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Home > Tamil National Forum > Selected Writings - Victor Rajakulendran > UN Intervention in Sri Lanka: A possibility?
Selected Writings - Dr. Victor Rajakulendran
UN Intervention in Sri Lanka: A Possibility?
26 November 2007
1. Available UN Provisions
The Charter of the United Nations empowers the Security Council to determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and to make recommendations, or decide what measures need to be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42 of the Chapter VII of the Charter, to maintain or restore international peace and security. These provisions allow the Security Council to intervene militarily or non-militarily in affairs of member States when there is a threat to peace by the actions of these States.
UN Resolution 2625 (XXV) – Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations – under the section “The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”, prevents the UN body from authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States, as long as they are conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples, as described in the same resolution, and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory, without distinction as to race, creed or colour. Therefore, there is no guarantee that States failing to comply with the above conditions will not be subjected to action by the UN body.
2. Recent UN interventions
The recent history of UN interventions informs us that the UN will only intervene when the various ruling blocks within the body consider it in their interests to do so. Many past UN interventions were not as a response to popular pressure in any real respect.
The United States and other powers look for conflicts, or provoke conflicts, in countries they do not dominate politically. They use these conflicts as pretexts to intervene in other countries in multiple ways: militarily, through proxies (which may include the UN), by funding an internal opposition, or by some combination of these means. The goal is to exploit these countries economically. Political control, through a strongman or puppet government, allows great nations to protect and enlarge the investments of their corporations and banks and to open doors to their exports. That is, the United States and other powers are engaged in a relentless pursuit of political domination of countries they do not currently dominate, in order to exploit their resources, assets and markets, by creating or looking for conflicts that provide pretexts for intervention.
While it sometimes seems that the UN is a neutral body that democratically decides how to resolve conflicts, that’s not what the UN really is. When it comes to intervention, the UN - in all important respects the UN Security Council - is a small group of mainly imperialist powers which want to look after their own interests. The United States, the dominant member of the Security Council, has no interest in resolving the conflict wherever UN intervention has taken place. It is either interested in establishing a permanent military presence in the area of conflict, or wants to keep the area of conflict under its own sphere of influence.
On the other hand there are countries the United States already dominates in which terrible humanitarian disasters and human rights violations occur about which very little is said. This was the case in Sri Lanka until recently. When conflicts occur in these countries, the conflicts are ignored by the Western media, because they are not needed as a pretext for intervention by Western governments. In fact, it is in the interests of Washington that these conflicts not be brought to the attention of the public.
In Ethiopia, for example, thousands of members of the opposition were imprisoned after recent elections were disputed. The government threatened to execute dozens of opposition leaders on treason charges. Foreign reporters and human rights groups have been expelled from the country. Because Ethiopia is politically dominated by the US, there’s no reason to bring its deplorable record to the public’s attention. There is no need to build a case for intervention. Ethiopia is already under the US thumb. Accordingly, few people know anything about what’s going on in the country because Ethiopia is off the Western media’s demonisation radar screen. There are about half a million people displaced in Somalia as a result of an invasion by Ethiopia, undertaken at the behest of the US government. This is a humanitarian disaster created by a US proxy. There is no “Save Somalia” Campaign.
It should be also noted that the record of UN and NATO interventions is one in which small conflicts are turned into humanitarian disasters. Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain, says Darfur is the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster. There are 200,000 dead in Darfur but there are probably 600,000 dead in Iraq. There are four million refugees in Iraq and far fewer in Darfur. Liberal public intellectuals like Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard professor, said a war needed to be waged on Iraq because of what Saddam did to the Kurds. US military intervention under the authorization of the UN was supposed to deliver peace, prosperity, human rights and democracy between the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. What it delivered was something far worse than when Saddam was around.
However, in many cases timely UN intervention has saved major human catastrophes and reluctance to intervene in other cases has resulted in human tragedy, whatever the motives behind the decision. UN interventions using military might to subdue authoritarian regimes always had vested interests behind the intervention and resulted in, most cases, more human tragedy. On the other hand, genuine UN military interventions for the purpose of separating forces in conflict in a country while a peaceful settlement is being worked out has generally benefited all sides.
