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“This Success Would not Have Been Possible without Army: Prof. Krause Criticizes NGOs Influencing Western Govts”

“It is no surprise that political actions of the EU as well as by respective national governments were shaped by opinions and activities coming from the UN and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group which have taken aim at Sri Lanka and conclusions drawn by said NGOs are totally out of proportions, but many European governments are listening to what is being said in the world of NGOs, Media and the UN,” so said Prof Joachim Krause, University of Kiel, Director of the Institute of Security Policy, Germany during his intervention to the final sessions of the Army-organized ‘’Defence  Seminar -2013’ at Colombo Galadari Hotel,  Thursday (5) morning.

In his elaborate presentation to the ‘Defence Seminar -2013’, under the theme ‘A prosperous and Stable Sri Lanka in the Region: Challenges and Opportunities’, the think-tank Prof Joachim Krause of the University of Kiel covered a gamut of contemporary issues pertaining to Sri Lanka and her forward-march.

His elaborate sub topics dealt with the question of loss of General Scheme of Preference (GSP), Figures of Civilian casualties, War Crimes, Reconciliation, Militarization of the Reconstruction Process, Role of NGOs, European Union’s stance on Sri Lanka and misinformation spread on ground realities.    

“If one reads statements and papers of AI, HRW and ICG, one gets the impression that the government of Sri Lanka is systematically covering up War Crimes, that domestic politics are increasingly dominated by the military and that the country is being ruled by an authoritarian President. It sounds as if Sri Lanka has turned into a rogue state, suppressing Tamils ruthlessly. There might be good reasons to criticize the government but the conclusions of those NGOs, termed by social scientists as an ‘epistemic community’ have influenced foreign governments considerably. This ‘community’ is a reality of today’s international and domestic affairs and my advice to you is to learn how to cope with them. There are still very few in Europe who are ready to accept that the defeat of LTTE was boon for Sri Lanka and that it was a chance for Tamils to abandon a dangerous political course which could lead to catastrophic consequences,” Prof Krause said.

“As to the war crimes, there is no such thing as a ‘clean’ and ‘surgical’ war; ‘collateral damage,’ ‘atrocities,’ and ‘war crimes’ happen time and again. Look at the American Civil War, which ended in enormous atrocities committed by the Union side – Abraham Lincoln, who bore the political responsibility for these events, is still hailed as a political hero. During World War II and also during the many smaller wars afterwards, even the most democratic states of this world could not prevent war atrocities from happening, committed by their own soldiers – look at the Algerian War, the Vietnam War or look at Iraq. Today, democratic governments have become more alert to this danger, but they cannot exclude the possibility at all.    

The information we received during these days about the progress made in de-mining, resettlement of displaced persons, investments in infrastructure and economic growth (in particular in the Eastern and Northern province) are encouraging. Comparing Sri Lanka’s efforts in the field of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation with the international efforts in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, or Haiti indicates that this country has been more successful than any other case handled by NATO, the EU or the United Nations. Sri Lanka has applied most lessons learned from earlier experiences in other states and its architects have studied the scholarly literature on experiences with Counterinsurgency and post-conflict reconstruction. This success would not have been possible without a strong involvement of the Sri Lanka Army. First of all, without security there is no room for growth, infrastructure and reconciliation – this is a lesson Americans and Europeans have learned from various counterinsurgency operations. Secondly, the Army fulfilled tasks that should have been done by civilian administration. However, when there is no civilian administration, the military has to fill in. For military personnel, this is a salutary thing, because it changes the whole nature of the mission. We have made the same experience in Afghanistan: when civilian efforts were too weak (or when they were simply missing) the military was the only institution that could jump in. As a consequence, also in Germany the engagement in Afghanistan was criticized as being overly “militarized”– mainly by NGOs and media, he pointed out.

At the end of his address, Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake presented a token of memento to the speaker.
 

