It is not only at the hands of ruling politicians and militaries that human rights suffer. They are also abused by power hungry politicians and other vested interests masquerading as human rights champions. In this country, we witness both kinds of human rights abuses. The government stands accused of having created a culture of impunity. Similarly, among the campaigners of human rights we have some politicians whose names were once synonymous with extra judicial killings, torture, intimidation and polls rigging.
Besides the culture of impunity, there is a culture of exaggeration in this country. The second uprising of the JVP is said to have left over 50,000 people dead. People were killed in their numbers and the streets were strewn with corpses, many on tyre-pyres. Southern terrorists, vigilantes and the armed forces had a field day disporting themselves, as they did, in a bloodbath. But, did 50,000 people really die? Somebody gave that number, everybody accepted it and nobody challenged it. And, therefore, it went by default. The same goes for the on-going conflict, which is said to have left over 65,000 people dead. Yes, over the past two decades or more, thousands of people have died but have 65,000 people really perished? Nobody seems to know the exact figure.
Sri Lankans` callous disregard for evidence in drawing conclusions on vital matters emanates from their weakness for hearsay and credulity. How often are UFOs sighted in this country? If the frequency of their sightings is anything to go by, the aliens, wherever they may come from, have nothing to do other than hovering above this tiny island!
Sri Lankans` proneness to mass hysteria is also monumental. They see emission of rays from trees and statues! They also love to panic. That seems to be their national pastime. A rumour of a tsunami is enough for them to hook it as fast as they could a few kilometres inland! One can bring the entire school system to a standstill with a warning of a bomb attack, over the telephone. In such a country, is it surprising that the people are liberal with numbers?
It is not being argued that human rights violations are not so serious as they are said to be. There is a spate of extra judicial killings and abductions and they must cause serious concern to all right thinking people. But, the absence of reliable evidence and lack of credibility on the part of human rights campaigners who are playing politics with the issue have led to a serious erosion of public confidence. President Rajapakse told the media about two months ago that of the persons reported missing from several police divisions, about ninety percent had returned but the media had not cared to report their return. Human rights campaigners should have disputed his claim immediately, if they had been in possession of evidence to the contrary.
There are reports that a large number of Muslim businessmen have been kidnapped. But, the Muslim ministers of the Rajapakse government, save a few, recently played down those reports on the grounds that there wasn`t enough evidence. They based their argument on the fact that there were no police reports to back their critics` claims. Victims may be wary of reporting their kidnappings to the police for fear of reprisals but a case not reported to the police is of little use as evidence. It only amounts to hearsay, which serves no purpose in mustering international support, on which the human rights lobby is dependent. That was why the World Muslim Congress Leader Dr. Omar Abdullah Bin Nasif, who was here recently minced no words when he called President Mahinda Rajapakse the best friend of Muslims in the region!
Critics of President Rajapakse are trying to have us believe that the world community is so perturbed by allegations of human rights abuses against his government that he and his men have become untouchables overseas. But, those who matter in the field of human rights at the international level don`t seem to have taken those allegations so seriously. They have chosen Sri Lankan Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Dayan Jayatilleka as Vice President of the UN Human Rights Council. (Remember a set of mere allegations contained in a book against former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga deprived her of a UN post, as international human rights groups took up those charges and the UN became jittery.)
Why hasn`t the on-going concerted campaign against human rights violations in Sri Lanka yielded desired results internationally? That is because most campaigners, as was said earlier, lack credibility and they have, therefore, failed to sell their cause to the world. It is also a question of moral right. If they think they have a moral right to champion human rights, then abortionists can advocate right to life! Who will heed an animal rights campaign by a group of butchers?
Sri Lanka`s human rights record must improve and pressure must be stepped up on the government to curb the current level of rights abuses. To achieve that objective, it is imperative that the human rights campaign be liberated from the clutches of a group of failed politicians desperately looking for political mileage from anything and everything and the various terror fronts and their hirelings advocating human rights selectively to further their interests. It should be entrusted to a group of genuine campaigners the public can trust.
Recently, the Congress of Religions consisting of religious dignitaries of all faiths went public expressing serious concern over the human rights situation in the country. Championing of human rights is best left to such leaders!