Politics & Economy

Camouflaging genocide: Sri Lanka’s pseudo anti-Imperialism

“A small developing country, like Sri Lanka, simply does not possess the resource base to counter the United States. The selective application of global standards clearly disadvantages small developing countries and brings into disrepute organizations such as the HRC.”  - Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN, Palitha Kohona interviewed by Dianne Silva on April 3rd about the 2012 March UNCHR resolution (1)

Such representations of the defeat at the UNCHR convention has been a typical component of the 'anti imperialist/ neo-colonialist' rhetoric employed by the Sri Lankan state in face of allegations of war crimes, genocide, and oppression of Tamils and dissidents. The UNCHR resolution which appeared to be disadvantageous for Sri Lanka is understood and interpreted as a 'US imperialist orchestrated act' to facilitate intervention in a sovereign and ‘democratic’ country. 

Representing the genocidal nation-state in such manner - camouflaging it with false anti-imperialist slogans -  is convenient to mobilize the support of the ‘developing countries’, Islamic countries, socialist countries and to mobilize supporters based on an anti western rhetoric. It also seems to imbue a much needed revolutionary aura on the people who support the Sri Lankan government. It also convinces the state centric and patriotic agents, who articulate the defense of the Sri Lankan state in international and national public spaces, of their 'revolutionary duty' to their nation in its historic battle against imperialism.  Imperialism is among them conceived as being only in the form of the U.S and western nation states.  Surprisingly this rather shallow anti-imperialism is only utilized when Sri Lanka is under 'western pressure' to provide accountability for the grave human rights abuses which was invoked in the genocide of Tamils in Mullivay’kal. 

The splendorous 'anti western' remarks uttered by state's spokespersons such as Dayan Jayatileke, Rajiva Weerasinha or Palitha Kohona, implicitly glorify the last war. By legitimizing the war they shadow genocidal suppression of Tamil struggle for self determination. The war victory is feverishly presented as a milestone in the 'battle against western imperialism' and also 'Terrorism'. The David in the avatar of Sri Lanka defeats the apparent superior Goliath. In this rhetoric any form of Tamil liberation struggle is connoted to be some form of a proxy of western imperialism and Indian expansionism. Thus,  the west emanated ‘anti-Sri Lankan’  pressure is often explained as being 'acts of revenge' by the west as it failed to save the LTTE during the war ,and is now involved in punishing and destabilizing a defiant Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is presented as a developing country from the Global South that has successfully defeated terrorism, while western countries haven’t and are instead indulging in atrocities in countries they occupy while preaching the holier than thou sermon to ‘developing countries’.

'Lies agreed upon?' 

In short, any condemnation of the Sri Lankan government, with regard to the condition of the Tamil people living in their traditional homelands or media and journalists or on accountability, is presented as the ‘Lies Agreed Upon’ and as that generated by the 'Western imperialist forces' and the 'LTTE Diaspora'(2). A 'defiant Sri Lanka' is bullied and attempted to be subdued by the neo-colonialist west. The irony of such rhetoric becomes self-evident when given the true history of the state: its counter-insurgency and war of colonization against the Tamil speaking populations were heavily backed by the west and heavy concession were given in return to imperialist states in order to perpetuate the oppressive approach. Despite this irony, the rhetoric’s unfortunate effects at the international level tend to work in favor of the Sri Lankan State. Sri Lanka is tragically being hailed by a wide range of countries from the Global South as a model to be defiant against the west. It is hailed as being the inventor behind the Global South’s solution to defeat internal affairs of insurgency and rebellion.

Two instances where Sri Lanka was hailed in the international level for its self proclaimed achievements will be mentioned in order to assess the tragic effect of the rhetoric and the unhindered military solution model which hides its genocidal nature and capacity. First, Sri Lanka was hailed by a prominent Venezuelan journalist and presidential advisor for its anti imperialist efforts as it withstood western pressure to intervene in internal affairs. In the second, a former ambassador of Philippines urges his government to use the Sri Lanka model to eliminate internal challenges to the state.

Two cases in point

1)  Eva Golinger hailed Sri Lanka’s defiance of the west during the war and in the aftermath, as 'anti-imperialist.' This unfortunate understanding was manifested in her Venezuelan journal in Spanish, where she urges “…Venezuela should be strengthening the hand of an ally that is also suffering imperialist aggression”(3). In the aftermath of the war and in the 2009 and 2012 UNCHR sessions, the Latin American socialist countries (Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador) voted or spoke out in favor of Sri Lanka. Eva Golinger’s show of solidarity to the Sri Lanka state saddened and appalled Tamils who had looked upon many of these Latin American socialist block for inspirations and as allies. Her statement illuminates the overwhelming effort of the Sri Lankan state to lobby and persuade various countries in the Global South to adhere to its narrations and representations of reality and to support it. It also displays how a socialist (known for her anti imperialist activism and in-depth journalism) can through personal influence from agents of a genocidal state, understand the affairs in Sri Lanka through the premises handed out to her. At the time, Tamara Kunanayagam was the Sri Lankan ambassador to Cuba and the main state agent involved in lobbying and interacting with the Latin American countries (4). Her background as a Tamil, a human rights worker and a self-proclaimed socialist were utilized in order to substantiate the State rhetoric and narrations. She thus communicates the nation states agenda in a socialistic and anti-imperialistic language, and this is well received by people such as Eva Golinger and others involved in formulating Latin American countries policy stand on Sri Lanka. This unfortunate effect of the rhetoric and the individuals involved in communicating it has had profound effect in the international level, as seen in the special UNCHR session in 2009.

