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Foreign policy and the doctrine of ‘conceding walkovers’

13 Jul 2019 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Sri Lanka has a severe human resources problem. That’s stating the obvious. Forget bad planning, the absence of an occupational classification, assessment of needs and charting of future requirements in terms of a reasonable view of how things economic and social would unfold; we lost several hundred thousand people over the past 30 years and even if just 1% of the number warranted the tag ‘talented’ it is a massive loss. Had ‘they’ been around, in a country of 22 million, it might have made the difference.  

Ok, that’s preamble. Let’s get to specifics. In a country where there’s a severe human resource issue, it is natural that this be reflected in most if not all sectors. The foreign service is no exception. That said, it must be recognized that much of the good work done by our diplomats and indeed the various missions abroad go unrecognized. They don’t brag. They hardly issue media statements. And, anyway, that which has to be done ‘quietly’ does not make for noise.   

Unfortunately, there’s a tendency to berate the diplomats for not getting this or that done or for causing irreparable (harsh word, that) harm by what they do. The larger picture, the constraints, the contexts etc., are ignored. These include political buffoonery, let us not forget.   

There are, however, inexplicable tendencies which need to be flagged. Consider the 41st Sessions of the UNHRC underway in Geneva as I write. Sri Lanka is not on the hot seat, for now, having obtained an extension on delivery with respect to Resolution 30/1. Sri Lanka, however, and like most other nations, is not ‘excused’ from proceedings.   

As a member state, there are issues that we need to address, even if they don’t directly involve Sri Lanka. Representatives of many member states do engage, perhaps in the spirit of the collective endeavour to create conditions for a better human family and also because any determination anywhere can be cited in moves to obtain similar determinations elsewhere. What wrecks the Philippines in 2019 could very well bring down Sierra Leone in 2021. No one can take on all issues and indeed that could amount to spreading oneself thin. Limited resources mean that one has to pick the battles. Showing solidarity can cost, we know this. In a world of multiple inequities, a case can be made for 
sober pragmatism.   

On the other hand, it would be strange indeed if the representatives of Sierra Leone opted to remain silent when that country is vilified. Well, that holds true for Sri Lanka too.   

One cannot fault the Sri Lanka mission in Geneva for not attending all events organized to level unfair and highly tendentious charges. Side events of such sessions are vent-outlets for the most part. So too are ‘interventions’ by NGOs sandwiched between debates on important matters. The UNHRC probably place little value on 90 second rant-rave presentations. Still, we cannot ignore the fact that such invective does get heard by representatives of member states. This is why, there is a response-opportunity. Representatives typically respond to charges levelled at their countries and in some instances defend friendly nations. Not Sri Lanka, or at least, not Sri Lanka at this particular session of the UNHRC.   

In time slots allocated to various pro-Eelam and/or anti Sri Lankan groups, speaker after speaker uttered absolute falsehoods about Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan mission had nothing to say by way of response. In fact, in at least two of these sessions the mission was not represented by a diplomat. Perhaps they were busy with off-the-limelight work, but any random person listening to the anti Sri Lankan submissions cannot be faulted if he/she went away thinking Sri Lanka is one hell of a country. Literally.   

When a Sri Lankan took issue with the Ambassador of a European country for the position taken, the Ambassador was taken aback and had responded ‘I didn’t know all this’. He had heard one side of the story and didn’t know there were other and more compelling narratives with much better substantiation.   

The only attempt to put the record straight came from a Sri Lankans who used the time slots given to NGOs. J Tenny Fernando, Senaka Rajapakse and Hiru Makewitage representing the Executive Committee of the Global Sri Lanka Forum and several speakers from another organization based in Zurich made pertinent points which included clarification on absurd claims made by the separatist lobby and also urged the Council to consider the fact that its ill-advised interventions in Sri Lanka with the happy and wide-eyed support of the current regime created conditions for the Easter Sunday attack. A drop in the ocean, no doubt, but a drop sadly made significant by the absolute silence of those who get paid to represent the country’s interests in such forums.   

That’s Geneva. Let’s take Canada. Now it is no secret that Canada has been almost like the headquarters for the LTTE and its proxy outfits. For reasons of justifying immigration and as a means of continuing covert criminal activity, such groups have continued to be vociferous. They engage in relentless lobbying of politicians, leveraging a significant vote-bank.   

And so we have politicians such as Patrick Brown, the Mayor of Brampton, talking about ‘the horror of the Tamil genocide. He has pledged to pass a municipal motion declaring ‘crimes against the Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka constitute a genocide’ and declare May 18th as ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day. The good Mr Brown probably doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘genocide’. He obviously doesn’t know anything about Sri Lanka, the terrorism of the LTTE and how they held several hundred thousand Tamil civilians hostage.   

He is not alone. Toronto Mayor John Tory issued a proclamation declaring May 18 ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day’. Scarborough-Rouge Park MPP Vijay Thanigasalam recently introduced Bill 104, an Act to Proclaim Tamil Genocide Education Week during the seven days each year ending on May 18.   

We could go on. We could cross the Atlantic and talk about similar happenings in the UK. We cannot fault ignorant politicians in such countries for idiocy. We cannot fault criminal groups in these countries for the uttering of falsehoods and tossing around of wild claims and exaggeration. The issue here can be captured in a single question: ‘What have our diplomatic missions done?’  

The truth is, sadly, ‘very little’. Well, THAT could be an exaggeration. In Toronto, they’ve done nothing to counter moves such as the ones mentioned above. What is stopping them? Is it lack of resources? Well, one is required to do one’s best, and if ‘nothing’ amounts to ‘best’ there’s something seriously wrong. Is it that their hands have been tied and their mouths gagged by the Foreign Ministry? That’s possible or even probable, given that this government has on many occasions acted in ways diametrically opposed to the national interest, showing incompetence, servility and sloth of unprecedented proportions.   

When claims go uncontested they become things that can be said in the ‘goes without saying’ manner. That’s not slippage, it’s conceding a fabricated narrative.   

When those paid to do their job are sleeping on things, indignant and patriotic Sri Lankans living in these countries have had to counter the lies. The missions probably do other work that’s useful, so we should not call for their closure. We should not forget, however, that there have been very proactive missions and diplomats who worked tirelessly to set the record straight. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, anyway, cannot be left off the hook. The regime too. In the absence of counterpoint the Eelamist narrative is becoming the default story in international forums and in countries like Canada and the UK. Not only is this a travesty of justice, it is an insult on all peace-loving Sri Lankans.