Sri Lanka: Celebrating “Independence” In A Mess

Published by IDN-InDepthNews – 02 February 2017

By Kalinga Seneviratne

On February 4 each year Sri Lanka celebrates the gaining of independence from British colonial rule. 69 years since then, it is appropriate to ask: “what independence?” The country is currently in a real mess brought about by a successful regime change campaign orchestrated by “civil society” groups, which toppled the government of “war-winning” President Mahinda Rajapakse in January 2015.

Today, the country’s foreign minister acts like a colonial era British Viceroy and not as the country’s top diplomat safeguarding the nation’s interests and dignity. The Prime Minister while trying to drum up foreign “investments” acts as if he is willing to sell any part of the country to the highest bidder and the President roams around the island like a colonial-era “gate mudaliyar” attending functions and trying to assure the natives that they are in good hands.

Sri Lanka’s predicament is mainly a result of a human rights and anti-corruption movement that was spearheaded by western “donor” funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) similar to the “Arab Spring” uprisings that have made a mess of the Middle East.

The government of President Maitripala Sirisena came to power on the crest of an anti-corruption wave, which painted the Rajapakse regime as corrupt, and the campaign centred around the slogan “yahapalanaya” (good governance), a catch-cry of the global so-called “civil society” movements funded by billionaire currency market manipulator George Soros and the likes.

Within six months of coming to power, the new government was embroiled in the country’s biggest financial scandal where the Central Bank Governor – a close childhood friend of the Prime Minister – helped his son-in-law to make billions of rupees through a new bond issue that has bankrupted the Treasury. The PM refuses to mount a proper investigation of the deal and instead blames Rajapakse regime’s loans from China for the country’s predicament.

The new administration is also loaded with NGO operators who made a lot of money from western donors in the last decade. One of them, who worked with a Scandinavian NGO funding so-called “media pluralism” projects in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar, is now the Director of Information. Recently he threatened to sue the media if they continue to criticize the government’s efforts to change the constitution.

“The use of the word ‘civil society’ comes with the negative connotations associated with the ‘dollar chasing opportunistic vultures’ who are prepared to sell their birth right for a mess of pottage,” senior public servant Chris Dharmakirti told this writer, adding: “We need to regain ‘civil society’ for ourselves, and not lump ourselves with the NGOs, who have subverted the will of the people.”

Sri Lanka is a strategically important country in the Indian Ocean, which could be the lynchpin of China’s new Maritime Silk Road project. Hence, since 2009 China has invested heavily in the island building a new port and an airport, and funding other infrastructure projects. After, toppling the pro-China Rajapakse regime, the new government expected big financial support from the West.

Though a galaxy of western officials have visited the island in the past two years, they have only lectured about political reforms and human rights and no money has come through. Even the expected trade concessions from the EU are yet to materialize. So, after initially labeling Chinese businessmen as “crooks” the Finance Minister is now wooing China to get financial help to build the economy. Chinese are demanding their share of the flesh in terms of a huge track of land around the Hambantota harbour they built on a 99-year lease. This has triggered a nationalist backlash.

While the Anglo-American media report about the latter, we do not hear from them about the failure of the West’s first “Arab Spring” experiment in Asia. Already a similar campaign mounted against Rajapakse is being mounted against the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte with the same players involved.

Duterte recently told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to “go to hell” and called for an Asian-led international human rights body. If you look at Sri Lanka’s case he seems to have a strong point.

If we look at the way the international media has fed us news about Sri Lanka especially since the country’s armed forces defeated one of the most ruthless terror groups in the world – ‘Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’ (LTTE) – we can see how a whole chain of biased news has brought Sri Lanka to its knees today. I cannot go through the whole list here, but a critical story is about “war crimes” allegations against the Sri Lankan army spread by the human rights NGOs, western media and UN agencies. They have consistently talked about “40,000 Tamil civilians massacred” by the army in the final days of the war in May 2009. If you ask, not any one of them will be able to provide even 40 names.

Western governments’ animosity towards Sri Lanka heightened when President Rajapakse refused to heed to calls for a ceasefire and proceeded to finish off the 30-year war with LTTE killing the military leadership in the battlefield. When the Foreign Ministers of Britain and France came to Colombo to demand a ceasefire, President’s brother Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse was reported to have told them bluntly that Sri Lanka was no more a colony of Britain.

