Rajeewa Jayaweera, in Island, 23 March 2019, with this title “Mangala’s rebuttal of Mahinda’s critique: some comments”
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in a scathing attack, has condemned former President and current Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) for challenging the Wickremesinghe government’s decision to co-sponsor the rollover of UNHRC Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1 for a further two-year period.
The role of the Leader of Opposition and the main Opposition party in any democracy is to question the government of the day on their policies and hold them accountable to the public. The Leader of Opposition is also a sort of Prime Minister in waiting. Perhaps Mangala has forgotten this salient feature in parliamentary democracy. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) appointed as the main opposition party in parliament by the Yahapalana government in September 2015 made itself an appendage of the government and focused only on the welfare of its community. Under the circumstances, it is understandable that Mangala and many others have forgotten the role of the Leader of Opposition in a parliamentary democracy.
The root cause for MR’s criticism and Mangala’s rebuttal is based on the co-sponsoring of the Geneva Resolution by the Yahapalana government since 2015 and the current Wickremesinghe government’s decision to co-sponsor its rollover by a further two years.
At the outset it must be stated, Sri Lanka is in this sorry situation entirely due to the ineptitude and lack of foresight of the 2010-2015 Rajapaksa administration. After defeating LTTE terrorism in May 2009, the administration paid attention to the infrastructure development in the North and East but failed to address the grievances and political aspirations of the Tamil community. Its failure to implement the recommendations of the LLRC is unpardonable and gave foreign meddlers the excuse it needed to intervene. Furthermore, considerable damage was done to the country’s foreign relations by appointing a Monitor who had barely passed his GCE ‘O’ levels examination to direct (often overriding the Foreign Minister) and monitor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Reverting to Mangala’s broadside, he claims “Our military which Mahinda claims to be the guardian of was losing heavily as they were deprived of military-to-military cooperation with the countries which have the most advanced militaries in the world. They were deprived of training opportunities, particularly in UN peacekeeping and in joint exercises.”
One is baffled. Mangala was a cabinet minister in President CBK’s government from 1994 till 2001 and once again from 2004 till 2005 after which he was a member of MR’s cabinet from 2005 till 2007 when he was sacked. During this time, despite repeated requests for foreign military assistance to combat LTTE terrorism, has he forgotten that western nations including the US for whom he bats frequently, and India declined assistance and even the sale of military hardware? Where were the naval flotillas seen so often in present times in Colombo and Trincomalee ports? Where were the training exercises that have now become a regular feature? Is it not a fact, military-to-military cooperation currently taking place has little to do with assisting Sri Lanka but everything to do with the Indo-US power play against China in the Indo-Pacific region? In agreeing to numerous military exercises and making Sri Lanka, a logistical hub for the US armed forces in return for a few crumbs off the table such as the USD 480 million grant from US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), has not the Wickremesinghe government in which Mangala is a senior minister exchanged the nation’s sovereignty for some pottage?
Mangala states, “Mahinda appears unaware that any country in the world can already investigate and prosecute disappearances and other war crimes alleged to have taken place in any other country in the world because most countries in the world today have today already signed treaties to deny safe haven to war criminals!”
Two of the greatest war criminals of the 20th century since WWII are former US President George W Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The infamous weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) used to justify the invasion of Iraq but yet to be found, bringing untold misery to ordinary Iraqi citizens, sectarian violence resulting in the death of thousands of Iraqis, several torture chambers such as Abu Ghraib and the murder of innocent civilians by military contractors such as Black Water would have justified the prosecution of these two criminals. Why has the US and UK, and Mangala’s so-called “most countries in the world who have already signed treaties” not prosecuted Bush and Blair?
The fact is, countries such as the US and UK have never done so and will never do so to their leaders, regardless of the magnitude of their crimes. Neither will UNHRC. They will only prosecute hapless third world leaders and countries in Asia and Africa, ably supported by their poodles in such countries. This writer believes, the appropriate word is neocolonialism.
The US announcement last week, that it will revoke or deny visas to members of the International Criminal Court involved in investigating the actions of US troops in Afghanistan or other countries. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced, “I’m announcing a policy of US visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel.These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts.We’re prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course.”
Not to be outdone, the UK government has announced, it will not accept the 13-1 non-binding verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. It ruled Britain must cede control of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius and permit the Chagos people, forcibly removed in the 1960s to return to their land of birth, currently leased out to the Americans as a military facility.
Such is the respect these nations show for International Law but insist third world countries must follow.
Mangala is a self-confessed dreamer. One wonders if the erstwhile Foreign Minister is aware of these developments? If he does, how can he ignore such partiality by the international community in general and UNHRC in particular and support these international busybodies (his words in 2003 but more on that later) by co-sponsoring the Geneva Resolution?
The case of foreign expertise
Mangala ridicules MR’s use of Lord Naseby’s revelations of British Defense Attaché Lt. Co. Anton Gash’s confidential dispatches as well as written opinions by eminent experts Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Professor David Crane, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dixon QC, and Professor Michael Newton while rejecting international experts in future mechanisms to deal with human rights violations. He claims, “Global expertise is needed, we collaborate and work with international experts on almost everything we do in this country.”
The names mentioned earlier, though engaged by the then GoSL are all internationally recognized experts with impeccable credentials and proven track records.They have worked for several international organization including UNO. Their integrity is beyond question. Why were their opinions not tabled by Mangala at the UNHRC and why has the Yalahapalana and Wickremesinghe governments not called for the tabling of the confidential reports of Lt. Col. Anton Gash in unredacted form for scrutiny?
MR’s opposition to foreign experts in any mechanism is justified as Sri Lanka will have no choice in their appointments.They will be forced upon Sri Lanka by UNHRC. This is an organization recently branded by the USA as a “cesspool of political bias” and has repeatedly failed to demonstrate impartiality, Bush and Blair being two such examples.UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s report during the 40th UNHRC session contained distorted figures of land held in the North by the military. She also pre supposes on mass graves. How can Sri Lanka accept expertise from such an organization also driven by a group of countries known to promote the anti-Sri Lanka agenda of Tamil diaspora groups in their countries for electoral gains?
It is also relevant to mention, Mangal in his previous Avatar in 2003 accused Norwegian peacemakers initially invited by former President CBK of having “not shown any sensitivity to the feelings of Sri Lankans.” He went on to castigate the Norwegians stating,”Of course we can’t expect anything better from a nation of salmon-eaters who turned into international busybodies.”
Affirming the honor of the institutions of the army, navy and air force
Whether there is any honor in our soldiers performing peacekeeping duties in trouble spots the world over for a few dollars to which western nations will not send their own troops is debatable.
What is disturbing and the Wickremesinghe government and Mangala have ignored the plight of some senior military officials barred from attending training programs overseas due to unproven accusations of war crimes. The same goes for several former senior military officers now in retirement who are not granted visas to travel on the same charge.
It must be remembered, many of our senior politicians including Mangala when in office moved around the South till May 2009 surrounded by soldiers and commanded by these gallant officers. Some of these politicians may be alive today without being blown to smithereens thanks to these very same officers. It is regrettable that the poor souls who were blown up in the many LTTE explosions were ordinary folks not entitled for such protection whereas those who were eligible and lived to see better days will not raise a finger in defense of such officers.
It is by no means to say, soldiers and officers accused of criminal offenses should be allowed to go scot free. They need to be dealt with using the full force of the law. The inability of this government to conclude any of the several pending cases reflect its poor governance.
Mangala accuses MR of not investigating child abductors. It would be appropriate to ask Mangala, what has the government he represents done on the same issue for nearly four years?