Sri Lankan Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa, the leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), began a hunger strike outside the UN office in Colombo (image here) to protest against a panel set up to probe allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan government during the civil war with the LTTE.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in the center of the protest as on the 22nd of June, 2010 he appointed a panel of experts comprising of Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of human rights during the civil war between the Government and the LTTE rebels. The advisory panel’s mandate is limited to advising the secretary general and it is not a fact-finding or investigative body.
The Sri Lankan government had been lobbying strongly against the panel claiming that ‘it is an unnecessary interference’ and it violates the UN charter. On the morning of July 6, 2010, the NFF surrounded the UN compound in Colombo forcing some UN staff to work from home and today is the 3rd day of the siege.
Sri Lankan citizen media portal Groundviews reports:
On 30 June, senior Government Minister Wimal Weerawansa urged the public to surround the UN office in Colombo and hold its staff hostage until moves by the UN to appoint a panel on Sri Lanka is dropped, putting the UN in Sri Lanka on high alert. On the same day, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said that when the UN contacted the Sri Lankan government over this statement, the government assured they were Minister Weerawansa’s “individual opinion”.
The siege by NFF began on the 6th of July and videos of the chaos during the protests were captured and uploaded to YouTube by Vikalpa, a citizen journalism initiative located in Sri Lanka.
However, Indrajit Samarajiva at Indi.ca thinks that the current protest against the UN has government support.
Groundviews adds that:
Related to this, the Lanka Truth website runs a story on an alleged phone call with the President’s brother, the churlish Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in which he directly orders the Police to withdraw from the vicinity of the UN compound. As Lanka Truth notes,
“It has been revealed that the protest which was held in front of UN office complex Colombo was conducted with an overall awareness of the government. This came to the notice after a journalist recorded a threat made to a police officer by the Defense Secretary over the phone.”
The blogger at The End describes the politics behind such protests:
Anyone who knows Weerawansa, and anyone who knows how popular politics are played out, will tell you that this was a mere stone cast into a vast lake. It makes a few ripples, but the fish go on to die another day. Weerawansa gets his marks from his voter base and his face is saved from embarrassment, the Government would tell the people that they are standing united against foreign oppression, the NGO hacks who survive on reporting would tell the donors that the situation is dire and they need more money. It’s always about the money.
Tisaranee Gunasekara argues in Sri Lanka Guardian that the government is need of new enemies in the post LTTE era to justify the assertive Rajapakshe rule: “they need threats and enemies to blame for their own economic incapacities and politico-diplomatic blunders, from price hikes to the loss of GSP+.”
According to reports, the three member panel in question will soon meet to discuss their mandate before they commence work, despite the protests in Colombo. It remains to be seen how this conflict will be resolved.