2.1 UN intervention in East Timor (Timor Leste)
In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor, with the tacit consent of the West, when the former Portuguese colony declared independence. The UN never recognized East Timor as being under Indonesian sovereignty. The US and the rest of the Western powers, after successfully overthrowing the democratically elected President of Indonesia, the Indonesian Communist Party leader Sukarno, and installing the pro-American Gen. Suharto, let the Jakarta government suppress the independent movement of the people of East Timor. Although these Western powers let the UN Security Council establish a UN Mission in East Timor (UNTAET) later in 1999 to oversee a referendum in which the East Timorese voted for independence, they not only did not prevent the Indonesian forces and the pro-Indonesian militias implementing their scorched earth policy and ethnic cleansing, but also were still continuing their military supplies and other aid to the regime in Jakarta. A multinational force went into East Timor only after the Indonesian forces and the pro-Indonesian militias left the shores of East Timor having r plundered the land they were leaving for good. UNTAET acted as a transitional administration while the fragile nation rebuilt. East Timor achieved full independence on May 20, 2002, becoming the first new country of the 21st century. UNTAET was subsequently replaced by a UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) in 2002, and transformed into a scaled down UNOTIL in 2005.
Although people of East Timor achieved at the end of this UN intervention what they had aspired to for a long time, a sincere timely intervention could have prevented the loss of thousands of lives, untold sufferings of others and damage to property. The rising wave of public opinion against the Jakarta regime only forced the reluctant and business interest-oriented Western forces to make the decision to send their armed forces into East Timor to save and protect the people of East Timor. Although all the provisions were available to the UN for early intervention to protect the people of East Timor, the strategic and economic interests of the prominent UN Security Council members delayed that intervention until enough damage was done.
2.2 UN intervention in Kosovo
Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia and Montenegro, has seen deep conflict between its Serbian and ethnic Albanian population. In 1974, the Yugoslav constitution granted Kosovo, then part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, autonomous status. In 1989, amid rising breakaway movements throughout Yugoslovia, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy, a step that deepened Serb-Kosovar differences. The majority Kosovar movement favoured non-violent political action, but a separatist movement called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) came to the fore, receiving arms and funds from Albania and (later) from the US and German intelligence services, while the Russians backed the Serbs. The KLA attacked police and government installations. As Serbian government forces struck back, they committed atrocities and the Kosovar population began to flee in large numbers.
The Independent International Commission on Kosovo declared in its comprehensive report on the conflict that around 2,000 people had died in the year leading up to March 1999, of which probably 500 were Serb civilians or police and 1,500 were ethnic Albanian civilians or members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Several international efforts to broker a peace plan failed. Western nations demanded major concessions from Belgrade, including free passage of NATO military forces into Kosovo. The Americans got the propaganda ball rolling. It is the worst genocide since World War II, announced NATO.
Meanwhile, a peace conference was called near Paris. The proposal that emerged from the peace conference was agreed to by the Albanian, American and British delegates, but rejected by the Serbs and Russians. It was suggested to hand over the administration of Kosovo to NATO, whose troops would be granted immunity from prosecution and the right to move around throughout the whole of Serbia. However, this attempt to find peace failed. Things got a lot worse in Kosovo. The Serbian Army drove out about 850,000 ethnic Albanians, amounting to some 80% of the population. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo says that possibly up to 10,000 people were killed.
Still, the UN Security Council could not take action because the Russians would have vetoed any such actions. NATO bypassed the UN and began a 78-day bombing campaign, leading to an increase in the flow of Kosovar refugees. This "humanitarian intervention" was marred by NATO's inability to ensure the safety of innocent civilians. In fact, at least 500 civilians were killed in NATO air attacks, according to Human Rights Watch. The NATO bombardment eventually forced Milosevic to withdraw troops from Kosovo in June 1999. Slobodan Milosevic made a deal with NATO in June 1999. Kosovo remains part of Serbia until talks on its final status can be completed, but it is administered by the United Nations with the support of soldiers from NATO. This paved the way for an immediate UN Security Council Resolution (1244 of 10th June 1999) which allowed for an international peace-keeping force to deter renewed hostilities, demilitarize the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and other Kosovo Albanian armed groups, establish a secure environment in which refugees and displaced persons could return home in safety, ensure public safety and order until an international civil presence could take responsibility for this task, supervising de-mining, and conducting border monitoring duties.
This resolution also provided provisions for the establishment of an interim administration for Kosovo as a part of the international civil presence under which the people of Kosovo could enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to be decided by the Security Council of the United Nations. This interim administration was to provide a transitional administration while establishing and overseeing the development of provisional democratic self-governing institutions to ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants in Kosovo.
