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Monday, 18 March 2013

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UNHRC cracking under overbearing weight of Navi Pillay

UNHRC is stuck in a crisis of its own making. It has begun to crack under the watch of Ms. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner. It is time for her to get her act together and hold the scales evenly to preserve the image of the UNHRC as a credible institution for all the nations to rally round it.

The first ominous crack came when Israel walked out virtually telling Ms. Pillay to fly a kite. This is the first time that a nation has quit the UNHRC. Whether we like its politics or not, Israel has been the first island of democracy -- and still is -- in the sea of authoritarian Middle East.

The "Arab Spring" is yet to put down its tap roots deep into the soil and prove that democracy is there to stay and grow. At the other end, is N. Korea, a rogue state armed with nuclear weapons, asking the UNHRC to shove its Darusman report -- yes, it's same man who wrote the long distance report on Sri Lanka -- on human rights in N. Korea up the insensitive nose of UNHRC.

Even the pleadings of US, Irael's best ally, could not persuade Israel to come back. As for N. Korea, Ms.Pillay knows that it would rather drop its latest nuclear bomb on Geneva rather than give in to the terms laid down by UNHRC. So UNHRC is assailed from the two extremes -- and Ms. Pillay can do nothing.


NAVI Pillay

YASHUSHI Akashi

Even if she sends her adverse reports condemning N. Korea to the Security Council urging the Secretary-General to take action, China is there to exercise its veto against Ms.Pillay. One may not agree with 99 per cent of N. Korean politics but it can be argued that of the remaining 1 per cent half of it is right in the description of Ms. Pillay as a factotum of the Western powers. And the other half too is equally valid in that it warns the big powers that small nations need not surrender to the cynical games of the West played to oppress other people by using human rights.

Overall, this means that the first serious signs of UNHRC facing a crisis of credibility among the nations are not likely to go away unless Ms. Pillay decides to change directions and take into account alternative voices that are pressing her to note that human rights is not the private enterprise of the US with exclusive property rights to run its self-serving agenda. When Israel and N. Korea -- not to mention those in the middle like Sri Lanka -- attack UNHRC then it means that there is something rotten in the state of Navi Pillay's domain in Geneva. It questions the validity of UNHRC as a neutral and viable instrument to protect human rights, peace and stability.

Power politics

At the heart of the crisis facing the UNHRC is the issue of credibility. And right in the centre of credibility stands Navi Pillay looking dazed with the right, left and centre hitting her middle. Her handling of Sri Lanka exposes her partisan role which is dragging UNHRC into a hole dug with her own hands. She has only to read the UNHRC's voting record on Sri Lanka in the post-conflict period to realize the erratic and unprincipled politics, swinging irrationally from congratulations at first and then to condemnation next.


One of the UNHRC sessions

Isn't this symptomatic of a dysfunctional institution run by whims and fancies of an inconsistent head who does not know on which side of human rights she should be in? UNHRC is meant to operate on the highest principles of morality to monitor, protect and preserve human rights on a global scale. Human rights cannot be sustained on immoral and partisan power politics. Rightly or wrongly, UNHRC is cracking and going nowhere because it is head has lost her head.

The emerging cracks indicate that Ms. Pillay cannot achieve the goals of UNHRC if she continues to go about it the way she is heading now. She is lurching from crisis to crisis within the UNHRC because she has abandoned morality for power politics. Sri Lanka is the best example.

When the first voting on Sri Lanka took place in 2009 Sri Lanka won hands down. It won on merit. Power politics did not impact forcefully in that vote in 2009. Without America steering the anti-Sri Lankan resolution the just and popular will of the 47 countries represented in the UNHRC, including that of India, was expressed freely and Sri Lanka was congratulated for defeating terrorism, the scourge of our time, and for restoring democracy, the highest political goal of our time.

The declared aim of American foreign policy too is also to achieve two objectives: 1. eradicate terrorism globally and 2. restore democracy. On both counts America should have been on the side of Sri Lanka. It is against the declared objectives of American foreign policy to pursue Sri Lanka ruthlessly for achieving what it has failed to achieve, for instance, in Iraq.


Guantanamo Bay prison, Cuba

The first vote of congratulating Sri Lanka in 2009 was the most realistic and justifiable decision that any human rights organisation could have arrived at, particularly in the light of rescuing 300,000 victims of Tamil Tiger terror used as a human shield. But when power politics came into play UNHRC turned topsy-turvy. Morality had nothing to do with it. UNHRC turned against Sri Lanka only on cynical power politics.

Besides, the most commendable humanitarian achievement of the Sri Lankan victory has been in the total cessation of mounting death toll. Massive scale violations of human rights can be avoided only by either not going to war or by ending a war. It was the Tamil leadership that declared war in the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976 and decided to opt for a military solution which ran for 33 years -- from 1976 to 2009 -- making it the longest running in Asia.

It is the Sri Lankan government that ended the war. Even India, with its superior forces, failed to end the war with its Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement and IPKF. When Sri Lanka achieved what India couldn't -- and even the international community couldn't with its Oslo Agreement -- why should they gang up against Sri Lanka for ending the war that ended the deaths of thousands?

