By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, March 25: Although the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution on Sri Lanka was adapted at the 46th Session with 22 members voting for it, 11 voting against and 14 abstaining. This means that the majority (25) were not for the resolution.
Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena described the vote as the Global South coalescing against its Northern counterparts. The countries of the Global South – Asia, Latin America and Africa – refused to vote for the West-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka. The most populous countries in the world, China and Russia voted against the Resolution and two others with massive populations – India and Indonesia – abstained. Latin America’s Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela, Africa’s Somalia and Eritrea and Asian friends Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, in addition to China and Russia voted against the Resolution.
Let us examine the countries that supported the resolution apart from its Western sponsors. Those who succumbed to Western pressures and voted against Sri Lanka include Fiji, Marshall Islands, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Malawi, Uruguay and Brazil, countries with most an unsavory record of human rights violations and military coups.
The UNHRC was chaired by the Fijian Ambassador to the UN, Nazhat Shameem Khan dressed in a Sari displaying her Indo- Fijian origin (her father is a Pakistani and the mother is an Indo- Fijian). When Fiji was elected to the Council she promised to give “… the South Pacific region a voice in the world’s main human rights body”. Those who knew the South Pacific well pointed out that “Fiji should start by allowing its own citizens to speak out and express themselves at home, without fear of reprisals.” (https://devpolicy.org/fijis-review-at-the-human-rights-council-highlight…)
After all, anybody who had studied politics of that area knows the role of the military in Fiji. The leaders of the two major political parties are not only former military officials but are former coup leaders. The racially divided politics of Fiji are marked by divisions between native Fijians (54.3%) and Indo-Fijians (38.1%), descendants of Indian contract laborers brought to the islands by the British colonial powers in the 19th century.
Prime Minister Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama was the leader of the 2006 coup (he had also led the countercoup of 2000). He has held onto power, albeit through a few elections during some of which Fundamental Rights including freedom of speech, association, and assembly were not “widespread”. His Fiji First Party managed to the get support of most of Indo-Fijians votes. The 2018 election was won by his Fiji First Party with just over 50% of the vote and 27 seats. The main opposition party, the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) led by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, (sometimes referred to in the press as “Colonel Steve Rambo.”). He is best known as the instigator of two military coups that shook Fiji in 1987. He won around 40 percent of the vote.
Though Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama “restored” democracy and held elections, he retains a number of decrees from pre-democracy days to retain power. These include the Media Decree, which curbs freedom of the press and encourages self-censorship (Bainimarama remains notoriously sensitive to criticism) and the Public Order Decree, which restricts the ability of groups to hold public meetings.
His 2013 Constitution also states “It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defense, and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians” – fairly flexible wording that could be used to rationalize further military interference in the country’s political affairs. Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama’s authoritarian instincts remain a concern to many Fijians who believe that the future of “democracy” in Fiji is in danger.
Yet, all that was kosher for the West. The West backs the Fiji First Party. His coups and decrees are democratic, according to the lopsided logic of the West.
Another country to accuse Sri Lanka of human rights violations was Marshall Islands, a country ceded to the US after the World War II. The US used it for nuclear testing. From 1946 to 1958, the United States detonated 67 atomic bombs on the islands—the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshimas a day for 12 years. The effects are still felt today, and the Marshall Islands are one of the countries least visited by tourists.
This sprawling chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean, has a population of 58,791 people. Bikini Atoll, where The US military conducted nuclear testing from 1946 through 1958, is one of the atolls in the chain.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands, though claiming to be a sovereign State, has a Compact with the US which has agreed to pay at least US$ 57 million every year for its upkeep. Under the Compact, the United States has full authority and responsibility for the security and defense of the Marshall Islands, and the Government of the Marshall Islands is obligated to refrain from taking actions that would be incompatible with these security and defense responsibilities.
In the United Nations, the Marshall Islands have always followed the United States and on all key issues match its vote with the United States 100%. For example, in December 2017, the Marshall Islands were one of just nine countries (including the United States and Israel) to vote against a motion adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) condemning the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Marshall Islands still recognizes Taiwan and maintains diplomatic relations with it. And of course they too have a great Human Rights record, including the right to sell their babies to the US.
Other than the Bikini Atoll, the only media coverage these islands received was the more recent British media coverage about an astonishing and shameless human trafficking ring, operating for years across the Marshall Islands archipelago and the United States of America. The racket involved pregnant women from the Pacific being lured to the United States with offers of US$ 10,000 and the promise of a new life in America, to give up their babies. If they sell babies for US$ 10,000 what would be the price for a UNHRC vote, one may ask?
Malawi is another well-known human rights violator. One of the poorest countries, in Malawi, democracy is often manipulated by the military. Malawi’s sixth elections were conducted in May 2019. The Presidential Poll results were nullified in February 2020 by the Constitutional Court. Fresh Presidential Elections were held on June 23, 2020 in which Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party and Saulos Chilima of the UTM Party were elected as President and Vice President respectively after getting 58.6% of the votes. Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party and United Democratic Front coalition, who received 39.4% of the votes, accused the military of election malpractices.
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) was another country that supported the resolution. On many occasions the Côte d’Ivoire government was accused of impunity and political violence, notably by its army and politicized judiciary. Côte d’Ivoire held local elections in October, marked by violence leading to deaths. Although Ivorian judges continued to investigate the crimes of the 2010-11 post-election crisis, President Alassane Ouattara declared an Amnesty for crimes related to the 2010-11 crisis, which has raised concerns that victims will not get justice in Ivorian courts.
The ICC is currently prosecuting Laurent Gbagbo, the former President, and Charles Ble Goude, a former Youth Minister and leader of a pro-Gbagbo militia, for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 2010-11 post-election crisis. The ICC is also investigating crimes committed by pro-Ouattara forces.
Ironically, these countries with long records of human rights violations, were among the UNHRC members who supported the resolution against Sri Lanka clearly kotowing to their former colonial masters.