The UN established a Kosovo Peace Implementation Force (KFOR) and an Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), asserting administrative control over the province. In 2003, the UN established a set of basic conditions for the political future of the territory and insisted that the Kosovo administration meet these benchmarks before discussing the territory's "final status" - that is, would it achieve independence or would it become an autonomous region within Serbia and Montenegro. Renewed ethnic violence in 2004 raised concerns over UNMIK's ability to maintain peace in the province. Talks to determine Kosovo's future remain stalled.
It appears now that Kosovo, which has been administered by the UN for the past eight years, will remain in political limbo. During a visit to Albania, where he received a hero's welcome, US President Bush backed the goal of independence for Kosovo and said the matter would be put before the UN Security Council, along the lines of a plan drawn up by the former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari. The resolution never saw the light of day, shelved repeatedly because of Russia, which has chosen Kosovo as one of the fields in which to flex its new diplomatic muscle.
After sounding so gung-ho on independence for Kosovo, the Bush administration has other more pressing worries - Iraq, Iran, the Middle East - and seems no longer willing to take on the Kremlin over the issue.
In Britain, another strong advocate of independence, a changing of the guard has not worked to Kosovo's advantage. Tony Blair, for whom Kosovo was a test case for liberal interventionism, is gone and the old Kosovo hands at the Foreign Office are also moving on.
The 27-member EU is divided: Spain, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus and Romania are among those against independence, either because of their proximity to the Balkans or due to fears that it could encourage separatists within their own borders. With EU unity now at stake, Britain will be reluctant to press for independence as it would shatter a common position.
2.3 UN intervention in Sudan
From 2003 onwards a tribally-based insurgency in Sudan’s western region has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe which in turn became the epicentre of an international crisis. The African Union has played a key role in brokering peace talks between two rebel movements and the Sudanese government. It has also provided a peacekeeping mission within Darfur. In February 2006, US President George Bush called for a NATO-supported United Nations intervention in Darfur.
Those who opposed this type of intervention argued that any UN or NATO intervention in Darfur would serve as a focus for anti-Western forces in the Horn of Africa and the African Sahel region, areas that are strategic to western interests and central to the war on terrorism. Such an intervention would also fuel radical Islamist forces within Sudan and would serve to undermine the present Government of National Unity in Khartoum and destabilise the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005 which ended Sudan’s 21-year long North-South civil war. This CPA was also made possible by the intervention of the international community, namely the US, UK, Kenya and Norway. A brief account of the CPA could be found here.
The US-brokered agreement between the Sudanese government and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) reached in January 2005 brought to an end the country’s 21-year-old civil war. Especially since last year’s death of long-time SPLM leader John Garang, the CPA deal has become increasingly shaky. A key part of the deal was to allow Sudan’s oil wealth to be shared with the south and open up possibilities for US and European corporations. Sudan’s oil reserves are estimated at between 660 million and 1.2 billion barrels. According to Africa Confidential, the Khartoum regime has blocked oil revenues going to the south and has also refused to disband the government-backed militias that operate in the southern area—key parts of the CPA. Now the SPLM has withdrawn from the National government in Khartoum in protest.
The shift in the US approach to Sudan was evident at the beginning of February 2006, when Washington and London succeeded in getting an agreement in principle that the UN Security Council would transform the existing AMIS peacekeeping force into an UN-controlled mission.
The newfound interest of the Bush administration in western Sudan has more to do with the geo-political interests of US imperialism than humanitarianism. There is growing concern about China’s influence in the region. For several years the main recipient of oil from Sudan, China, has increased investment and is developing its political relations with Khartoum. China has stepped up sales of arms including fighter aircraft. The manufacture in Sudan of Chinese weapons and ammunition complicates the enforcement of a UN embargo on supplies to militias in Darfur. Chinese-designed arms and radios are reported to have been used across the border in Chad—where France keeps a garrison—by rebels alleged to be operating with Sudanese support. This is the political backdrop to the Sudanese government’s growing boldness in ignoring Western criticism of its involvement in Darfur and Chad and, more fundamentally, its backtracking on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for Southern Sudan.
The Security Council envisaged AMIS being absorbed into the existing UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which was established through Security Council Resolution 1590 passed in March 2005 to enforce the CPA. In this resolution, the Security Council underscored the immediate need to rapidly increase the number of human rights monitors in Darfur. It urged the Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to accelerate the deployment of human rights monitors to Darfur and augment their numbers and, also, to move forward with the formation of civilian monitoring protection teams. In addition, the Security Council emphasized that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Darfur, and called on the Government of the Sudan and the rebel groups, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement to resume the Abuja talks rapidly without preconditions and to negotiate in good faith to speedily reach agreement.
