The Tamils living in the Colombo lodges must be heaving a sigh of relief. What they experienced on Thursday could be likened to a Dickensian paradox. On the one hand, they were forcibly removed from the city at the behest of some harum-scarum elements in the defence establishment. On the other, in the very city where they were subjected to barbaric ethnic violence and denied justice twenty seven years ago, their ordeal led to their rights being recognised and solidarity pledged with them.
The Supreme Court (SC) interim order, in response to a petition filed by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which deserves credit for its timely action, to immediately halt the forcible evictions pending the final determination of the petition, is of great import for more than one reason. The apex court has brought down the defence bigwigs a peg or two and indicated to them that the sky is not the limit in carrying out counter terrorism operations to ensure public safety. They ought to realise that they cannot act like bulls in a china shop. Restraint is called for.
The SC has also socked it between the eyes of those who are trying to have the world believe that Sri Lanka has plunged into the depths of lawlessness that the rule of law is far from dead and capable of getting activated like an inertia reel whenever the need arises. It is not being argued that everything is hunky-dory in this country. There are human rights violations, as evident from the increasing number of extrajudicial killings reported from various places and the culture of impunity that is setting in, but the fact remains that legal remedy is still available like in any other democracy.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has rightly pointed out that the LTTE terror is no excuse for the government to resort to collective punishment against Tamils. This principle needs to be respected, if catastrophes are to be averted. Else, the draconian measures that governments prefer to adopt by way of short cuts in overcoming difficulties are fraught with the danger of developing into dangerous situations like in Welassa (1817/18), where the British massacred tens of thousands of Sinhalese?all the boys including infants were put to the sword?and gave full cry to the scorched earth policy to quell a rebellion against the crown and more recently in Iraq, where, besides the thousands being killed by bombs and bullets, the US-instigated economic sanctions resulted in Iraqi children dying of dysentery and various other water-borne diseases in their thousands as the embargo prevented even the importation of chlorine. Hitler, ably assisted by Quisling of Norway and even a section of the mainstream Swedish press, meted out `collective punishment` to the Jews. The fate of the Aborigines in Australia and the Red Indians in America, whose populations were drastically reduced by the colonialists through savage slaughter to overcome their resistance, is also an example of punishment`, which needs to be avoided. The suffering that the Chinese and the Koreans have undergone at the hands of the Japanese is also a case in point.
It is good to hear that the US and the UK have vehemently condemned the expulsion of Tamils from Colombo and called for respecting their democratic rights. However, one cannot but think whether the two countries really practise what they preach to the world. Together, they committed a mass eviction of people from Diego Garcia between 1967 and 1973 to make way for a US military base on their island. The victims are left without compensation or the right to return home! This is what London High Court Judge Duncan Ouseley had to say in October 2003 about that criminal eviction: `It does appear that ? at least some claimant Chagossians could show that they were treated shamefully by successive UK governments.`
Britain, which advocates equality and fair play, continues to discriminate against Sri Lankans by fingerprinting them for visa. None other than the Bishop of Colombo has frowned on this deplorable practice and registered his protest with the British Government against it by refusing to travel to that country.
So much for the credentials of the champions of human rights and crusaders against discrimination!
The Supreme Court interim relief has also helped demonstrate the difference that the world should take cognisance of in dealing with a legitimate state and a terror outfit staking claims to statehood. A state is responsive to pressure, both internal and external and can, therefore, be goaded into falling in line. But, the world was helpless when the LTTE ethnically cleansed the North of the Muslims. It has created a mono ethnic enclave where human rights are a thing of the past. The countries (including the mighty US), which have stressed the need for upholding the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Sri Lankans to live in any part of the country, cannot get the LTTE to respect those rights. What a pity and what a shame! Those champions of human rights are making a mockery of their concern for democracy and the rights of Sri Lankans by fighting shy of telling Sri Lanka how to handle the situation in the areas under the LTTE jackboot. Should they be demoractised or allowed to remain as they are? Is it that they want human/fundamental rights to be respected only in these parts of the country?
A move is allegedly underway to settle the Muslims, who were driven out of the North, in the Puttalam District with the help of an international lending agency. Those people who have been suffering in welfare centres for over seventeen years cannot go on living like refugees in their own country till the cows come home. But, doesn`t such a plan amount to legitimising the LTTE`s ethnic cleansing? Has their forcible eviction been taken for granted? What needs to be done is to resettle them where they originally lived and if the existing conditions are not conducive to their resettlement, it is the duty of the state to make them favourable for that. The international community rightly pressured the government to settle the Tamil civilians of Vakarai, who were displaced due to the recent battle for that township, in Vakarai itself. The sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!
It is hoped that those who are on a noble campaign against the forcible eviction of Tamil civilians from the city will also take up cudgels for the rights of the forcibly evicted Muslims of the North. Invoking the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is the best way to thwart the ad hoc measures allegedly being contemplated, which will amount to an endorsement of ethnic cleansing.
Rights of all humans, they ought to realise, are human rights. In protecting them, why not go the whole hog?