Here follows the full text of his intervention to the seminar sessions on Thursday (5);

“It is an honour to speak today to this remarkable conference. I was asked by the organizers of this conference to speak about “A Prosperous and Stable Sri Lanka in the Region: Challenges and Opportunities” and to present a European perspective. The latter part of this task is quite delicate. While, on the one hand, there is no doubt that – for various reasons – the European Union wants to see a stable and prosperous Sri Lanka in the region, there have been considerable differences between the EU and the government of Sri Lanka on how to achieve this very goal during the past years. These differences have resulted in a certain stalemate and I would like to take the opportunity to look at theses differences, to ask what could have been done differently, and then to ask whether it was possible to find common ground in the near future. Being an academic speaker with no official function, I can speak with much more candour than an official and I have the privilege of not having been involved in former political battles.

As to my academic background: I am a Political Scientist, who works on strategic issues. Terrorism, counter-terrorism, Counterinsurgency and post-conflict reconstruction as well as major power relations are very high on the research agenda of my institute.

But let me come back to the subject of my speech. The relationship between the EU and the government of Sri Lanka is somewhat strained, to put it friendly. The difficulties started with the renunciation of the 2002 ceasefire agreement by the government of Sri Lanka in 2008, which led to the campaign of 2009, during which the Sri Lankan Army was able to decisively beat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). By May 2009 the war of almost 30 years was over. In- stead of being relieved about the sudden end of this protracted war, the EU criticized the government of Sri Lanka for having abandoned the search for a political solution with the terrorist organisation LTTE and for causing massive civilian casualties, in particular during the final weeks of the campaign.

The EU (acting through the Council of Foreign Ministers, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and also through the Commission) did not only suspend the General Scheme of Preference plus (“GSP-+”) treatment for trade with Sri Lanka in June 2010, it also made no major pledges in the field of development assistance. Sri Lanka had to shoulder her post-conflict reconstruction efforts without major help from Europe, which is a pity, since otherwise the Union is ready to aid states very generously that try to recover from the consequences of earlier wars or civil wars. In fact, post-conflict rehabilitation in conflict ridden areas all around the world usually is a keen subject of European foreign affairs and development aid.

What is GSP +? It is a long-term policy by the EU that developing countries, in particular less developed countries, should receive partial exemptions from tariffs for exports, which have not yet been removed by WTO agreements. This is called General Scheme of Preference (GSP). More than hundred countries, among them Sri Lanka, are included in this program. The GSP+ scheme goes further: it intends to give positive incentives for developing countries to promote core human and labour rights, and principles of sustainable development and good governance by removing tariffs almost completely. In this regard, for the developing countries, accession to 27 international core conventions is necessary and they have to accept monitoring and implementation measures. Besides, Sri Lanka there are just 15 states which are enjoying benefits resulting from the GSP+ system. The GSP+ treatment was suspended in 2010 for Sri Lanka, because the government in Colombo did not accept international investigations, which could have had established whether or not human rights conventions were violated in North East Sri Lanka during the spring 2009 campaign. In concrete terms, Sri Lanka’s compliance with the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC) were at question.

Since that, statements by the High Representative or by the Council of Ministers on Sri Lanka focus mainly on human rights issues or on domestic Sri Lankan issues (such as the impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief of Justice earlier this year). I tried to find out whether there was any document outlining the strategy of the EU towards Sri Lanka. There is only an EU-strategy paper on relations with Sri Lanka dating back to 2006; no update has been made so far which takes into account the developments since May 2009. Hence, there is no political strategy of the EU vis a vis the current Sri Lanka, i.e. the Sri Lanka after May 2009.

What are the reasons for this? The answer is quite simple. Sri Lanka doesn’t figure very high on the foreign policy agenda of the EU. This has to do with its size and its relative remote location – at least seen from the European perspective. China, Russia, India, Africa, the Middle East, and Brazil – they all figure very high on the political agenda. There is no state within the EU, which holds a certain stake in Sri Lanka, except for the United Kingdom. Sri Lanka is not a hotbed of Islamist fundamentalism; hence there is no major strategic interest involved.