Given the key importance of Sudan, in terms of both its strategic position linking four geopolitical subsystems—the Red Sea, the Maghreb, Central Africa and the Horn of Africa —and its oilfields, the US cannot afford to allow China to take advantage of the growing instability in the region.
On the other hand, behind the scenes, the US administration has also been doing good business with the Sudanese secret service, the Mukhabarat, which has provided the CIA with extensive intelligence on East Africa. The CIA has cooperated with the Mukhabarat since before 9/11 (though the relationship has deepened since then), and there has been an active CIA station in Khartoum since November 2001. The Mukhabarat has detained suspects and handed them over to the CIA for interrogation, and has also spied on other countries, including Somalia, on behalf of the CIA.
The Bush administration used the Darfur crisis to let NATO forces get a foothold in Sudan. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell used the term “Genocide” in 2004, when there was widespread criticism of the Sudanese government. According to international law, if genocide has taken place, the UN must intervene. The Bush administration also sought to use the genocide tag to threaten and pressure the Khartoum government into signing the CPA agreement.
Subsequently, the hypocritical feigning of concern about civilian casualties was dropped, and the US administration was content to see Darfur policed by the ineffective African Union’s force. In April 2005, the US administration distanced itself from Powell’s genocide comments and started using the UN’s phrase, “crimes against humanity.” The US even went to the point of backing Khartoum’s position regarding the actions of the so-called Janjaweed militias in attacking civilians in Darfur saying, “There are tribal disputes that may be out of anybody’s control,” contradicting a wealth of evidence that these militias are backed by the Sudanese government.
It is generally believed that the US is going beyond intelligence cooperation with Sudan and wants a vast new embassy in Khartoum—envisaged as a new base for operations in North Africa. This revives the “listening-post” the CIA had previously in Sudan, which was one of its largest. Therefore, Washington is once again seeking to step up the pressure on the Sudan government and Bush resurrected the use of “genocide” in relation to western Sudan and proposed $500 million for Darfur as part of his special military budget request to Congress.
The US succeeded in passing another UN Security Council Resolution (1706) in August 2006 which paved the way for a UN mission to be deployed in Darfur. Although the Bush administration failed to get NATO forces as such for this mission, the deployment plan for the proposed UNAMID is being finalised now. At full capacity it should have more than 19,000 troops, over 6,000 police and 5,500 civilian staff. So far the UN and the AU have agreed that Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal are providing either an infantry battalion or a logistics, reconnaissance, transport, military police or sector reserve company to UNAMID, which is to have a predominantly African composition. Bangladesh, Jordan, Nepal, the Netherlands, Thailand and the Nordic countries in Europe are also providing similar resources, as well as a field hospital. The Sudanese Government has given assurance that Darfur’s airstrips will be made available for the use of UNAMID so that it can be deployed.
However,the Khartoum government is dragging its feet on the allocation of land that is needed to facilitate the deployment of the heavy support package during the transition phase between the current AU mission and UNAMID.
3. Is UN intervention a possibility in Sri Lanka?
During the 25 year long conflict in Sri Lanka more than 80,000 lives have been lost, most of them Tamils, one million Tamils have been internally displaced and another one million Tamils have left the country to settle down in India and many Western nations. Until 2000, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) declared a unilateral cease-fire and called for internationally mediated peace negotiations, the UN and its powerful member nations like the US, UK, France, Germany, etc. turned a blind eye to the human tragedy that was developing in Sri Lanka. Although there was enough evidence that “Genocide” against Tamils has been carried out in Sri Lanka during the period 1982 – 2000 and, therefore, UN intervention was merited, no one talked about human rights violations at that time.
Although India intervened during 1987-1990, because the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), the Indian military contingent that was performing a peace keeping operation in Sri Lanka, was deployed under the mandate of the peace accord signed between India and Sri Lanka in 1987 that was designed to end the conflict, India did not even attempt to get UN endorsement. The IPKF’s task was to enforce the terms of the accord and maintain peace, and was inducted into Sri Lanka on the request of the then President of Sri Lanka, J.R. Jayawardana under the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord. The force was initially not expected to be involved in any significant combat. However, within a few months the IPKF became embroiled in battle with the LTTE to enforce peace. In the two years it was in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, the IPKF launched a number of combat operations aimed at destroying the LTTE-led insurgency. It was also accused during this time of having committed a significant number of human rights violations against the civilian population. The IPKF began withdrawing from Sri Lanka in 1989, following the election of the V P Sinh government in India and on the request of the newly elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinhe Premadasa. The last IPKF contingent left Sri Lanka in March 1990. Even today, no one considers the IPKF as an international intervention, although in fact it is, considering the nature and the magnitude of the operation. India intervened at that time to keep Sri Lanka under the sphere of its control after India itself aided and abetted in the creation and development of the Sri Lankan armed Tamil militant groups.
