A different September, no effigy burning, no ‘traitors’ and no ‘patriotic’ funfair
n the not-so-distant past, come September, paranoia hit over the roof. State media went on full swing to demean the ‘traitors’; civil society activists were harassed; Tamil ‘collaborators’ intimidated, private media was told to tone down criticism. M/s. Mervyn Silva, Wimal Weerawansa and their goons got busy organizing protests in front of the UN office and Western embassies.
That was also the time when the ‘patriotic’ billionaires take a break from their earthly affairs (including those less patriotic stuff like manipulating the stock market) to showcase their ‘patriotism’ before TV cameras, so that the less fortunate folks would be inspired by the rich and the powerfuls’ undying love for the motherland.
Those days, an aura of patriotism overwhelmed the air plus the smoulder of the burnt-out effigies of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Rights Chief Navaneedam Pillai and other ‘enemies’ of the State; journalists, ‘traitors’ and their families were exposed on the State TV; and paeans were sung in the honour of the ex-President.
It was always an action-packed month; but all that action was played to the gallery. That was how the former administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa vent the frustration at US-sponsored resolutions on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council. However, all sessions at the UNHRC ended in a predictable fashion, with yet another adverse resolution.
Those days, an aura of patriotism overwhelmed the air plus the smoulder of the burnt-out effigies of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon … - Sri Lankan National Freedom Front activists burn UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s effigy during a protest rally in Colombo on July 6, 2010.
Sri Lanka did not win, but, those sessions were useful locally as well. They had the practical utility of legitimizing the increasingly authoritarian regime of the ex-president. That was a time tested strategy; when there is a real or perceived external threat, it is easier to mobilize the internal population in support of the incumbent government (and to crack down on the dissent, without causing a public outrage).
Sri Lanka’s official response to the UNHRC scrutiny on war crime allegations was also chest thumping and rhetoric. The then government cried conspiracy at every turn, invoked inviolability of sovereignty and, then, on one dark night would send a white van to abduct a spoiler.
The then government obstructed the UNHRC-mandated inquiry and intimidated potential witnesses. However, as we know by now, nothing of that worked. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights went ahead with the inquiry and the new government has now received a copy of the findings of the investigation, which will be presented to the UNHRC sessions this month. The government has five days to make a formal written response on the findings. The report is kept a secret until it is delivered at the sessions by Pillai’s successor, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. However, it has reportedly made strong indictments against both sides of the war, though it has stopped short of naming any military officials or politicians.
So, chest thumbing did not help us, obviously.
The question, then, is as to whether we did not have a better and saner way to deal with the UNHRC and the West.
The obvious answer is yes, we did: in the first place, we ought to have behaved like civilized people do. That way, there is a greater chance to elicit a favourable response. The conduct of the new government vindicates that point.
The main sponsor of the two previous anti- Sri Lankan resolutions, the United States, has now chosen to support a domestic inquiry and sponsor a resolution to that effect at the forthcoming session.
That ‘U’ turn of the US position was achieved with no effigy-burning. But, it took a show of genuine commitment by the new government to resolve our own intricate problems, be they releasing land in the North and the East to their original owners, demilitarizing the civilian affairs or introducing democratic reforms and accountability in governance. None of those measures sounds ‘unpatriotic’. Why the former administration was reluctant to take those small steps is a question only MR could answer.
With a credible domestic inquiry (and the government is planning to update the UNHRC of the progress of the domestic measures at each UNHRC session for the next two years) Sri Lanka can leave behind a thorny issue that beset us for the last several years.
After all, it is not so much the conduct of the war against one of the most egregious terrorist groups in the world, the ruthlessness of which may have prompted unavoidable excesses on the part of the military, that created the problem. It was, rather, the barefaced denial and authoritarian streak of the former administration .
After being forced to fight against a maximalist terrorist campaign for nearly three decades, Sri Lanka cannot live with the ghost of the past, simply because the political leadership refused to address root causes and manifestations of that problem.
However, the same applies to the Tamil political leadership as well. Their rhetoric which was later dwarfed by the demagoguery of the monsters they created led the Tamils on a road to nowhere, until they re-emerged from Mullivaikkal, in a throng of malnourished refugees fleeing for their lives. An occasional mob attack on a peaceful ‘hartal’ in the early years of Tamil struggle, does not provide a convincing explanation to create the world’s largest factory of suicide bombers in the subsequent decades. The escalation of the conflict is largely on the part of the LTTE, except on the tragic occasion of anti-Tamil riots in July, 1983. Like their predecessors used the nascent Tamil militancy to intimidate the then government in Colombo, until they themselves fell victims to their own creations, the current Tamil leadership should not succumb to the temptation to use an international war crime investigation to intimidate a moderate government. Such strategies backfire with violent repercussions. An overwhelming majority of the Tamil community have come to grips with the reality, which explains their shunning of those like Gajandra Kumar Ponnambalam in the recent election.
The overwhelming mandate that the TNA received provides it with an opportunity to forge ahead on a moderate line. In a positive development, moderate sections within the TNA are becoming increasingly vocal. Mavai Senadhiraja for instance, has told a gathering in Wanni, that an international investigation was not necessary, rubbishing a resolution passed by the TNA-dominated Northern Provincial Council. TNA spokesman and MP M.A. Sumanthiran has said his party would not be present in Geneva for the UNHRC sessions (though some of the party members would go there in their private capacity).
However, those like Chief Minister C.V. Wigneshwaran could upset the apple cart and drag the TNA back to square one. It would be a shame if that happens.
Perhaps, the TNA can learn from the undoing of Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose affinity to a microscopic minority of Sinhala nationalist bigots led to his political undoing. However, if the TNA chooses that path, it would, inadvertently, embolden those very individuals, who are waiting for an opening to make a comeback.
Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @ RangaJayasuriya on twitter
Comments - 4
Justin Monday, 14 September 2015 04:02 PM
Why should "a moderate government be intimidated" by TNA calling for an international inquiry? Is SL a democracy only for the Sinhalese? Can SL deliver true justice with anti-Tamilism and Tamil phobia nurtured for the past 60 years? Do the Sinhalese think that oppression by threats can control Tamils? Never.
sidkugaprasad Monday, 14 September 2015 05:01 PM
I like what you say in this article except that was 1983 July really necessary?You fail to comment on that.I hope many more like you on both sides will wake up to reality.Well researched piece of writing.
roboert Monday, 14 September 2015 05:41 PM
It is a well written article.In the article Ranga talks about choice. There is a choice it is for the government of Sri Lanka/President to ratify the Rome Statue.Rest will take its own course.Robert
Rev. Gnanassara Monday, 14 September 2015 03:21 PM
Why Thumby AiyalaWe are the majority and let us chase all Thumbees from our Sinhala land.
Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.