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Sri Lanka’s Shambolic Foreign Relations

With the focus in Sri Lanka directed at the domestic situation, namely the rising cost of living and political instability, the country’s foreign policy has been forgotten with continual blunders on the part of the government.

In March this year the country was faced with one of its biggest challenges on the international stage as they prepared for a vote on the adoption of a US resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC summit in Geneva. The resolution was designed at addressing growing human rights concerns in the country. It was a challenge that was poorly met as the Sri Lankan delegation, who was led by the Minister of Plantations, was unable to sway the vote in the country’s favour.

While sentiment remains high that the vote was a close affair and would have gone the way of Sri Lanka had India backed them (24 countries voted in favour of the resolution while 15 voted against and 8 abstained). It is clear that the delegation, or the government for that matter, did not have a clear strategy at tackling the situation. Success at the summit appeared to have depended on India’s support, and in turn the canvassing of other nations was done too little too late.

The countries who voted against the resolution are those who looked more likely to oppose US interference in the region than having specifically supported Sri Lanka (China and Pakistan). The extent of Sri Lanka’s poor international lobbying is the fact that India, who usually does not vote on country-specific resolutions, did so against its neighbour.

The Sri Lankan government expected India to either vote with them or at the very least abstain, they failed to lobby the Indian government and assure them of progress in regards to the issues being discussed.

India’s opposition to Sri Lanka at the summit was a sign of disapproval at the current state of affairs; the country has chosen to take the resolution as a personal slur and its government has not made any progress in rebuilding its relations with its neighbour.

In fact Sri Lanka went further and responded to this resolution by announcing that it would be closing several of its embassies in Europe, while opening new embassies in Africa. The decision was clearly based on anger with the Europeans and their decision to back such a resolution. Ironically, the proposed new embassies in Africa will be in those countries that supported Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka looks uninterested in pacifying the situation by addressing the issues brought up at the vote.

Last week a delegation led by the Minister of External Affairs visited the US to present an action-plan on the implementation of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. However, such a plan had not been prepared in time for the visit and local media was abuzz with the news that the Minister would be travelling empty handed to the US.

Their meetings with US representatives appeared unfruitful as US media reported that their government was impatient with Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in addressing the human rights and reconciliation concerns.

Despite Hillary Clinton’s office stating that they were impressed with an action-plan that was presented, an action-plan which was a secret until now, it is clear that the delegation had not done enough. The meeting with members of the House of Representatives was an opportunity to impress upon them that the Sri Lankan government was serious in tackling these issues. The lack of clear planning in this regard was evident with the Minister choosing to repeat the sentiment they have continually expressed, without producing any hard evidence to support it.

With the US heading towards an election, it was of utmost importance that they satisfied all parties concerned.

As Sri Lanka faces mounting international pressure a focussed approach is lacking. The government will need to re-strategize if they are to avoid any further resolutions and opposition by its one time allies. Rebuilding of diplomatic ties must be on top of its agenda.

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  1. Chandralal Colombage
    May 21, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    A very insightful posting. Diplomacy is building bridges with those who have an opposing point of view while maintaining relations with those who support you. The government must stop behaving like a spoilt child. No one owes them anything. It is up to them to prove to the world that Sri Lanka is a mature democracy and is in control of its situations. They need to stop running from one country to another depending on how favourably or unfavourably they look at them. Like it or not, India is a formidable power in the world and therefore a formidable ally. You don’t have to sell your soul to be a friend. But you need to be reliable, strong and resolute in your direction. Time for wise minds, strong hearts and rational outlook to take control.

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