Human Rights - now and the future
It was only last month that Sri Lankan officials warded off a heavy onslaught from the International Community (IC) on the country's questionable track record on the human rights front.
Yet, the avalanche continues unabated.
Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour arrived in the island. Government officials proclaimed their belief in transparency but Ms. Arbour was not allowed to visit the LTTE stronghold of Kilinochchi.
There is some justification in not allowing such visits to give credibility to an organisation that proudly claims it runs a virtual separate state; but on the other hand, it might not have been a bad idea to permit her entre to that fiefdom ruled by the gun.
But what was a bad idea was Ms. Arbour's veiled suggestion of a larger presence of the UNHRC in Sri Lanka, what has been interpreted as that of a 'permanent mission' in the country.
Nearly 60 years after this country regained her political independence, after almost 450 years of foreign rule, the distaste for foreign intervention remains strong.
In a UN statement issued last Monday, after Ms. Arbour's visit, it was stated that "There is a large number of reported killings, abductions and disappearances which remain unresolved".
Our front page story from New York is another blow to the Government on the same issue. They say that no less a personage than the President of the Republic was "essentially evasive" when asked about disappearances.
So, in short, not only is there a clear ganging-up against the Government, but a credibility factor involved as to whether the Government and the mechanisms available in Sri Lanka are up to the task of managing the Human Rights situation.
Our Legal Correspondent writing on page 15 refers to the application of international treaties to domestic laws which have been questioned even by the Supreme Court.
The Government seems to have got activated with the Arbour visit, and tabled domestic enabling legislation in Parliament. It just goes to show that the Government indeed needs a nudge, if not an elbow to do what it ought to be doing.
Ever since the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar left the scene, there has been a lack of follow-up processes in bringing the country on par with its international obligations.
There is, sometimes, the lack of prosecutional and judicial will to bring about convictions, and sometimes, going by a recent case of where the son of a Government Minister was granted bail, the old adage that justice must not only be done, but seem to be done.
In the country this week was a French Magistrate who has been given wider investigative powers in addition to his judicial powers. There is a need for the Law Commission, or whoever is responsible for judicial reform to consider this option here. If, at the apex, we have a French-style Presidential system of government, why not a similar judicial system?
Our Legal Correspondent has referred to the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission as being at its "lowest ebb today". This certainly does not reflect well on a country that is slowly being classified as a State that does not respect the human rights of its citizens. It is then difficult for that State to ask other countries to respect the human rights of its citizens abroad, as can be witnessed in the Rizana case in Saudi Arabia where she languishes in death-row and the Sri Lankan Deputy Minister is not even given an appointment by anyone in authority when he goes pleading for clemency.
But Sri Lanka is indeed fighting what is, in all but name, a civil war.
The UN coming here on a permanent basis is, our Legal Correspondent says, "not a magical cure", but then again, anyone who says that all's well in Sri Lanka needs to have his or head examined.
The President this week proudly claimed that the IC has expressed its confidence in Sri Lanka, referring to the US$ 500 million bank loan secured from international banks by his Government. He says this shows the confidence placed in the country.
The Government seems to have misplaced notions about how the IC looks at this country. Getting this commercial loan is nothing to gloat about, really. Someone has to pick up the tab some day.
That the country is a high-risk country for lending seems to be reflected by the relatively high interest rate. The re-payments of this loan have to be made pawning future generations, which brings us to the human rights of generations unborn, and how much the government is getting deeper into the debt-trap, and the grip of the very foreign community they otherwise show contempt for.