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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

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Miliband’s baseless allegations

Taking Miliband seriously was a mistake that the British media now generally managed to avoid. It had to be noted that Miliband was an ambitious politician, who had to nurse his supporters, and that several Labour MPs were dependent on the votes of Tamils who they mistakenly assumed were LTTE supporters. There had been threats to withhold support from Labour, and naturally Labour leaders with personal ambitions had to respond. If Labour were defeated at the coming election, Miliband would present himself as the leading candidate to supplant Gordon Brown, and he needed to build up support for this.

South Asia

With regard to the substantive issues, we had to note that Miliband had little experience of South Asia. During a recent visit to India, according to British journalists in Delhi, he had presumed to advise the Indian Prime Minister and also patronized a senior Minister like Mukherjee by calling him Pranab, while he was addressed formally as ‘Your Excellency’ himself. We should not then be surprised if he seeks to patronize us too.

David Miliband

Gordon Brown

His first point concerns the need to give up violence, but he obviously does not have the guts to directly condemn LTTE terrorism, as say the Australian Government did. The current British Government, for obvious reasons, prefers to sit on the fence on such issues. We must however appreciate his sharing with Sri Lanka some of the things he learnt during his three years at Corpus Christi College, such as that “It is through politics that social and economic change takes occurs and not through violence.” Such wisdom is most illuminating.

Language rights

Unfortunately this is not accompanied by much knowledge. He talks of the need to ensure that Sri Lankans all had rights on an equal basis, so perhaps we should ask where there are deficiencies in this regard. True there were shortcomings with regard to language rights, but these were set right in 1987, and the British have not really helped with practical support to the current government for policies to advance these that it has developed in this regard. Instead Britain gave all its aid for peace promotion, according to the former British High Commissioner, to NGOs which persistently attacked the government. I suppose this is diplomacy at its most subtle, though fortunately now the cat has been let out of the bag about what lies behind all this.

Then Miliband talks about the need for an independent judiciary, whereas this is an area which, with the exception of a few brief sad years in the eighties, when judges were intimidated, has never been seen as a problem. He also talks about restrictions on media freedom, whereas he should perhaps consult the Guardian correspondent now in Sri Lanka who said how much independence he saw now that he was here, and this was not the picture seen abroad.

European Union

Finally, he talks about GSP+ as though the crisis were something divorced from himself. All those I have spoken to on the subject, including from Europe, say that the campaign against us is being led by the British.

Miliband during his time at Corpus must have studied the German philosopher Wittgenstein, who talked of someone who bought the second copy of a morning paper to check that what the first said was true. Miliband is being a bit cowardly in hiding behind the European Union in general, and not saying straight out that Britain is behind this campaign, as it was behind the effort to bring a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in 2006 and 2007.

And perhaps Sri Lanka should register that none of this is Britain, whose people generally have a much better sense of fairplay, but a small segment of British officialdom at this point, following a political agenda that will soon be changed, whether there is a change of government or whether a more confident Gordon Brown can stop people playing to their own little galleries.

The writer is former Secretary of Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry.

 

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