UNHRC Resolution

Of course, the argument of India and US, as stated in the UNHRC Resolution, is that Sri Lanka should have "ensured that any measure taken to combat terrorism complied with their obligations under international law." This argument is laudable. But can all those, pointing a finger at Sri Lanka on this count give an example of how anyone of them fought and ended their wars against enemies of their states by complying unerringly with their obligations under international law? If they can't what justification is there for them to accuse Sri Lanka of not doing what they have never done, or can never do, with the best will in the world?

On what moral grounds can they accuse Sri Lanka in any forum of not complying with international obligations when they cannot -- and have not -- complied with the international norms they have set for Sri Lanka? This charge of not complying with the international obligations is levelled against Sri Lanka by the two worst violators of this standard -- India and US. Not surprisingly, events took a nasty turn against Sri Lanka only after US took charge of steering the resolutions against Sri Lanka after the shock of UNHRC congratulating Sri Lanka. All those running behind US know that the dirtiest wars of the 20th century -- from El Salvador to Vietnam -- have been fought by US.

In fact, President Barack Obama, when he came into office changed his election promise and announced the new policy of "looking forward to the future" without going back the dirty past. He refused to even dismantle the notorious Guantanamo concentration camp. After toppling Saddam Hussein ten years ago America has failed to bring peace or reconciliation to that ill-fated nation that has changed the local terrorists for foreign terrorists. This is like changing pillows for a headache.

Instead of reconciliation Iraq continues to blow up in sectarian violence. The latest occurred last week when a part of Baghdad was blown up in an anti-American strike. This proves that foreign formulas do not work according to their theories. On the contrary, Sir Lanka, operating on its home-grown formulas, is well on the way to recovery and reconciliation.

Foreign policy

Its achievements in peace time is as remarkable as its achievement in war time. So why isn't that policy "looking forward to the future" forgetting the past applicable to Sri Lanka? If US wants to play the game of finger-pointing then Sri Lanka too can play the same game by throwing in the face Uncle Sam all the wrecks and remnants of its dirty wars in which children ran naked in the streets of Vietnam burning from raining napalm bombs. Have the moralists pointing a finger at Sri Lanka forgotten those agonising images?

The most unacceptable and immoral turn came from India. India must take responsibility for aiding and abetting the Tamil Tiger terror unleashed on Sri Lanka that led to violations of human rights. But the Yin-dian amnesiacs take on the holier-than-thou pose of political sadhus and blame Sri Lanka for their short-sighted stupidity? India must take responsibility not only for the failed foreign policy of arming, training, financing, promoting and exporting terrorism to Sri Lanka and the subsequent military disaster of its IPKF sent to correct the foreign policy that boomeranged on Delhi but also for the current anti-Sri Lanka campaign waged globally and at the UNHRC.

India's first memorable export to Sri Lanka was the Buddha. But India will be remembered more for its next export: Mahabharata. Yin-dia is the only friend that has stabbed Sri Lankans in the back each time they try to stand up. Under the Gandhi-Nehruvian morality, when India stood tall in the middle of the Big power politics at the height of the Cold War and spearheaded the Non-aligned Movement, she was a beacon and a haven for smaller nations seeking peace, justice and fairness. But this noble ideal has been destroyed by India's misalignment with Big Power politics. It may serve India in the short term but in the long term India is taking a risk that is going to threaten her geo-political strategies. The ultimate guarantor of India's security is not long distance shady allies but reliable and friendly neighbours.

But India has abandoned its principled roots and decided to be an integral part of the US bandwagon lending a hand to Western neo-imperialist agenda. It's a risky gamble that threatens the security of not only India but the entire SAARC region. India must think twice before it gets entangled further in this risky gamble. The stature of Ms. Pillay too would have risen to the skies had she decided to take a moral stand which could be achieved only by her neutrality. The morality she quotes is only a fig leaf to cover her nakedness.

Yashushi Akashi summed up the new ground reality in Sri Lanka aptly when he said that "Japan was not ready to go with the human rights stands of other nations, ignoring the objective realities in Sri Lanka."

Speaking to media in Tokyo on March 13, the former peace envoy to Sri Lanka said that, “it is rather unfair for some developed countries, who have much more resources than Sri Lanka, to express impatience with Sri Lanka and its development; but this is not fair and this is not objective.” (Daily Mirror -- March 15, 2009)

Post-conflict developments

The doomsday scenario painted at the UNHRC is not the reality. Akashi's assessment is a non-partisan eye witness account of the post-conflict developments in Sri Lanka which contradicts the doom and gloom picture painted by NGOs and the media. If, for instance, Sri Lanka is heading for the doom predicted by the NGO pundits -- they never saw anything but doom in Sri Lanka -- why is India investing mega-millions in Sri Lanka? India knows the ground reality as well as Japan. And yet India is deliberately pushing an anti-Sri Lankan line. Sure, India has to walk a fine line between its domestic and foreign demands. But does this mean that India should sacrifice its most strategic and indispensable neighbour needed to protect its exposed southern flank?

As for Ms. Pillay, she has nothing to lose except her reputation and credibility as the guardian of human rights if she insists on going down the current path of rejecting the new realities rising constructively in Sri Lanka. Despite all the hostile propaganda demonizing Sri Lanka it is not going to end up like the Mayan calendar. Sri Lanka has fought and won bigger and mightier attacks than this. It is the future of UNHRC and its effectiveness as an instrument to protect human rights that is at stake.

So will Ms. Pillay stand up to save UNHRC and its ideal objectives or will she obediently follow the other skirt worn by Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the American ambassador to UNHRC?

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