Aug 5, 2018

Sri Lanka & Human Rights: US Liberal Internationalism keeps it alive




By Daya Gamage 
Sri Lanka still doesn’t seem to have got it. This is significantly true of some who are in the academic community who have become political analysts and foreign affairs pundits, news analysts, who often write on issues concerning national security connected with external interference, and advisers to leading political activists unaware of how the U.S. system worked all these many decades.

Either their memory has faded or just done no scrutiny whatsoever of how the American foreign policy worked during altra-right conservative as well as liberal administrations in the United States since the 1980-decade to present times.
There was one thing common to these administrations, from the Reagan to present day Trump: All these administrations’ foreign policy and international dealings were strongly based on Liberal Internationalism.
Does anyone have any idea as to how a ultra-conservative Reagan administration – ultra right Dick Chaney playing a major role – and another ultra-conservative administration of Herbert Walker Bush – again right wing officials like Dick Chaney at the helm – executed liberal internationalism the way pro-liberal Clinton and Obama administrations used the same doctrine. The Dick Chaney was the vice president of George W. Bush’s most conservative administration.
When we see from this end of the globe that a section of the Sri Lankan media lamenting, and even questioning the American Embassy in Colombo, as to how the U.S. pushing Sri Lanka to keep its commitments to the October 2015 UNHRC resolution – accountability, human rights abuses, civilian deaths, inviting foreign jurists to inquire all these in a domestic judicial process – when the U.S. itself withdrew from the Geneva body declaring it ‘a greatest failure.’
History has taught us, if anyone cares to comprehend, that the governing concept of all these administrations in their global dealings was ‘Liberal Internationalism’. This liberal internationalism, at all times, has been handled by the officials of the Department of State, the foreign-policy and international affairs arm of any US administration and its overseas-posted Foreign Service officers. Top officials are moved with the change of each administration, but it is a well-known fact that thousands of ‘case officials’ and their counterparts in 180-odd diplomatic missions overseas are those who are well tied to this liberal internationalism.
Liberal Internationalism: liberal internationalism entails international engagement. And despite the ‘liberal’ terminology, it is not a policy skewed towards Democratic Party or political liberals and away from Republican Party and political conservatives. Instead the liberal component of internationalism embodies many bi-partisan principles: support for freedom, democracy, human rights, a free press, as well as an open world economy for the movement of goods, services, people, and ideas.
Structural factors of the international system will continue to position the United States as most likely to benefit from liberal internationalist policies as was seen during the past many decades. In fact the U.S. occupies a favored position in many international institutions or has influence over them, which already allow it to enjoy favorable policies.
As the foreign policy executor the Department of State is and was fully aware of loss of legitimacy abroad will have consequences that make achieving American goals harder.
Those who closely scrutinize and understand Liberal internationalism in American foreign policy has seen how it has been a calculated policy to protect and advance American interests.
Liberal internationalism is still in the American national interest and because of this both domestic and international pressures will moderate any of Trump’s preferences for drastic measures to change U.S. foreign policy.
The liberal internationalism of the United States very well depicted when the American embassy in Colombo issued the following statement on June 21, 2018:
(Begin Text) Secretary Pompeo has announced that the United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council effective June 19, 2018. Ambassador Keshap met with senior Sri Lankan officials to convey the assurance of the United States Government that we will remain fully engaged with the Sri Lankan Government to help it meet its continuing and standing commitments to the international community to advance the cause of reconciliation and lasting peace for all Sri Lankans.
Sri Lanka co-sponsored with the United States two UN Human Rights Commission Resolutions: 30/1 in 2015 and Resolution 34/1 in 2017, and the United States continues to extend its support to Sri Lanka to fulfill these important commitments and obligations as articulated and reaffirmed in these resolutions. Sri Lanka’s continued progress toward fulfillment of these international commitments will facilitate further growth of our bilateral relations and enhance Sri Lanka’s ability to engage with friends and partners around the world.
We will follow Sri Lanka’s progress closely and look ahead to engaging with Sri Lanka between now and March 2019 in the spirit of friendship that has marked our recent relations. As Sri Lanka takes further steps outlined in the Geneva resolution, the United States will also support and expand our bilateral partnership. (End Text)
Conservatives for Liberal Internationalism
Washington’s liberal internationalist sentiments were aptly reflected in an early secret document prepared jointly by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence and the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and South Asia Bureau. The June 1984 document, during Reagan era, subsequently declassified and released 31 January 2011, had most revealing sentiments that were seen playing a major role in subsequent years during Washington’s intervention in Sri Lanka’s national issues when Sri Lanka was engulfed in a serious battle with the LTTE up to the final military offensive which commenced in August 2006 to its conclusion with the total defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.
Washington’s extreme reluctance to identify itself with the conservative Jayewardene regime (1977-1988) and move away from liberal foreign policy was aptly reflected in the 1984 CIA/NEA document. The document stated: “Increased identification with Jayewardene at this time could damage US prestige in the region and in parts of the Third World. It could be perceived by other small ethnic groups as acceptance by the United States of the use of suppression against minorities”.
Seen as a steady policy plank reflecting liberal internationalism, subsequent years when the GSL, during 1986-87 (George W. Bush) and 2006-09 (Obama), undertook serious military offensive against the LTTE the US drastically slashed military assistance using human rights and rule of law as pivotal issues.
The September 2007 Senate Appropriations Bill, co-authored by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democratic Patrick Leahy, underscored policy iteration or ‘riders’ on Sri Lanka’s commitment to “increasing accountability and transparency in governance; supporting a credible justice mechanism in compliance with United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HCR/30/ L.29) of October, 2015”.
U.S. State Department official Alice Wells whose writ runs in South and Central Asian Affairs told the Asia-Pacific Sub Committee of the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee on September 7, 2017 that the United States and Sri Lanka are working together to institute “a credible mechanism to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes”.
The war crimes investigation and prosecution, she told the U.S. Congress, will be executed “working together to fulfill the steps to which our nations agreed in a resolution (30/1) at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2015, and which were reaffirmed in a further HRC resolution (34/L.1) in March 2017”.
The U.S. Congress gave a clear and sound message to Sri Lanka: “You cannot have both, not have accountability for the military actions during the final phase of the war against the Tamil Tigers and receive our economic assistance”.
The Senate text on Sri Lanka goes as this:
Bilateral Economic Assistance.—Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’, not less than $35,000,000 shall be made available for assistance for Sri Lanka for economic development and democracy programs, particularly in areas recovering from ethnic and religious conflict: Provided, that such funds shall be made available for programs to assist in the identification and resolution of cases of missing persons.
Certification. —Funds appropriated by this Act for assistance for the central Government of Sri Lanka may be made available only if the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the Government of Sri Lanka is—Supporting a credible justice mechanism in compliance with United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HCR/30/ L.29) of October, 2015; (End Text)
This then is liberal internationalism as basis of U.S. foreign affairs and global dealings, and Washington may be out of UNHRC but the UNHRC is under the jurisdiction of the UN Deputy Secretary-General (Political Affairs) Alan Feldman who was a 30-year former Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State. This slot – UN political – is always headed by a FSO. Any Chief of Mission assigned to the US embassy in Colombo is well aware of this to release the statement noted above.

Sri Lanka has no argument unless understanding the scenario.
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