By S. V. Kirubaharan
Last month, the 67th session of the UN General Assembly – UNGA commenced under the Presidency of Mr. Vuk Jeremic, (ex- Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia), the youngest ever UNGA president – 37 years old.
Any Presidency of UN bodies rotates annually among the five regional groups – Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin American and Caribbean and Western Europe and other States. On that basis, the 67th session was Eastern Europe’s turn. Serbia and Lithuania posed their candidates and Serbia was elected.
Before the birth of Serbia, Mr. Vuk Jeremic was in the public service of Yugoslavia as an Advisor to the Minister of Telecommunications.
Sri Lanka has been a member State since 14 December 1955. In 1976, Sri Lanka’s representative Mr Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe held the Presidency of the GA, on behalf of the Asian group.
Voting in the UNGA
Each UN member state has one vote in the UNGA. Whenever votes are counted, member states can vote ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Abstain’. A two-third majority is required in the election of members to the Security Council. All other voting can be decided by a simple majority. Nowadays, UN bodies take special efforts to achieve consensus rather than deciding by formal voting.
It is to be noted, a Member State with arrears in payment of its dues to the UN for two preceding years can lose its voting right. However, an exception is allowed, if the Member State can show that conditions beyond its control contributed to this inability to pay – article 19 of the UN Charter.
Presently five member states are in arrears of payment as of September 2012. They are: Central African Republic, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome & Principe and Somalia.
6 main Committees in the UNGA
There are six main Committees in the GA. They are – (1) First Committee (Disarmament and International); (2) Second Committee (Economic and Financial); (3) Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural); (4) Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) deals with political subjects not dealt by the First Committee; (5) Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) and (6) Sixth Committee (Legal).
There are also two other Committees within the GA. They are (1) Credentials Committee and (2) the General Committee.
The Credentials Committee examines the credentials of representatives of UN member states and reports its findings to the General Assembly. The General Committee meets each session to review the progress of the General Assembly and its committees. They make recommendations.
Now let me consider the general debate of the 67th session of UN General Assembly held between 25 September and 1 October 2012.
Mr. Vuk Jeremic President of the GA said the following in his opening speech:
“Lack of clarity or selective enforcement, on the other hand, can quickly erode the basis for trust. This can easily lead to a situation in which nothing more than lip service is paid to the principles, and the rules lose virtually all meaning.
“Such a scenario is clearly not in the interest of this Organization. We must take decisive action to prevent it from ever coming to pass. I strongly believe that essential to such efforts is reinforcing respect for the equality, sovereignty and territorial integrity of UN Member States.
In taking up this critical issue, let us not forget that peace is not merely the absence of war. It also necessitates the reconciliation of those who are at odds. Only by so doing can we ever produce what a great New York philanthropist called, more than a century ago, “the enthronement of lasting peace a victory without tears.” (Excerpts)
Everyone is aware that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008 and many UN member states have recognised Kosovo. However Kosovo has still not made its application to become a member state in the UN. But the Republic of Kosovo is a member country of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – IMF.
67th session and Sri Lanka
On 1 October 2012, Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs (SL MoEA) Prof G.L. Perris gave his sermon at the 67th session. His full speech had already been published in various media.
SL MoEA’s sermon in the UNGA contained many lies, exaggeration and hypocrisy. Unfortunately civil society has no opportunity to challenge his statement in the GA. Therefore it is our duty to highlight the shortcomings in Prof Peiris’ statement and bring the same to the attention of the international community.
I can go from the 1st paragraph to the last one, but here I like to give preference only to certain issues which may mislead the international community.
SL MoEA said, “In the conduct of international relations, Sri Lanka, a founding member of the NAM, firmly upholds the tenets of peaceful co-existence, mutual respect for each others’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and equality and mutual benefit. Sri Lanka believes that in the settlement of international disputes, action must be based on the fundamental principle of sovereign equality of states, a principle firmly enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The noticeable recent tendency to selectively and arbitrarily intervene in the internal affairs of states flies in the face of this principle and dilutes the confidence so carefully nurtured in the UN system”.
In the Sri Lankan context, any political statement that the government makes about “internal affairs” is null and void. Look back at the speeches made from J. R. Jayewardene onwards. When India and other counties make objective and critical statements on the situation in Sri Lanka, in line with the UN system that promotes and protects human rights, Sri Lanka simply dodges the issues by saying the issues are “internal affairs”. When the same countries make favourable statements about Sri Lanka – they use those extensively for propaganda and the “internal” issue will not rise. That is calculated selectivity.
