Well into the COVID-19 pandemic, the British government spoke of a policy of granting visa to three million Hongkongers before hitches developed to check any follow-up action. Neither Britain nor its European allies shed any tears over the 110,000 Bhutanese nationals of Nepali origin who under the gaze of the Indian government fled Thimpu’s ethnic cleansing policy. Most of these refugees, representing one-sixth of that monarchy’s total population, were eventually resettled in various foreign lands but without issuing strong statements against the Druk regime. Religious orientation and calculations might have played a role here.
Led by commanders trained in South India, the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) received covert support from European groups, which might be the main reason for the guerrillas’ crimes not being brought up much. Colombo’s decisive action against the rebels after three decades of fighting and 100,000 killed amid frequent and long spells of curfew and emergency rule ended the war. European rights groups every now and then bring up their version of human rights violations by Sri Lankan government forces.
It is more than intriguing that the European Union and the US beat their breasts and cry hoarse over alleged regimentation of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. Muslims elsewhere are treated barely with tolerance, if not undeclared suspicion, in these very countries. Hindi cinema’s mega star Shahrukh Khan was maltreated at American airports on at least two occasions because he holds “Khan” as his surname.
No world order can satisfy most nations and people if different strokes are applied to different folks by any unabashed free market mayhem. Doubts about the existing global agreements and practices get louder by the day. If a nation or power bloc does something outrageous, prompt protests and appropriate actions are expected to streamline the recalcitrant. But if selective responses deal with such situation, the rot sets in against the vitality of the effective discharge of existing understandings and regulations covering much of the global community. Big powers bending the rule-book, otherwise prescribed for universal application, demonstrates how they flout the rules endorsed for universal application.
While spending his leave in the United Kingdom, Col. Kumar Lama of Nepal Army was arrested in January 2013 in connection with alleged involvement in the torture of two detainees during the Maoist insurgency in 2005. Subsequent investigations, costing British tax payers one million sterling pounds, formally cleared Lama of the charges, by which time he had spent three and a half years in a state of acute suspension.
It would be an exercise in futility to expect London summoning the same zeal against the United States over alleged mass scale human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan. DFID (Department for International Development Fund) would be defeated if it were to pursue the critical course of investigation involving its benefactor since at least World War II. It would refrain from any enthusiasm for prescribing the medicine it directs at economically weaker nations. So, too, is the approach of other industrially advanced European countries.
Getting proactive toward some states and standing silent if the intended target is a strategically important partner means overlooking dubious deals: One for the strategically insignificant or ideological opponent, and the other for reliable allies, whatever their democratic credentials — good, bad or ugly. Angered by International Criminal Court for investigating probable crime and genocide committed by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington issued sanctions against ICC officials wanting to visit the US. In early September, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised ICC for trying to put the US within its jurisdiction. China, Russia and the US have not signed the 1992 Rome Statute of ICC.
In March, ICC gave its go-ahead for an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan after the US-led invasion of that landlocked, nonaligned, least developed Muslim majority country. An angry and tough sounding Pompeo thundered that the US “will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction”. The world’s permanent war crimes court described Washington’s decision to issue sanction on its prosecutor as “serious attacks against the Court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law”. But most governments preferred to remain silent witnesses, as is their wont on most occasions if an issue does not affect them directly.
Although several major European powers put pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to do something serious against Vladimir Putin’s Russia regarding Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny having been poisoned, they stood ridiculously conspicuous by not applying similar pressure on the US, their security benefactor. They did not even criticise President Donald Trump’s silence for days on the poison case. When Trump finally break his silence, he wriggled out saying that there was no proof of state involvement in the incident.
Nor have the major powers put much pressure on Washington for strong measures against their strong West Asian ally Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regarding journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder. Trump wanted to avoid Riyadh cancelling an import order worth $ 110 billion.
Perversion of big powers playing friends and foes when dealing with application of international regulations mock at circumventing global justice. These very forces are dealmakers, king makers and so-called game changers affecting foreign states and societies. In reality, opportunists making shady deals are miles away from any vaunted ideological moorings. Murky connections and expedient approaches care for no fair fare.
A week after German Chancellor Merkel informed her US counterpart that she would not be able to attend the G 7 summit he had planned to host, Trump decided to pull out 9,500 troops from Germany—more than a quarter of the American troops stationed in Europe’s largest economy — the Berlin-Washington differences of views on China, Iran, Russia and trade came out in the open. “It’s another wake-up call for us Europeans to take our fate into our own hands,” said Johann David Wadephul, a senior lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.
The West whips up anything that harries, harasses and harms its global competitors but does not protest much, barring making feeble noises for the sake of formality by its agencies eager to maintaining a façade of concern, when an issue involves a strategically important partner. Countries not reckoned as major powers need to tread with great caution against being pawns, if not subservient, to the economically powerful. When the crunch comes for making crucial choices, the so-called major powers and big neighbours will not hesitate to ditch them without ceremony. Recent history has examples aplenty.
(Source: The Rising Nepal)
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)