Former Sri Lankan diplomat and a former vice-president of UNHRC, Dr Dayan Jayatilleka argues that ever since the Europeans have shown the attitude that “because the Sri Lankan government and army did not listen to us, we have to make an example and punish them”.

They used the UNHRC – though their resolutions are not binding – to put pressure and destabilize the Rajapakse regime. Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the UNHRC worked very closely with the U.S. and EU governments in this regard, while China gave the regime diplomatic support to shield it from any resolutions being brought to the UN Security Council.

Once President Sirisena came to power, the government completely capitulated. The government even went to the extent of not tabling in Geneva a detailed report prepared for the Rajapakse regime by distinguished lawyer Paranagama, which exonerated the armed forces of war crimes. Instead, they co-sponsored a resolution at the UNHRC in September 2015 that has serious implications for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The previous regime fought tooth and nail to defeat such resolutions that have been moved thrice since the end of the war in 2009 by the U.S. and EU.

“The key objective of the new government in co-sponsoring the resolution appears to be to accommodate the wishes of its main sponsor and appease them with a view to ending the increasingly bitter confrontation that was developing between them on the one side and Sri Lanka on the other,” noted Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the UN, in a recent commentary.

This so-called ‘Geneva Resolution’ (GR) talks about a Special Prosecutor’s Office that is outside the Attorney General’s office to try army “war crimes” accusers, as well as new laws that even cover land issues, special courts and army reforms.

“The political stability of post-war Sri Lanka and of the present government, will depend to a very great extent on whether or not the 2015 Geneva Resolution which the government so ill-advisedly co-sponsored, is sought to be implemented,” argued Jayatilaka in a recent speech in Colombo. “If they try to, reconciliation and a stable peace will be seriously jeopardized.”

“The UNHRC resolutions,” argues former Sri Lankan ambassador to the UNHRC in Geneva Tamara Kunanayakam is “all about system change, a complete overhaul of Sri Lanka’s political, legal, security and defense systems to serve the global interests of the United States”.

In May 2015, when the former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry came to the island he made it very clear that Sri Lanka is a very strategic partner for Washington. “Your country sits at the crossroads of Africa, South Asia and East Asia…the Indian Ocean is the world’s most important commercial highway”, he told the local media.

There is widespread public opposition in Sri Lanka today to the idea of ‘Hybrid Courts” promoted by UNHRC where foreign judges sit on war crimes judgments, but, what is not that publicly known is another sinister agenda to reform the army.

It involves demolishing the very structure of the army that so professionally demolished a ruthless terror outfit, dismantling army camps in the north and the east of the island which was once ruled by the LTTE, leaving exposed two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s coastline and withdrawing the army from performing civilians’ tasks. The Americans call it “security sector reforms” and they are also holding a carrot to army officers of serving in UN Peacekeeping Forces, trying to bribe them with dollar payments.

“The unprecedented attack on Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions and on the means it has to defend itself against external threats or against destabilization efforts has a single objective: To release resources of the State, including its armed forces, to serve U.S. global interests, while at the same time, rendering the country dependent on Washington, and, therefore, subservient,” argues Kunanayakam.

In his inaugural speech, President Trump said that America will be friends to all and will not continue to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. Sri Lankans hope that Trump will keep to his words and allow the people to chart its future and not be manipulated by foreign-funded ‘civil society’.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of any IDN-INPS editor or adviser.

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Author: lotuscommnet

Dr Kalinga Seneviratne, who was born and educated in Sri Lanka has spent 20 years in Australia and is currently based in Singapore. He is a journalist, a radio broadcaster, television documentary maker, media analyst and an international communications lecturer. Currently Kalinga teaches Asian regional media systems and journalism and news media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. From 2004 to 2012 he was the Head of the Research division at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in Singapore. He has also taught international communications at the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University (Australia). He has authored and edited many books on media and communications issues. His expertise are in development communication, journalism and feature writing, community radio and alternative media, and international communications. He has won an United Nations Media Peace Award (1987) and the Inaugural Singapore Airlines Educational Award (1992) from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia for services to the Australian community radio sector. He was the Australian and South Pacific correspondent for the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency from 1991-1997 and still writes for them IDN IN-Depth News on a freelance basis. He has done reporting assignments for IPS from a number of countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Kalinga was a member of a research team from 1991-1993 at the University of Technology Sydney looking at ‘Cultural Diversity and Racism in the Media’ in Australia. Kalinga is still a practicing journalists who writes for many publications across Asia and also produce radio and television documentaries.

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