As we moved into 2012, the buzz- word was reconciliation and with it the acronym - understood by too few of our fellow citizens- was LLRC. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report had been presented to the President who in turn had sent it to Parliament. There was some hope that since the Commission had been set up by the President, that he would accept its recommendations in full and get on with the task of implementation. After all this was the Commission he and his government had told the world would answer and lay to rest all doubts, queries and allegations about the last stages of the war, in particular.
The report in English was eventually sent to the Central Bank- yes the Central Bank- for translation into the two official languages so that the majority of Sri Lankans would be able to read it. This, I understand is now possible, a good nine to ten months later. Months went by and the international community led by the US at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva passed an anodyne resolution on Sri Lanka in March 2012, essentially calling on the regime to expedite implementation of the LLRC recommendations, report to the Council on what it intended to do on accountability- which the resolution noted the LLRC fell short on- and avail itself of the assistance of UN bodies in the implementation process. The High Commissioner for Human Rights was charged with the responsibility of reporting to the Council in a year on progress made with assistance availed of. India, frustrated, even angered and humiliated by the broken promises of the regime regarding a political settlement, was amongst the 24 countries that voted for the resolution.
The regime first tried to defeat the resolution by sending packs of ministers, officials and apparatchiks to Geneva in a vulgar display of overkill and loutish behaviour. Having failed, it failed in turn in its scoundrel’s resort to arouse the patriotism of the masses back at home in the full measure it desperately yearned for. By the time of Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the Council in November, the regime had completed a Human Rights Action Plan and produced an Action Plan for the Implementation of the LLRC recommendations the status of which still remains that of a ‘work in progress’.
Geneva, March 2012, in this respect was a Rubicon of sorts. It was the first real defeat of the regime and seen by the regime as such, its conduct of the war was on the agenda of a multilateral organization for the first time, India could no longer be taken for granted and there was general agreement even expressed in and by the media that the whole episode was a foreign policy cock –up, pure and simple. The Permanent Representative to Geneva was axed and eventually went to Havana having said her piece. The media had a field day – all its tabloid Christmases having come together, so to speak. One positive result was that in the aftermath of the hysteria about violated sovereignty and other impertinences, the regime showed signs of beginning to learn the art of international relations. The jury is out though on as to how much and for how long or indeed as to whether the signs were no more than flashes in the pan of defeat and disappointment.
Now at the end of 2012, there are articles on how the LLRC has been forgotten. A key reason for this – though by no means the sole one – is that the crisis of governance the LLRC report elaborates has been dragged to a new nadir with the shoddy sham of the impeachment of the Chief Justice. The buzz-word for 2013 is surely “impeachment”; “constitutional crisis” perhaps coming a close second when we are into the second half of this month. No doubt this will have a bearing on Geneva, March 2013 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November; no doubt it should.
The point about all of this is how we have regressed. Take any yardstick of reconciliation and/or governance and you can see how thuggery- literally and metaphorically speaking- in the service of the consolidation of power by the ostensibly strong yet deeply insecure has taken hold and in a way that arguably would make even J.R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa blush! What may yet save us now, as it did then, are the efforts of too few daring to dissent and resist the flagrant destruction of the institutions, processes and the political culture of a functioning liberal democracy. What we had was flawed, but not “floored” to the extent that it is now.
Take reconciliation for instance – where do the violent arrests of students and young people in Jaffna and elsewhere in the north, the continuing land grab in the north and east, the presidential opening of the Lagoon’s Edge Hotel in Nandikadal to service war tourism fit in with it? What of the fate of the Tamil women inducted into the forces – did they know what they were getting into or was it a case of being “taken into”? What about the last IDPs from Kepapalivu? Where was Kepapalivu and where is it now? How do things happen in post-war Sri Lanka 2012 like in Marble Bay in the east, where as in apartheid South Africa, the land and the sea is roped off for VIPs, forces, and the general public including the inhabitants of the area, respectively? How does what happened at the Navinna Rajamahaviharaya at the end of November to address the “Muslim threat” to Sinhala Buddhists, reminiscent, according to some accounts, of a meeting of white supremacists in the Deep South of the 1950s USA, happen in post-war Sri Lanka with its extensive, costly and efficient security, law and order machinery, not to mention its Kiri Pani rhetoric of Chintanaya and reconciliation? How many IDPs could have been housed with the duty that was not levied on racing cars? Why do people from the north and east risk life and limb to end up in camps on Christmas Island? If they are economic refugees why are they leaving when economic development is supposed to be the priority? This is only part of it.
Likewise, with governance. Who interprets the constitution? Is natural justice a luxury post-war Sri Lanka cannot afford especially if it stands in the way of the regime getting its own way? As this columnist wrote some time ago and as the president is reported to have said in an inimitably candid statement of his idea of governance – it boils down to “Ape Minihava Beraganna Oney” and therefore it is “Shape Karala Ganna” all the way. Impunity rules as long as apparatchiks remain so. Contort, corrupt institutions and processes as a consequence; nurture and sustain a popular culture of subjects not citizens.
As long as she stands her ground, the Chief Justice will be impeached. The regime have in their ham-fisted, revengeful way made a heroine and a martyr out of her and aroused the legal fraternity in a defence of the judiciary in a way unimaginable in the desolate days of the Eighteenth Amendment and all the assaults on governance and the rule of law by this regime, before and since. The regime cannot back down now without looking weak and immature at the least.
And so it comes back to us. There is every sign of it getting worse before it begins to get better. This is what comes from destroying the prospects for reconciliation and from the certainty of impeachment, which is illustrative of the crisis of governance.
A disempowered man from Jaffna told me that things there look better but feel worse. He was an IDP, metaphorically speaking.
Is this the fate that awaits us who cling to a notion of citizenship?
The play is the thing; to be a part of and not merely watch.