David Cameron: the two faces of Chogm diplomacy

Last week David Cameron found himself in a tight corner. When pressed by Tamil Solidarity international coordinator, Senan – in an exclusive interview for Deepam TV – he said there was a need for a ‘proper independent inquiry’ into war crimes in Sri Lanka. He added that it would have ‘to be international’ if Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime did not carry it out.

Yet, we all know that the Rajapaksa gang will never do that. Rajapaksa made that absolutely clear this week. And his media minister said the regime would refuse to listen to any such demands.

So, what is Cameron really saying?

Cameron does not say that an independent investigation must take place within a certain time. He does not say what sanctions he would call for against Rajapaksa’s regime if an independent investigation did not take place.

He does not say what he means by an independent inquiry – would it include representatives of the communities ripped apart by the war, for example? Who does he think should be on an international inquiry? The truth is that United Nations agencies completely failed to help at the time Tamil civilians were being slaughtered in their thousands. Heads of governments turned the other way.

Let’s be clear. When Cameron and foreign secretary, William Hague, talk about investigating war crimes in Sri Lanka, they are playing to the cameras. They know that every time they shake Rajapaksa’s hand they lose Tamil votes in Britain.

It is only mass pressure which has forced Cameron and Hague to express ‘concerns’ over human rights. This pressure has come from the protests organised by Tamil Solidarity and others. This has been reinforced by the shock felt more widely through Channel 4’s No Fire Zone documentary film – and other initiatives.

Cameron, as prime minister of Britain, is the head of the government which set up the ‘Commonwealth’ – an attempt to hold some colonial power after many states declared independence from the empire. Cameron is at Chogm to maintain the British state’s prestige, strategic and economic interests in the world.
But Rajapaksa and his cronies do not like being criticised by anyone, even mildly. That is not their way. Usually, they deal with criticism through physical violence or a white-van disappearance.

So in answer to Cameron’s claim that he will ‘shine a light’ on ‘some of the human rights issues’, Sri Lanka’s minister of mass media and communications, Keheliya Rambukwella, said bluntly to the BBC: ‘The invitation to prime minister David Cameron was not based on that… You think someone can just make a demand from Sri Lanka? We are not a colony. We are an independent state.’

Cameron immediately backtracked. He said: ‘There are some positive steps that have been taken in Sri Lanka: the fact that they had elections to a northern provincial council; the fact that there is a process of reconciliation.’

He did not explain that the elections in the north had been conducted under harassment and intimidation by armed forces. It is a remarkable fact that such a large majority of Tamil people resisted the oppression to vote against the parties backed by the regime.
Nor did Cameron explain that the only process taking place is a brutal attempt to force Tamil people to reconcile themselves to military occupation and a future as second-class citizens.

Cameron and Hague are trying to face two ways at once, while keeping their feet firmly placed in Chogm – and behind the scenes walking hand-in-hand with the Rajapaksa gang. Let’s not forget that Britain’s Con-Dem coalition government continues to supply arms to Sri Lanka.

Not wishing to be left behind, Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband – whose silence on war crimes in Sri Lanka has been deafening – is trying to jump on the bandwagon. He told the Tamil Guardian that Cameron ‘should not attend the summit’.

That’s news to us! He did a very good job of keeping that position quiet. After all, it was the previous Labour government under Gordon Brown which agreed in 2009 – the year of the worst atrocities in the genocide against the Tamils – that Sri Lanka should host Chogm.

Yet true to form, Miliband ended up with the same position as the prime minister. Miliband said, now that Cameron is at Chogm, he should ‘insist on the full implementation of the recommendations of Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’.

What good is that?

The LLRC was set up by Rajapaksa precisely to avoid having an independent inquiry into war crimes allegations. It was hand-picked by the regime. Not only that. The very limited points of criticism of the armed forces have been dismissed out of hand by the regime! None of its (very mild) recommendations have been implemented.

The fact that the LLRC’s proposals are so weak means that Miliband’s position, in reality, is that the Rajapaksa regime – responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of Tamils, running a military takeover of the north and east, and which cracks down on any opposition to his family’s rule – is free to continue the oppression of the Tamil people, without accounting for the horrors they have faced, and with no chance of self-determination.
Once again, we have to point out the complete dead-end offered by these establishment parties and politicians – in Britain and in Sri Lanka.
Clearly, we have to rely on our own strength and that of our natural allies. That means building a mass campaign from below: of working-class people and their organisations, of the youth and oppressed, united in the struggle for Tamil self-determination, for the rights of workers and all oppressed people in Sri Lanka.

Manny Thain
Tamil Solidarity joint national secretary