The wide ranging report on Sri Lanka by the UN internal review panel headed by Charles Petrie could cause a major international crisis for the Rajapaksa regime largely because of failure to wisely respond to the issues raised.
The Petrie committee was appointed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to probe how and why UN staff in Colombo and the Northern Province had failed to act fast and effectively in preventing a heavy civilian casualty toll during the last phase of the war with the LTTE. The report does not give a huge civilian casualty toll or refer to war crimes. But the Petrie report has created an international diplomatic crisis where Sri Lanka may figure in various UN committee debates, studies and seminars within and outside the UN system. Our sister newspaper the Sunday Times, said the Petrie report would become an important input to the crucial UNHRC sessions in March next year and Sri Lanka would be a case study for diplomatic training programmes in many countries as it would be considered the first major UN failure in a war
situation. As a result, Sri Lanka might be seen as another Rwanda in the eyes of the world. What a calamity, while officials of the External Affairs Ministry are focusing on Minister G.L. Peiris’ pet project of improving ties with African countries such as Uganda whose President was in Sri Lanka last week. Besides the failure of Ministry officials to respond effectively and take counter-action before the Petrie report does irreparable damage to Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka mission in the UN also was not alert to what was going on in the Petrie committee, and its delayed reaction did little to repair the damage.
Another issue that has affected Sri Lanka’s image internationally was the statement issued by the UN Special Rapporteur regarding the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. This issue will also come up at the sessions of the re-elected UNHRC in March, and Sri Lanka may come under heavy fire because Russia, China and Cuba which strongly defended Sri Lanka last year are no longer on the council.
Last year the UNHRC approved a US resolution calling on the Rajapaksa government to take effective and urgent steps to find a political solution to the ethnic conflict and to address accountability issues or alleged war crimes during the last months of the war against the LTTE.
Instead of languishing in the delusion that China will defend or save Sri Lanka because the country has been pawned to it – the latest being the car assembly plants in Hambantota, the Rajapaksa government must act fast or face the risk of losing the international diplomatic battle despite defeating the most ruthless terrorist group in the world.