Out of the three imposing personages appointed to the UN sanctioned war crimes inquiry against the Lankan Government, Pakistan lawyer Asma Jahangir is the one the Foreign Office should keep a close watch on. Like the most formidable and forward bird in a nest is the first fledgling to flap its wings and fly out [...]


‘War Probe’ Asma gives Lanka a wheeze/The Boru Bala farce


Out of the three imposing personages appointed to the UN sanctioned war crimes inquiry against the Lankan Government, Pakistan lawyer Asma Jahangir is the one the Foreign Office should keep a close watch on.

Like the most formidable and forward bird in a nest is the first fledgling to flap its wings and fly out to brave the open air, Ms. Jahangir has sprung from the war tribunal to the fore with all cannons ablaze and firing and laid to rest any hopes Lanka may have held that the committee’s effort would be waylaid and rendered dead even before it had begun by the Government’s outright refusal to cooperate in any manner whatsoever with the proceedings.

In Asma’s eyes that is simply wishful thinking.

Pooh-poohing any such doubts as to the committee’s capability to proceed in such an instance, this former Human Rights Commissioner of Pakistan who has also held many Human Rights Council mandates, confidently declares, “we have had many international inquiries earlier where governments have not cooperated but still we have provided very independent and reliable reports, and these have been accepted too”.

In an interview with the BBC published on Tuesday, the outspoken Asma, who has gone through many a mill of international human rights inquiries, says the committee will face no hurdle insurmountable and that the Lankan Government’s decision to ban its citizens from testifying before the tribunal will be to no avail for “people always find a way to collaborate with such investigations”.

She says: “It will be a very difficult task for any government to stop people from contacting investigators. If the Government thinks of attempting to arbitrarily prevent people it will only be detrimental to the Government. At the same time, as this inquiry looks at violations committed by ‘all parties’ this inquiry is important for the Government side too.”

The Lankan Government has not only taken the decision to boycott the entire proceedings of the tribunal but has also warned her citizens that they will face criminal charges if they provided any information to the commission or appeared before it. Furthermore, it has even gone to the extent of threatening to label as traitors those who dare to do so.

But the adroit and wily Asma has surreptitiously let slip a googly with the line “as this inquiry looks at violations committed by ‘all parties’ this inquiry is important for the government side too” to give pause to the most patriotic compatriot, to make him wonder whether there is something to be gained, after all, by playing ball with the UN probe.

The UN line has been that this inquiry is not only to probe allegations of human rights violations against Lanka alone but also to investigate allegations of atrocities committed by Tamil terrorists. Though it is clear that this is not the main motive, of the US driven probe, ostensibly, at least, it offers a chance for the Sinhala side to be heard, for the Sinhalese to play their part and defend their position instead of giving it the thumbs down and staying away on the superfluous basis that an external probe tantamount to a violation of national sovereignty.

Let us realise one thing clearly. Only the Sinhalese will come forward to describe the sufferings they underwent and the grievous injuries done to them by Tamil terrorists as they carried out their campaign of terror in the pursuit of a utopian Eelam. No other nation or race will step forward to tell our side of the story. No one will volunteer to pull the chestnuts out of our fire though there will be many to rake the coals and make the flames of hate dance even more. But in the event the Sinhalese victims are banned from testifying before the commission, the opportunity to showcase the macabre catalogue of Tiger genocide attacks will be denied and the voice of Sinhalese victims will be silenced to the delight and applause of the Tamil Diaspora, silenced not by the tribunal but by ourselves.

The gruesome attacks made on Sinhala border villages where innocent men, women and children were hacked to death, the shocking carnage in Aranthalawa where 77 Buddhist monks were brutally slaughtered, the 900 Sinhala policemen in the East who were massacred in cold blood after laying down their weapons and surrendering to LTTE’s Eastern Command on Government orders to facilitate Norwegian-brokered peace talks and many more will go unrecorded at this quasi judicial proceedings. True the ambit of the tribunal is limited to events after the year 2002 but still plenty of opportunities will rise during the proceedings to enable the defence to touch upon and bring these tragic incidents to light.

When we were desperate to tell the world about it, no one cared to listen. Now when the world wants to listen, demands us to tell our side of it and provides an international forum to parade the barbarism Lanka experienced and paid with her blood, we opt to remain tightlipped and play dumb.

