The United Nations has through the actions of its Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer, and in violation of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and practice and United Nations Staff Rules and Regulations, without sustainable justification become involved in an essentially domestic political process, and interfered in the host country’s internal affairs.
Worryingly, the UN appears to be aligning itself with the political objectives of certain Western countries supportive of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, contrary to the neutrality expected of a UN official. Sri Lanka’s President replaced Ranil Wickremesinghe with Mahinda Rajapaksa on October 26, 2018.
External interference in domestic affairs of a State and int’l law
The active involvement of certain Western diplomatic missions in Colombo and of the United Nations in either supporting or opposing the actions of the President of the country cannot be justified in any manner. There are no gross and systematic violations of human rights, politically motivated violence or the breakdown of societal norms in Sri Lanka. The eagerness to get involved by the UN Resident Coordinator is inexplicable.
The UN Charter clearly states that international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, be achieved through international cooperation, not coercion. Unilateral coercive measures by a State with a view to compelling policy changes in another State, including sanctions or the threat of sanctions, are contrary to international law and practice, the UN Charter and norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States.
"There are no gross and systematic violations of human rights, politically motivated violence or the breakdown of societal norms in Sri Lanka"
The UN General Assembly has not endorsed efforts by certain Western countries to legitimise a right to intervene unilaterally in the internal affairs of other States that, in their view, are “unable or unwilling” to protect their own citizens. The ideology of the so-called Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) principle as currently implemented, reeks of past notions of Western racial superiority that the colonial powers have used in the past to justify their savage invasions and occupations to bring “civilisation” to the people of Africa, Asia and America. Even Japan was admitted to the society of civilised nations (as defined by Europeans) only after defeating Russia in a sea battle early in the 20th century.
Sri Lanka’s crisis stems from the former Prime Minister’s refusal to recognise the decision of the President, who has asserted that he has exercised powers derived from the Constitution. To resolve the discord, Sri Lanka has its own Constitution, laws, and a functioning judicial system. The dispute has been referred to the Supreme Court which posses the sole jurisdiction to determine the question relating to the legality of the President’s actions. General elections may also be held to let the people express their views - a demand that is growing daily.
Standards of conduct for UN officials
By failing to maintain neutrality in the current dispute in Sri Lanka and by identifying herself with the goals of certain Western countries, UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer has failed in her obligations under Articles 100 and 101 of the UN Charter, international law and practice, and UN Staff Rules and Regulations to exercise impartiality and discretion in the performance of her functions, and not seek or accept instructions from any government or sources external to the organisation. In March 2015, as UNICEF Representative in Syria, Singer provoked a major controversy by calling on governments to dialogue with ISIS, one of the world’s most violent terrorist groups.
Interference in the internal affairs of host countries have led to the shutdown of UN offices elsewhere, despite pressures from the US and Europe. In June this year, Nepal, a country considered as the poorest in Asia, ordered the UN to close its Department of Political Affairs (DPA) unit in Nepal with immediate effect and exit its staff within three months, for alleged involvement in various unwarranted activities including aiding secessionist activities and conducting an unauthorised political survey under cover of the UN Resident Coordinator. Already in January 2011, Nepal had terminated the mandate of the UN Mission (Unmin) that had been established to monitor Nepal’s peace process, and in December of that same year, ordered the closure of the OHCHR field office.
Diplomats or proconsuls?
In Sri Lanka, the UN has yet again been complicit with the official or personal policy objectives of certain diplomatic missions, the UK, Germany, Canada and the European Union in particular, whose actions may be tantamount to violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which stipulates that diplomats have a duty “to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State” and “not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State” (Art.41). It also provides that official business with the receiving State “shall be conducted with or through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State or such other ministry as may be agreed.”
Diplomats are “messengers” between two States, not “players” influencing policy decisions in the host country. A diplomatic function recognised by the Vienna Convention is to ascertain conditions and developments in the receiving State and report back to the sending State, for which purpose they must listen to all sides, but “by all lawful means.”
And, yet, certain Western Ambassadors went beyond their mandate. German Ambassador Joern Rohde even sought a public confrontation with a Sri Lankan parliamentarian. In his own country, in June this year, a similar comportment by US Ambassador Richard Grenell led to calls for expulsion by political leaders for meddling in Germany’s internal affairs. Grenell was accused of having taken sides saying he hoped to “empower” conservative parties in Europe.
Martin Schulz, the former German chancellor candidate and leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), accused Grenell of acting “like a right-wing colonial officer,” not a diplomat required to maintain a neutral stance toward his host country. He said, “What this man is doing is unprecedented in international diplomacy. If a German Ambassador in Washington said ‘I’m here to strengthen the Democratic Party,’ he would be thrown out immediately.”
"Interference in the internal affairs of host countries have led to the shutdown of UN offices elsewhere, despite pressures from the US and Europe"
On another occasion, when the US Ambassador instructed German companies to “wind down operations immediately” with Iran, a former German Ambassador to Washington, Wolfgang Ischinger tweeted: “Ric: … never tell the host country what to do, if you want to stay out of trouble. Germans are eager to listen, but they will resent instructions.”
Germany, which is seen as the cornerstone of the European Union and accused of dictating how smaller EU countries govern, was unable to form a government for almost six months, from September 2017 to March 2018. It is not the only European country to find itself without a government in the recent past. In 2017, the Netherlands was without a government for 225 days, Belgium was without one for 589 days between 2010 and 2011, and Northern Ireland has surpassed that record without a functioning government for almost two years, since its Parliament collapsed in January 2017.
What’s good for the goose is surely good for the gander. Standards that apply to Ambassador Rohde’s comportment in Sri Lanka cannot differ from those expected of foreign diplomats in Germany or in other Western countries.
It is beyond comprehension that none of the Western countries who have so eagerly offered advice and dire warnings to Sri Lanka have not made any comment on France where there has been a breakdown of law and order, street clashes have crippled Paris, policemen and demonstrators have been killed and a real crisis situation prevails.
Is this a reflection of their racist worldview?