ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 38
Columns - Thoughts from London

Howells shovels rubbish hoping Sri Lanka sinks in it

By Neville de Silva

Even before he set foot in Sri Lanka Britain’s secretary of state at the foreign office Kim Howells fired a broadside.

Dr. Howells’ article a few days before his arrival carried a health warning obviously intended for the Sri Lanka government. “War for peace”, he said, is no way to achieve peace and only brings more suffering including human rights violations, blithely ignoring that this is precisely what Britain, along with its chief accomplice in crime, the US, is doing in Iraq.

Never mind that Britain’s reasons for invading Iraq have changed from time to time depending on the flavour of the month and the most convenient untruth available.

President Rajapaksa greets Dr. Howells on his visit to the island.

The consequences of that invasion are now being felt in Britain as home grown Jihadists have not only blown up unsuspecting Britons and others and more plots to cause murder and mayhem are being uncovered, we are told.

“Our experience,” wrote the opportunistic Kim Howells in his homily to the Sri Lankan nation, “tells us that the war for peace approach inevitably means more war, rather than peace. And violence comes with too high a price. It is the people who suffer, as human rights are eroded, the humanitarian situation deteriorates and mistrust between the communities increases.”

Perhaps Dr. Howells does not see the strange irony in his words. What he is telling us to avoid is precisely what is happening in Iraq and the UK due to the very actions of the government he represents.

The pursuit of war not just on a false prospectus but also deliberate distortion, all in the name of peace and democracy in Iraq has brought untold suffering and security concerns to the average Iraqi in his daily life, human rights violations both in Iraq and in the UK and sowed the seeds of mistrust between communities that Dr. Howells so sanctimoniously advices us to avoid.

Curiously his hectoring tone is directed at the Sri Lanka government and not at the LTTE which the UK has banned as a foreign terrorist organisation, while in the UK Dr. Howells’ government conducts what it calls a “war on terror”, passing new legislation to curb this terrorism, challenging the authority of the judiciary and detaining persons principally from just one community and threatening to further erode the human rights of its citizenry.

Before Dr. Howells moralises to us on the sanctity of human rights and the rule of law and other concerns that he has been touting in the name of a bearer of peace, here are the recent observations of Sir Ken Macdonald, UK’s director of public prosecutions who pooh-poohed this idea of a war on terror.

Calling for legislative restraint, Sir Ken warned that this “fear-driven and inappropriate” response of the Tony Blair government of which Kim Howells is a member, could lead Britain to abandon the respect for fair trials and the due process of law.

Somewhere in the recesses of Howells’ mind (some might say twisted mind) there must reside the notion that absence of fair trials and due process violates fundamentally the human rights of individuals. Here in Britain it is mainly the Muslim community, particularly young Muslims who suffer the indignity of dawn raids on their homes and detention and, very much later, apologies from the police when they are released without charge as happened just the other day.

Sir Ken told the Criminal Bar Association that it should be an article of faith that crimes of terrorism are dealt with by criminal justice and that a “culture of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process.”

His comments follow earlier government legislation to allow the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, later held incompatible with human rights by the courts, and the replacement law that permits suspects to be placed under control orders instead of being brought to trial.

The comments of the director of public prosecutions who is apparently under pressure to prosecute terrorism cases which do not merit being brought to court for lack of provable evidence, was followed by even more interesting remarks by a home office spokeswoman; “The government’s priority is to protect public safety and national security but the circumstances of our national security have changed. It is vital that we act against those who threaten it.”

Is that not the responsibility of every legitimate government in every country?

And that includes Sri Lanka. What could be more important to any self respecting nation than safeguarding its national security when threatened by forces within or without its frontiers that wish to undermine it?

If one were to examine Kim Howells’ logic (or should one say the lack of it) it is this. We in Britain can fight the war on terror as we think fit. But you must meet the challenge to your national security the way we think is fit.

If Britain’s course of action is justified in Howells’ eyes why is it not acceptable for Sri Lanka to take appropriate steps to protect its national security from a group that Dr. Howells’ own government has proscribed as a foreign terrorist organisation?

The terror that the Blair government is now fighting was largely brought upon itself by Britain’s foreign adventures, particularly the Iraq war, though the Labour administration would vigorously deny it despite considered reports to the contrary.A news report I saw just as I was writing this said that Dr. Howells has said that Britain could engage in some midwifery to resuscitate the peace process and it sought Colombo’s acquiescence to talk to the Tigers.

This newspaper was the first to report several months back that Britain was trying to involve itself in this so-called peace process and Blair would send a special emissary to Colombo which he did.

Unfortunately there is neither the time nor the space to comment on this British offer and it would have to wait another column.
But suffice it to say right now that the Sri Lanka government needs to step extremely carefully on this and not fall head over heels at the first signs of greater engagement by Britain.

There are several questions that arise immediately and more surely will subsequently. The modalities of any engagement, if this offer is accepted, must be clearly spelt out because the first impression is that this could be another Trojan horse, not exactly a European thorough bred either.

It is bad enough we have been saddled with the Norwegian mount which has proved on several occasions to be incapable of running a straight course. Its blinkered passage has been commented on by several, questioning the impartiality of the Norwegian facilitators and the Norwegian dominated Monitoring Mission.

One Trojan horse is enough. We don’t want to crowd the peace stables with four-legged and double-tongued beasts that have self interests in mind and not the concern they publicly show for Sri Lanka and its people.

Actions should count more than these spurious concerns about war and peace or war for peace. While admonishing Sri Lanka about the need for restraint and human rights concerns in the face of much greater acts of terrorism, suicide bombings and killings than Britain has had to endure, London continues on its own merry course quite oblivious to concerns about its own violations expressed here and abroad.

“Britain has long been a friend of Sri Lanka,” Howells reminded us. How long some might legitimately ask. Too long, might well be the reply because friendship should be genuine not mere public displays of it.

Even if Dr. Howells has not studied British history there are hundreds of thousands of people in the foreign territories where the Union Jack was planted who do. They know it better than most students in today’s Britain.

Those from the former colonies know that a long standing British policy in multi-racial, multi-religious colonies was “divide et impera”, to use the Latin and that policy has not been all together abandoned.

We did not occupy other countries and subjugate their peoples. We did not invade other sovereign countries which Britain is doing even in this day and age.

Sri Lanka is defending its national security and it has the right to defend it to the best of its ability without sermons from those who violate their own preaching.

Dr. Howells tells us Britain has experience in settling conflicts peacefully and refers to Northern Ireland. We are not entirely ignorant of what has happened in Northern Ireland and is happening even today. We could speak about that especially after next month’s election and power-sharing arrangement later in March.

In the meantime when Britain comes bearing gifts of succour it would be relevant to ask oneself why the French called this country perfidious albino.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.