Although the conflict escalated during 1990-2000 after the Indian withdrawal, and ample human rights violations were committed by the Sri Lankan security forces against the Tamil population in the North East of the country during this period, the UN did not pay any attention to these violations as the key members of the Security Council did not have any particular geopolitical or economic interest in Sri Lanka.
However, as the conflict got worse and as the LTTE kept on developing into a formidable force beyond the ability of Sri Lankan security forces to be crushed militarily, the US and its allies started to get concerned. Although they know very well that the military activities of LTTE will be confined to Sri Lanka, their concern has been that, being a smart insurgent group, continuously developing ingenious techniques, international terrorist organizations could copy their techniques in attacking their own interests. This concern escalated after al Qaeda started its operations against US interests and, particularly, after the September 11 twin-tower attack by this organisation.
The US and its allies also know that when Tamil aspirations are met through a political solution, the LTTE will cease from armed confrontation with the Sri Lankan State. Therefore, when the LTTE declared a unilateral cease-fire in 2000 and proposed peace talks with Sri Lanka under international mediation, the US grabbed that opportunity and brought in the Norwegians as facilitators. The peace process did not take off immediately, however, due to the then President Chandrika Bandaranayake’s policy of “fighting while talking”, so the US had to wait until pro-US Ranil Wickramasinghe’s government to take over power in parliament. Under the 2002 cease-fire agreement signed between Ranil Wickramasinghe and the LTTE leader Vellupillai Prbakaran, the Norwegians became the facilitators and US, EU, Japan and Norway became the co-chairs overseeing the whole peace process and development aid to Sri Lanka.
Although the co-chairs treated the two parties to the conflict as equal partners in signing the ceasefire agreement and during the initial stages of the peace process, because of the already existing US position vis a vis the LTTE that it was first a “Foreign terrorist organisation” and then a “Global terrorist organisation” in the US, they failed to maintain this status. As a result, the negotiations could not continue towards reaching an agreement for a settlement like the one reached in the case of the Sudanese conflict.
Later, the US and its allies who were watching China spreading its wings in the region with concern, saw China trying to get a foothold in Sri Lanka through the Hambanthota port development project after Mahinda Rajapaksa came into power, the same way China has established footholds in Pakistan and Bangladesh through its port development work in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. The US knows very well that China has ventured out into this activity to have control over the shipping lane frequented by the oil tankers carrying oil from the Gulf States via the Strait of Homuz, the Indian Ocean and then through the Malacca Strait. Because the US and its allies are already involved in securing this route, they would not like China’s 'unnecessary' presence in this area.
Mahinda Rajapaksa regime’s disregard for the US-backed ceasefire agreement and the Scandinavian Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that comes under this agreement, its military approach to the conflict and the gross human rights violations carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces in complicity with Tamil paramilitaries under the direction of President’s brother and Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, have created an ideal situation for a UN-led intervention in Sri Lanka.
As a prelude to intervention, the UN human rights monitoring machinery, other human rights monitoring organisations and conflict resolution think-tanks have been activated to do the ground-work against the Rajapaksa Government’s approach and its human rights violations, as they have done before in US-initiated UN interventions in Kosova, Darfur, etc.
New York-based “Human Rights Watch” (HRW), an independent human rights monitoring group that has hitherto written reports on LTTE fund-raising and recruitment of child soldiers suddenly started releasing detailed reports, one after the other, on the human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan security forces and the paramilitaries operating side-by-side with the security forces. HRW started recommending that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) take up this issue in its sessions. UNHRC also took up this matter in its sessions in Geneva and at its last (6th) session the European Union was prepared to propose a resolution condemning the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka had to work hard amongst the member nations to thwart this action by the EU.
The UN has also sent special envoys working in the field of human rights to Sri Lanka, to give the message that serious Human Rights violations were being committed in Sri Lanka. Allen Rock, Special Advisor to the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, was the first one to visit and expressed his concern about the kidnapping of children from refugee camps by the paramilitaries while the security forces turn a blind eye to this. But the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Kehelia Rambukwella ridiculed him and questioned his integrity.
