Could anything have betrayed our desperation more clearly than this shrill caterwauling that we hear from the Government on the possible (formal) emergence of the report on Sri Lanka by the Advisory Panel of the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG)? If the Government says that it is flawed as it has been quick to do, surely would not the simplest option have been to issue a sober and calm denunciation of its contents and findings without all this unseemly hysteria?
Rational engagement and unseemly
True, perhaps a more rational engagement with the Advisory Panel might have averted even the emergence of such a report as this column argued last week. It is absurd to claim that such an engagement would have been tantamount to accepting the legitimacy of the Panel. Communications would have been via the UNSG to a member state of the United Nations.
Assailing the ‘legitimacy’ of an internal Advisory Panel (which the UNSG is perfectly within his rights to establish as he thinks fit), is an oxymoron if there ever was one. Besides the same logic surely applies to meeting with the Panel and this apprehension did not seem to have deterred high officials of the government from, albeit secretly, having discussions with Panel members?
There is also little point in bewailing the hypocrisy of international realpolitik which leads to the United Nations to adopt one stance in respect of human rights violators of powerful nations and demonstrably quite another in respect of weaker states. These are realities that even first year international law students are familiar with. If the Government of Sri Lanka had looked to itself in promoting a genuinely post war process in which the Rule of Law was given a paramount place in relation to the minorities as well as the majority, one need not have bothered about meddlesome interventions, whether by the UN or others.
But has the Government done that? Where is the evidence to show that the spirit and substance of democracy is flourishing in this country? Is it not the case that we have lost even the little that we had earlier as a result of the 18th Amendment which signaled the entrenching of Presidential authoritarianism with a vengeance?
Political will to restore democracy more
effective if evidenced
If political will had been shown by this administration in returning this country to democracy, this would have done far more to protect the Sri Lankan nation and defeat the misleading rhetoric of the pro-LTTE lobby than the continued unleashing of vitriolic abuse on all and sundry by the government’s media propagandists, (embedded or not in the private media), whose sensitivities appear to be easily and rather hilariously touched when referred to as such in no uncertain terms.
|"If the Government of Sri Lanka had looked to itself in promoting a genuinely post war process in which the Rule of Law was given a paramount place in relation to the minorities as well as the majority, one need not have bothered about meddlesome interventions, whether by the UN or others. But has the Government done that? Where is the evidence to show that the spirit and substance of democracy is flourishing in this country?"
Instead, we revel in being hysterical. And the wildly alternating reasons issued by the Minister of External Affairs as to why the UNSG’s advisory report should not be made public, verge on the asinine. First we are told that doing so would harm the United Nations system.
Then we are told that it would harm the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. What reconciliation process, one could justifiably question by the way? Is it reconciliation to insist that schoolchildren of Tamil ethnicity should learn the National Anthem in the Sinhala language? Is it reconciliation to destroy constitutional institutions such as the Pubic Service Commission and the Bribery and Corruption Commission and instal a palpably weak Human Rights Commission?
The Attorney General and the legal system
Is it reconciliation to politically subvert institutions such as that of the Department of the Attorney General to the extent that justice cannot be expected in cases termed as ‘politically sensitive’? This week and somewhat in an unprecedented manner, we saw a sitting Chief Justice adversely comment on the withdrawing of charges by the Attorney General in cases against politicians without assigning reasons. This caution is to be welcomed.
However, does the Chief Justice who is the head of the judiciary, not possess the inherent power to call for the record of a matter in a lower court and examine the same if the state law officer is alleged to have engaged in an irregular practice? In any event, if a High Court has acceded to the irregular withdrawal of charges, Article 138 of the Constitution confers powers on the Court of Appeal to call for and examine the record of any lower court and correct a failure of justice if such has been alleged to have occurred.
It must be acknowledged that returning the legal system to a post 1999 state and to what existed before the institution of the judiciary was unconscionably ravaged by former Chief Justice Sarath Silva was never going to be easy. It must also be acknowledged that even this country’s most liberal judges have traditionally been reluctant to question the actions of the Attorney General except in very perverse cases. But such reluctance should surely change at least now for the benefit of the country, particularly when we see examples of such boldness by judges in India and Britain and even as far way as in Israel and in some African jurisdictions?
A deficit of justice and rash propaganda
To that extent and as has always been argued in these column spaces, the question of the deficit of justice that we see in Sri Lanka today is not a matter relevant to those of Tamil ethnicity alone. This argument may be rebutted by those who wish to pursue their long standing contention that the state of Sri Lanka has been a racist State. The point however is that the brutality of the State has been evidenced in full measure against Sinhalese as well as Tamils and Muslims. This is a historical fact. Then again, the State has failed in relation to enforcing accountability against citizens of all races, not limited to the minorities alone. This truth needs to be properly and honestly acknowledged.
The current ratcheting up of the propaganda drive appears to be cheered on by some in that it will gather even more support to the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the basis that it is being victimized by western powers. But is this administration so insecure that it needs to engage in these games even at a point when it appears to have resoundingly emasculated the opposition, cast the former Army Commander into jail and virtually gagged the media?
Losing one’s voice and one’s courage
It seems fashionable meanwhile on the part of some to marvel at how the ordinary man or woman on the street can be duped by the government’s propaganda. But I hear more sense from the woman who comes to sell vegetables down the road than from city based professionals or academics.
It is surely a redundancy to point out that politicians are politicians wherever they are, whether in Sri Lanka, India, the US or Britain. Yet, in democratic systems, the balance is provided by other countervailing factors. Here, these factors are quite singularly absent. Many segments of the media are either intimidated or co-opted. Academia cowers as if it is frightened of its own shadow and in some unpleasant instances, as we have seen at the University of Colombo, university administrators actively pursue a political line. Ultimately, politicized or self serving professionals and academics, an ‘embedded’ media and a non-governmental sector that has lost both its moral voice and its courage, are to blame for the plight that Sri Lanka finds itself in.
In this most unsavoury mess of pottage, the report of the UNSG appears to have collectively deprived us of even the vestiges of sanity that we once possessed. Undoubtedly, these are not pleasant times to live in.