Sri Lanka Still Can Rectify Image
It is still not too late for Sri Lanka to moderate its position from the present ‘extremism’ and ‘defiance’ on the question of the draft resolution at the Human Rights Council and rectify its international image without allowing the country to slide into dangerous uncertainty if not chaos. What is necessary for this change is mature diplomacy and not ‘intellectual’ or ‘unintellectual’ arrogance.
Otherwise, the major casualties might be the reconciliation and economic development.
There cannot be any dispute that Sri Lanka did the right thing in defeating terrorism and bringing an end to the nearly thirty years old brutal separatist war by the LTTE. The human rights atrocities by the LTTE during the period were horrendous.
Sri Lanka also should be credited for resettling nearly 300,000 displaced people and rehabilitating over 10,000 captured or surrendered former LTTE cadres during the last two and half years, whatever the weaknesses. The above are only two main examples. But that is not enough.
It has to be admitted that a war in the magnitude of what took place in Sri Lanka almost naturally could involve breach of law and justice on both sides. These should be comprehensively and independently investigated. No one would say that it is the only thing to do.
Reconciliation is much more important, but investigations are part and parcel of the same reconciliation process. This is where dispute or misconceptions seem to be lingering. And no proper reconciliation could take place within a context of continuing human rights violations and coerced political conditions both in the North and the South. This is a matter for the incumbent government to rectify, if not culpable.
It was my observation, before leaving Sri Lanka in February 2011 that the human rights situation had not improved as much as it was anticipated after the end of the war, to say the least. It is quite possible that some of the key decision makers have scant respect for human rights or different point of view altogether on the issues of human rights, democracy and good governance.
The appointment of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliations Commission (LLRC) was a correct and a genuine decision in the right direction but there is much foot dragging in implementing the recommendations. This is undoubtedly a fact.
Take the example of recommendation on the national anthem. The recommendation was necessary in the first place because the government was prohibiting the Tamil people to sing the national anthem in Tamil. Singing the national anthem in both languages was the practice previously. That dispute symbolically showed perhaps the reconciliation that the government talks about is closer to ‘assimilation’ than genuine reconciliation. Perhaps this is what is called the ‘home grown’ solution.
Much more important was the recommendation to conduct elections for the Northern Provincial Council. In fact there was no particular need for the LLRC to recommend the elections as it was a matter for the government to implement. The initial ‘promise’ was to hold elections by mid-2010.
It is true that the government has held elections for many of the local government institutions in the North and the East along with other parts of the country. The potential of the local government system is also enormous for reconciliation if proper allocations and leadership are given.
But the local government system is not a substitute for the provincial council system whatever the weaknesses of the latter. It is on the basis of the provincial council system that many of the former militant groups came into the political main stream after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. There is no apparent valid reason for the postponement of the provincial council elections for the Northern Province. Still no time frame is given.
The government’s ambiguous policy on the provincial council system seems to be the reason or the excuse for India to change its mind even before the Tamil Nadu pressure. There are of course many other reasons including the Chinese influence in Sri Lanka.
More profound among the LLRC report is the recommendation to independently investigate the ‘extra-judicial killings’ and ‘disappearances.’ Since this recommendation, the government has appointed a military tribunal but that is not a substitute for ‘independent investigations.’
There are two main arguments against the draft resolution presented at the Human Rights Council. First is the argument about ‘sovereignty’ and the second is about human rights ‘violations by the US.’ Unfortunately, there is very little talk about its contents.
Sovereignty is not a magic wand to wade off any international influence or interference. In an interdependent world like today, it is something that respective governments should ensure to the people through delicate foreign policy of national interest, cooperation, diplomacy and mutual understanding. Mere shouting would not work.
In respect of human rights, sovereignty of a country is limited and relative or otherwise under the guise of ‘sovereignty’ many atrocities could happen. If a country is a member of the UN and particularly a party to its various human rights treatises then there are certain obligations that follow. Or otherwise, there may be a possibility of not participating even at the Human Rights Council sessions if a country is so adamant!
I recollect the hilarious intention of the then president of the country in 1983 of withdrawing from the UN human rights bodies (and the UN!) when there was a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Commission of that time. Wiser diplomatic advice, I was told, fortunately spared the country from becoming a laughing stock.
I cannot agree more with the critics that the US is a number one violator of human rights particularly ‘overseas.’ But that is not good enough reason to reject the contents of the resolution which is supported by many other countries. India also has expressed its ‘inclination’ in supporting ‘a’ resolution.
Sri Lanka has taken a dangerous precedent in mobilising the masses against the resolution and the US. Some have even proposed boycotting of US goods including Google. Logically following, it may even do the same against India soon. What is happening in Sri Lanka is a re-enactment of Maoist type ‘cultural revolution’ long after China had abandoned it. Even China might be embarrassed by Sri Lanka’s brazen ‘diplomatic’ policy towards foreign countries.
As I have written previously, “A Compromised Resolution might be the best for Sri Lanka” (Asian Tribune, 14 March 2012). I have already suggested several changes for Sri Lanka’s benefit. It may be too late for Sri Lanka to mount a counter resolution. There will be no takers. This is not 2009 but 2012. Sri Lanka has antagonised many friends and with too much jubilation over the war victory, the government has neglected the urgent tasks of ethnic reconciliation, democracy and human rights.
I write this with a heavy heart as I was strongly supporting the government against the LTTE terrorism and even supported the election of President Rajapaksa in 2010 against the former General Sarath Fonseka.
There is a great possibility that extremist sections worked both within the army and the STF and indulged in atrocities finally tarnishing the name of the country and the people. It is also possible that it is the same extremists who are now influencing the government to ‘declare war’ against everyone.
Sri Lanka as predominantly a Buddhist country should now invoke the Fourth Noble Truth of the Buddha and that is the ‘Middle Path’ (Majjhima Patipada). The traditional policy of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is also the Middle Path although from time to time it has caught up in extremist policies of destruction and self-destruction.
This is apart from the left parties and many liberals in the governing coalition who could hopefully understand the situation rationally. Sri Lanka still has hope in rectifying its international image and ‘doing the right thing’ as (Professor) G. L. Peiris seems to say all the time.
- Asian Tribune –