John Holmes, the U.N. Undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, was the next one to visit. When John Holmes gave a harsh report on the treatment of the war displaced Tamils in the East, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, the government's chief whip in Parliament and a Cabinet minister, branded Holmes a "terrorist" and said that, if not for the bribe John Holmes had accepted from the LTTE, he would not have done such a wrong thing.
The last one to pay a visit to Sri Lanka was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour. Her visit was an attempt by the Sri Lankan government to make a compromise for the demand by the UNHRC to deploy a UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission (UNHRMM) to Sri Lanka to monitor human rights violations by all parties to the conflict. Even after a well guarded and guided (by the security forces) tour of the North and meeting the relatives of the disappeared in Colombo as well as in the city of Jaffna in the North, she reiterated the importance of the deployment of a field-based UNHRMM in Sri Lanka.
In her 22.10.07 statement delivered to the Canadian Human Rights Commission on the subject of National Human Rights Institutions as a catalyst for change, Louise Arbour indicated that people have lost public trust in the National Human Rights Commission and its effectiveness is being so compromised to the point that the "people in Jaffna voluntarily surrender to the Human Rights Commission for their own protection, trusting no one else." She also stated that, “Indeed the “A Status” awarded by the ICC [International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] to the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission will be reviewed shortly in light of the present circumstances.”
In his 28th October 2007 report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Un Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated that “Despite the serious nature of these crimes and their repercussions, insufficient attempts have been made to hold perpetrators accountable. In Sri Lanka, there is still little progress in the work of the Government-established commission investigating human rights abuses, including the murders of 17 staff of Action Contre la Faim who were killed in a single, abhorrent act in August 2006.”
Only the terms “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” have to be used by the UN to justify an intervention in Sri Lanka, if they want to, the same way they have done elsewhere.
Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), a think tank on conflict resolution headed by the former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, has also taken an active role recently in the Sri Lankan conflict. In the Kathirgamar memorial lecture that Gareth Evans delivered in Colombo, he talked about the Responsibility to Protect (R-2-P) policy and emphasised that the Sri Lankan government has a responsibility to protect all its citizens. He also reiterated that, although the Sri Lankan situation has not yet reached that of Darfur, it will get there if the Sri Lankan government fails to look after its responsibility to prevent such an eventuality. He also hinted that if Sri Lankan government fails in its responsibility to prevent abuses, intervention by the international community is inevitable.
Also very recently both the ICG and the Washington-based East West Centre have put out lengthy discussion papers explaining the role of Sinhalese nationalism in the Sri Lankan conflict and how the Rajapkasa regime is fuelling the growth of ethnic nationalism and prolonging the conflict. Although the other side of the conflict knows this Singhalese nationalism only too well, this is the first time US backed institutions have written extensively on the topic and this cannot be ignored as a mere coincidence.
Some may argue that a US-designed UN intervention is impossible in Sri Lanka because of India. But, the US would not even attempt a UN intervention mission in Sri Lanka without embracing India in the whole process. Although the US wanted a NATO-led UN intervention in Darfur, later it compromised on an African Union-dominated UN peace-keeping force there. Similarly, the US may try to work alongside India in making compromises to use an Indian-dominated UN peace-keeping force in Sri Lanka.
However, so far the Rajapaksa administration has ignored the signals/caution given by the US on a possible UN intervention and has started to show signs of leaning on the shoulders of China, – possibly expecting China to veto on its behalf at the Security Council any move by the Co-chairs - Pakistan and Iran for economic and military help.
Perhaps this is the reason the Co-chairs have now decided to shelve the UN intervention approach and take a fresh approach to the peace process and are trying to put more pressure for the first time on the Sri Lankan government side, announcing that their development aid in the new year will not be given directly to the Sri Lankan government but only through non governmental organisations operating in the field. As the co-chairs have exhausted all the pressure points to exert pressure on the LTTE, the US has now designated the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) under its Department of Treasury Executive Order 13224 which is aimed at financially isolating terrorist groups and their support networks. E.O. 13224 freezes any assets held by designees under US jurisdiction and prohibits US persons from transacting with designees. By this action the US is attempting to freeze the US-held assets of the TRO, a charitable organization, which in the opinion of the US, acts as a front to facilitate fundraising and procurement for the LTTE.
As President Rajapaksa is immersed at the moment in maintaining a parliamentary majority of his government in parliament, he has not reacted to the Co-chairs’ latest actions. Therefore, whether Sri Lanka can avoid a UN intervention depends on how the Rajapaksa regime is going to handle the new approach to the peace process the Co-chairs are trying to introduce.