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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 107

Understanding Louise Arbour: Sri Lanka Needs to Avoid One Big Pitfall on Human Rights Issue

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 19 October, ( Monitoring Sri Lanka’s media from this end of the world, Asian Tribune is beginning to get the impression that this South Asian nation’s far left nationalist political movement, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) or Peoples Liberation Front now in the democratic mainstream but was responsible for two violent insurrections in 1971 and 88/89, is slowly but surely creating a political atmosphere that the recent fact finding mission of UN human rights chief Louise Arbour was in fact a ‘proxy’ mission undertaken on behalf of the ‘sole super power’ the United States.

Very subtlely supporting the Rajapaksa administration’s position that no UN human rights monitoring office is necessary on Sri Lankan soil while defending the armed forces that no abuses were committed when the country’s Eastern Province was militarily cleared defeating the Tamil Tiger outfit, the JVP hinted, when it met Louise Arbour in Colombo last week, that she is in fact part of the agenda of the ‘sole super power’.

Somawansa Amarasinghe, the JVP leader told Dr. Arbour on October 10:” Our observation is that the UNO is acting on behalf of certain western countries and carrying out their agendas. We notice that it is implemented in a worse manner now as there is only one superpower. This is indeed regrettable. The UNO should carry out its business fair by everyone and it should be perceptible to everyone.”

The radical JVP is not holding the Rajapaksa administration for ransom because of its sizable presence in the current Sri Lankan parliament in which the government is a combination of heterogeneous political elements but is in a strong position to influence its agenda.

Sri Lanka, however, does not understand that it is not in a ‘big mess’ on the human rights issue as the JVP and others who consider the West as ‘rapacious’ are trying to make out of Louise Arbour’s visit.

If the Rajapaksa administration goes behind this ‘cheer leader’ Sri Lanka inevitably will be on the wrong path. Why? Because Sri Lanka is sure to succumb to the JVP rhetoric not fully knowing the credentials of Dr. Louise Arbour.

This does not mean that the United States and its Congress can be absolved of its misleading, misunderstanding and misconception of the ground situation in Sri Lanka almost giving a ‘lifeline’ to Tamil Tiger terrorist outfit.

But understanding Louise Arbour means developing a cogent policy how to deal with the issue of human rights that has been blown out of proportion by the Western-funded NGOs, Tamil Tiger international propaganda machinery, the US State Department and leading members of the United States Congress.

Louise Arbour is a former Supreme Court Justice in Canada, she is perhaps best known as the chief prosecutor of war crimes for the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

In 1999, she indicted Slobodan Milosevic for genocide and crimes against humanity when he was still the president of Yugoslavia. This marked the first time a sitting head of state was indicted by an international court.

In 2004, she was appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing Sergio Vieira de Mello who was killed in the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in August, 2003.

Not long after her appointment as the head of the UN human rights she almost became ‘persona non grata’ in the United States when she openly criticized the Bush administration of its torture practice, extraordinary rendition and secret CIA detention cells.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton in December 2005 criticized Louise Arbour for speaking out about alleged U.S. mistreatment of imprisoned suspected terrorists instead of focusing attention on major human-rights abusers such as Cuba, Burma and Zimbabwe.

Bolton said that it was "disappointing that Arbour has chosen to talk about press commentary about alleged American misconduct . . . . It is inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in the war on terror with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."

The New York Times early this month (October 2007) carried an investigative report revealing classified White House and Justice Department memos that developed ‘interrogation practices’ of captured enemy combatants and terrorists connected to the Global War on Terror.

Louise Arbour was at U.N. headquarters to participate in a press conference and panel discussion as part of the observance of Human Rights Day in early December 2005. The theme of the observance was the global effort combat torture. In her remarks, the U.N. commissioner said that the absolute ban on torture "a cornerstone of the international human rights edifice, is under attack . . . becoming a casualty of the so-called 'war on terror.'"

Arbour called on all governments to reaffirm their commitment to the total prohibition of torture by condemning torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and prohibiting it in national law; abiding by the principle of not returning persons to countries where they may face torture; and ensuring access to prisoners and abolishing secret detention.
In her remarks she did not mention the United States by name, but in answering questions from journalists, the high commissioner discussed press reports of U.S. actions regarding detainees at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and allegations of secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

Louise Arbour was interviewed at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia on September 7, 2007, which was broadcast over the airwaves, and this is what she said:

AMY GOODMAN: And what power do you have or does the international community have in dealing with an issue like this, when you’re talking about violations of international human rights?

LOUISE ARBOUR: I’m not sure that anybody has any power, except if you believe in the power of persuasion. Unfortunately, I think we are long past being able to have a rational dispassionate discourse on that issue. Whatever pronouncement is made by any public official, it is immediately, by frankly all parties immediately involved, it’s dissected in order to try to assume a bias. You have to be on one side or the other. There’s no constituency for a kind of a rational middle ground on these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: What effect do you think US policy around extraordinary rendition, around torture, around the secret black sites, have on other countries who can also talk about pursuing the war on terror?

