POLITICS ON INTERNATIONAL PLATFORMS DOES NOT CHANGE PEOPLE?S REALITIES
The Sri Lankan government came out with a forceful campaign in favour of the global war against terrorism and against those whom it claimed sought to use human rights as a tool against states in New York at the meeting of the UN General Assembly and in Geneva at the session of the UN Human Rights Council. President Mahinda Rajapaksa used the podium in New York to speak in the Sinhala language and reach the hearts and minds of his countrymen back at home. This was the second successive occasion in which the President used the Sinhala language to address all the nations of the world. Invariably the largest audience for the President?s speech was in Sri Lanka where the powerful state media gave it maximum coverage.
One of the roots of the ethnic conflict, and current war in Sri Lanka, has been the issue of language. When Sinhala was made the sole official language of the country in 1956 over the impassioned opposition of its Tamil-speaking peoples, who amounted to over a quarter of the country?s population, the seeds of ethnic marginalization were laid. Although the government made Tamil also an official language in 1990, it remains unimplemented for the most part. The President?s choice of Sinhala to make his speech at the UN remains part of a deeply ingrained pattern in government officials, both elected and unelected, to give primacy to Sinhala only.
In his speech in New York, President Rajapaksa gave emphasis to the war against terrorism that his government was conducting against the LTTE. He drew upon the growing international antipathy to terrorism, which took an upward climb following the terror attack on the US in September 2001, to strengthen his government?s justification for its use of the military option to restore democracy and peace to the country. The LTTE?s own track record of human rights violations and terrorist practices assisted the government to silence those who might otherwise have stood their ground firmly for the path of negotiations.
The President?s references to the restoration of democracy and plans for massive reconstruction in the newly recaptured areas of the east could have impressed the international delegates to whom a translation of the President?s speech was readily available. The President demonstrated considerable skill in coming across as a homespun and patriotic head of state in his unique clothing with a sash around his shoulder. Notwithstanding his narrow electoral victory which was made possible by the LTTE?s enforced boycott of Tamil voters, the fact that he is the democratically elected President of a country also gave him equal international legitimacy with other elected heads of state, which was visible in the many photographs and visuals that pictured him with leaders of other countries.
But back home in Sri Lanka, most particularly in the north and east where the military conflict between the government and LTTE is focused, the situation was starkly different from that sketched out by the President in New York. The most recent report of the international monitors of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission says that the security situation in the north and east continues to be bleak and deteriorating for the civilian population. The President?s speech made in the Sinhala language would have reconfirmed to the Tamil-speaking peoples their disadvantaged position in Sri Lanka in relation to the more numerous Sinhalese people. In translation the claims made by the President that the government was serious about restoring democracy and development to the north and east would have seemed like an impossible dream, given the situation they presently live in.
A little more than two months ago I was an eyewitness to the fear and suffering that stretches across the east, from Trincomalee through Batticaloa down to Ampara, through which the government?s writ now runs more or less completely. But if the government?s writ implies justice, security and normalcy, this was not at all the case. Due to the constant apprehension about LTTE infiltration, the government troops are on high alert, manning hundreds of checkpoints at which the people are searched and sometimes detained. The armed Karuna group has its offices in public places guarded by its own armed cadres who also prowl about town as an effective para military affiliate of the government forces.
Although the President spoke of a massive development effort to reconstruct the east, the only thing that I saw of a major infrastructure development project during five days of travel through the east was a big bridge that is being constructed near Pottuvil. Indeed, it is hardly a cause for surprise that development should be taking a back seat in the east at the present time. The government is so badly strapped for cash that it is finding it difficult even to make pension payments, although it has printed cash in a manner that has driven up inflation to near 20 percent, has borrowed heavily from the state banking system, and now has approached commercial institutions for massive foreign loans.
The President also spoke of the restoration of democracy and elections. But the ground reality gives another story. The remnants of the LTTE still present in the east, and the possibility of fresh infiltration from outside, create a security crisis in which people are constantly checked, detained, abducted and assassinated. Even if this should happen to a few with impunity, it creates a climate of terror in which people are afraid to speak, even of their own sufferings and the injustices heaped upon them. This makes a free and fair election impossible in the foreseeable future. But the correspondence between democracy and elections is so strong in the international community that it becomes easy to see those who promise it as upholders of the higher values of civilization.
It was not only in New York that the government took the offensive. The government also temporarily staved off a much anticipated resolution against it by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The assumption that the Human Rights Council would call Sri Lanka to account for its deteriorating human rights record proved to be a mistaken one. Many of the countries represented in the Human Rights Council are from the third world, or are those who also face problems similar to those faced by Sri Lanka. Each of these countries is cynically aware that if they were to take up a principled stance against a fraternal country, they are liable to be at the receiving end of that same principled stance.
Those who wish conflict resolution and problem solving in national and international affairs to take place on the basis of human rights, peace and justice may wish that the Human Rights Council of the UN is primarily a human rights body. But this is not the case, as it is primarily a political body just as much as the UN, which is a political organization where the interests of member states come before everything else. For instance, the Human Rights Council failed to meet to discuss a resolution that would condemn the Burmese government for suppressing the people?s movement that demands change in that country. The Sri Lankan government selected a delegation that took advantage of this situation to attack and discredit their opponents.
An example would be a working document listing 547 persons killed and 396 persons disappeared during the period January to June 2007 compiled by the Law & Society Trust, in collaboration with four local partners including the Civil Monitoring Commission and the Free Media Movement, which was submitted to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry as well as relevant members of the government. The government delegation identified that eight of the names on this list were those of Sri Lankan soldiers. They sought to discredit the NGOs, arguing that ?the callousness with which the dead become statistics, mere grist to the mill of these ghouls, does no service to those who suffer through violations of human rights.? But they had nothing to say about the 935 other persons who had been killed or disappeared and whose spirits cry for justice.
A second example would be the government delegation calling upon ?the Office of the Special Representative and the international community to impress upon the LTTE and its breakaway Karuna faction to give priority to implementing the recommendations made in the 20th December report of the UN Secretary General on Children Affected by Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka and to cease child recruitment immediately and return child combatants and young persons to their families to that they can be reintegrated.? However, this statement made no mention of the fact that the Karuna group is an important ally of the government and that the armed cadres of the Karuna group operate freely in government-controlled areas.
For an improvement in the ground situation it may be necessary for an international human rights monitoring mechanism to be established in Sri Lanka on the lines of the UN human rights monitoring mechanism established in Nepal with field offices. As a part of the peace process that led to the peace agreement between the Nepal government and Maoist rebels there was agreement to establish field offices of the UN to monitor the human rights situation.
In New York and Geneva, on the other hand, the Sri Lankan government denied that there was a crisis of human rights in the country. This means that obtaining positive change from the government and its agencies by themselves is unlikely at this time. President Rajapaksa frequently refers to his pride in Asia. Sri Lanka could follow the Nepal example, strengthen its human rights protection mechanism with international assistance, and be another endeavour of Asian peacemaking.
Jehan Perera is on LTTE's pay roll....lol I said that before other say.
Edited By - Priyanthy - 1 Oct 2007 15:21:50 GMT