If self defence in the face of genocidal attack is still a legal defence, if provocation is still recognised as a mitigating factor to a charge of murder, if the defence of territorial integrity is still a duty of any state and recognised as such in international law; if the maxim ‘do a little wrong to prevent a greater evil’ as used by American President Harry Truman to defend and justify the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Japan not once but twice, still holds water on the international stage what is better -

a) to say our story for what it’s worth and if we are condemned at the end to go down, trying to make the world understand the tragedy that befell the Sinhalese and the pain and grief the nation suffered at the hands of terrorism; or to

b) make a preliminary legal objection that though the rest of the world thinks otherwise, in our eyes the tribunal has no legal jurisdiction; and that to permit such an external probe, even though the United Nations have sanctioned it, is tantamount to a violation of national sovereignty; and that, therefore, rather than acquiescing in the act, we have determined to place ourselves beyond the pale of participation in any manner and to remain silent. Let the world and the Human Rights Commission do as they please. It doesn’t matter to us as long as our sovereignty remains inviolate and immaculate.

Asma Jehangir: Human rights crusader

You can bet your bottom buck that there will be no dearth of Tamils who will form a queue all the way to Geneva to speak out against the Lankan Armed Forces and hurl their canards without any form of refutation. These are factors the Government will have to take note of when it considers its final stance on the matter for, even at this late hour, the door is still open for Lanka to accept the invite and show the world she has nothing to hide but only the truth to declare.

Her presence on the same platform will give her the chance to explain in mitigation some of the unfortunate incidents that occur inevitably in war. Without such explanation, the tribunal will have to go by the one sided version placed before it by those baying for Sinhala blood. These sordid, distorted and invariably exaggerated accounts produced en masse by LTTE diehards and churned out by the Tamil Diaspora will be presented at the UN tribunal’s high table and will provide a gory feast of flesh and blood as haute cuisine of a Sinhala butcher; and being the only dish on the table, the UN’s honoured guests Martti Ahtisaari, Silvia Cartwright and Asma Jahangir will have to swallow it whole.

Navi Pillay has, for her part, gone out of her way to come up with a team ideal to achieve the objective she desires to achieve. On the eve of retirement, she has left her sting as a parting shot. Take for instance the impressive track record of Asma. Her father was human rights activists jailed and placed under house arrests for opposing military dictatorships in Pakistan. Their lands were confiscated, their rights imperiled, their freedoms trammelled. During General Musharaf’s reign she herself was jailed. She and her family have been attacked, threatened, held hostage and received many death threats. When she was younger she was hailed as ‘little heroine’ for leading a protest march against the imposition of religious laws on women by General Zia ul Haq.

She has led many human rights inquiries and was also awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and the Ramsay Magsaysay Award for “greatness of spirit shown in service of the people.” With her impressive track record and the personal experiences she herself has endured has, it is evident, given her an insight no text book or political pamphlet can provide. And it is clear that the lady is not for turning. Any Sandra Beidas attacks on her will only serve to queer Lanka’s pitch even more and she should be treated with kid gloves, even as the other two on the committee should be accorded the respect they deserve. Personal attacks are only resorted to by those who cannot meet the argument.

The inquiry is scheduled to begin in the first week of August. Till then Lanka has time to weigh the pros and cons and finally decide whether it is wiser to hit the ball through the covers in a classic drive for four even though which way the ball UN’s Asma has bowled will turn is anyone’s guess, or to stay put, without offering a stroke, and get bowled for certain.

EXPOSED:  The Boru Bala farceSUNDAY PUNCH 2Talking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth and he couldn’t say boo to a goose, the Bodu Bala Sena chief, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara on Wednesday tells the waiting media after emerging from the CID headquarters in Fort, where he and his clan had been summoned to give a statement regarding the June 15 Aluthgama incident in which three Muslims were murdered and 77 seriously injured, that they dutifully obeyed the summons for ‘no one is above the law’.Presenting himself as a truly law abiding citizen shrouded in the impenetrable veil of non violence, a much abused, misunderstood man more sinned against than sinning, he declares soberly, “we received a request from the CID to come and make a statement. So we came. We have to respect the law of the land. Just because we are monks or religious dignitaries we are not accorded a special place. We are under the present law. Our duty as a Buddhist monk is to protect this non violent Dhamma which we have protected for 2,500 years. When the Dhamma faces attack from other religions the only weapon we, as Buddhist monks, have is the weapon of non-violence. We shall continue to talk in pure language not only at Aluthgama but elsewhere. To awaken our nation is our sacred responsibility. “Referring to the first incident of June 12th in Aluthgama where a Buddhist monk who intervened on behalf of his driver regarding a road incident was allegedly assaulted by three Muslim youths, he says it was a heinous offence against Buddhism and could not be ignored.
“To touch a Buddhist monk is not something that can be treated lightly,’ he states with all the fervour and conviction of one who would not let pass such an incident without meting out the concomitant punishment.