LOUISE ARBOUR: Well, there's no doubt that it has served, or at least it’s used constantly, as a justification for measures that in my view are illegal and against international human rights law, but the war on terror has -- is used to justify equally --

AMY GOODMAN: Can you give examples?

LOUISE ARBOUR: Well, the same thing: recourse to torture, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention in violation of, you know, right to counsel -- incommunicado detention, essentially. Any country that wants to equip itself, either through legislation or just through its practices with these kinds of tools, uses the example of the United States.

Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa in an exclusive interview to Asian Tribune late last month at Los Angeles, California categorically stated that when the armed forces militarily defeated the Tamil Tiger outfit in the Eastern Province the security forces behavior was so exemplary that not a single civilian was harmed or harassed.

This was a major military operation of the Sri Lanka government to clear the east. No torture, arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention and other rights violation was committed during or after the operation.

In fact, Louise Arbour was highlighting the human rights record of the United States in a very strong language.

Is Arbour subscribing to American agenda? Or should Sri Lanka tell her story to erase misconceptions, misinterpretations and misunderstanding of her war on Tamil Tiger terrorism through Dr. Arbour?

A month before Louise Arbour arrived in Sri Lanka, she addressed a human rights session at the Carter Center in Atlanta on September 06, 2007. If the Rajapaksa administration tends to listen to the JVP theory equating Arbour’s endeavor to an ‘American Agenda’ listen to what she had to say in her following explanation.

“Now I see this additional challenge emerging, for which I have very few solutions to propose. This is the perception which has been extremely widespread that human rights is a western concept. What is dangerous about this perception is that it is a tool of the promotion of western interests and more specifically American interests. In a lot of your national work, you also feel in very concrete way the effect of the erosion of this concept of universality and the perception that human rights is a tool of western interests.

“There is a general assembly resolution that fleshes out the concept. There are lots of ideas we need to work on related to this concept

“It is a fundamental shift from the old right to humanitarian intervention to a responsibility to protect. This says a lot to the position of the interveners. Previously if you had a right you had the right not to exercise it. You could decline. Having shifted that from a responsibility, the focus is on the rights holders. It is not the right of the intervener, it is the right of those suffering. It is not discretionary it is mandatory.

“So I think we need as human rights actors we need to understand that profound shift and advocate accordingly.

“Is this a moral responsibility? Or is it a legal responsibility within a legal framework?

“If your work could be seen as a way to promote American interest to do it in a subversive fashion makes it worse. If exposed it will further vindicate that perception so we have to think in more creative, strategic ways. Work more effectively and better with international organizations that are truly inclusive. Work with the UN. Clearly it is more difficult but by definition it is more inclusive and not just in the promotion of western interests.

“The opportunity of the 60th anniversary gives us a chance to reclaim universality. We need to reclaim a solid core of truly universal values, not seen as purely western – code word for American – interests.”

And, the positions she has taken on issues can be immensely helpful for Sri Lanka to form a proper perspective on what Louise Arbour’s UN office endeavors to achieve and establish a policy how to combat misinformation, misinterpretations and misconceptions on Sri Lanka’s national crisis while maintaining a balance between targeting Tamil Tiger terrorism and safeguarding national interests which include territorial integrity, sovereignty and democracy. To this end, understanding Dr. Louise Arbour will not harm Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona told this writer in Los Angeles that the “liberal West has a tendency to consider minorities as under dogs.”

Dr. Louise Arbour is a product of the liberal west, and Sri Lanka needs to formulate a cogent story to convince Dr. Arbour that what has been said so far by the Western-funded NGOs operating in Sri Lanka who has a better leverage to the U.S. State Department through the liberal foreign service cadre of Colombo’s American Embassy and to the European Union through liberal-minded western diplomats does not synchronize with the ground situation in Sri Lanka. Professionals domiciled in western capitals who promote the LTTE agenda have a better rapport with them than representatives of the Sri Lanka government. Sri Lanka needs to find a strategy to have a better access to Louise Arbour than allowing the JVP to become the ‘cheer leader’ against Arbour.

In an October 15 (2007) statement issued in New York following her visit to Sri Lanka High Commissioner Louise Arbour said government representatives insisted that national mechanisms are adequate for the protection of human rights, but “people from across a broad political spectrum and from various communities have expressed to me a lack of confidence and trust in the ability of existing relevant institutions to adequately safeguard against the most serious human rights abuses.”

The Government of Sri Lanka needs to evaluate what the “people from across a broad political spectrum” express to Colombo-based diplomats and international civil servants. If that investigation, research and evaluation is done understanding the mind set of Louise Arbour and her endeavor becomes much easier. But, she is definitely not even closer to the mind set of American diplomacy.

- Asian Tribune -

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