The military takeover of the civilian government in Myanmar seems to have resonated in Sri Lanka as well and for good reason. For one thing, the overthrow of the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi Administration has to be condemned outright. The military is not supposed to be running a country. And unlike some other [...]


Lessons from Myanmar


The military takeover of the civilian government in Myanmar seems to have resonated in Sri Lanka as well and for good reason.

For one thing, the overthrow of the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi Administration has to be condemned outright. The military is not supposed to be running a country. And unlike some other countries, Myanmar was, like Sri Lanka, geographically so located that it could not escape the covetous eyes of the rest of the world’s attention.

Military juntas long ran Myanmar as a hermit-state in splendid isolation from the rest of the world. The daughter of a popular General and freedom fighter, Aung San Suu Kyi engaged in mass mobilisation with a cry for democracy at great personal sacrifice. Attempts more recently by the junta to ‘democratise’ the country as public agitation against it spread, forced elections and last November the junta-backed political party was routed in favour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. Clearly, the junta could not stomach that snub by the people.

The democratic space has, however, been short lived with the coup this week. Myanmar’s political leaders have all been taken into custody propelling the country backwards from the process of democratic reforms earning the wrath of their own people, and the democratic world at large.

The case study of Myanmar is one that ought to interest the Government. When there was a military crackdown on an influx of refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh, countries in the West where Islamophobia is itself on the rise were quick to thrash Myanmar at international fora, especially the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Then, the Islamic countries ganged up and got Gambia, which has nothing to do with Myanmar to file a petition before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the ‘Genocide Convention’. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was also moved to investigate the crackdown.

Neither Myanmar nor Sri Lanka are parties to the Rome Statute that gives legal status to the ICC, but even so, the ICC found a way to investigate Myanmar. The recent report on Sri Lanka by the UNHRC chief on Sri Lanka has mentioned a referral of Sri Lanka to the ICC. While admittedly, such a referral is a ‘long shot’, it cannot be lightly dismissed given the Myanmar case. This is how Western powers leverage weaker countries to toe their line and they will find a way to justify whatever they want.

Ironically, it was left to Aung San Suu Kyi to defend her country and its military at the International Court of Justice. This she did as a patriot, even if it came at the expense of her own global image as a defender of human rights. Now, the military has paid her back for her services by overthrowing her government.

Myanmar and Sri Lanka have a lot in common, their centuries-old common Theravada Buddhist heritage apart. The majority of the people have a common pride in their nationhood given their historical experience with colonialism and subjugation. Both countries became free in 1948, Myanmar a month before Sri Lanka, but unfortunately, Myanmar took the military route with its first coup in 1962, the year some of Sri Lanka’s military chiefs at the time also attempted one. If Myanmar is run by the military with the civilian public service under its jackboot, Sri Lanka is increasingly looking to the military to run its public services.

Whether it is the junta in Myanmar or the civilian administration in Sri Lanka, both countries are at pains to remain ‘non-aligned’ amidst heavy external pressures from India, China and the West, all competing for influence in the unfolding global power struggle. For these reasons, events unfolding in Myanmar should be seen as a textbook case for Sri Lanka.

Commissions, omissions and credibility

While Presidential Commissions of Inquiry have been ‘dime a dozen’ in recent years, not worth the millions of dimes spent over them, the common question is ‘what on earth happens to these reports’ after all the endless hours spent on hearings and reams of paper expended. Most of them merely gather dust in some pigeonhole at the Presidential Secretariat. The Commission report on the death of former Minister A.H.M. Ashraff was, in fact lost, and retrieved only after an RTI application was filed for it.

More recent reports like the SriLankan Airlines Commission’s recommendations over the multimillion dollars losses of public funds and corruption in the national airline were not even tabled in Parliament, though that means nothing very much anyway.

These Commissions are usually appointed as an escape avenue for political leaders under pressure and to overcome difficult situations to buy time until public agitation fades or shifts to some other issue. It is not about wanting to implement their findings.

That said, there are Commission reports that should be thrown into the waste paper basket, and the report on Political Victimisation that was presented to the President is one of them. It is no different to the Special Presidential Commission of the 1970s that was appointed purely to disqualify Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike from contesting the next presidential election.

The Commission was a farce from beginning to end. Its recommendations that some well-known fraudsters who are well entrenched with the current dispensation were subjected to ‘political victimisation’ is furthest from fact. Many were those who exploited their political connections to benefit at the public’s expense. Whitewashing them doesn’t help. On the other hand, the hunters got hunted.

The bigger problem for the Government would be the credibility of the Commissions it appoints and how they will be viewed in the eyes of the international watchdogs yapping away at its doings. This will only justify what the critics say. The newly appointed Commission to review all Commissions before it on human rights to placate the UNHRC juggernaut will find its task even more at odds in the circumstances.


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