Brussels fools the prophets of gloom
EXPECTATIONS: The doomsday prophets did not get it right. The buildup
in the preceding weeks was one of inevitable disaster for Sri Lanka with
the European Union over Human Rights and Tsunami Relief.
One noticed more than a touch of glee in the headlines that were
preparing the people for the terrible beating that Sri Lanka would get
when the Development Affairs Committee of the European Parliament held
its Public Hearing in Brussels earlier this week. Sri Lanka's chances
were worse than that of an ice cube in hell.
One headline screamed that Sri Lanka would be roasted in Brussels.
Another said Lanka would face heavy flak. Those who believed their own
propaganda gave the impression that Sri Lanka was avoiding a spirited
defence by sending what was described as a downgraded team to Brussels.
Analysts, commentators and headline writers were wallowing in their
predictions of Sri Lanka being seared, scorched, stewed and thoroughly
grilled in Brussels. In the event, they must all be waiting for their
prophecies to come true on the next occasion.
When the EU Parliament's Development Committee did meet in Brussels
last Tuesday, Sri Lanka carried herself with dignity with the mood that
prevailed throughout and after the Public Hearing being one of
satisfaction over the progress Sri Lanka had made in post-tsunami
reconstruction and the handling of the Human Rights situation by the
In fact, concluding the session on post-tsunami reconstruction,
Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Niranjan Deva Aditya expressed
satisfaction over the progress Sri Lanka has made in reconstruction of
affected sectors. I refer to him because he is no particular friend of
the government of Sri Lanka, being closer to the UNP and a Conservative
from the UK.
Focus on terrorism
The next session billed to be on the "Human Rights situation and
humanitarian space in Sri Lanka" was where the prophets of gloom had
their eyes trained on. Those awaiting a concerted attack on the Sri
Lankan record on Human Rights from MEPs and representatives of Sri
Lankan and Foreign NGOs and Human Rights organisations were in for more
than a shock when MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, also a British Conservative,
suggested that the session be renamed "Terrorism in Sri Lanka and its
impact of humanitarian aid".
This was a sign that the flak would be flying in another direction.
He said the greatest abuser of human rights was the LTTE, and its prime
target was the Tamils themselves.
These were not the words of any "majoritarian chauvinist", as anyone
who is critical of the LTTE's policies is so easily described. On the
killing of humanitarian aid workers, Van Orden said the government
needed to prosecute those responsible, and also called for a credible
devolution from the Government to resolve the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Neither of these are matters that have been refused by the
Government. It is also committed to bringing those responsible for the
killing of aid workers to justice, as well as to a political solution
based on greater devolution of power.
By the time the second session ended the Sri Lankan team led by
Ambassador Aruni Wijewardane, who came to Brussels from Vienna, had not
gone through any of the threatened roasting nor faced the heavy flak
they were warned about.
Instead, throughout the hearing, several Members of the European
Parliament condemned terrorism by the LTTE as a cause of concern, and
stressed the need for the LTTE to return to the negotiating table.
Some MEPs identified terrorism as the root cause of the prevailing
situation in Sri Lanka, and highlighted the complete denial of human
rights of civilians living in areas under LTTE control. MEPs stated that
the prime target of the LTTE are the Tamils themselves, and also
highlighted the need for long term solution that reaches out to the
Tamil population of Sri Lanka in order to fulfill their aspirations.
The representative of the European Commission welcomed the commitment
of the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that humanitarian supplies will
be provided to affected civilians.
The Chair of the session Josep Borrell Fontelles, MEP and former
President of the European Parliament, concluded that an extensive debate
had been held on the issues relating to the Human Rights Situation and
Humanitarian Space in Sri Lanka, and thanked the representatives of the
Government and NGO Speakers for their participation.
The other flak
If the calculations of those who were expecting the Sri Lankan team
at the Brussels Public Hearing to be held on spits for the roasting did
not turn out as expected, there was no lack of other dangers for the
government. Last weekend saw the abduction and killing of two Red Cross
volunteer workers from the East in Colombo.
The well-orchestrated reaction to this was to blame it on the
President or Government. It took some time to show people that no Head
of State or Government would sanction such fell deeds that can only have
a boomerang effect.
The proximity of the Brussels' Public Hearing and the scheduled visit
of President Rajapaksa to Geneva (where the ICRC is headquartered) for
the ILO annual sessions, seemed a good enough calculation to carry out
such an act to discredit the President and Government, and for those so
interested also tarnish the image of Sri Lanka internationally.
It now appears that saner counsel has prevailed among those who were
rushing to blame the Government for these killings, although not denying
the Government's overall responsibility for the maintenance of law and
order in the country.
The President is reported to have given a seven day deadline to the
Police to come up with good clues to help trace those who carried out
this crime. Failure may lead to the Government seeking foreign expertise
to pursue the investigation.
The frequency of such abductions is certainly a matter for concern
for those concerned with the strength of democracy in Sri Lanka, and it
is not wrong to expect the Police to also share such concerns, which can
be the motivating factor in bringing these criminals to book.
It is not only abductions that are used as political flak these days.
The bodies of dead soldiers also become the stuff of such attacks by
those whose vision is limited to grabbing the reins of power and nothing
The UNP was shameless in its effort to sow enmity towards the
Government when it went public with a figure of 90 troops killed in a
recent battle in the North.
The fact that the figure was not even near the actual casualty
figures, and had not been verified with responsible authorities before
going public with it, shows both a total lack of concern for the truth
as well as a despicable interest in using such figures for cheap
The UNP also displayed a similar cavalier attitude to national
interest and good relations between India and Sri Lanka, when one of its
members charged in parliament earlier this week that this Government had
deliberately soured relations with India.
Such a charge seemed quixotic coming from the UNP that began spoiling
the good relations Sri Lanka had with India over the years, when JR
Jayawardene began his unwarranted attacks on Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi and his pro-Yankee foreign policy that angered India.
It is useful to recall that this is what led India to train and arm
the Tamil militants, including Prabhakaran and the LTTE, which is today
a threat to India too.