Kicking Facts Around - 16th October 2007

From Peace in Sri Lanka : The Official Website of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)

The Peace Secretariat is sad but not surprised that much of the media now claims that Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has recommended that a UN Monitoring Mission be established in Sri Lanka. This was after all what had been affirmed would happen by many of those, led by Tamilnet, who were determined that the Sri Lankan government should be penalized, as one newspaper memorably put it.

Given this determination, it was not likely that, when she made no such recommendation, they would simply report what had happened or what she had said. Earlier they had confidently claimed that the EU would bring forward a resolution critical of Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. When this did not happen various explanations were offered. The basic claim was that Sri Lanka had been narrowly saved from censure, principally because the Human Rights Council was dominated by banana republics and similar potty regimes. No such explanation was however available when Louise Arbour failed to live up to expectations, so a new strategy was required.

What might have appealed to the less dishonest amongst them was an attempt to argue that what Louise Arbour said amounted as it were to the recommendation that a UN Monitoring Mission be established. That however would have required some semantic somersaulting that might not have been plausible. Since retreat was not conceivable, and subtlety is not the strong suit of the anti-Sri Lanka lobby, the only available alternative was to claim that Ms Arbour had said what she did not say. After all, as Goebbels proved, the louder and more often you assert a falsehood, the more likely it is to be believed.

The particular agenda behind all this was made crystal clear in one of the first announcements of the falsehood, in a radio station that had a couple of seconds of Ms Arbour’s speech, followed by a long translation in Sinhala. Not only was the thrust of this quite different from what the lady had said: the news had been preceded by the obviously much more important and newsworthy announcement that Lakshman Kiriella had announced the full support of the UNP for Ms Arbour’s recommendation of a Monitoring Mission.Mr Kiriella, it may be remembered, has been claiming for the last month that the UN wanted to establish a Monitoring Mission here, that nothing could stop it, and that if the Sri Lankan government did try to stop it, the European Union would impose economic sanctions.

Meanwhile the Sunday Times also weighed in with a very dramatic lead story headlined ‘Showdown on key HR issues: Arbour insists on direct UN monitoring; Lanka says no way.’ Quotations from the press conference had been carefully chosen to justify the headline, indicating the urgency attached to the issue by the newspaper. Previously the Sunday Times had rarely engaged in actual prevarication, leaving that to its sister paper, which both the Peace Secretariat and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission have had to correct on factual issues.

Now however the Times has also to be brought in for the heavy work, given the urgency of the situation facing the UNP. I hasten to add I do not the owner of the paper is responsible since, despite his relationship to the opposition leader, he has always been a perfect gentleman as far as manipulation of the press goes. But the paper has always had certain predilections, and now perhaps it recognizes that this is the last chance to promote them. Hence the almost vicious disclosures about Mr Maharoof in the center page, which is usually so gentlemanly in its analyses as compared with those who pursue a similar agenda more anxiously.

What does this agenda entail? I have no idea whether its proponents understand the goals they will attain if they are successful, but certainly it cannot have escaped their notice that these are precisely those of the LTTE. Tamilnet was perhaps the first network to declare categorically its own version of what Louise Arbour had proposed, and its backers will leave no stone unturned to have this statement replicated internationally.

In short, what I predicted last week has been fulfilled in full measure. Louise Arbour has become a football, to be kicked about at will, to score goals for terrorists and others who do not mind sharing a terrorist agenda provided it gets them their goals too. And perhaps they hope that their opponents will join in too, and start kicking the poor lady around, and then they can shed crocodile tears for her as they did for Sir John Holmes. He, due to what he himself described as a report of a single remark taken out of context, in an interview he gave contrary to a commitment to the Sri Lankan government, was the subject of criticism by a single minister. That criticism is now used to characterize the Sri Lankan government’s response to Sir John, even though everyone else concentrated on the undoubtedly positive aspects of his visit.

Interestingly enough, there was an attempt to get Louise Arbour too to grant an interview to the BBC contrary to her agreement, but fortunately she did not give in to pressure on this score. The fact that the request had not straight away been turned down may indicate what happened with regard to Sir John. It would after all have been quite wonderful if something she said privately had then been presented in a way that could not be authoritatively questioned, and then this had led in turn to a reaction from just one Sri Lankan that could then have been kicked around as well. Indeed, one wonders whether the barrage of falsehoods in the press regarding what Ms Arbour said are designed precisely to provoke some reaction that could then be turned to good use.

All this could be prevented if Ms Arbour shows herself determined not to be a football. Sir John did send a fairly handsome letter of apology, which the Minister who had arranged his visit accepted gracefully, but this was scarcely noticed in the media which concentrated instead on controversial aspects. But now that Ms Arbour has been so clearly misrepresented, she is in a position to issue a categorical denial. For too long now the UN has been in a state of denial about the antics of the LTTE, its terrorism and suppression of basic humanity in the area still under its control, its ruthless abuse of UN funding. If Ms Arbour does actually issue a correction as to what has been claimed about her, the Sri Lankan government can work with confidence to develop its relationship with her office as she desires. As Minister Samarasinghe made clear, the government has already begun reforms in areas highlighted by her. It would be useful if this activity could be taken further in active cooperation and confidence.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha


Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process