By Daya Gamage
Despite the established mind-set of two groups of American foreign service officers, in Colombo and the other in Washington's state department, on Sri Lanka's perceived national issues such as governance, ethnic relations and national security since the eighties during counter-terrorism operations, a somewhat different (official) narrative was shaped within the portals of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Sri Lanka coinciding with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009 and the arrival of Patricia Butenis soon thereafter as Washington's new diplomatic envoy.
The narrative which was developing under Ambassador Butenis' guidance was in the areas of transparency, accountability, violation of IHL and IHRL moving toward ethnic reconciliation, devolution of administrative/development powers to the peripheral districts and domestic arrangement of the power structure.
This has now led to the calling for an international mechanism to subject Sri Lanka to global judicial scrutiny by the pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora, and reflected by the state department's public affairs division to investigate Sri Lanka's actions during the final months of the battle.
It is a well established fact that when Sri Lanka's overseas diplomacy failed, the professionals and technocrats of the Tamil Diaspora succeeded in maintaining a mutually beneficial dialogue with state department officials in Washington. Since assuming duties in the South/Central Asian Affairs Bureau in Washington in August 2009 Robert Blake has had numerous dialogues with the representatives of the pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora, and the latest being on June 5 this year.
The dialogues Ambassador Butenis had had with Tamil politicians in Colombo and Mr. Blake's engagement in Washington with the representatives of the Tamil Diaspora positively contributed to the development of the official narrative which became basis for policy planks of the American administration on issues related to Sri Lanka. (This writer's use of the term 'Tamil Diaspora' is not a reference to the entire Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora but pro-separatist/LTTE Tamils who are a minority among the larger Diaspora but fiercely active).
The post-LTTE narrative developed thereafter which centered around accountability, transparency, violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) became pivotal to achieving the American goals noted in the previous paragraph.
It is in this context one needs to comprehend the 'new official narrative' developed in the post-LTTE under Butenis' initiative that helped Washington to 'guide' Sri Lanka effectively using the UN-New York and UN-Geneva.
The State Department's continuous discourse with the pro-LTTE Diaspora in Washington facilitated in the development of this narrative and its subsequent incorporation in policy plans at state department level. The influence of these policy plans were clearly manifested in the 'behavior' at the UN Secretary General’s office in New York and at Geneva's Human Rights Commission.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland's remarked at the daily media briefing in August 2011 that the US would like the Sri Lankan government "to establish the kind of accountable system that its people can have confidence in."
"If that does not happen and does not happen expeditiously, then we reserve the right to discuss international mechanisms," Nuland had said.How did Washington come up with this policy plan? Transparency, accountability and related issues were pivotal to the development of the 'official narrative' in the post-LTTE era within the American diplomatic chancery in Colombo. A close observation will reveal that the sentiments expressed by state department officials and the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora activists are very similar; the close rapport the Tamil activists maintain with American officials have led to a 'global cry' to 'take on' Sri Lanka.
(Courtesy Asian Tribune)