2) In November 2011, Rigoberto Tigalo currently a popular columnist in Philippines urges his government to use the Sri Lankan Model to crush the Moro uprising and communist guerrilla struggles and successfully evade human rights and international pressure. He points out the virtues of such a model for Philippines and that it necessitates a deep interlink with China, as “ …the Sri Lankan Army won against the Tamils with China’s massive assistance, amounting to  $1 billion in military and financial aid annually from 2005 to 2009..’ (5).

The legitimacy of the right for Tamil self determination and the allegation of war crimes is shadowed and silenced in such a discourse the Sri Lankan state so eagerly attempts to direct. In their critique against the west and with their anti imperialist remarks, the state and its agents conceal the genocidal policy that culminated in the final massacres in Mulliva’ykal and the systematic and ongoing militarized oppression in the Tamil homeland.

The 'evil diaspora' 

The people who promote this rhetoric further try to present the recent allegations and pressure against Sri Lanka originating from western countries and human rights organizations as being orchestrated by the LTTE Diaspora network. Rarely is it adequately explained how the state centered psyche reasons out such wonderful conspiracies, where the 'LTTE Diaspora' is over estimated for their ability to control everything from western governments to Amnesty international. 

The extreme political irrationality of such thinking was fairly evident when an intellectual acting as an apologist for the state, recently argued in a Sinhala website that a 'possible involvement of the CIA' in mobilizing the JVP breakaway group Frontline Socialist Party and ‘Pro-LTTE elements in the north’ for a regime change. This was written in the aftermath of the arrest of Premakumar Gunaratnam and another leader of the Frontline Socialist Party(6).

Conclusion

Apart from concealing the truth about the western involvement in favour of the state, the ardent supporters of this rhetoric tend to gloss over non-western foreign expansionism in Sri Lanka. Such state sponsored rhetoric will never expose the truth which shows how imperialist friendly the Sri Lankan state actually is. The discourse will be complicated if accounting for the Chinese government and its' role in various development projects e.g. the Hambantota port and international city or their dealings with the Colombo government in buying off islets and land in the north to develop tourist facilities. A Malaysian firm’s involvement in building wind mills in Jaffna to generate renewable energy then to sell it back to Jaffna residents is also not mentioned. India’s entrances into the development and investment frenzy are evaded. The involvement of a Russian government firm in oil exploration in Mannar is also conveniently overlooked.

Then it is the less known involvement of the western imperialist powers in the affairs of the country, manifested through close military ties maintained with the west through joint military exercises and agreements. Likewise, Sri Lanka's dependence on military expertise and imported arms from US, UK and Israel also remain less visible. What comes in addition to this is the IMF's choke-hold on Sri Lankan state(7). In order to qualify for the second half of the IMF loan the govt. has undergone a series of anti-people austerity measures such as slashing state subsidies and pruning welfare schemes apart from freezing the wages of the public sector workers(8). More cut backs and yet more to come.

The much celebrated pseudo anti-imperialism of the Sri Lanka state is simply designed to camouflage its' genocidal policies against the Tamil people. No one needs Sharlockian skills to uncover such a plain and simple truth.

Athithan Jayapalan is a student in social anthropology and studied in Oslo and Pondicherry universities. Born in Jaffna, he currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

Notes:

1. http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/10700

2. This article exemplify such a state centric narration: http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/04/27/darusman-report-exposes-its-ltte-bias-and-sri-lanka%E2%80%99s-failure-counter-ltte-propagand

3. http://www.handsoffvenezuela.org/sri_lanka_venezuela_a_debate.htm#golinger_original

4. Her role in championing the cause of the government is exemplified by her visit in may 2010 to Venezuela from Cuba to counter the presence of the organization called Canadian  HART (Humanitarian Appeal For Reliefs of Tamils): http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100516/News/nws_05.html

5. http://www.rigobertotiglao.com/2011/11/03/%E2%80%98if-you-want-peace-prepare-for-war%E2%80%99/

6. http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=49254

7. An article by Dr.Karunaratne which shows to the hypocrisy of the state’s anti imperialism: http://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/o-mother-lanka-what-ails-thee/

8. http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/08/no-more-samurdhi-cards-for-beneficiaries/

© JDS

left

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.