Foreign experts, they used to say, were persons who came to the country to find out, and left before they were found out. Foreign correspondents were known as “Running Johns” or “Running Janes” as the case may be, for the ‘in-out’ reporting they would do from the world’s hot-spots. One recalls these jibes of the [...]


He came, he saw, he conjured


Foreign experts, they used to say, were persons who came to the country to find out, and left before they were found out. Foreign correspondents were known as “Running Johns” or “Running Janes” as the case may be, for the ‘in-out’ reporting they would do from the world’s hot-spots.

One recalls these jibes of the past having seen the recent visit of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) chief to the country; how he met very important persons by prior appointment and after four days and only a few hours after meeting the President and the Prime Minister issued a full-blown statement on the state of the nation vis-a-vis the UNHRC Resolution that binds Sri Lanka to holding an inquiry into what his statement refers to as the “final years” of the Northern separatist insurgency.

Some would probably have liked the Jordanian Prince, like Prince Siddhartha, and many Royals of yore, to have worn a turban, donned a sarong and roamed the streets to see what life is like outside the Royal Courts and Chief Minister’s offices. Had he done so in Jaffna and Wellawatte, and spoken to ordinary Sri Lankans, he might have got a better feel for what it is like for the ordinary people in this post-war otherwise secular island-nation.

Why the Prince is interested only in the “final years” of the virtual civil war (earlier it was the ‘final stages’) is a moot point. Who started this armed militant movement; the geo-politics and hegemony involved; was it an ethnic issue or was it due to the caste-dominated mainstream politics in the North? The whole question was a by-product of so many factors. His statement says, “if Sri Lanka wants to confront its past honestly”…. then, surely, these factors of the past also must be taken into consideration. His statement has some important elements to discuss. At least he has dropped the exaggerated figure of 40,000 deaths during the “final stages” of the “war” as concluded in the UN Darusman Report. The Prince now, more modestly refers to the “tens of thousands of lives”.

He refers to the credibility of the Sri Lankan judicial system. He gives some lame examples, but no one doubts the fact that the Sri Lankan judicial system had become a rubber-stamp of the Executive President. That does not mean there are no upright judges in Sri Lanka. It is just that they were sidelined. However, when he underscores, therefore, the need for international participation in a ‘war crimes tribunal’ by whatever other name, that is where the bone of contention lies. He has the audacity to say that this is an “unfortunate” argument. He might be an international civil servant, but one might ask his views if a similar tribunal was to be imposed into the affairs of his kinsmen. Jordan is not a squeaky clean kingdom, after all. A redeeming point of departure is that he says that the UNHRC “suggests” (not insists) such international participation.

Then, the Prince went completely out of his territory to call for a reduction of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces from the North and East. Plainly put, that is none of his business. That is a matter entirely of national security for the Government of a sovereign state.

The “Elephant in the room” remains whether there will be foreign judges or not, and it is an issue that continues to haunt the Government. Wedged as it is between the commitment it has given to the Geneva UNHRC Resolution and domestic compulsions, the Government must work out a strategy to wriggle out of the problematic issue. The President is caught on the wrong foot having told foreign media channels there will be no foreign judges, only to back-flip on Independence Day and tell the visiting UNHRC chief that Sri Lanka will abide by the Geneva Resolution and no sooner the chief leaves, have two of his (SLFP) Ministers hold a press conference and say the President will not allow foreign judges.

This whole process of opening old wounds is part and parcel of the Resolution that was aimed at the previous regime in Sri Lanka. One needs to wait and see if the wound will heal, or fester as a result of this whole process. Soon after the UNHRC chief issued his statement the UN Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence says that Sri Lanka cannot be asked to make hasty decisions. The Jordanian Prince must have read Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ that lofty ideals sometimes translate to bad government; he speaks of the desirability of native troops and that leaders of a principality must avoid being hated and despised by the people; that their goodwill is the best defence of a fortress.

Give more resources to AG’s Dept.
After a month of vacillation and buck-passing, the Government has eventually decided on a new Attorney General. The choice is all the more significant in the backdrop of the impending ‘war crimes tribunal’ and the ‘domestic mechanism’ that is to be set in motion to try those including members of the Armed Forces who are alleged to have committed violations of International Humanitarian Law.

That the Government kept to a choice from within the department unlike in the past needs to be recognised and praised. The politicisation of the department ruined its reputation in the past and is part of the overall bad image the country’s legal and judicial processes have acquired in recent years. Finally, the department was brought under the then President discarding whatever semblance of independence and impartiality it may have had.

The Attorney General’s Department has been the butt-end of unfair criticism during the past year especially from politicians who have all kinds of vested interests in its workings. There is a politician who as Minister of Justice ordered the then acting AG to send out an indictment paper even when senior officers of the department said there was “no case”. A member of the current Constitutional Council cannot be unaware of this incident. The entire judicial system was tampered with thereafter to get a conviction in favour of the then President. Such politicians have the temerity to preach justice today from the Opposition pulpit.

The AG’s Department is supposed to indict an individual in the High Court only after a considered, impartial view that there is a “very real probability of a conviction” based on the facts usually from a Police investigation and ought not to be based on rumour, hearsay or a political directive.

The AG’s office is terribly understaffed and overworked. It gets an average 6,500 files per year from the Police, magistrates, government departments and other agencies dealing with issues such as child abuse, all to be handled by a staff of 60 state counsel with 20 senior supervisors. To expect them to work at the speed of greased lightning is unfair, and the Government needs to give the department a helping hand without merely bad-mouthing it at every turn.

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