In this regard, it is no surprise that political actions taken by the EU as well as by the respective national governments were shaped by opinions and activities coming from the UN and Nongovernmental Organisations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group. Unfortunately, these institutions have taken aim at Sri Lanka. If one reads statements and papers by AI, HRW and ICG, one gets the impression that the government of Sri Lanka is systematically covering up war crimes, that domestic politics are increasingly dominated by the military and that the country is being ruled by an authoritarian president. Sometimes it sounds as if Sri Lanka – quite a robust democracy since it’s founding in 1948 – has turned into a rogue state, where the rule of law is being pushed back and the stateless nation of Tamils is being ruthlessly suppressed. Given the impressive record of the Sri Lankan government in rebuilding the country and in investing in reconciliation and given the democratic character of the political process in this country, this is an overall unfair picture. There might be good reasons to criticize the conduct of the current Sri Lanka Government, which enjoys a two-third-majority in Parlia- ment (which is always problematic in democracies), but the conclusions drawn by the said NGOs are totally out of proportion. Yet, many governments in Europe are still struggling with a fair assessment of the events from spring 2009, and they are listening to what is being said in the world of NGOs, the media and the UN.

The European Union and Sri Lanka are in principle partners who fit together very well. The EU is the largest trading partner for Sri Lanka – much larger than the U.S., India or China. In trading with the EU, Sri Lanka makes a big trade surplus – which is very helpful for her development goals. Sri Lanka is on the verge of becoming an economic success story: with growth rates of more than 8 percent in 2010 and 2011 and even a growth rate of more than 6 % in the difficult year 2012. Sri Lanka has improved considerably in terms of the Human Development Index, where it now ranks among states which do better than the average of developing nations. Sri Lanka has the potential of becoming an anchor of economic and political stability in South Asia – something the stability-oriented Europeans like. More and more tourists are coming from Europe to visit this beautiful island. In the long term, Europe might be an excellent partner for Sri Lanka, since it understands itself as a civilian power. Cooperating with Europe might be easier than with China (since this will be viewed with scepticism in India) or with Iran (which might create suspicions in Washington). Europe has a large market for Sri Lankan products and it shares Sri Lanka’s interest in a peaceful Indian Ocean.

But this partnership is still a vision only, its potential has not being used up so far. On the contrary – many opportunities have been missed in the past few years. Since the suspension of the GSP+ facility, the export of garment made in Sri Lanka to the EU has decreased considerably. Exports from Sri Lanka to the EU were at 3.5 Billion US $ in 2011, they fell to US $ 3.1 Billion in 2012. Most of Sri Lanka’s exports to the EU are garment products. Despite government claims in 2010 that the loss of the GSP+ facility would not have a severe impact on the country’s economy, the EU’s decision to withdraw the facility most likely has meant the loss of up to 1.0 billion US $ income from exports since 2010. Many jobs in the garment industry have been lost since that. Also in the field of development aid, much more would have been possible. The EU could have helped to promote many projects in the field of infrastructure, education, capacity building etc.

But how to improve relations? In order to address this problem, we have to be very clear about the nature of the problem and how to find ways to bridge differences. What is the core of the dispute? The dispute actually consists of four individual problems:

(1) how to establish a clarification about the number of civilians that have died during the final campaign against the LTTE and about the background and responsibilities?

(2) how to establish whether or not war crimes had been committed (not only by the Tamil Tigers but also by the Sri Lanka Army), and, if there were cases,  how they were handled?

(3) how to establish whether or not the Sri Lanka government is sincere about reconciliation?

(4) how to assuage the concerns according to which the military has too strong a role in the re- construction process?

As to the figures of civilians that have died during the campaign of Spring 2006, it was very helpful that the Sri Lankan government acknowledged the existence of civilian casualties inflicted by the Sri Lanka Army during the campaign in Spring 2009. The accepted language is “that the Security Forces were confronted with an unprecedented situation where no choice was possible other than returning fire into the No-Fire-Zones in reply to the incoming fire”. It also presented figures according to which more than seveb thousand human beings have died, among them a considerable number of civilians. However, what is needed is a broader process of finding common ground with the United Nations and with the European Union on this, since the respective estimates still vary. This can only be done in slow process involving professional expertise and free of charges. It will be difficult to engage directly with the “international community”, but it might be easier to seek for consultations with some European governments or with the EU External Service. It is necessary to close this chapter as soon as possible.

