “ehey hamuduruwaney”.
With faxes going to and fro and the decorated military officer preparing to be hanged on the closest apple tree in the absence of a cadju poolang tree and the brigadier not knowing whether to report for work or stretch out at home on the hansiputuwa waiting for the executioner, the messy ministry’s plans went awry.
It is scant wonder this should happen when it is infested with pro-western pandang karayas who will serve the white man with the same obsequiousness that the Indian domestic cleaners reserved for the conquering Raj in khaki shorts.
But what has followed since that February 4th incident from the time the foreign ministry kow-towed to our colonial masters like the white man grudgingly did so to the Chinese emperors, makes an entertaining soap opera.
On instructions from Colombo our High Commissioner in London asked Brigadier Fernando for an explanation and also sent her own explanation. It is worthwhile reading that exchange for it reflects not so much on the high commissioner but the person who wrote the letters.
It is known in London that these official communications are written by career diplomats who are described as “political officers” irrespective of how much politics they know. One officer has returned to Colombo after a long stint and another has now replaced him.
It is true that as High Commissioner Amari Wijewardene signs them but the construction is in the hands of the career officers. Writing to Brigadier Fernando seeking his explanation, the high commissioner’s letter says “I have been informed that after your gesture was exposed it contributed to provocating the protestors and they moved very close to the High Commission aggressively to show their anger”.
Having ‘provocated’ (if I might resort to the same unaccustomed lingo) the Brigadier to take offensive action, the High Commissioner them replied to the fax by the foreign secretary saying “As per instructions given by you, I have served him an explanation on the above…”, the high commissioner wrote to the foreign secretary “ I wish to place my explanation on the Tamil Guardian report and the video footage….”.
In her confidential reply to the foreign secretary, the high commission goes on to say that since she assumed duties in London “I have been trying my level best to integrate the different spectrum of the Sri Lanka diaspora community by continuous engagement to accomplish the vision of HE the President and the Hon Prime Minister to build a unified Sri Lanka with rule of law, good governance and democratic values and principles”.
There are more linguistic howlers but to quote them all would only take more space which is really short now that High Commissioner Amari Wijewardene has decided to quit.
There is no doubt who the authors of these letters and previous ones were – career officials purporting to be diplomats posted here. The question is whether other letters with English howlers have been sent to the various ministries and government departments and diplomatic missions with which the high commissioner is said to have interacted.
One can understand former subjects of the colonial power wanting to get back at those who colonised them. One way to do so would be to write better English than they do. But to commit regicide in the capital of Royal Britain is a bit much.
Surely the ministry has persons with linguistic skills without dumping any old left over in this place. The last one clung on for five years.
Even crazier is the foreign ministry’s linguistic struggle to explain the high commissioner’s sudden desire to quit. If her contract would end on March 31 then those at the high commission and her associates in London would have known that she intended to finish up as high commissioner. There are many formalities that have to be attended to.
The fact that nobody has talked about it seems like a well- kept secret. The foreign ministry’s convoluted way of trying to explain makes it even more confusing. The ministry statement says that the high commissioner “will conclude her contract on her own volition by 31st March”.
What the ministry avoids saying is whether her contract, which I believe is for two years like non-career appointments, ends on 31st March. As she says in her letter to the foreign secretary, she assumed duties as high commissioner on August 10, 2016. As far as I am aware the contract then ends on August 9, 2018. If that is correct – and I leave it to the ministry to deny it and say precisely when it ends – then the contract is still valid.
It seems to me that if she terminates her assignment before the expiry of the contract period then she has to inform the Foreign Ministry that she would cease to function as high commissioner, whether it is “on her own volition” or somebody elses.
So let the ministry clarify when the contract became operative and when it will cease. If she wishes to leave before the expiry date it indicates she is resigning, the why and wherefore does not matter right now.