Lord Patten, currently Chancellor of Oxford University, makes a startling reference to Sri Lanka, asserting that the UN should have intervened politically and diplomatically under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) `to protect Tamil civilians in the Sri Lankan government campaign to wipe out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam`.
The article by the former (and final) British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, is prominently displayed above the masthead on the front page of the prestigious Financial Times (London) and illustrated with the author s photograph. The essay is billed as Foreign Power: What Kind of Britain Will the World Wake up To After May 6?
In the article captioned Why British Foreign Policy Will Not Change , he writes: `Without resiling from the job of trying to reform the UN, it is not unfair to note that it is better at normative diplomacy than at launching action on the ground. It overwhelmingly endorsed the principle of Responsibility to Protect (to prevent atrocities) in 2005 but has been paralysed when political and diplomatic intervention has been required, for example to protect Tamil civilians in the Sri Lankan government campaign to wipe out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.` (Chris Patten, The Financial Times, Tuesday May 4, 2010, Comment p 9.)
Nowhere in the article does Lord Patten refer to the conditions of a failed state or large scale atrocities or genocide which are the triggers of R2P as agreed upon by the UN. None of these conditions were present in the case of Sri Lanka. Nor does he acknowledge that the doctrine as agreed upon by the World Leaders summit of 2005 necessitates the authority of the Security Council for activation.
Lord Patten does not assert in his article that the Sri Lankan state was committing atrocities or large scale violations of humanitarian law against the Tamil civilians and indeed does not make any case as to why R2P should have been activated. Nor does he acknowledge that the Tamil civilians were being held hostage by the Tamil Tigers and were released precisely by the military actions of the Sri Lankan security forces.
R2P is triggered only if the state in question is unable or unwilling to protect its own civilians. By waging a defensive war to eliminate the Tigers, the Sri Lankan state was not only protecting the overwhelming majority of its citizenry from terrorism, it was also demonstrating its willingness to liberate the Tamil civilians from the stranglehold of the Tigers. The holding of three elections in the North and East since the military victory of May 18, 2009 municipal, presidential and parliamentary is evidence of the Sri Lankan state s willingness and ability to protect its citizens from the scourge of a thirty year old terrorism.