Britain’s hypocrisy over Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, A Land Like No OtherFew Western countries were louder than Britain in condemning the Sri Lankan army’s shocking violations of the human rights as it moved to suppress a bloody rebellion by ethnic Tamils demanding separate state. Clearly, those words of reproach were either not intended to be taken seriously, or we just move on fast from such squabbles because, as this newspaper reveals, UK sold several million pounds worth of arms last year to a regime we castigated only a few years ago. Lest anyone imagine that “arms” in this instance refers only to equipment of purely defensive character, it should be pointed out the sales included pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and ammunition. The government will no doubt respond we have to engage with governments we don’t necessarily like, that defence forms a vital part of our export trade and if we hadn’t sold arms to Colombo, another less conscience-stricken country would have done so. The government can also count on the lack of an outcry over the sales. The Tamil cause in Sri Lanka never engaged British public that much, not least because the so-called Tamil Tigers committed grisly crimes of their own. Nor are we alone in moderating our former criticism of Sri Lanka authorities. As Beijing draws Colombo into its own economic and military orbit, nervousness in the West is growing about implications of losing influence in Sri Lanka. These are real considerations, but they beg the question of why we then claim to exercise stringent controls over arms sales and that there is an ethical dimension to them. France, another developed democracy, makes no such claims. Britain, on the other hand, simply courts ridicule and bolsters a reputation for hypocrisy by denouncing a government for egregious violations of human rights while at the same time selling it guns. (source: Editorial – The Independent, UK – 18/02/2013)


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2 Responses to Britain’s hypocrisy over Sri Lanka

  1. ALMOST FOUR years ago, the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a decisive victory in a 26-year-long civil war with rebels from the island’s minority Tamil community. The cost was horrific: A United Nations investigation subsequently found that up to 40,000 civilians may have died in the government’s final offensive. But the triumph made Mr. Rajapaksa a hero among the majority Sinhalese community and gave him an opportunity to modernize his country while healing its ethnic rift. Unfortunately, the president and his family — two brothers hold cabinet positions — have pursued just the opposite course. Having acquired a two-thirds parliamentary majority by inducing the defection of opposition representatives, the ruling party rewrote the constitution to eliminate a two-term limit on the president. Government critics in the press, civil society organizations and the judiciary have been threatened and sometimes attacked by pro-government thugs. According to Human Rights Watch, several thousand people are detained without charge, and state security forces have continued to abuse Tamil activists, including through torture and sexual assault. The regime has meanwhile brushed off demands by the U.N. Human Rights Council that it conduct a serious investigation into crimes that may have been committed in the final months of the war. Last week the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that no mechanism had been established to trace people who went missing and that investigations of disappearances had not led to arrests or prosecutions. This year Mr. Rajapaksa has taken two more big steps in the wrong direction. Last month he ratified the impeachment of the chief justice of the supreme court and installed a close follower in her place, neutering the judiciary’s independence. The president’s legislative majority initiated the impeachment after the court ruled against an economic development initiative by one of the Rajapaksa brothers; the plan ignored constitutionally guaranteed rights for local governments. Mr. Rajapaksa had promised to expand that local autonomy as a way of addressing the legitimate interests of Tamils, who form a majority in parts of the north and east. But this month he celebrated Sri Lanka’s independence day by delivering a speech that reneged on the pledge. The government is now signaling that it may repeal the constitutional provision on local rights. The United States and other Western governments have repeatedly and publicly protested Mr. Rajapaksa’s retrograde measures, but their words have fallen on deaf ears. Human Rights Watch points out that the Commonwealth community of nations may have some leverage, because Sri Lanka is due to host the bloc’s summit in November — a high-prestige event for a small country. By threatening to move or boycott the summit and Sri Lanka’s assumption of the Commonwealth chairmanship, governments such as Britain, Canada and Australia could send a clear message to Mr. Rajapaksa that his policies are unacceptable to democratic nations. (source: Editorial Board – The Washington Post – 19/02/2013)

  2. In the town centre of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, between McDonald’s and Carphone Warehouse, there is an unusual statue. Four firm-jawed figures in factory clothes stand back-to-back. One wears a flat cap, one wields a sledgehammer, one has a welder’s visor. All of them are in purposeful poses, idealised workers cast in bronze. Around the statue base run the words “labour”, “courage” and “progress”. Its structure feels like something from the Soviet Union in the 30s. But the statue is British and only eight years old. Its subject and design, slightly startling in a country that stopped celebrating most factory workers decades ago, is explained by a small plaque. Part of the statue was “donated by BAE Systems Submarines”. Barrow is a defence industry town. It builds Britain’s nuclear submarines. And in defence the way of doing things – culturally, economically, politically – is different from other British industries. In defence, manufacturing jobs still have prestige, long-term prospects and political leverage. Unions are strong, but work closely with management. Apprenticeships are sought-after and numerous. Political support for the business comes from across the ideological spectrum: when the European Fighter Aircraft collaboration between Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, now known as the Typhoon, was threatened with cancellation in the 90s, even the Socialist Workers party protested (“No Closures. No job losses. Stuff the Tories.”) This week, David Cameron’s much-hyped trade visit to India is promoting the Typhoon as one of its key objectives. Robin Cook, the late Labour minister, a rare defence industry critic in Westminster, wrote in his 2004 diaries that the then chairman of BAE, Dick Evans, seemed to have “the key to the garden door of No 10”. Roger Johnston, a defence analyst at Edison Investment Research, says: “As an industry, it is reasonably unique in how it’s viewed within government.” In this business, in defiance of the past three decades’ free-market orthodoxies, the state is pivotal. Accompanying Cameron in India are representatives of a dozen British or partly British-based companies – the industry is clever at blurring such definitions – with defence interests: Rolls-Royce, Serco, BAE, EADS, Thales, Atkins, Cobham, JCB, Strongfield Technologies, MBDA, Ultra Electronics. The British state is also the industry’s biggest customer, with our armed forces accounting for four-fifths of its annual sales; the provider of an “export support team”, including “serving British army personnel”; the provider of export insurance, for a fee, in case foreign customers fail to pay for products. Above all, the state is the provider of the wars that act as the industry’s best showcase (…..)


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