As to the War Crimes, this is a very delicate issue. As a scholar, who studies international relations and international and civil wars, I am fully aware that there is no such thing as a “clean” and “surgical” war: “collateral damage”, “atrocities” and “war crimes” happen time and again and who ever considers the use of armed forces has to take this into account. Look at the American Civil War, which ended in enormous atrocities committed by the Union side – Abraham Lincoln, who bore the political responsibility for these events, is still hailed as a political hero. During World War II and also during the many smaller wars afterwards, even the most democratic states of this world could not prevent war atrocities from happening, committed by their own soldiers – look at the Algerian War, the Vietnam War or look at Iraq. Today, democratic governments have become more alert to this danger, but they cannot exclude the possibility at all. However, since most atrocities and war crimes are committed on lower levels (often by individual soldiers or small groups), it has become a general custom in democratic states to pursue such cases on an individual basis. If you cannot find individual persons to make them responsible, then again try to communicate this in a credible way to European governments, the international community and to the public.

As to reconciliation, the Sri Lanka government did a very useful step by invoking the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, whose report was issued in late 2011. It stated that the process of reconciliation requires a full acknowledgement of the tragedy of the conflict and a collective act of contrition by the political leaders and civil society, of both Sinhala and Tamil communities.” The government also invested into the reconstruction of the Northern and Eastern provinces and did an excellent job in mine clearing and resettlement. Also, holding provincial elections in an era which was deprived of such elections for decades by the Tamil Tigers was surely another step towards reconciliation. All indicators show that there is a real reconciliation process underway that includes the Tamil community – with the exception of those Tamils who still strive for separate statehood. This is something that is being appreciated already by the EU, and where the EU holds a different position than most NGOs. While Amnesty International, for instance, criticized the report of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission for ignoring the “serious evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of the laws of war by government forces”, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mrs. Catherine Ashton, made a more nuanced statement expressing the hope “that the report will contribute to the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” She further added: “A detailed and careful study of the measures proposed to implement the recommendations in the report is needed, including on the issue of accountability”. Also the United Nations High Com- missioner on Human Rights UNCHR, Navi Pillay, in a recent statement said, that the LLRC Report “contains a broad range of excellent recommendations regarding concrete improvements on human rights”. Both statements demonstrate that this reconciliation process is the most important contribution Sri Lanka can do in order to mind the fences with the European Union and the inter- national community at large.

As to the reproach concerning the militarization of the reconstruction process, I could only advise you to show self-confidence. The information we received during these days about the progress made in de-mining, resettlement of displaced persons, investments in infrastructure and economic growth (in particular in the Eastern and Northern province) are encouraging. Comparing Sri Lanka’s efforts in the field of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation with the international efforts in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, or Haiti indicates that this country has been more successful than any other case handled by NATO, the EU or the United Nations. Sri Lanka has applied most lessons learned from earlier experiences in other states and its architects have studied the scholarly literature on experiences with Counterinsurgency and post-conflict reconstruction. This success would not have been possible without a strong involvement of the Sri Lanka Army. First of all, without security there is no room for growth, infrastructure and reconciliation – this is a lesson Americans and Europeans have learned from various counterinsurgency operations. Secondly, the Army fulfilled tasks that should have been done by civilian administration. However, when there is no civilian administration, the military has to fill in. For military personnel, this is a salutary thing, because it changes the whole nature of the mission. We have made the same experience in Afghanistan: when civilian efforts were too weak (or when they were simply missing) the military was the only institution that could jump in. As a consequence, also in Germany the engagement in Afghanistan was criticised as being overly “militarized” – mainly by NGOs and media.

