Viewpoint by Kalinga Seneviratne
SINGAPORE (IDN) – In June this year, announcing U.S. withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Ambassador Niki Haley said, “We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.”
U.S. is leaving because the council members voted to probe Israeli killing of scores of protestors in the Gaza Strip. However, its labeling of the UNHRC as “hypocritical” and “making a mockery of human rights” would ring a bell in many Asian and African countries.
Many in Sri Lanka are already suggesting it should do the same – for the same reasons U.S. labeled it to be. Perhaps Myanmar would also be obliged to do the same after the recent ‘Darussman Report’ which their government described as making “allegations without sufficient and concrete body of evidence”.
With the U.S. out of the council deliberations, robbing the Europeans of a vocal ally, will the current sessions (September 10-28) of UNHRC taking place in Geneva under a new Chilean head, Michelle Bachelet, be able to steer the UN body away from the hypocritical western neo-liberal bias on human rights?
In August 2016, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to pull Philippines out of the UNHRC and called its chief an “idiot” for questioning “targeted killings” in his war against drug peddlers. Duterte questioned UNHRC’s reluctance to address the killing of black men by the police in the U.S.
“Why are you Americans killing the black people there, shooting them down when they are already on the ground?” he asked during a media conference. “Answer that question, because even if it’s just one or two or three, it is still human rights violations.” He also noted the UN body’s inability to stop war carnage in Iraq, Yemen and Syria
Duterte has called upon Asian and African countries to form a new human rights body to bring sanity and balance to the international human rights agenda.
Many African and Asian countries have repeatedly questioned the western bias of both the UNHRC and the ICC (International Criminal Court) which targets their countries accusing them of war crimes, while ignoring western atrocities in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The witch-hunt against Sri Lanka since it eradicated terrorism from the country in 2009 and the current replication of it in Myanmar raises the question whether the UNHRC is a “servant of the West”?
As Sri Lanka’s former permanent representative to the UN, Dr Palitha Kohona noted in a recent commentary for IDN: “The Council was established by the UNGA (UN General Assembly) to assist countries to improve their human rights standards. Not to drag them over the coals in a targeted manner for alleged violations of global human rights standards. Certainly, political victimisation was not one of the objectives of establishing the HRC. The Council has been overly politicised and it has been severely criticised for its selective application of global standards mainly to non-European countries.”
Kohona further criticized the “extreme selectivity” of UNHRC resolutions, and he argued that the “avoidance of the rich and the powerful in its criticisms, has made these resolutions all but meaningless”. The big powers studiously avoid criticising each other, he added. He noted that many members of the UNHRC could not understand why Sri Lanka spent so much time, energy and resources fighting the adoption of resolutions in the past when the outcome seemed to be obvious.
He also questioned the willingness with which Sri Lanka cosponsored the resolution in 2015 with such objectionable provisions. “Many provisions of the 2015 resolution 30/1 (which Sri Lanka co-sponsored under pressure from the West) have gone way beyond the mandate of the Council, “argued Kohona.
The UNHRC’s role in Sri Lanka in recent years, where they have paid scant respect to people’s sovereignty from foreign interference, while accusing the Sri Lankan armed forces of violating people’s rights, is a classic example of the hypocritical nature of the international human rights agenda today.
In an address to a national awakening forum ‘Viyathmaga‘ recently, Sri Lanka’s former ambassador to the UNHRC in Geneva, Tamara Kunanayagam argued that the island’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean has attracted a two-pronged western attack – one using the UNHRC and the UN itself, and the other promoting a neo-liberal agenda by funding local NGOs to do the work for them.
“There is an undeclared, covert war against Sri Lanka taking place,” she warned. “It is conducted by a Holy Alliance between Yahapalana (current Sri Lanka government), the U.S. Administration, the corporate world, including and especially finance, and their neoliberal think tanks. The result will be more deadly than the almost 30-year war against LTTE terror and separatism. If we fail to resist now, we will lose total control over our territory and our natural wealth and resources. Our national identity and culture will be dismantled.”
