Sri Lanka was put in the international dog house on Thursday, after the United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet issued a damning report on the country’s dismal track record of human rights violations and the Government’s continued failure to address rising global concerns and deny redress to the victims. Accusing Lanka of dragging her [...]


Human Rights Chief gets tough, warns Lanka: Enough is enough


Sri Lanka was put in the international dog house on Thursday, after the United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet issued a damning report on the country’s dismal track record of human rights violations and the Government’s continued failure to address rising global concerns and deny redress to the victims.

Accusing Lanka of dragging her feet for far too long in bringing the guilty to justice, Bachelet gave signal the UN Human Rights Council had come to the end of its tether and would brook no excuse any further when she charged that ‘Domestic initiatives for accountability and reconciliation have repeatedly failed to produce results, more deeply entrenching impunity, and exacerbating the victims distrust in the system.’

UNHRC CHIEF MICHELLE BACHELET calls for member states to take criminal action against Sri Lankans wanted for international crimes in their own domestic courts under the accepted principles of universal jurisdiction

The 17-page report, mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 40/1, warned “Sri Lanka’s current trajectory sets the scene for the recurrence of the policies and practices that gave rise to grave human rights violations’; and listed the early warning signals as ‘the accelerating militarisation of civilian governmental functions, reversal of important constitutional safeguards, political obstruction of accountability, exclusionary rhetoric, intimidation of civil society, and the use of anti-terrorism laws’.

But, with Bachelet on the war path, there was worse to come in the report.

Adding a new dimension to the war crimes probe which has dragged on for over ten years, Bachelet called on all member states of the United Nations to assume a proactive role to bring the guilty to justice. She urged them to pursue investigation and prosecution of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka before their own national courts, declaring they can be tried in domestic courts under accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

What can be held as an all-out declaration of war by a one-woman bureaucratic army of  the United Nation’s human rights organ, High Commissioner Bachelet called:

n Member states to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

n Victims and their representatives to promote such avenues for accountability, including through opening investigations into possible international crimes, and to support a dedicated capacity to advance these efforts.

n Member states to also apply targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans against State officials and other actors credibly alleged to have committed or be responsible for grave human rights violations or abuses.

n Member states to support initiatives that provide practical benefits to victims and their families.

The report, which will be tabled at the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) 46th session to be held from February 22 to March 19, also calls for an International Criminal Court investigation into Lanka’s terrorist war and sanctions on military officials accused of war crimes.

So what axe does this paediatrician by profession, the 69-year-old Michelle Bachelet have to grind against Sri Lanka with so much vehemence? Surely it’s nothing personal but what provokes her ire, intensifies the fire? Perhaps, a possible trauma, suffered in her twenties, may provide better insight as to what makes Chilean born Human Rights Czar Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria fume?

For starters, consider this. Michelle’s father, Alberto Bachelet, an Air Force General, had remained loyal to the former socialist President, Salvador Allende, during the 1973 military coup by Army General Pinochet. He was arrested and tortured and died in prison in 1974. Michelle and her mother, archaeologist Angela Jeria, were also arrested and taken to the notorious Villa Grimaldi torture centre, where they were tortured during interrogations. “They put a hood over my head, threatened me and hit me. But I was spared the grill,” Bachelet said as she later recalled her experiences. The “grill” was a frame for administering electric shocks. The following year, she went into exile in Australia and returned to Chile only in 1979.

Secondly, consider this. In 2006, she was elected as Chile’s first woman President and served till 2010. She was elected again in 2014 to 2018. There was no scandal of human rights violations under her watch. She left presidential office in March 2018 and assumed office as UN’s Human Rights high Commissioner in September that year.

So how does the Sri Lankan Government cross swords in Geneva’s theatre of war with an accomplished and experienced Commissioner who has been the victim of human rights violations and knows the pain first hand; and, as twice President of Chile before becoming the tormentor of human rights violators, is well versed in the cut and trust of statecraft and tactical strategies and thus can spot a charade a mile away?

Hopefully, Sri Lanka’s response will be positive, in line with a sober and realistic assessment of the prevailing situation with the necessary assurances given. It should be borne in mind that, however stirring it may sound on home turf, nationalist and chauvinist rhetoric can ring rather hollow on the podium of an international conference hall.

The same truth will hold good for omitting rantings of ‘interference in internal affairs of sovereign states’ from the sphere of rational debate  and reply; especially  when those outdated concepts no longer hold water and provide no shield of armour before a  charge of crime against humanity. The world has come a long way to regard sovereignty not as an iron curtain descended but rather as a hymen to be pierced or a veil to be lifted.

