Managing perception with international community
By Dr. Nalaka Godahewa
Last week, this writer got an opportunity to meet the members of a foreign trade delegation visiting Sri Lanka. This group had almost completed their official tour when this particular meeting took place. Having spoken to many government ministers and officials during the visit, they were also keen to talk to someone else who could tell them the other side of the story. Someone had recommended my name to them. The writer was contacted through an intermediary and it was agreed to have an informal discussion.
After the initial pleasantries, the leader of the delegation, a European gentleman, started explaining how useful the visit was for them. According to him, the delegation had heard a lot of positive things from the government representatives. But they were puzzled as to why the private sector representatives who came across were somewhat non-committal though there weren't any negative remarks. Then he said something that irked the writer. "I am so happy that democracy has returned to your country finally" was what he said.
"I beg your pardon, "intervened the writer. "I am a bit puzzled as to how you came to that conclusion particularly in relations to the current state of affairs in the country. May I ask you a simple question? In your opinion, what is the cornerstone of democracy?"
It took a while for the gentleman to grasp the question. Having given some thoughts he gave this answer. "The cornerstone of democracy is the right of people to select representatives of their choice."
Cornerstone of democracy
"Exactly", said the writer. " The people's representatives are selected through voting. Isn't it? So voting is the cornerstone of any democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest. For people to vote there should be elections. But what happens when elections are deliberately postponed by the government? Don't you think the cornerstone is under attack? Denying the people the right to vote and creating barriers to participating in the electoral process are threats to the very foundation of the democracy that you are talking about. Are you aware that the local government elections, which were due in June 2015 to elect over 4,500 members for nearly 350 local authorities, have not been held so far? Are you aware that government passed a special bill to postpone the elections for three Provincial Councils, which got automatically dissolved in October 2017 as their terms expired? Are you aware that the bill which was passed has so many additional requirements and as a result no provincial council election can be held in a foreseeable future. Are you aware that the former Chief Justice of this country has gone to the Supreme Court claiming that his rights as a citizen has been violated because of the inappropriate way this undemocratic bill has been passed? "
There was a long pause, which was a sign of admittance. So began a long friendly conversation where many questions were raised and answered. The visitors took notes, probed deep into answers, challenged the answers and sought clarifications. Finally' this is what the leader of the delegation had to say; "We wish we met you before we met the government representatives. Had we done that, we could have asked them the right questions without just listening to their side of the story. After speaking to you we can now understand why the data we gathered didn't match the story they told us."
This little incident demonstrates a major weakness in the current opposition. Shouldn't there be constant interaction like this with all the foreign delegations who visit the country. If government is not providing opportunities for that the opposition should actively seek opportunities.
It is a fact that there was a clear international conspiracy against the previous administration. It is also a fact that those dark forces that planned and helped the removal of President Mahinda Rajapaksa from power are still at large. They are relentlessly pursuing an agenda of destabilizing the country by adding fuel to the age-old separatist agenda. Yet, no one should assume that the entire international community means just one camp and all its members are villains. On the contrary, there are many good guys and there are also opportunities for us to win over at least certain groups within the international community.
If you engage the international community effectively, you can always find someone who will not only listen, but also be willing to support. That is why at least now; the patriots of this country, whether they are involved in politics or not, should ensure that the world hear the truth about this country.
Last month, at the 36th session of the UNHCR, there was a small group of Sri Lankan volunteers raising their voices against the unfair, unjust and inequitable way the office of the human rights commissioner has been acting in relation to Sri Lanka. Of course this behaviour may not be due to any personal animosity that the high commissioner has against Sri Lanka. He is naturally following the footsteps of his predecessor who initiated this process of interfering into local affairs of a member country, that too with the blessings of none other than the former secretary general of UN himself.
The UN charter does not authorize intervention in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. Yet, the High Commissioner has been repeatedly making references to the need for constitutional reforms and for special tribunals to investigate alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. The latest UNHCR resolution on Sri Lanka, which was cosponsored by the Sri Lankan government, is based on a report prepared by the office of the high commissioner of UNHCR. This report which is usually referred to as the OISL report (office of high commissioners investigative report on Sri Lanka ), is full of false information and baseless allegations. The OISL report itself is based on the previously prepared Darusman report, the contents of which have been challenged by six internationally reputed war crimes experts. When the OISL report was tabled at the UNHCR, the power had shifted in USA from President Obama to President Trump. With a whole new way of looking at foreign policy by the Trump administration, the Sri Lankan government was faced with a golden opportunity to challenge the false OISL report. But the government thought otherwise. The thinking was that by supporting the resolution, which was drafted by the western powers, Sri Lanka could make friends. That meek approach resulted in a serious blunder. With Sri Lanka co-sponsoring, the resolution passed without a vote denying the opportunity for moderate or supportive countries to raise any voice against a resolution which was not fully inline with the UN Charter. That's why it is argued by many, that the Sri Lankan government betrayed our own interests in Geneva.
The UN human rights council is a forum, which is extensively used by the Tamil Diaspora to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka. With the lackluster approach adopted by of the Sri Lankan government, these sessions are completely dominated by the supporters of the Tamil separatism agenda. The problem is not with the council but the way we are approaching its activities.
So, obviously Sri Lanka has a problem. The opposition doesn't seem to be taking a serious interest in building its international relationships so that they can find opportunities to educate the international community about what's happening in the country.
The government seems to be quite comfortable giving into any reasonable or unreasonable request from the international community, as long as they support the government to remain in power even beyond the 2020.
Dr. Nalaka Godahewa is a former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka and a former Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism
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