It is unbelievable but true. When the Political Editor of this newspaper wrote two weeks ago of bodies of Corona-victims piling up in morgues, some of them stacked in container trucks, while crematoriums were working late into the night, one refused to accept that this was Sri Lanka. But truth, it has been said, is [...]


Will September be the cruellest month


It is unbelievable but true. When the Political Editor of this newspaper wrote two weeks ago of bodies of Corona-victims piling up in morgues, some of them stacked in container trucks, while crematoriums were working late into the night, one refused to accept that this was Sri Lanka.

But truth, it has been said, is sometimes stranger than fiction. As I write this the daily death toll is nudging 200. When this column appears it might well reach 200 or more. One can only hope that never happens but we are living in strange times and confronting known and unknown dangers.

Many, if not most of those who have succumbed are the poor and the unprivileged, particularly the elderly, who have neither the means nor the influence to seek better and quick medical facilities or to pay for them. They die where they lay as overworked and under- equipped hospitals, doctors and health staff work desperately. They pass away unhonoured and unwept except by grieving families.

Some observers believe this is nature’s way of striking back at the havoc man has caused over the centuries, destroying its abundant resources and hacking to death what seems to be a carefully crafted ecological system.

What is so condemnable is this still goes on in Sri Lanka where ecocide is committed almost daily, often by politicians or aggrandizing acolytes, despite all the political sermons about preserving the environment for future generations with obeisance to organic fertiliser.

But what haunts an already ravaged public, is that another wave of virus variants will spread rapidly beyond the borders of the highly populated western province to the other eight as some medical professionals argue could happen.

Already we seem to be teetering between three and four Delta mutations causing untold casualties and deaths. Although the Army has launched a vigorous and much-needed vaccination campaign there appear to be pockets of resistance or people who cannot be easily reached

It has been said that vaccination alone will not halt what might develop into a new wave in the coming days and months as mutations are added to existing ones or multiply causing even more casualties.

But this health hazard, however damaging it has been to the economy and the public is certainly not the only hurdle that confronts this Government. To adapt TS Eliot’s opening words in the poem “The Waste Land”, September could prove to be the “cruellest month” as sections of the international community prepare to bear down on the Rajapaksa administration when the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month.

One can understand the Government responding with reasoned arguments to the charges levelled at it by the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. But attempts to dismiss them by scorning her is hardly the way to win friends and influence nations to support the Government when some of its very acts that have attracted castigation are of its own making.

Add to that the amazing mathematical jugglery some government politicians including ministers engaged in to show that Sri Lanka actually out-voted UNHRC resolution last March rather than losing it, beggars belief. If this the best the Government could offer in the way of a defence which would hardly convince a child, it is surely better to strengthen our defences rather than go on a diplomatic rampage as one minister did a few days ahead of the crucial Geneva meeting proposing that head gear and face scarves worn by Muslim women be banned.

This diplomatic faux pas lost Sri Lanka the votes of some Islamic nations in the Council as a glance at the voting would show. Not only that. Our wayward foreign policy articulated by officials without any diplomatic background and a knowledge of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy history, reiterating an “India First” approach initially, then begin to preach one of neutrality when all the world could see the Government was blatantly committed to serving China while rejecting offers of economic assistance and investment from the US and others including Japan betrays an unforgivable naiveté.

Abandoning the country’s traditional non-aligned policy and advocating neutrality that was transparently false lost the country many friends from the Non-Aligned community, as, again, the voting on the March Resolution will show.

Since then some of the actions of the Government in the areas of constitutional freedoms, judiciary independence, rule of law and other infringements that could well be viewed as mocking the Human Rights Council and those who voted for the resolution and even those who abstained, will surely be reflected in the Human Rights Commissioner’s verbal presentation to the Council next month.

There is more to face. There is a resolution before the US Congress that strongly backs the March resolution. Meanwhile the European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly asking the European Commission to consider suspending the GSP Plus trade concession to Sri Lanka. Our ambassador in Brussels Grace Asirwatham last month spelt out clearly the dangers Sri Lanka faces if it ignores compliance with the many international conventions it has signed to.

If new Foreign Minister Prof GL Peiris’ task is to present a smiling face to the West, especially the US and ‘sell’ appeasement as our new policy he might have to wipe off that smile. It is no easy task after the Government’s macho conduct before the world.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard before working in London for Gemini News Service. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner
in London).



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