Norway’s deafening silence on Sri Lanka is wrong: Aftenposten

[TamilNet, Thursday, 07 July 2011, 00:24 GMT]
Sri Lanka is in the middle of a power-game played by India, China and the USA. Norway’s interests in Sri Lanka are insignificantly few. There is no reason why Norway should maintain a deafening silence over the need for an international tribunal on the war crimes that took place in the island. The silence is due to a line of thinking in the Norwegian foreign ministry and especially in Mr Erik Solheim, that it would ‘normalise’ Norway’s relationship with Colombo. Rather than being in the driver’s seat in demonstrating how concerned Norway is about human rights, it is wrong on the part of Norway’s government to stand along the roadside with a mouth full of dust, says Kristoffer Rønneberg, a foreign affairs journalist of the prominent newspaper Aftenposten, in a commentary column published on Tuesday.

The Aftenposten journalist, who recently serialised WikiLeaks cables related to the conflict in the island, has been critical of both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers in his coverage over the years.

Following are some excerpts from the article, translated into English from Norwegian:

[...]

Neither the UN Panel report nor the book, The Cage, by the former UN officer Gordon Weiss have generated that much impact among the vast populations as the one achieved by the gruesome documentary "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields," which was recently shown by the British Channel 4.

[...]

The authorities in Colombo say that the criticism against them [on war crimes and crimes against humanity] is a hindrance to the reconciliation process between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. But, this argument is valid, only if they have ever worked themselves on such a process. Instead, they have chosen to militarise the Northern Sri Lanka, where tens of thousands of civilians are yet to gain access to return to their homes.

The Tamil National Alliance is being marginalised [by the government]. The critiques of the regime are forced into silence. Frustration is escalating in that beautiful island.

The Norwegian silence
The Norwegian authorities have chosen to maintain extreme silence over Sri Lanka. However, the Norwegian Foreign Minister was fair enough in answering a question in the Norwegian parliament. The question was initiated by the Right party politician Peter Gitmark this May. At that time, the Norwegian FM, Jonas Gahr Støre, has said that Norway was monitoring the situation carefully, but he was sceptical about the internal investigations of the Sri Lankan government over the alleged war crimes.

The Norwegian FM, well aware of the fact that China and Russia would oppose the move [international investigation] at the power-center of the UN body, also stated: "It is important that the UN Security Council should consciously realise its responsibility."

But, where was the Norwegian reaction after the Channel 4 film? Norwegian diplomats were there when the documentary was screened at the UN Human Rights Council in May, even before its release. But, in contrast to the British and the Americans, Norway didn't react at all.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry often issues press statements on human rights abuses in countries where Norway has nothing to lose: Iran and Libya are two examples. But, unfortunately, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and other strategically important countries, Victoria Terrasse [the Foreign Ministry] maintains a deafening silence.

Renewed relationship
Norwegian silence over Sri Lanka is caused by the fact that Norway and primarily its Development Minister Erik Solheim are in the middle of a process seeking to "normalise" their relationship with the Colombo government.

A minister from the island is soon expected in Norway and Solheim is aiming to visit the island in the wake of the meeting with the Sri Lankan minister.

Any critical remark against Sri Lanka could harm the [Norwegian] normalisation process [with Sri Lanka]. And dialogue is - as we know - important for this government.

Gordon Weiss describes the mass killings in Sri Lanka as "Srebrenica-moment". There are others who compare it with the Rwandan genocide. Therefore, a UN-appointed special tribunal should be set up to investigate and punish the culprits. If the Sri Lankan government has nothing to hide, they have no reason to fear such an investigation process.

Special tribunal
Norway should spearhead the demand for a special tribunal even if it leads to an outcry in the island. We need to act on the basis of principles. It is difficult to accept arguments that it would cost Norway politically. Our economic interests in the island are insignificantly few.

Sri Lanka is centrally placed in a geopolitical game among India, China and the USA, but that cannot be an excuse for us to ignore the allegations of extreme human rights abuses.

There is no excuse for Norway for not being in the driver's seat of the process [demanding a special tribunal]. It is the way to demonstrate that we are serious in our claim of our nation's concern for human rights. But, we are not in the driver's seat. We are not even in the back seat, but we stand along the roadside with a mouth full of dust. It is wrong.


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