Therefore SL MoEA’s statement to the GA, objecting when states “arbitrarily intervene in the internal affairs of states” obviously indicates that India and a few other countries are pressurising Sri Lanka to make positive steps on the ethnic conflict and to put forward a plan for a political settlement. In fact, Prof Peiris was sent to the GA to speak strongly against other countries “interfering” in Sri Lanka’s “internal” matters. This is routine. Sri Lanka did the same in the 80s.
An Italian proverb says, ““Fool someone once, shame on you; fool him/her twice, shame on them as well” I do not think Sri Lanka, especially Rajapaksa’s regime can fool the international community again and again.
SL MoEA introduces a new phenomenon implying that there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. In other words international norms and standards can be ignored at a whim. Professor, then what about terrorism? You, your President and each Sri Lanka government repeatedly and systematically took advantage of 09/11, in a ‘one size fits all’ approach and did everything possible, benefitting the maximum from the international community and Sonia Gandhi of India.
Today India is paying its price for ignoring regionalism and blindly supporting your government. You extend no thanks to the international community and India in return, preferring to announce in the GA that, “Three years ago, our Government ended the terrorist challenge largely through its own efforts.” Let India delve into its archives and realize its mistakes.
SL MoEA talks about GDP growth rate between 2009 and 2011, especially referring to the Northern Province. According to his speech, Sri Lanka must be one of the most self-sufficient and prosperous countries.
Well and good. Will he ask his President, sorry his Defence Secretary, whether he will allow independent Economists to go through the figures that you quoted in the UNGA to see whether Sri Lanka GDP’s growth figures between 2009 and 2011 are genuine?
Also you said that “To improve basic living standards, 4% of GDP has been distributed to qualifying households for providing education, health services, food subsidies, food stamps and subsidized credit”. This is pure exaggeration.
Whoever is interested in these matters should go through the local news papers. It cannot be denied that there are very few independent newspapers. But even the pro-government media is critical of the economic situation and lack of funds or absence of funds for education, heath, etc.
Professor don’t you read the local news papers? Why are concerns of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations – FUTA growing so strong? Why are you fooling the World by telling unrealistic stories?
It is interesting to note that Prof Peiris says that, “Cellular phone penetration is over 100%………….” I do not think anyone can deny this figure. In every abduction and killing of anti-government activists, many new cellular phones are used and at the end of those operations, cellur phones are dumped into rivers or into the sea. So there is no doubt that Cellular phone penetration is over 100%!
SL MoEA says, “Women, being literate, also encourage their children to focus on education and aspire to higher goals”.
This is another exaggeration. Professor, why can’t you tell the world how many women have been widowed by your government, not only in the North and East, but also in the South? How many children are still waiting to see the return of their loved ones – father, mother, and their kith and kin? It is disappointing to note that none of these affairs were mentioned by the SL MoEA in GA.
What he says about children may indeed be applicable, but only to the children of privileged families and dictatorial leaders like Rajapaksa, Mervyn Silva, Keheliya Rambukwella and others.
Who is the 1st Elected Woman Prime Minister?
SL MoEA said in the GA that, “I note with pride that Sri Lanka produced the first elected woman Prime Minister in the world in 1960”.
In fact, this claim has long existed without being properly analysed. I will be brief.
First of all, Prof Peiris’s claim that “Sri Lanka produced the first ELECTED woman Prime Minister in Sri Lanka in 1960” is not true. It is surprising to note that a person, who travels around the World to lecture about the Mahinda chinthanayai (Mahinda’s thought), Sri Lankan style of democracy and good governanance, doesn’t know the simple fact that Mrs. Bandaranaike was not elected first woman Prime Minister in the World! This honour goes to Indira Gandhi of India – not to Srimavo Bandaranaike!
I seriously doubt whether President Rajapaksa who is hostile to the Bandaranayake family is twisting or manipulating things in order for Mrs Bandaranayake to lose the honour that she was the 1st Woman Prime Minister in the world”.
Hope SL MoEA will agree with me that still there are rumours, unanswered questions and doubts about the assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake, who was the husband of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
According to the Supreme Court verdict in May 1961, Buddhist Monk Somarama Thero shot dead S.W.R.D Bandaranaike and this Buddhist monk and two others – another Buddhist Monk Buddharakkita Thero and Piyasena Jayawardena were sentenced to death.
It is to be noted that the Buddhist Monk Somarama Thero converted himself to Christianity before he was hanged on 6 July 1962.
Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike reached the position of Prime Minister through the upper house of Parliament, the Senate. Then Senator M. P. de Zoysa stepped down, making way for Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike to be appointed as a Senator and she became Prime Minister on 21 July 1960. This is the history. We cannot allow Prof. Peiris to spread lies and exaggerations about realities in Sri Lanka. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was known among the politicians as the “weeping widow”, using her emotion tactically to gain others support.
It is a pity that the Professor still plays the same music that was played during the war. Which country on earth other than Sri Lanka’s club mates – China, Cuba, Iran and Pakistan, will believe what he says about “…..redressing the grievances affected by the internal conflict. This initiative has been regrettably delayed by some opposition parties failing to nominate their representatives.”
The truth is, professor, that for your smokescreen international propaganda and hollow pledges you need the Tamil National Alliance – TNA to participate in the Select Committee. This would help your government access all pending loans and other financial benefits held by various countries and institutions.
Select Committee is a hoax
If it is a genuine call for the TNA to take part in the Parliamentary Select Committee, your government should set an agenda – a road map, indicating the period of talks/negotiations, time frame for reaching a final solution, etc. Sri Lanka is using the term ‘Parliamentary Select Committee’ to mislead and misinform the international community. It is another elaborate hoax.
Within the last 65 years, on how many occasions have the Tamils been taken for a ride on ‘political solutions’ by various governments? How many peace pacts, accords and agreements on cession of hostilities were signed by various Tamils leaders with the Sri Lankan government? If one analyses those, it is so obvious that all those pacts and accords were used by the Sri Lankan government for their own benefit rather than settling the ethnic conflict.
If Prof Peiris goes through all the speeches that he, his President and his colleagues made regarding the political solution during the war and after the war, he can easily see for himself how the original positions changed. This is all simply to buy time until they fulfill the governments’ sponsored Colonisation, Buddhisation, Sinhalasisation and Militarisation of the North and East.
Tell the World frankly, professor, whether President Rajapaksa believes in the ‘Mahavamsa’? If so, when the Mahavamsa says the Island belongs to the ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ only, how can he agree with a political solution to the Tamils or equal rights to the Tamils?
(SL MoEA) says, “Sri Lanka continues to resolutely support all multilateral efforts to enhance peace and security, and eliminate all forms of terrorism. In our collective quest to eradicate terrorism, the selective application of principles and double standards must be avoided. Terrorism from wherever it emerges must be resolutely counteracted.”
Weeping Foreign Minister
In your speech you stated: “The illicit transportation of migrants to greener pastures overseas by criminal networks requires our collective attention. The pull factors as well as the push factors of this criminal enterprise must be examined.” was received.
In fact Prof Peiris should direct his concerns about ‘transportation of migrants to greener pastures’ to Rajapaksa’s family, and speak with them rather than in the GA. He should make some effort to meet the President’s son Namal Rajapaksa. In fact, it is Rajapaksa’s government encouraging the Tamils to escape from Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa was accused of being behind human trafficking rings which operate from the North in Mullaithevu. It was in the press that he arranged ships for Tamils to escape from Sri Lanka to seek asylum in Australia. It was alleged that those shippings were supported by the Sri Lanka military governor of the North, several Ministers of the cabinet and the Sri Lanka Navy. Is this part of evacuation of Tamils from Sri Lanka to implement the Mahavamsa’s theory?
The professor was weeping about the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. He underscored the importance of; “… the restoration of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Sri Lanka fully supports the implementation of all relevant UN Resolutions on Palestine that would pave the way for the achievement of Statehood for the Palestinian people and bring lasting peace to the region.”
Professor this is a fine example of double standards. You have your own problem at home. Without finding any solution to it, you say you support the Palestinians. Whenever someone talks about the ethnic issues in Sri Lanka, you and your government say that it is an ‘internal’ problem.
In his speech in the General Assembly, Prof. Peiris says, “Sri Lanka unreservedly condemns the defamation of all religions and religious leaders. While the right to free speech is fundamental to our value system, that right should not be abused to hurt the feelings of the faithful whether they are Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews or followers of other faiths. All available mechanisms must be employed to prevent the defamation of all religions and the exploitation of religious symbols for commercial purposes.”
Well, where did all those available mechanisms disappear in Sri Lanka when there were problems with Muslims in Anuratharapura, Dambula and other places? When the Christian churches were destroyed by Buddhist monks. Not forgetting forced Buddhisation in the North and East.
In conclusion, I must agree with him at least on one point. Like Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960s, Prof Peiris is a “Weeping Foreign Minister”, using his emotion tactically to gain others’ support.
Rather than weeping in international forums, a representative of a failed state with a horrendous human rights record should be able to tell the truth, expound on realities and put their own house in order. That would be a better way forward.
The views expressed are the author’s own.