And as for talk of sovereignty, ain’t it rich for a nation to talk as if it was still possessed of a sovereignty immaculate to be preserved and inviolate to be defended when it has been hocked to the hilt to both China and India without a blush, with the beggared nation still unsated bent on selling the last of the family silver for a few paisas more?

With any bluff waiting to be called, with any deceit waiting to be exposed, with a pig’s breakfast waiting to be made if the chosen gambit fails to convince, honesty may be the best policy to avoid the whirlwind’s wrath. Especially bearing in mind, America’s State Department warning while still reviewing Bachelet’s damning report: “Sri Lanka’s future depends on respecting rights today and taking meaningful steps to deal with the past.”

Even a cat has only nine lives. Can Lanka afford to lose another chance to get her act right before the trade embargos start to roll in?

Shukra, girl in a million, twenty two times over

Seventeen-year-old schoolgirl Shukra entered a television channel’s knowledge contest early this month in the hope of winning Rs. 125,000 to buy a laptop to help her with her corona-impacted online studies.

But with her every answer being spot on to every question asked, she not only went on  to scoop television’s richest jackpot of 2 million bucks but ended up winning the hearts of twenty two million Lankans, too.

But though her right answers won her the bonanza, it was her endearing smile, her pleasing personality, her infectious enthusiasm that stole Lanka’s hearts as she regaled the audience with her vast ambit of knowledge, her fluency of language and her grasp of literature, from Guttila Kaviya to Mahaushada Panditha in the Buddhist Jatakas.

And even when she spoke of the hardships her family faced with her diabetic father, and her mother, the sole bread winner of the family, it was only to illustrate her determination to learn as much as possible of everything under the sun and above and use knowledge as the means to transcend the family’s present pecuniary plight and not to evoke pity and beg for charity.

Shukra Munawwar, who comes from the small village of Katugoda situated near the Rumasala Kanda in Galle, first entered Sirasa TV’s widely popular Laxapathy programme on Sunday January 17.  When host Chandana Sooriyabandara asked her what motivated her to participate in the show, her spontaneous reply moved millions.

She said, ‘Although I am a Muslim girl, I like to do everything. My mother and father have given me that freedom. But just because mother and father give us that freedom, we should not use that freedom wrongly. Our parents give us that freedom to see us rising to a good position in life. Till you have come to the position you want to come in life, don’t give up trust and confidence in yourself. Barriers certainly come in life but we must not take them too seriously. Obstacles only strengthen us. Like the present struggle we have.’’

WONDER GIRL: Schoolgirl Shukra Munawwar wowed all Lanka as she displayed her vast array of knowledge to win the contest and transcended barriers of race and religion with her smile and creed to win all hearts

‘What’s that struggle?’ host Sooriyabandara asks whimsically.

‘’Now there is an ongoing online struggle,’’ Shukra replies, smilingly, ‘’not only for me but for many other poor children who do not have a proper device to learn online. Many have to go to a nearby communication centre to learn online. But there are parents who cannot afford to pay even this. Actually, the main reason I decided to come to this show is to buy a laptop to learn online.’’

‘’My father is not well. He is a diabetic patient and is immobile, she continued, her sweet smile lighting her face constantly. “My mother is the one who does everything. She cannot buy me a laptop. She has no money. So with my effort while I am trying to rise, I faced obstacles. They soon appeared.  But I didn’t make them a problem for me. A lot of people said various things. I didn’t make it a problem. No matter what others say, even if they hurt you, criticise you or mock you, don’t take notice. You proceed on your journey. That’s what I’ve got to say.”

With that nugget to chew on for the audience, Shukra, the girl who didn’t hang around cursing the darkness but lit the candle that had brought her to ‘Laxapathiya’s  hot seat, began her marathon run to the finish line.

But it was no straight road she took. Often, after she had provided the correct answer, she went off the beaten track to regale her audience, sometimes with the anecdotal story that lay behind the answer, sometimes with the rest of the stanzas in the Kaviya in question, not merely said in pedestrian prose but sung in song with melodious voice to fill the air with enchantment.

For two more days — the following day Sunday the 17th and the following Saturday the 23rd for that’s how long it took for the 15th and final question to be asked, answered and the contest triumphed — she took her captivated  audience, a mass following of viewers  from every station in life, from every strata  of society, from every creed and caste, from every  race and religion, she took them all, along with her, in her encyclopaedic walk  to keep  her tryst with  the 2 million jackpot at rainbow’s edge.

And as the watching millions walked, they gazed, and in Oliver Goldsmiths paraphrased poetic lines, ‘and still they gazed, and still the wonder grew, how one small scarfed teeny head could hold all she knew.’

Take a bow, Shukra. You have made all Lanka proud of you.

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