Battle is over, not the war?

 Article by Sathiya Moorthy

For a Government that had extricated Sri Lanka out of decades-old terrorism of ‘Brand LTTE’, the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa can heave a sigh that it may have thwarted yet another double-barrel diplomatic battle over accountability issues at UN headquarters and Geneva. It is only so much. With days still left for the conclusion of the UN Human Rights Council meet in Geneva, already there are talks about hauling Colombo before the March session of the UNHRC, or at least in the subsequent session in September next. 

In between, there is talk about taking Sri Lanka to the Commonwealth. Efforts have also acquired a new phase for having President Rajapaksa and Maj-Gen Shavendra Silva, commander of the successful 59 Division of the Sri Lanka armed forces from the end-game of the ethnic war in 2009, among others, named as accused in court cases in the US and the rest of the West, on war crime charges. 

The fact that a court notice was issued to Silva, despite his being a senior Sri Lankan diplomat at UN headquarters, and at his civilian residence in New York, would show that those behind such moves could expect to repeat it in the case of President Rajapaksa once ‘sovereign immunity’ is behind him. Viswanathan Rudrakumaran, the US-based self-styled ‘prime minister’ of the ‘Trans-national government of Tamil Eelam’ (TNGTE), and ‘wanted’ in Sri Lanka otherwise, left nothing to chance or imagination by being the plaintiff’s lawyer in this case.

Criminal culpability is one thing, collateral damage is another. In a way, it is a battle that successor governments of the current regime in Colombo too would fight, whatever be the nature of domestic politics, if and when war victors are hauled up elsewhere. It would also be a lesson that political leaders, bureaucrats and security forces elsewhere would be watching for knowing their fate in fighting similar wars on terrorism nearer home. 

This would be more so in the case of Sri Lanka’s South Asian neighbours, victims of terror for long, often caught in somebody else’s civilisational clash. In an air of permissiveness caused by the well-publicised hunts for Osama bin-Laden and Saddam Hussein, security forces would now not want to fight anti-terror wars with one hand tied to the back and the other holding the UN Charter and that alone.

“My country has reason for concern with approaches tainted by an unacceptable selectivity, which we have brought to the notice of the organisations in question in recent weeks,” President Rajapaksa told the UN General Assembly. Media reports quoted him as calling for solidarity from other developing countries “against these irregular modalities which should be resisted through our collective strength”.

In what read otherwise like a dis-jointed speech and did call for a separate Palestinian State, President Rajapaksa had this to add: “Recent experience the world over amply demonstrates that inconsistent standards and discriminating approaches can unintentionally give a fresh lease of life to the forces of terror..  It must be remembered as well that terrorist groups frequently operate under the guise of front organisations. Conferring legitimacy on these has the inevitable effect of providing comfort and encouragement to the merchants of terror.”

There are now expectations – maybe, even commitments – that the Sri Lankan LLRC would provide the answers that the international community is seeking on accountability issues. It is anybody’s guess if the Terms of Reference of the LLRC provided for it to as ample a measure as the West and the rest are looking for – that is, if they are clear and united in what exactly they are looking for.

In a way, the international community may have confused even the TNA stake-holders of the peace resolution on the Tamil side in the country. After the most recent round of talks with the Government, held before President Rajapaksa left for the UN, the TNA leaders have sent out confusing signals. In this, TNA parliamentary leader R Sampanthan is reported to have even cautioned the community against those who wanted the talks to fail.

“Our Prime Minister reiterated that a successful conclusion of negotiations and discussions with the representatives of the Tamil parties would in fact obviate the need for outsiders to start passing judgment or to get involved,” Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told newsmen after Manmohan Singh meeting with President Rajapaksa in New York. ‘Obviate’ they should, but the international community should shout, not hound, if the stake-holders in Sri Lanka were not to run away and a far with the hares.

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