Erik Solheim,a disgruntled peacemaker?


by Kumar Rupesinghe

Kumar Rupesinghe

Erik Solheim, the Norwegian peace facilitator, has stated that he will go before the war crimes inquiry on Sri Lanka initiated by the U.N. Human Rights Council and give testimony as to how many people were killed in Sri Lanka. In his recent statements, he argues that the war could have been solved through peace talks without military action he has claimed "We were very close to peace in Sri Lanka". These statements by a senior minister of the Norwegian government, deeply involved in the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka, throws up issues of importance for the field of conflict resolution and the ethics that have to be followed by a neutral facilitator. 

 To be a facilitator or a peace broker is a job which requires very high ethical and moral standards. The facilitator should not make value judgments as to the course of the conflict, its ups and downs, the conduct of the parties and the violence perpetrated by both sides. Of course he should and would have expressed his views to both parties but never in public. A facilitator or mediator wins the trust and confidence of both parties by maintaining a public silence about his own opinions as regards the conduct of a conflict, for his task is to bring the parties to the table and to seek all means of resolving the conflict. In this light, Solheim’s public utterances bring into question the issues of accountability in conflict resolution.

 Erik Solheim was a Minister of Development and Environment of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Do his utterances therefore reflect the current views of the Norwegian Government? Furthermore his statements draw attention to a vexed question within the international community on the issue of human rights and peacemaking. In the literature on this subject, it is clear that human rights are about public accountability, where governments are held accountable to international human rights and humanitarian law. This is the function of organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch amongst others. Peacemaking on the other hand is quiet diplomacy, working behind the scenes, winning the trust of the parties, and ensuring that the dialogue continues between the parties. Here, the principle of impartiality is at the core of the value frame. Solheim seems to be juggling with two diametrically opposed codes of ethics and conduct.

 In my view the Sri Lankan conflict as well as its resolution is an example of  the failure of conflict resolution in a protracted and deadly conflict and demonstrated clearly the efficacy of realism, i.e. the notion that a deadly conflict, where terrorism takes centre stage, can only be resolved by military means. Sri Lanka therefore is a classic case of two narratives of conflict resolution and realism, at play throughout conflict.

Erik Solheim

When Solheim says, "We, were very close to peace" he is referring to the period when the Ceasefire Agreement was in operation. Even during the period of the CFA, the LTTE was consistently violating the CFA in many ways such as the forcible recruitment of thousands of children, the use of claymore mines against the military and the targetted assassination of key individuals. It is my view that the LTTE was buying time with the CFA, for it gave them a respite from the war to engage in promoting its position internationally through the many rounds of talks held in various capitals of the world. During the ‘peace talks’, nothing substantial was achieved. These talks provided an opportunity for the LTTE to promote its case for a separate state of Tamil Eelam. Further, a study of the Heroes Day speeches of the leader of the LTTE during this period demonstrated clearly that he never compromised on his desire to achieve Eelam, and urged his followers to kill anybody who betrayed their cause.

 Erik Solheim’s, main contact with the LTTE and conduit was Anton Balasingham, who was treated in Oslo for kidney failure. As a cosmopolitan individual, Balasingham was able to persuade Solheim to back of their goals and aspirations and their desire for ‘self determination’ and peace. It is only now  that it is clear, that Balasingham was merely a mouthpiece for the LTTE and did not play an important role in the decision making process. Anton Balasingham was used by the LTTE to present a human face to the world and promote its aspirations i.e. the establishment of a state of Eelam. When Balasingham, during the Oslo peace talks, agreed to explore a federal solution, he was unceremoniously dismissed by the LTTE leadership!

 Norway has positioned itself as a country which has a highly advertised  commitment to what it calls ‘niche diplomacy’, where it claims that it has specific advantages in being a facilitator or mediator in violent   protracted conflicts. Therefore, trust amongst the parties and retaining confidentiality is a primary ethical principle which has to be followed. Solheim has transgressed this oath of confidentiality, and by doing so has not only given Norway a bad reputation but also ruined that of the field of conflict resolution itself.

 This is not the first time that Solheim has given press statements on the conflict. After the end of the war, Solheim urged the U.N. Secretary General Ban ki- Moon to inquire into war crimes when the latter visited Oslo. There are also reports that he worked with the U.S.A and the U.K to initiate a war crimes inquiry. When Channel 4 produced documentaries on the war in Sri Lanka,  Solheim called for a war crimes inquiry. When he was invited by the Tamil Forum an LTTE front organization to   London, once again he advocated a war crimes inquiry.

 All these public statements demonstrated that Erik Solheim had shifted from being a facilitator, to now advocating an inquiry against the parties to the conflict.  It is also to be noted that one of the parties the LTTE, is now a vanquished and defeated party; therefore it is obvious that the inquiry will be primarily against the Sri Lankan government.

 I have always held that the Sri Lanka government must go before such an inquiry, as these are decisions taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which Sri Lanka is a member. As a member of the United Nations, we have agreed to abide by the obligations upon states. The Sri Lankan government, failed to place emphasis on the moral dilemmas of a nation faced with a deadly antagonist, who would use any means to pursue its objectives. Except for the intervention of Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka, who held the moral high ground, all other diplomatic engagements were a dismal failure. Sri Lanka has not retained its moral high ground amongst the Non Aligned countries.

  There is no question that both parties committed atrocities, and modern warfare is violent, bloody and cruel, where people get killed and women raped. There is a body of laws, which has evolved to ensure the proper conduct of a war. However, the laws of war need to be reexamined, as to how to deal with the strategies used by terrorist movements, such as holding an entire people hostage as an object of war. The issue of massive hostage taking and civilians used as an object of war is a question that the war crimes inquiry should pursue with vigour, as this stratagem of using large populations as hostages and as an object of war, will take center stage in future wars. This is now happening in the North of Iraq and it also happened in Bombay, where a terrorist group held the city of Bombay hostage for many days.

 However, it is not the business of a peacemaker to call for a war crimes inquiry and then go before such an inquiring body, and reveal confidential information which the two parties shared in trust for it violates the very principle of mediation. Solheim has announced that all correspondence and e-mails will be made available to the public in a book that he intends to publish! These actions only give Norway a bad name as a country which presents itself as a peace maker. It means that many countries seeking mediation for conflicts in their own countries will realise Norway will betray them if the parties do not act according to the desires of the facilitator. The first rule for mediators is never to compromise on the trust and faith bestowed on them by the parties to a conflict.  

 Finally, I wish to go back to the idea of accountability. Conflicts, frequently happen in countries far away from Norway. There is very little interest among the Norwegian public about peace making, and only a few people within a cell of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry are engaged in such activities and there is no accountability to Parliament. It is my view that the Norwegian parliament should institute an inquiry into the issues of accountability, human rights and advocacy and who is accountable to whom when Norway decides to mediate in conflicts in distant countries.

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