ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 30, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 18
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Govt. must put its HR act together

If one-time Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike referred to the "rapacious west" in her address to the United Nations some 35 years ago, President Mahinda Rajapaksa this week took a similar swipe at the western-dominated International Community that has been his bugbear almost ever since he decided to counter the long-time separatist scourge in this country.

When President Rajapksa said, "My country has no record of inflicting misery on fellow human beings for the purpose of empire building, for commercial advantage or for religious righteousness", he was perhaps making reference to the fact that those who point fingers at Sri Lanka are not exactly without their historical and contemporary warts themselves.

But when Mrs. Bandaranaike made her UN speech, she had the backing of the 101-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Today, the NAM is virtually an extinct volcano -- and Sri Lanka is pretty much alone. The President urged that human rights be not used as a weapon or tool to crucify nations and their leaders, but the fact remains that there indeed are good reasons for Sri Lanka's human rights record to be kept on the watch-list of the world community.

It is most unfortunate that because of these aberrations on the part of the administration, victims of such violations must seek international help. And when there is credible evidence of such excesses, a flood of inspired stories pour into the cauldron. Hence Sri Lanka gets tainted as yet another Zimbabwe or Sudan -- anything but the Paradise Isle it once was, and is meant to be.

A Government armed with emergency powers to deal with the insurgencies has found it difficult to resist the temptation to use them for routine governance issues. 'National Security' is their theme song to justify the exercise of these powers in fields other than those they are intended for.

During the past month or so, Sri Lanka has been hauled over the coals over its human rights record. In Geneva, team after team, from the Attorney General to Cabinet Ministers and senior officials had to do their utmost to prevent resolutions naming and shaming the Sri Lanka State as one that violated the human rights of her people.

These Sri Lankans have performed valiantly in saving Sri Lanka's name. From all accounts, they have been subjected to cross-examination, sometimes of a virulent nature. And sometimes by people, who not only dare not ask the same questions from 'bigger boys', but whose own countries respect human rights -- in the breach.

We hear of how when one of our senor officials, on the sidelines of the Geneva UN Human Rights Council session asked one of the agencies riveted on Sri Lanka's human rights problem, why they do not probe such violations in Iraq committed by western military forces, the answer was "It's too dangerous to go there".

At least he gets full marks for telling the truth. That several international agencies and persona look at Sri Lanka with a jaundiced eye is a known fact. Take the ongoing drama unfolding between this group of so-called eminent persons that is to observe the investigations into several killings in Sri Lanka recently, and the Presidential Commission probing such killings. The group called the IIGEP (International Independent Group of Eminent Persons)has paid scant respect to even basic procedures, leave alone common courtesies when dealing with the Presidential Commission (Please visit our report).

They are quick to cast aspersions and instead of lending a helping hand to the Commission, seem bent on throwing mud. The timing of the release of their public statements leaves much to be desired, and can easily be seen to be based on some agenda of their own seeking. Sri Lankan officials may have successfully defended Sri Lanka's name at Geneva and elsewhere, but that is only a brief respite. Much of our defence line has been to urge critics to 'come and see' what's happening in Sri Lanka.

A whole host of foreign observers are due to descend on Sri Lanka in the coming months. They will be asking pompous questions and making grand reports. By now we can even guess what they will say- that "both the Government and the LTTE must respect human rights". And after such erudite findings, they will go away -- to Sudan maybe. Or now to Myanmar.

But at the end of the day; there's no going back on the fact that there is a definite need for this Government to clean up its act. And the Sri Lankan officials who have had to face the music around the world, and even in this country, might do well to impress on the Government the utmost urgency of doing so.

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