Perpetuation of a conflict is inevitable when its resolution is entirely left to the warring parties and the vested interests who step in, masquerading as mediators or facilitators. The parties embroiled in a protracted conflict are naturally driven by maximalism and brinkmanship, which ruin the chances of their reaching a consensus, without which a negotiated settlement is only a pie in the sky. The self-appointed mediators/facilitators who betray their partiality to one party or the other and thereby forfeit their credibility, instead of helping settle a dispute, only fuel the flames of hatred. To them, a conflict in a strategic location in the world is like a festering wound to maggots?something to thrive on. The maximum they will help a country plagued with a conflict achieve is a no-win situation for both parties so that they can continue to have a strong presence in the region and further their own interests. Sri Lanka`s conflict is a case in point.
Sri Lanka has, in keeping with its penchant for anything foreign, always relied on external help for the resolution of her conflict. True, her conflict is of foreign make?made in India, to be exact?and has got internationalised to such an extent that the tackling of it has become impossible without foreign assistance. But, total dependence on foreign help in that endeavour has failed to yield the intended results. Some foreign do-gooders treat Sri Lanka as a `test case` or a guinea pig state in their experiments with terrorism. Hence, the need for an effective local intervention capable of overriding the interests of the external actors!
The setting up of the APRC was a step in the right direction. But, unfortunately, it has lost direction and is slowly but surely sinking into the depths of partisan politics with the main political parties paying lip-service to solving the problem without making a strong commitment or a substantial contribution, like those wayfarers in a local folk tale, who agreed to put a fistful of rice each into a boiling pot of water to make some porridge for their dinner but deceived one another and, as a result, finally had to settle for hot water. That is the problem with politicians trying to solve any problem. They play politics with it and try to use it to their advantage, to hell with the country.
There have been some apolitical interventions but they come from certain quarters accused of being pliable tools of various external forces. Thus, we see a growing public disillusionment with those non governmental organisations which have failed to conduct their affairs in a transparent manner.
It is against this backdrop that the recent resolution of the Congress of Religions should be viewed. A group of religious dignitaries representing all major faiths in this country gathered in Colombo last Friday in protest against the current spate of human rights violations. They vowed to take up the issue with President Mahinda Rajapakse and to resort to an organised form of protests in case of the government`s failure to bring the situation under control.
The on-going human rights violations cannot be more hurtful to anyone than the good men and women of this country, who dream of leading a happy and peaceful life. Therefore, it is they who must lead a campaign to protect human rights.
It is heartening that the good monks, the good bishops, the good kurakkals and the good Maulavis have come to the fore and joined hands for the sake of the suffering public. `All it takes for evil to flourish,` said Edmund Burke, `is for good men to do nothing.` Now that the good men have come forward, the public can heave a sigh of relief. We don`t at least for a moment doubt the credentials of those leaders. But, it behoves them to avoid the mistakes of others who have taken upon themselves the task of protecting human rights.
All human rights campaigns have unfortunately been confined to the South to the neglect of the places where they are needed most. Rights of all humans, as we keep reiterating in these columns, are human rights and their violations must be opposed tooth and nail.
Besides the high incidence of abductions, extortion, killings, intimidation etc., in the southern parts of the country, which those dignitaries are rightly protesting against, they should rise against terror attacks of all sorts in the city and the plethora of human rights violations in the Wanni.
They must take the trouble of travelling to Kilinochchi and other parts of the North and the East, where the people are going through hell, and do their utmost, in keeping with the tenets of their great religions to ameliorate human suffering.
What they ought to realise is that they cannot operate in water tight religious or ethnic compartments. Together, the Congress of Religions must campaign for the rights of all communities. Buddhist monks must unequivocally back the protests against the disappearance of Catholic priest Jim Brown, for which the armed forces have been blamed and the Christian clergy must lend their support for the protests against the killing of the Maha Sangha like the massacre by the LTTE of Buddhist monks at Aranthalawa. The killing of kurakkals like the gunning down by the LTTE of a Hindu priest for blessing President Mahinda Rajapakse in the East a few moons ago and the killing of Maulavis as in the case of the massacres of Muslims by the LTTE at Kaththankudi and Eravur, must be condemned by one and all. That is the best remedy for the balkanization of Sri Lankan society, the fallout of which has manifested itself in the present sorry state of affairs.
It is imperative that the Congress of Religions cease to be a mere pressure group and evolve into a people`s organisation devoid of petty religious or ethnic differences.
Let their scheduled protests be the first step towards the formation of a genuine mass movement, capable of standing up for all communities and pressuring both parties to the conflict to reach the middle ground.