Engaging the critics: an absolute imperative

22 May 2012 09:50 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Today, human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) will launch its 50th global human rights report – “Amnesty International Report 2012: State of the World’s Human Rights”.
At the time of writing, the report is under embargo, which will be lifted by the time this article reaches the public domain.

As expected, the report is highly critical of the Sri Lankan government and it reiterates the call for an independent international (emphasis mine) investigation into war crimes alleged to have occurred during the latter stages of the war in 2009.

In the press release accompanying the report, AI’s Secretary General Salil Shetty goes so far as to say that, “A failure to intervene in Sri Lanka [and inaction over crimes against humanity in Syria – one of Russia’s main customers for arms] – left the UN Security Council looking redundant as a guardian of global peace.”

In a damning indictment AI states, “The government continued to arbitrarily detain, torture or ill-treat people and subject people to enforced disappearance. It failed to address most instances of impunity for violations of human rights and humanitarian law.”
It further notes that Sri Lanka continued to rely on security laws and a military apparatus that perpetuated human rights violations, and the country remained prone to political violence while efforts at ethnic reconciliation made little progress.

Sri Lanka has earned a dubious reputation for human rights violations and Amnesty’s latest report adds to the chorus of voices asking us to take our human rights’ obligations / commitments seriously. Most regrettably, the type of disdain that is usually reserved for totalitarian regimes such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia seems to be coming our way.

Human rights are not an issue of convenience to be invoked when in opposition and ignored when in power. The broader national objectives of justice and reconciliation are far more important than individual political agendas, and reforms must necessarily accord the highest primacy to the protection of human rights.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his Victory Day speech on Saturday, made it clear that the government had no intention to remove the military camps in the former war zones. However, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan points out that they do not expect a complete withdrawal but a reduction in the presence of the security forces.

The Amnesty report too makes reference to the contentious issue of the military presence in the North and East, and notes that the freedom of association and assembly in the former war zones are restricted with prior permission required even for family celebrations.

The latest AI report is disconcerting. The language is strong and the accusations weighty. Reports from organisations with international standing such as AI should not be simply dismissed as anti-Sri Lanka propaganda, and deemed to be stumbling blocks to the country’s forward momentum. On the contrary, they highlight critical issues which the government of the day must address, in earnest.

That Sampanthan’s action to raise the national flag in Jaffna on May Day drew so many adverse reactions from members of the Tamil community shows that most Tamils have no sense of belonging. They feel alienated, and successive governments have not gone that extra mile to address minority grievances.

An opulent diet of triumphalism will not do. Now is the time to look beyond the military defeat of the LTTE and work to formulate a political framework that will bring about the much desired long-term peace and reconciliation.
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  • Hussain Wednesday, 23 May 2012 06:25 AM

    I personally would not give much credence to what the AI report says. They took US $50 Grand offered to them by the Canadian Tamil Forum, which anyone knows is a cover for the LTTE. So why take a report from AI as gospel. They naturally would be biased.


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