Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • July 2010
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Reading the riot act to Bob Blake

Posted by harimpeiris on July 29, 2010

Robert O. Blake, better known as Bob, currently US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and formerly the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka was on a official visit to Sri Lanka last week. He held discussions with his interlocutors in government, met a range of other people and then generally made his views known about the need for post war ethnic reconciliation (through a political solution) and good governance including greater democratic freedoms (through the 17th Amendment). For expressing these candid views, Bob Blake was publicly chided and rebuked by Cabinet Spokesman and Media Minister, the Hon. Kheliya Rambukwella, who stated that no one had the right to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. Bob Blake was virtually read the riot act by Minister Rambukwella, a quaint piece of colonial era legislation in which colonial authorities would read an order that an action was illegal and then proceed to use lethal force to stop it.

 Non interference in Internal Affairs

Sri Lankans in general are a very outward looking people. We travel widely, have a large expatriate population working abroad and keeping our country supplied with close to three billion dollars in foreign exchange remittances a year. But when it comes to our political affairs, whether war or peace, our governments at least like to be left alone to fight our battles and make our peace in our own way and at our own pace. Now non interference in the domestic affairs of one country by another is a generally well accepted principal in international law and relations. But like all other such laws and principles they exist not in isolation but together with other related principles. Two of which mitigate against non interference, are that countries may intervene in matters that affect them or their interests in some way and can legitimately seek compliance with international treaties and obligations such as International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The US can conceivably argue that their considerable economic interests in the South Asian region require stable societies governed by the rule of law. In a more general sense, the communications and technological (ICT) revolution has made the world a global village and whether Zimbabwe or Sudan, Somalia or Sri Lanka we no longer have the luxury of being nasty to one another in private. It becomes everybody’s business. Just ask President Omar Bashir of Sudan, walking around with an international warrant out for his arrest. Not even the US, kind courtesy of Wikileaks and the internet, can keep its war in Afghanistan and Iraq, an entirely private matter. We can all express our passions regarding whatever outrages us, from massacres in Darfur in Sudan to the Israeli interception of the Gaza bound flotilla.

 

The US as a (trading) partner

The emerging world order is seemingly moving towards a multi polar world, with an expansionist EU, (the lure of Brussels money doing what medieval armies and emperors failed) and a resurgent Asia led by China and India. But currently we have a fairly uni polar world with a single superpower, that being the US and picking a fight with them is not a particularly a good idea. The US is also one of our largest trading partners, after the EU and India, with a trade balance heavily weighted in our favour due to apparel exports. With our preferred trading status with the US up for review based on our labour rights and practices, we can ill afford US relations to follow the trajectory of our relations with the EU and the resultant trading consequences. There are too many exports and jobs at stake. Now the Central Bank and others have at various times argued, with some justification that it is really West Asian (Middle East) housemaid’s employment income remittances that keep our foreign exchange reserves high rather than apparels with high import content. Be that as it may, the US is important for trade as well as investment. It is international (foreign) trade and investment not foreign aid that really drives our economic growth. We won the war with international support and help, from armaments, intelligence and security cooperation. Similarly we need such international support, in the areas of trade, investment and commerce to secure the peace dividend through sustainable economic growth. It is not in our interests to be belligerent towards our friends.

 

The Chief Justice speaks out

Chief Justice Asoka De Silva, late last week, used the occasion of the annual prize giving of St.Thomas Preparatory School, Kollupitiya (incidentally located more or less across the street from Temple Trees) where he was the chief guest, to opine in his key note address that “political problems do not have military solutions”, but rather require political solutions. Now this rather self evident reality would not be a significant statement or revelation, except for the fact that Sri Lanka’s post war policy has seemingly ignored the existence or reality of any “political problem” or issues that need resolution. While not articulated as such, the practice or de facto reality has been to pretend that the only problem we had is terrorism, which with the defeat of the LTTE is now over. Despite the Mahinda Chintanaya speaking about the “Problems of the North and East”, no solutions to the same, beyond the immediate humanitarian concerns seem to be addressed. The Chief Justice’s pronouncement seems to indicate that at least the head of the judiciary believes in the need for post war national reconciliation.

 

Reconciliation

Reconciliation has many definitions; it can mean restoring normal relationships between former parties to a conflict or restoring mutual respect between members of different ethnic or cultural groups. Whatever the definition, we need to come together as a nation, focusing on our commonality than on our differences. In a practical sense this means we deal with the immediate humanitarian issues of the conflict affected people of the North and East, but also that a political solution which seeks to address the root causes of the conflict, the alienation of ethnic minorities from the Sri Lankan State, be dialogued between all stakeholders and implemented.

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