Meanwhile, last Saturday in a separate incident, the chief monk of the Sri Munasingharama Temple in Hatale, Panwila was assaulted by a Sinhalese mob when he tried to intervene to settle a dispute between his driver and the Sinhalese villagers over an illicit affair his driver had with a woman. The villagers then disrobed the monk, forced him to wear a sarong and tied him to a bus stop. He was later hospitalised for the injuries sustained in the assault. Twenty-eight people, including women were arrested by the police following the incident.

So did the self-appointed guardians of Buddhism descend on the village of Panwila to teach its residents a thing or two about how to revere and respect a Buddhist monk, in the manner they expounded on June 15 to the Muslim residents of Aluthgama? Did their bleeding hearts reach out to embrace the distress of their brother monk; did their hands rise in his defence? Was even a salutary statement condemning the attack issued? Was the violent sacrilege denounced in no uncertain crystal pure Sinhala terms? Thankfully they did nothing of the sort and take the law unto their own hands, leaving it to the rightful authority, the police, to settle the matter.

But this incident should have sent the alarm bells ringing throughout the Buddhist domain and alerted both the Sasana and the laity that something was terribly amiss, that something was rotten at the core. When a group of Sinhalese villagers, howsoever enraged, cast aside their long conditioned respect to the clergy and hurl their wrath upon a helpless monk, assault and disrobe him, it is time to take stock of the depths to which that collective respect has been lowered, due, no doubt, in no small measure, to the reprehensible antics of a few renegade monks, bent on squandering by vile word and foul deed, the goodwill earned by their forebearers through worthy precept and exemplary practice.

If there was a time for some honest soul-searching, some genuine effort to douse the fires of hatred with the waters of love, this was it.Instead the Bodu Bala Sena was more intent on communal bashing and challenging the government to arrest them if it dared, with one acolyte even having the gall to warn that if they were arrested ‘all the buildings will be turned to voluntary prisons and all coconut trees would become gallows’.

But, though much welcome, doesn’t the Bodu Bala Sena’s inaction in this case when a Buddhist monk was assaulted and further disrobed and tied to a bus stop by a mob, also reveal that, for all their professed concern over protecting the Sasana and the respect accorded to the Buddhist robe, they will beat the patriotic war drum only when Muslims are involved in the attack, when the risk of communal violence breaking out is ominously present? That when it happens to an innocent Sinhala Buddhist monk at the hands of an angry Sinhala mob, they couldn’t care less?

Boru Bala’s Great Lie stands exposed.

Doesn’t this show, if showing was ever necessary, that it is not their love for Buddhism that motivates them — that it is only a convenient and all excusing cover — but their hatred toward another faith, harboured overtly and expressed violently at the drop of a hat to advance a sinister agenda best known to themselves and to those who fund it? That their vile, despicable nature is such that they are prepared to betray their own religion, barter the sublime faith they were born to, sell outright the mother of all their conditioned thoughts and feelings though now warped and turned barbaric through evil associations; and have no qualms of seeing the noble non violent philosophy of the Buddha, in whose name and honour they perform this abominable treachery and pronounce unspeakable profanities, traduced in the dust to the lasting disdain and contempt of all mankind who can only watch in shocked disbelief at this wanton degradation of the Gautama legacy.

Now that their real motive and purpose in perpetrating violence and terror have been plainly revealed, they should stick to their temples and concern themselves with their spiritual tasks which, given their recent transgressions must demand their total efforts and time to transcend brutish states of samsaric existence, and let the lay law enforcement authorities do their job. The nation’s soil has been drenched by enough blood in these last thirty years by a needless ethnic war that she can do without more being shed at the behest of beasts in robes.

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