Chintaka Aluthgamage: They don't care what the West does

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Blaming the West for many of the country’s woes has become fashionable in Sri Lanka. Recently President Mahinda Rajapaksa invoked the memory of the 1818 rebellion, a bloody uprising in his country against the British colonial masters occupying the tiny island in the Indian Ocean. He reminded Sri Lankans about the way that rebellion was brutally crushed by the British Empire to illustrate the hypocrisy of Western nations that call for better human rights conditions in Sri Lanka.

With the international community crying foul over the Sri Lankan government’s execution of the final phase of its war against the Tamil Tigers in the island’s north east, Rajapakasa has been busy forging new ties and strengthening old ones with nations that care little for the rights of its citizens. This new foreign policy shift was vividly apparent during the Sri Lankan President’s recent visit to Libya to join in the celebrations of the coup that bought Colonel Gaddafi to power 40 years ago. The picture of Gaddafi with his arm around Rajapaksa while the two leaders inspected a military parade was given wide publicity in Colombo. When he undertook a visit to Burma a couple of months ago he was afforded a hero’s welcome by the ruling junta of that country. Recent years has seen Sri Lanka expand relations with China, which is currently constructing a massive port in Rajapaksa’s home town, building power stations, roads and other infrastructure.

These new bonds have no doubt emboldened the Rajapaksa regime to take on the West with a great deal more gusto than one could have predicted a few years ago. As the UN and Western nations including the US, Britain and the EU upped the ante and condemned the Sri Lankan government’s gross violations of human rights both on and off the battlefield, Rajapaksa responded by openly chastising diplomats and senior UN representatives in the country, further barring access to the victims of war and more recently, deporting a Canadian Opposition MP and expelling the UNICEF spokesman in the island. Through it all, it seemed that the West continued its ‘watch and wait’ policy, unwilling to clamp down on the regime while it was fighting a ruthless terrorist organisation. Now however, the tide appears finally to be changing. The patience of the West looks to be fast running out, with newspapers reporting this week that Sri Lanka’s rapidly deteriorating human rights record may lead to the country losing a crucial trade concession for its apparel imports granted by the EU. The loss of these concessions would no doubt prove a severe blow to the country’s US $ 40 billion economy which relies heavily on textile and apparel export.

Deputy Leader of Sri Lanka’s main opposition Karu Jayasuriya has called on the EU and other Western states to reconsider collective punishment that would mostly affect Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable populations. Jayasuriya said that the regime itself would be largely unaffected by the loss of these concessions and it would prove a severe blow to both the apparel industry and the millions of directly and indirectly employed personnel.

This regime’s constant West ‘bashing’ is not without irony. Many of the key players that make up the core of the Rajapaksa administration are individuals with foreign citizenship. The President’s brothers Presidential Advisor, Basil and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya are US citizens who rushed back to Sri Lanka when their sibling ascending to power. The country's powerful military chief and the General accused of allowing excesses in the battlefield Sarath Fonseka and his family are US Green Card holders. The outgoing Foreign Secretary, a key component in the administration’s propoganda machine, Palitha Kohona is not only an Australian citizen but has also served in that country’s Foreign Service.

It is indeed a classic case of irony that hundreds of thousands of poor Sri Lankans are about to have their lives affected by the impending withdrawal of a trade concession granted by the EU while the perpetrators of an anti-West campaign that has landed Sri Lanka in this current predicament should continue to enjoy the benefits of residency and employment in the West. While a good number of the top administration themselves possess citizenship in Western nations, many others have families residing there, enjoying the freedoms and liberties that they have been denying their fellow citizens.

The name of the author, a Sri Lankan national, has been changed to protect his identity