UN INTERVENTION AND NATION STATES
(1999 October 06)
Recently the minister of foreign affairs Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar addressing the United Nations Correspondence Association has said that Sri Lanka does not need any UN mediation or any kind of intervention in connection with the Tamil problem. While disagreeing with some of his pronouncements on the resumption of talks with the LTTE Mr. Kadirgamar has to be congratulated on what he told the big and powerful countries of the world on sovereignty of states and intervention. There may not be anything new in what he had to tell UN Correspondence Association. Perhaps he was only following the foreign ministers of India, China, Algeria and the other Afro Asian countries. However his words came in the wake of a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission, which called for UN intervention in Sri Lanka. We also know that the Tamil racist parties have been calling for third party mediation over the years and have always tried to externalise a problem that the Tamil racism had created under the sponsorship of the western powers, especially the British and the western European countries. The immediate reactions of the Tamil racist parties to the statement by Mr. Kadirgamar were to "join" the LTTE on the issue of third part mediation and to criticise the foreign minister.
According to the "Sunday Island" of October 3rd a senior TULF official has said that the government must be prepared to seek international mediation to end the crisis. A press release by the EPRLF has stated that "the observation made by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamer's statement at the UN Correspondents Association that the Sri Lanka ethnic problem is an internal matter and there is no need for foreign intervention including the UN is an overreaction of a person representing a government that attempts to hoodwink the international community particularly on its poor human rights records."
The EPRLF statement in particular is very alarming to say the least. While the TULF official confines himself/herself to international mediation the EPRLF in effect justifies any kind of foreign intervention. We do not know what the EPRLF leadership is aiming at but one cannot forget the fact that they were the beneficiaries of the "invited" Indian intervention (III) in 1987 under the infamous JR-Rajiv pact that the then government signed under emergency law, curfew and press censorship that operated under a present UNP mp. While we criticise the west for creating and sponsoring Tamil racism and for manoeuvring third party mediation we cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening closer at home. EPRLF does not want to consider the Tamil racist problem as an internal matter either. I am not sure whether it has anything to do with Mr. Vardharajah Perumal's close association with India and that he has been living in that country ever since he left Sri Lanka after unilaterally "declaring" an Eelam. I do not know what the Indian Foreign minister told the united nations on intervention by the western powers, but it would be very much appreciated if there would not be anymore III s. The Tamil racist problem is an internal matter of Sri Lanka unless somebody is still of the opinion that as the Deeghavapi Sannasa of king Keerthi Shri Rajasinghe says the Dravida, Javaka and Olanda (Dutch) are "na na dehavasins" or non citizens of this country. The fact that Tamil racism was baptised by the British and sponsored by the western European countries does not make the Tamil racist problem a non-internal matter.
Let us go back to the call by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). According to them Sri Lanka is planning to step up war and hence they have urged for UN intervention saying that all attempts to bring the government and the LTTE to a negotiating table were unrealistic and that the proposed acquisition of high tech armaments would aggravate the situation. However subsequently the spokesman for the armed forces had said that AHRC had misinterpreted a routine advertisement by the army calling for registration by local and foreign firms to "supply of items ranging from stationery to armoured fighting vehicles".
Let us assume that the Sri Lankan government is planning to use better and sophisticated techniques to defeat the LTTE. What is wrong with that? The peace vendors and peace beggars will then be unemployed and will not be able to stage peace bhavanas, peace marches, peace pickets and what not, with people brought to Colombo, pretending that only the "paid" volunteers participated at these gatherings, as once the LTTE is defeated there will be no need for any of these. These so called peace commissions are worried only if the Sri Lankan government is interested in buying arms, but they are silent over the arms deals by the LTTE. Recently the LTTE has bought arms in Zimbabwe and apparently the ship carrying those arms is on its way to Sri Lanka. Would one or more of the peace vendors and peace beggars at least issue a statement on this. From their action it is clear that they do not want the Sri Lanka army to buy arms but are not against the LTTE doing the same thing.
Mr. Kadirgamar is very clear on his stand against UN intervention. He has said: " The human rights situation is dramatically so different where an intervention is required. But there are so many other problems which are of a political nature, which have no human rights dimensions at all or very minimal, where intervention by the UN will be catastrophic from many points of view. Because firstly, sovereignty is a precious entitlement to all countries big or small. And I do not see the sovereign state disappearing overnight. I do not see it disappearing in a century. It will need a totally new world order to visualise a state of affairs where there will be no sovereign states".
