This biblical photo-op made possible by UN meddling. Photo by Dinidu De Alwis
Mahinda’s proxy tilt at the UN has given him an external enemy, enabling him to consolidate power and push through his Constitutional changes. The ‘us/them’ narrative of the LTTE is gone, but no one particularly likes the arrogant United Nations. Even opposition MPs like Sajith Premadasa have opposed the UN’s meddling in Sri Lanka which is both pointless, extralegal and visibly driven by lobbying from an unaccountable diaspora, itself a rump of the LTTE. The UN has also cynically misled and tried to exploit ignorance in the media making the government’s own posturing look almost democratic. What everyone misses for the trees, however, is that this seemingly quixotic tilting at the UN solidifies Mahinda’s power at home and largely nullifies the growing protests on Constitutional changes and cost of living. The UN would be wise to follow the spirit of its own charter and Star Trek’s Prime Directive, basically do no harm. By meddling in Sri Lanka the UN has strengthened Mahinda’s power while weakening Sri Lanka’s ties to the west. This obviously isn’t their goal, and it certainly isn’t their place.
The UN Charter
In a recent Parliament speech Sajith Premadasa said “We in the UNP Mr. Speaker are consistently and vehemently opposed to the UN Secretary General’s patronising incursion in to our domestic affairs. The Secretary General of the UN must remember that he is an international civil servant chosen to serve the needs and interest of the United Nations, which is the world’s largest inter-governmental body. He must never allow the lobbying of those who control the purse… unaccountable lNGOs to influence him more than the voice of legitimate states.” The UN Charter itself says:
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.
Chapter VII does have provisions which could apply to Sri Lanka but these are pointedly only at the discretion of the UN Security Council – a body Ban Ki-Moon is trying to go around by appointing a panel reporting only to him. He can say its advisory, but if the UN is going to say that closing a distant and already closing UNDP Regional Centre is connected to protests somewhere else, it’s quite easy to imagine the headlines on this UN Report. It will simply say that ‘The UN Alleges War Crimes’ with no mention of how this has circumvented the Charter and intent of the United Nations. Quite frankly, it’s unfair and the UN is offsides.
The Local Response
I have no particular affection for Wimal Weerawansa, but I have still been strangely cheered to see the UN compound occupied. The government support for that act basically violates their commitments to support UN functions, but it gives a weird pride to see tiny Sri Lanka stand up to the UN. The underlying cause is a mess and I do support investigation of the Sri Lankan war, but only internally. In effect, I think it will only come under a future UNP or other government, just as the UK only apologized for Bloody Sunday decades later. I do, however, agree with Weerawansa’s protest against the UN Panel. Why?
In Star Trek a UN-like intergalactic body explores and kinda deals with alien worlds. They follow a UN type charter which reads:
Nothing within these articles of Federation shall authorize the United Federation of Planets to intervene in matters which are essentially the domestic jurisdiction of any planetary social system, or shall require the members to submit such matters to settlement under these Articles of Federation; But this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII…
As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation
In effect, don’t mess with stuff you don’t understand, even if you think you’re helping. What’s left unsaid in the directive but repeatedly played out in the show is that even the most good-hearted interference can mess things up worse. This basically breaks down to something like the medical Hippocratic oath of ‘do no harm’ or Colin Powell’s ‘Pottery Barn’ on invasion, being, ‘you broke it you bought it.’ I have seen many times on Star Trek how meddling leads to unpredictable chaos and situations far worse than before. The UN would be wise to A) read its own charter and B) watch more Star Trek.
By allowing itself to be lobbied by unaccountable INGOs like the International Crisis Group and lobby groups set up by rump LTTE supporters, the UN has strengthened Mahinda’s hand in a way they could not imagine. By issuing deceptive and cynical press releases and contradicting themselves they have weakened their own standing in Sri Lanka and, I think, the world. More to the point, however, they have given Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government a common enemy which they have cunningly exploited to shore up support for Constitutional changes which will affect Sri Lanka for generations. The state media Sunday Observer says.
External forces with questionable agendas are threatening the sovereignty of the nation and it is time for all to unite, shedding political rivalries. It is in this spirit that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met at Temple Trees yesterday to discuss a range of issues and challenges confronting the nation. During a frank and cordial exchange of views, they focused attention on the proposed Constitutional reforms aimed at strengthening Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and expediting its march towards becoming an Asian miracle. (SO)
This is, in effect, the result of the UN violating its own charter and Star Trek’s Prime Directive by going around the Security Council. They have shown that they are cynical to think that no one can tell the difference between a UNDP Regional Centre on Independence Ave and the occupied compound in Thunmulla. Indeed, they got international headlines saying that the UN closed its offices, and many people never got the correction. If the panel issues a report, even an advisory one, Ban Ki-moon must be full aware that this will get publicized and known as a ‘UN report’, even though it goes around its ingrained way off intervening with sovereign states.
By this cynical ploy, however, Ki-Moon has produced unintended consequences, namely the strengthening and near-deification of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the resurgent popularity of nationalist Wimal Weerawansa and the possibility of a Constitution which entrenches this centralization of power. At best he’ll get a western quasi-embargo where nations and companies stay out because of the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) being spread. This will hurt Sri Lankan people and please only the vengeful elements of the diaspora that want to divide the country and lock up half the elected government. This FUD would also drive Sri Lanka further into the arms of China, Russia, and Iran and further away from constructive engagement with the west.
So basically, it produces the opposite of the intended affect of the UN, furthers the harmful intent of the rump LTTE and strengthens Mahinda’s hold on power while enabling the nationalistic push for him to pass power-entrenching Constitutional reforms. So, in short, UN fail. They go against their own charter, they go against Star Trek and they go against the general will and pride of the Sri Lankan people, myself included. This type of diplo drama is precisely why the UN wrote the charter that way, but I learned as much from watching a bunch of Star Trek. Don’t mess with stuff you don’t understand. It can have unintended consequences and other people have to pay the price. I live in Sri Lanka and the UN’s meddling is messing stuff up worse than before. Ban Ki-moon, please stop.