By Emil van der Poorten –
The recent goings-on in Geneva where a skilled and suave diplomat of Jordanian origin, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has given Sri Lanka the opportunity to dig itself out of a moral grave of its own excavation is going to produce interesting fall-out.
Prior to the Jordanian presenting his report to the United Nations Council on Human Rights a few days ago, Mangala Samaraweera, our own Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) who has been a pleasant contrast to the buffoonery of some of his predecessors, particularly Rohitha Bogollagama, the antithesis of what the holder of such office should be, fired a pre-emptive salvo of good sense in the Swiss city.
Even though, it seemed to repeat a rather tired manthram of conciliatory sentiments in conciliatory language, it was a pleasant contrast to that which had preceded it in the Rajapaksa years: a litany of lies, obfuscations and undertakings that were deliberately ignored no sooner they were made.
Despite all of the above which seems to suggest that we could be on to a new highway of hope in foreign relations and, infinitely more important, a return to civility in the conduct of our own affairs, I cannot, in the cold light of day, believe that such a sea change is going to occur anytime soon and, even if it comes close to doing so, occurs without the spilling of more innocent and principled blood.
There is a classic dictum that the best way to anticipate future conduct is by reference to past behaviour and if any of the “movers and shakers” in Sri Lankan politics are to be analysed in no matter how cursory a manner, my pessimism should be easily comprehended (and accepted).
The simple fact is that every one of the players in the current melodrama, from one end of the political spectrum to the other, has a track record of not adhering to elementary principle in their conduct, leave alone display the statesmanship and intestinal fortitude required to confront and resolve a dilemma of our own creation.
That unscrupulous politicians claiming to represent the Tamil community played on the racism of Sinhala chauvinists controlling the levers of power to advance their own narrow agendas is a historical fact. However, there has been a pattern of discrimination against the Tamils over the years, justified by the endless repetition of the lie that the Tamils were simply used as part of Grand Imperial Strategy to destroy “2500 years of pristine Sinhala Buddhist Civilization.”
Even if it is not possible to turn back the pages of time and erase this blotch from our more recent history, something that, incidentally, would reinforce some of the central tenets of our Buddhist belief base, that kind of simple acceptance of historical fact appears beyond the reach of our current horde of political opportunists.
The Germans came to terms with what was done in their name, particularly with then-Chancellor Willy Brandt’s national mea culpa in Poland. The Japanese continue to pay the price in international opprobrium for their stubborn refusal to follow suit in the matter of the truly bestial behaviour of their occupying forces in Asia. Sri Lankan governments of various political hues have chosen to follow the Japanese example, not even paying lip-service to the precepts of humane conduct in what they simplistically continue to deem to be a “war against terrorism.”
As someone never impressed by the conduct of the Bandaranaike dynasty going back to the days of Sir Solomon, the chief lackey of the last days of British Imperialism in Sri Lanka, I am assured by most of those I consider objective in such matters that one accusation that could not be laid at the door of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is that of racism/communalism of any kind. I can but hope they are right and that she chooses to apply the skills that she so effectively exercised to oust that blot on our history, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an even greater cause: that of reconciliation of what amount to the two founding communities of this country.
The UN has provided, if I might use that abominable term, “a window of opportunity” to the Sri Lankan government and its people.
To pretend that some elements of the government forces didn’t behave in what can politely be described as a totally unacceptable manner during a quarter century of conflict is to doom any attempt at bringing some measure of peace to this country. Prosecution, to the full extent of the law, those who raped, pillaged and conducted themselves in a truly inhuman manner cannot and must not be avoided, irrespective of which “side” they claimed to represent. To suggest that the application of internationally-accepted laws of decency and justice amounts to an abandonment of every Sinhala soldier, sailor, airman and policemen is nothing short of plain and simple rubbish.
In fact, Sri Lanka could provide an example to the rest of the world in the matter of the administration of post-conflict justice. Then perhaps we could shed the embarrassment we experience every time we see or hear the phrase, “The miracle of Asia” bandied about!
The compromise that the UN appears to have offered us – a “mixed” commission of inquiry – must be grasped with both hands. Perhaps, more important, in the short term, is to apply the steel fist – with or without the velvet glove – to those such as the truly obnoxious Gammanpila and the rest of the little army of agents provocateur that have emerged with the attempted political comeback of our recently-deposed Emperor, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Make no mistake, what I am calling for is the application of the law, not another Rathupaswala-type butchery of those legally and democratically expressing their discontent at their drinking water being poisoned by a company allegedly-controlled by one of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s blue-eyed capitalists.
I remember “Emergency 58” very well indeed. I remember my mother sitting on her front verandah with a single-barrelled shotgun across her knees to give dramatic impact to her promise that she would not let harm come to the one Tamil family that worked for her. Perhaps her flair for the dramatic did the trick or maybe the racist “Goondas” in Siyambalangamuwa village had been making empty threats to begin with. In any event the Tamils who worked for her were not attacked. A footnote to that little tale would be the origin of the term “Goonda:” it was derived from the Sinhala-supremacist rhetoric of a major politician of the then-ruling coalition whose last name was often abbreviated to those first two syllables. Given the conduct of one of his progeny in the campaign to “restore” Mahinda Rajapaksa, the fruit, obviously, doesn’t fall far from the tree!
Incidentally, the anecdote I have just recalled is the piece of my family’s history of which I am, probably, most proud.
We do have an opportunity to rescue this nation from the moral cesspool that the Rajapaksas have dropped it into. “Nothing is forever” might still be true but I don’t think the opportunity that Prince Zeid has offered us will present itself in my lifetime or in that to follow. Are we going to grasp it in both hands or prove, one more time, that we are hostage to Kuveni’s curse forever?