This in effect is a reply to the "Blair doctrine" according to which human rights are more important than the sovereignty of a state. There are number of problems associated with this doctrine. Firstly there are no universal human rights as such, though there can be some overlaps in human rights according to different cultures and civilisations. Secondly the human rights situations Mr. Blair speaks of usually arise in a particular state when the sovereignty of that state is under threat. Mr. Blair is entitled to question the Sri Lankan government if, say for example, Mr. Arthur C. Clarke who is still a British citizen according to my understanding is "ill-treated" by the authorities concerned. Similarly if a Sri Lankan housemaid in a middle east country comes across problems then the Sri Lankan government has a right to defend her. These are individual cases that do not threaten the sovereignty of the state. But what about the activities of Anton Balasingham, who is a British passport holder. Though he has been given the freedom to carry out in Britain the duties he had been "entrusted" by Prabhakaran that does not mean that Mr. Blair can interfere with a decision by a Sri Lankan government to try him (Balasingham) for treason. He is not merely an individual with respect to his activities connected with the LTTE and is a member of an organisation that has taken up arms against the sovereignty of the state.
The primary and the most fundamental duty of a government is to defend the state, whether it is a nation state or not. It is independent of the character of the state, and unitary as well as federal states have to defend their sovereignties. When the sovereignty of a state is threatened by an armed group Mr. Blair insists that if the human rights are violated according to Mr. Blair, then the UN or some other body has the right to intervene in order to make sure that the human rights are not violated. The irony is that when the state is fighting to maintain its sovereignty, which is under threat from a group very often sponsored by the western powers, Mr. Blair wants to send the UN forces to protect the so-called human rights of the group undermining the sovereignty of the state. One does not need a training in formal logic to see through the "logic" of the situation.
These days it is very often said that the nation states are "withering away" though not exactly the same way the Marxists had predicted. Mr. Kadirgamar is questioning the wisdom of the political scientists and others in the west who are supposed to have observed and attempted to theorise this phenomenon. He does not use the word nation state but that does not make much of a difference.
It is true that in the present phase of colonialism, which can be identified as world imperialism the states have lost some of its powers. For example the multi nationals have grown up so much that no state can think of controlling them the way the governments used to control the economic activities of its citizens. Also there are entities such as the European community that give the impression that the states are withering away. In the sphere of information the governments virtually have no control over the internet. However the boundaries of the states remain and it is very likely that states will not be dissolved in the near future.
Though the states have decayed slightly it does not mean that the phenomenon is universal. A peasant in Gonagala in Ampara has no access to the internet nor he can visit the European Community countries and when compared to an Alert mp who gets opportunities to see the world is more controlled by the state than his mp. However he is not entirely free from the cultural imperialism as he is exposed to a so-called popular culture that enforces forms of the western culture on him. Similarly the states in the Afro Asian countries have decayed more than those in the western countries in the sense that they are less powerful than the western nation state. It is mainly due to world imperialism in which the cultural and economic components are more important than the political component.
Before the Europeans came to our countries there were various types of states including the Buddhist state we had in Sri Lanka which was a unitary nation state with the difference that the eksesath rajaya was established and conceptualised within a Buddhist culture and the 'nation states' in Europe were evolved within the western Christian civilisation. After the Europeans conquered us our states were destroyed and we were ruled directly by the Christian states in Europe. Once we got "independence" we did not re-establish our original states or some versions of them, but were contented to continue with the Christian states imposed on us by the Europeans.
Today the world imperialism is not even happy with this situation. Even the limited independence we enjoyed as sovereign states despite the fact that they were not our states has to be taken away. When the political scientists and the others talk of a decay of the nation states we have to take them with a pinch of salt. The political scientists and the other so-called intellectuals in our countries are only repeating what they have read in a book or a journal and we do not have to consider theirs as original thoughts, observations, concepts or theories. However the western intellectuals are more subtle. Though they talk of globalisation, global village, decay of the nation state, the nation states continue to function with their boundaries in tact. No body will think of sending a UN peacekeeping force to Britain. Bill Gates may have built an empire in the field of information technology, but the other Bill in the white house is the undisputed village headman of the so-called global village. Though the cultural and economic components are dominant in the present phase of colonialism that does not mean that the political component is dead.
When we use terms such as the decay or the withering away of the nation states we have to be very careful. These concepts should not be used in a sense to weaken the nation states of the non-western world. Unless we are conscious of what we are doing, by merely the usage of these terms, we become prisoners of the concepts coined by the westerners. The concepts of global village, globalisation, decay of the nation states are interconnected and we should not allow ourselves to be carried away with them. On the otherhand we should not be contented with the states imposed on us by the Europeans and we should be thinking of evolving our own states and not merely providing alternative constitutions within the present state.
MORE THAN EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOME