05 June 2007
An interesting dynamic is underway regarding the future of Kosovo amid United Nations Security Council debates on a lasting solution to a conflict not dissimilar to that in Sri Lanka.
The United States, Britain and France, due to opposition from Russia, China and, of course, Serbia, have been working on a resolution that will quietly yet effectively re-write the criteria for eligibility for independence.
The world’s powers are effectively the ‘gate keepers’ to Statehood. They are well aware that they are not bound by international law to recognise declarations of independence, however justified the demand might be.
This attempt to make Kosovo a ‘special case’ due to the break up of the former Yugoslavia clearly shows the degree to which the ‘War on Terror’ (like the Cold War before it) has profoundly affected international relations.
“International stability” is now the order or the day, overturning genuine and legitimate arguments over denied rights and freedoms
This is the logic, which by criminalizing violence against a state – no matter how repressive the state might be - that leads to organisations like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) being viewed primarily as destabilising elements in the world order. It also ensures increased international support for the state such movements confront.
At the same time, the leaders of the international community dictate the ability of less powerful states to govern and gain access to all institutions and powers which come with international recognition.
This form of patronage ultimately distorts the international system as governing elites in post-colonial states distort the reality of their politics, fitting it into the policy aims and concerns of the leading members of the international community.
We can, for example, see Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse’s framing Sri Lanka’s conflict as part of the ‘global war on terror’ an argument the US has readily and unquestioningly accepted.
Therefore, perversely, nationhood and the right to govern are not, as some would have it, a right to be earned by a people through taking specific steps in a process. It is apparently as a gift to be handed down from the leading states, out of the latter’s largess.
This can especially be seen in the creation of the ‘special case’ of Kosovo, through the handling of which the United Nations is attempting to set a criteria that will limit the number of new states that are likely to appear in future.
In this logic, Kosovo is being treated as a special case because of the break up of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and should not be seen as setting a precedent.
The UN here is clearly attempting to stem any encouragement that other peoples already fighting for their independence might take from the Kosovan case.
The international community hopes that the communities supporting independence, such as the Tamils will be dissuaded and eventually give up the cause.
The point about the ‘special case’ logic is to undermine the possibility that there might be unrecognised legitimate cases for external self-determination.
At the same time, movements like the LTTE are branded a terrorist organisation and its leaders prohibited from raising the debate in international fora.
Conversely, the Sri Lankan President and his ministers are able to travel the world unhindered and garner continued international support and protection for their state’s territorial integrity. Their continued persecution of the Tamils is no bar to international access.
The special case logic also dissuades other states from taking up the independence causes of suffering communities. To champion independence in another state is deemed by this logic to be bad citizen of the world order. To do so where armed struggles is underway would be tantamount to ‘supporting terrorism.’
This would also fit with underlying themes of the report authored by former Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead and titled ‘The United States Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process 2002-2006.’
It is a thinly disguised attempt by the US to reclaim its image as a protector of rights and freedoms committed to defending the world’s downtrodden.
At a fundamental it merely reiterates the ‘rightness’ of the dynamics above: armed struggle is not acceptable irrespective of the oppression it resists, independence is not an option, also irrespective of the oppression.
The report is thus simply a continuation of the ‘war on terror’ and the policy of containment of the LTTE by other means. We should not be duped by its ‘soft’ positions.
The LTTE, for example, is condemned as not being democratic. But compare US policy towards Sri Lanka where the Tamil voice is silenced by law, by censorship, by state intimidation and, more effectively, by murder and abduction.
Lunstead’s lament about the lack of US ‘engagement’ is intended to suggest that Tamils may be able to yet secure the international recognition we have long sought whilst actually drawing concrete Tamil support away from the cause of self-determination.
The projected international concern for Tamil well-being is a sham. If they care for us, the first thing they should commit to is our right to self-rule.
Indeed, if the US was serious about engaging honestly in Sri Lanka’s peace process and genuinely wanted the LTTE to participate in Washington and Tokyo Donor conferences, then the necessary legal undertakings to reverse the proscription in the US would have been easily lifted. Which is more important – the war on terror or the search for peace?
Moreover, if they prioritised the pursuit of a just solution above the containment of the LTTE, the US and the other Co-Chairs would not have allowed so many missed opportunities slip by.
Instead they would have ensured the Sri Lankan government implemented its obligations under the P-TOMS and ensured Colombo negotiated an interim administration for the Northeast.
Instead the US administration undertook the complete opposite policy, no doubt, partly, on the assessments provided by their embassy in Sri Lanka.
Thirdly, if the US was genuine about its concerns for a lack of a place for Tamils in the current political setup in Sri Lanka and the international community they should have openly placed the blame for a failure of the peace talks on the Sri Lankan Government, as the saying goes: it takes two to Tango.
Instead, as is evident by their actions both in relation to Sri Lanka and elsewhere, the US and the wider international community, appear more concerned with maintaining the international status quo than with righting the wrongs inflicted on the Tamils.
Was there really no scope under an interim administration for the Northeast to lead to a peace process that could have delivered a federal solution? Why was an interim administration not worth pursuing, but a federal solution was?
Or, rather, was it all a sham to buy time for the containment of the LTTE to run its course?
It is not the US alone, of course. The ‘war on terror’ and misguided notions of ‘standing together’ have clouded the thinking other leading states too.
Therefore one can only surmise that American and European concerns for Kosovo’s well being are not the result of general sympathy for oppressed minorities, but rather the pursuit of geopolitical and geoeconomic interests.
For some Europeans the major pre-occupation is preventing return of war to the continent, a reaction to the horrors of the Balkan conflict.
But it should not be forgotten that it was the successful exercise of the right to self-determination by Bosnia and Croatia that ultimately ended the bloodshed.
However that lesson is quietly dropped in the rush to stabilise ‘failed’ or ‘weak’ states like Sri Lanka. Instead, whole communities, like the Tamils, are condemned to await international salvation from their oppression.
In short, such peoples are expected to accept the interests and priorities of the international community as naturally more important than their own freedoms.
If this were not the case, how do we explain international attitude and actions towards Sri Lanka until today?
If indeed there really is an international commitment to the lofty ideals of democracy and freedom and so on, would we not have seen active international intervention, not to protect the Sinhala state from the Tamils, but rather the Tamils from the state?
The point here is that international commitment to these principles is merely rhetoric, it is futile, even suicidal, for the Tamils to await liberation by the international community.
Ultimately, to be free, to be independent, we must first be self-sufficient, self-reliant.