N High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein concluded his four day visit with what was widely seen as a conciliatory note: He conceded that the involvement of foreign judges was a contentious issue here and added that whatever the recommendations of his office - which is mandated to do so by a UNHRC resolution agreed to by Sri Lanka -- ultimately it is Sri Lanka’s ‘sovereign right to decide.’
Of course, he had some damning things to say about the collapse of judicial independence during the past several decades, and sadly though he failed to see that things had improved quite dramatically during the past one year. Admitting that would have weaken the merit of recommendations of his office to the effect of the involvement of foreign Judges. Nonetheless, he acknowledged the freer and vibrant society Sri Lanka is today. (Though he noted fear has not totally disappeared in the North). However, since we cannot expect him to read from our script and since that this country is far from being perfect, his assessment was largely positive.
But, there are at least two groups that would never be content with the UNHRC chief’s remarks and whatever the measures the current government is taking to address its commitments to its people and international community.
One group is those fringe sections of Tamil diaspora and their hired lobbyists, the type of people who spew their venom in Tamilnet and other remaining Eelam propaganda organs. They are bitter because Sri Lanka defeated conclusively the terrorists cheered and bankrolled by them. Other than protesting in Western Capitals and blocking traffic in their adopted countries, they could not do much to prevent the annihilation of the LTTE, hence, their bitterness is understandable and could well be inherited by at least a portion of the coming generations, who would resort to Tamil nationalism as a defensive mechanism as they, like any other diaspora, would face an identity crisis in their adopted countries. The government will have to reach out to them to tone down their venom.
The other group, now it appears, is going to be led by the man who gave political leadership to defeat that monstrous terrorist group. That is unfortunate. However, the Ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa is getting ready to jump in at the deep end of this cesspool of self-defeating xenophobic campaign -- which until recently he outsourced to his acolytes such as Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and G.L Peiris, though few average folks could make sense of what the latter was talking about. Now, MR is planning to lead from the front. That should worry everyone who wants to heal the old wounds of the ethnic conflict and forge ahead. MR is a master operator and a capable mobilizer of the grassroots. Those who remember his Pada Yathra, the prelude to the mass campaign that finally defeated the then powerful UNP government would bear witness to his capabilities. And he has a captive audience, many of whom willing to pardon him for his multiple sins for that he defeated terrorism that ravaged this country for over three decades. Others are brain-washed by the State propaganda during the ex-president’s reign.
Now MR plans a decisive political comeback. He has set up his own party and rented his own party office. An all- out attack against the UNHRC resolution and the measures that the government is taking to address its commitment to the resolution would provide an ideal opening for MR’s political comeback. That he being the ex-President whose regime was under sustained attack from the UNHRC and the West would add authority to his campaign. He has already fired his first salvo, calling upon Sri Lankans to resist the government’s efforts to implement the UNHRC resolution, under which, he alleges that the government has agreed to set up a tribunal to try security forces for war crimes.
His supporters also held a demonstration during the UNHRC chief’s visit and handed him a petition against the Resolution.
MR is quite capable of paddling nationalism and fear to mobilize the grassroots. After all, that was how he ruled during much of his presidency. He does not need to tell the truth or something closer to truth, or anything rational or reasonable. He can simply lead the campaign by drawing from a reservoir of fear. PM Wickremesinghe has said though the international involvement was welcomed, “the final judgement will be made by the internal judicial process.”
In fact, MR, who invited Desmond de Silva QC and two other foreign experts to advise the Paranagama Commission was the first to involve international experts in the local process. But, now, plotting for his political revival, he can conveniently skip those matters. All he has to say, again and again is that the UNHRC resolution is high treason; tell that in a hundred rallies and one hundred press conferences, gullible public will believe him. And, there are enough foot soldiers for his campaign -- Sri Lanka has never been short of them.
But, the truth is that the present dilemma faced by the government partly due to the UNHRC resolutions that had been hardened over time is the result of MR’s mishandling of the whole post-war situation.
He let the national interests to be subordinate to his personal and political interests, thereby choosing to exploit the post war triumphalism rather than addressing legitimate domestic grievances and international concerns about the conduct of war. His wavering on those matters only emboldened venomous critics of this country, who more than anything else held a grudge against us for we decimated their terrorists. The conduct of war in Sri Lanka may not be perfect, however this is not the only country where fighting terrorism or insurgency caused collateral damage. From Vietnam to Israel and from Chechnya to Syria, military actions entail unavoidable loss of civilian lives. Nor is this the only country blamed on war crimes. Nor does investigating war crimes amount to dragging the military personnel to the electric chair (as MR warns) or handing them with lengthy prison terms. (A South Vietnamese General who shot a Vietcong on camera in the famous Pulitzer prize winning photo spent his retirement in the USA until his death in 1998. Even the US troopers accused of the gruesome Mai Lai massacre were released after short prison terms -- though some of them were initially sentenced to life sentences).
Whenever the troops are found guilty, the political leadership and judiciary have to take into account the circumstances that those abuses have taken place in. Fighting terrorism and insurgency involves a lot of grey area and is prone to miscalculations. Therefore, like it has been any other country, amnesties and presidential pardons should be available. However, at the same time, those abuses have to be investigated for the nation needs to know the truth and victims need to be heard and given reparation.
The former regime blinded by its self-exposing myth that there were zero civilian casualties failed to provide redress to war victims and to seek truth.That was partly because such an enlightened gesture did not serve MR’s political interests at a time he was heavily relying on the legitimacy derived from the ‘patriotic war’.
It is this colossal mistake that continues to haunt the nation, every time it tries to forget the past and look for a better future.
MR is now indulging in the same tactic again, this time as well, to serve his political ambitions at the expense of the future of this country and its ethnic amity. He does that because he is a bitter man, just like those diaspora hacks are. He is bitter because the judiciary is probing his past abuses, his second son Yositha is in remand custody and his siblings and former first lady Shiranthi are making regular appearance before the Court and the Financial Crime Investigation Division.
His despair is understandable, but it is a crime that he is plotting to drag the nation down with him.
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