The 1986 UN Declaration of the ‘Right to Development’ called for a development strategy based on social justice and equality, where the people are the central subjects not objects of development. But, Kunanayagam pointed out in a workshop conducted at the forum that the U.S. and its European allies are using resolution 30/1 passed at the UNHRC to directly interfere in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs and dictate their domestic and foreign policies.
“In Geneva, the pretext is war crimes, in Sri Lanka, bad governance and corruption,” she noted, adding that the resolution is used for western intervention in Sri Lanka. Western aid agencies, think tanks and corporations shape, draft and help implement policies, opening “new frontiers” for U.S. hegemony.
Kunanayagam named a number of so-called “independent” think tanks in Sri Lanka – such as the Institute of Policy Studies and Advocata Institute – which are helping to draft government policies to privatize public assets, that are totally dependent on western funding.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, which claims to be “independent”, but is a U.S. government body chaired by the US Secretary of State, has a Project Unit physically located inside the Prime Minister’s Office within its strategic Policy Development Unit and is involved in drafting the Prime Minister’s eight-year economic development plan ‘Vision 2025’, claims Kunanayagam.
Interestingly, as Kunanayagam points out, these think tanks are declaring state land as “dead capital” and have recommended a Land Asset Sales Programme “to dispose of surplus or underutilised land,” which must, it insisted, be run by “an independent body free of political influence to minimise corruption.”
In such a scheme, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Champika Ranawaka made the announcement in August 2017 to offer state land on 99 year lease to investors willing to spend at least Rs.1.92 billion per acre. The government has taken a decision to remove at least half of some 50,000 slums within the Colombo City limits by year 2020, so these lands will be available for investors.
Thai Buddhist social critic Sulak Sivaraksa often talks about the “structural violence’ of the global economic system and describes it as the biggest violator of human rights that has made migrants labour a 21st century slave trade; grabbing land from the poor a necessary economic development priority; grabbing of people’s water resources by a corporation necessary to provide “clean water” to people; or IMF policies that drive farmers to suicide as acceptable farm reforms to make agriculture “profitable”.
Unfortunately, such human rights violations are not on the agenda of the UNHRC. It should be in the forefront not just making some passing references in some document hidden inside their website.
With Myanmar needing foreign investments to uplift the living standards of its people, it is no coincidence that the West is using the UNHRC and a minority group to mount a replication of the witch-hunt against Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka it was the Tamil minority, in Myanmar it is the Rohingyas.
So far, Aung San Suu Kyi has stood firm and her government has questioned the credibility and neutrality of the council’s so-called “independent” fact finding report that – as they did against Sri Lanka – based its conclusions on interviews with dissidents living outside the country, who obviously have an axe to grind against their own country.
In her 43rd Singapore lecture given in August 2018, Suu Kyi argued that it is economic development that is spread equally among the country’s poor that will create harmony and peace in the country. It is a similar policy, that the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse implemented in Sri Lanka following the crushing of the LTTE terrorists in 2009, with financial assistance mainly from China.
When it was starting to show results, the West intervened via UNHRC and other human rights organisations to paint the government as corrupt and sabotage the whole project, by the successful regime change in 2015.
The installation and supporting of the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile in the 1970s was one of the first pilot projects of the neo-liberalists that is now being experimented in Sri Lanka.
As a victim of the brutal human rights violations under that regime, Bachelet – the new head of UNHRC – one hopes would have better wisdom than her predecessors, to steer the council away from the neo-liberal agendas and more towards addressing the human rights issues that are embedded in the “structural violence” of the global economic system. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 September 2018]
Photo: The UN Human Rights Council meeting room in Geneva. Credit: ohchr.org
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
facebook.com/IDN.GoingDeeper – twitter.com/InDepthNews