Yesterday, the Foreign Minister, expressed his “sadness” about the activities of the “international community”, in particular about statements made by the High Commissioner on Human Rights on Sri Lanka and positions taken by AI, HRW and others. To a certain degree I can understand his frustration. He is not the only one who is coming under fire by the “international Community”, which is often very selective and out of proportion, in particular with regard to human rights issues and to issues of war and peace. This “international community” is hard to grasp, it is what Social Scientists call an epistemic community, encompassing officials of international organisations, activists and functionaries of NGOs, journalists, scholars, politicians, members of national Parliaments and of national governments, who agree on certain liberal tenets of international relations and who work together in order to pursue liberal goals. More than often, they offer inroads for external influence. With the spread of the Internet and the many new social media, their influence has increased considerably. Sri Lanka is not the only country to become targeted by this community. Various US-Administrations as well as European governments have come under fire. This “community” is a reality of today’s international and domestic affairs and my advice to you is to learn how to cope with them. This is not a matter of “perception management” , as one speaker said yesterday, but it is a matter of how to exert influence in an overall diffuse situation and how to deal with people, who are well-minded in principle, but who could be offended and agitated very easily. So, having listened to the complaints made by the foreign minister and by the defence minister, I can only say: “welcome in the club.”

In yesterday’s “Daily Mirror” there was a report according to which Defence Secretary Gotabay Rajapaksa had stated in his address to this conference that “some western powers might seek to influence Sri Lanka’s destiny to prevent the country from following an independent course.” Having listened to his speech, I cannot remember the Minister having said these words, but the “Daily Mirror” might reflect a certain sentiment in this country, which I consider to be problematic. The problem is not that Western states have such a big interest in Sri Lanka that they are using the “international community” as a lever to press the Sri Lankan government into a certain direction. Rather the opposite is the case: so far Sri Lanka is more or less not on the screen of attention in Western capitals. Very few parliamentarians on the European or the national level are interested in Sri Lanka. Your problems result from the Tamil diaspora and the influence it exerts on the media, the international NGO community and the UN. They have learned how to play on this keyboard. You should learn it too.

If you want more positive interaction with Western governments, and in particular with the EU, it is imperative to engage the EU into a political consultative process during which normalization could take place. It is my hope that the EU and Sri Lanka eventually will find a pragmatic way to improve their bilateral relations. Such a pragmatic adaptation, however, can only take place through small and incremental steps and it should revolve around different subjects. Such a process needs precaution and diplomatic skill on both sides. It must be initiated by the Sri Lankan government, since there is no European government which feels being obligated to do any initial steps.

One possible starting point for such a consultative dialogue might be an effort to negotiate the termination of the temporary suspension of Sri Lanka from the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+).

Earlier this year, the EU has modified its GSP policy, which, among others, included some revisions of the modalities for the chapter on GSP+. Starting from January 2014 onwards, the EU will provide for more incentives for countries to join the GSP+ scheme, while at the same time, it is enhancing its monitoring procedures to ensure those rights and principles are respected. The Sri Lanka government could, by providing new evidence and by accepting some forms of (truly) independent investigations attempt to enter into a new dialogue with the EU. This must not be a futile exercise. The other 15 states which are still getting benefits under the GSP+ scheme have also given rise to concerns, and it is difficult to understand why Sri Lanka had to be treated worse.

Whether such an endeavour will succeed is hard to predict. Pressure by NGOs might prevent any progress. It might also be that the Sri Lankan government was too proud to start a renegotiation. I have learned that the Sri Lanka government had raised the issue in the spring of 2013, but, unfortunately has dropped the case. I consider this to be deplorable. Without progress in this area, I am afraid there will be no progress in other areas as well.

I don’t want to be seen as someone who is only voicing demands on the address of the Sri Lanka Government. There is a lot to criticise with regard to the EU, in particular its principled approach, which sounds good but which entails many pitfalls and inflexibility. So let me end with a few self-critical statements with regard to European policy towards Sri Lanka in the past. The EU as well as its member states and other Western states (such as Norway) have shown a somewhat ambivalent policy towards Sri Lanka and the Tamil problem. While, on the one hand, the LTTE was characterized as a terrorist organisation (with whom no one should negotiate), on the other hand it promulgated the idea of a political settlement between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. Besides that, there are still very few in Europe who are ready to accept that the defeat of LTTE was a boon for Sri Lanka and that it was a chance for Tamils to abandon a dangerous political course that has led to catastrophic consequences (for the Tamils and for the island as a whole). Hence, a self-critical debate within Europe about the risks involved in minority politics and about the preference for mitigation efforts vis-à-vis terrorist organizations is overdue. Thank you for your attention.”