|Is there intelligent and meaningful life outside the UN Rights Council?|
|Monday, 26 May 2008|
By Malinda Seneviratne
We are of course talking about the fate of Sri Lanka after failing to retain her seat in the Council. Let's repeat the question with a little elaboration: is there or can there be life outside the UN Human Rights Council? The answer is simple: OF COURSE NOT!
Sri Lanka is a failed state. Sri Lankans are in any case a miserable lot; they eat rice and not bread for cryin' out loud! Armed gangs roam the cities and countryside taking potshots at innocent civilians. The economy is a mess, oil price hikes or no oil price hikes. On top of all this the Government is pursuing a meaningless, endless military strategy to down an invincible enemy, the LTTE. Did we mention those horrible words 'corruption' and 'wastage'? There is also, let us not forget, a woeful lack of transparency and accountability in government, not to mention elections won by the use of thuggery, voter impersonation and plain and simple ballot box stuffing. Our little seat in the Human Rights Council was the only spark in an otherwise utterly dismal picture.
Malinda Seneviratne, journalist and literary critic, was educated at the Universities of Peradeniya (Sri Lanka), Harvard and Cornell.
And we couldn't hold on to it, damn us! So where do we go from here? Nowhere putha; we might as well do a Jim Jones and commit mass suicide. Right? Wrong! If, as some say, we are really the pits, then we can take refuge in that pithy saying, 'if the water has risen above the nose then it might as well rise up to the sky. Makes no difference. That's one way of looking at it. There are other ways to look at it. We could, for example, take a step back and get some perspective. This side of saying 'to hell with the UN, the international community and the global political economy' we can take the following into account. We are a nation that has shown amazing resilience in the face of adversity. The integrity of the state has prevailed despite being battered on all sides. Three decades of fighting the world's most ruthless terrorist outfit necessitating the diverting of human and other resources from development to defence and suffering inter alia massive psychological and physical blows would have seen most third world states collapse.
Bruised and scarred, Sri Lanka continues to soldier on. Trapped in a constitution that is made to make dictators and policy regimes that are skewed against the cultural, social, environmental and economical well-being of the country as a whole, we have not been pushed onto our knees nor robbed of vision, valour and resoluteness to stand up and overcome or at least challenge these processes. Harangued by hordes of International NGOs and their local counterparts who are ashamed of their ancestry, have disowned their cultural soil at every turn, have spared no pains to compromise the true aspirations of the people, we still remain a nation that turns into a dansala twice a year, a nation made of people who hold steadfast to whatever religious faith they subscribe to.
Sri Lanka is an island that was struck by a devastating tsunami, taking some 40,000 lives and displaces several hundred thousand people. We have recovered admirably, all things taken into account, and not because of but despite the NGO vultures that descended in their hundred to prey on poor people's misery. If you want 'perspective', just google 'Katrina'. What's a paltry seat in a politically pregnant UN Council, in this context, one wonders. So, while there is naturally some disappointment that we lost that seat, it is by no means a disaster. More than half the UN members stood with us. If Sri Lanka was the basket case or the 'last sick man of Asia' as someone who is clearly one of many sick men in West put it, then we would have jumped for joy if anyone voted for us.
We got 101 votes despite aggressive campaigning against us with high-profile but ill-informed objectors like Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter throwing their weight behind the anti-Sri Lanka lobby. We could say 'Hurrah!' but I believe we shouldn't; not because this is just-one-of-those-things, but because we could have done better. Today, naturally, there is a blaming game which goes like this; some saying we upset the West too much and others claiming that given that it was a secret ballot we didn't canvass our 'class' enough, meaning the G-77 and the Non-Aligned Movement. Diplomats probably know what's what in these things, but as a layman and one who counts among his heroes people like Fidel Castro, Marshall Tito and Jawaharlal Nehru, I believe that we do have some agency in the play of global power, as long as we have faith in ourselves and know who are friends are.
The powerful will not let us step out of line, let's be pragmatic, but sometimes our problem is that we stop quite a ways behind the line called This-Far-and-no-Further. For the record, in the UN General Assembly the Group of 77 (G -77) has 132 members and the Non Aligned Movement has 115. Obviously we didn't have the full backing of these groups. Politicians know a lot about vote blocks.
This is the closest to a 'block vote' in the UN system. Maybe we lacked the necessary diplomatic outreach that Pakistan is supposed to have had, according to some commentators. Maybe it was something else. The fact remains: we didn't cut the mustard. Let's return once more to the original question. Is there intelligent and meaningful life outside the UN Rights Council? On balance, the answer would be 'Yes, of course!' There is a difference however between living and surviving. There is a thing called quality of life, living standards, happiness quotients etc. Nothing to grieve about, true; but some self-reflection as a nation, as responsible officials in relevant circles and ministers seems urgently needed. Some may call for a rolling of heads. That may or may not work. More important would be a long glance at history and global political economy. A more accurate reading of the parameters of the possible might well result, I think.
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