By Hema Senanayake –
“Accountability” is an important word in international law and international relations. The effect of this word and the principles that impart by that word is truly important at least to every human being on this planet. The simplest meaning of accountability is the answerability by any person for his or her mindful action. This simple definition differentiates the principle of accountability from the principle of The Rule of Law. The rule of law relates to an institutional system while the accountability relates to an individual.
When President Mahinda Rajapaksa or anybody quotes Lord Buddha to make a point that resonates well with me. But if somebody quotes Lord Buddha to negate the principle of accountability and the accountability to the rule of law it would not resonate well with many true Buddhists, I guess. In his speech at the inaugural meeting of the Commonwealth Head of States president quotes the Buddha and says “Let not one take notice of faults of other’s or what they have done or not done. Let one be concerned only about what one has done and left undone.’ (End of quote). He quoted the relevant Pali verse too, but the above quoted English translation of the verse does not give the real meaning of the original Pali verse of the Buddha. This is a different point I just make to caution the speech writers to the president. The point I want to make is; “why the president quoted the said quote?’ Was it to negate the principles of accountability or to uphold the principles of accountability?
The first part of the quote is “Let not one take notice of faults of other’s or what they have done or not done.” Does this “saying” negate the principles of accountability? I do not know. I am asking you including the president himself. If this was quoted to negate the principles of accountability then it would not have well resonated with the Heads of States of the Commonwealth who were listening to the speech; because the principle of accountability has no meaning if “one not takes notice of faults of other’s.”
How does the UN Security Council understand the issue of accountability? In a recent report of the Council, it observes “…accountability is a practical tool that can promote peace and security.” Please pay attention to the words “practical tool.” The report further concludes “…promoting accountability is an important tool at its disposal in discharging its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Do we in Sri Lanka reject this understanding?
Just imagine a world that removed “accountability” from international law or international relations then you may quickly realize that the world would have been a totally different place than toady with a lot of chaos and mayhem. Do you need any example here? If so, in general colonial era was a period without accountability. Powerful countries literally did what they wanted in the colonial period without any accountability for their actions. That period has gone now. This is the new era of accountability. Sri Lanka is better off in a world that upholds the principles of accountability.
Therefore, I consider “accountability” is an important thing not only in the international law but in our domestic law and in our daily lives. Syrian government held accountable for a recent chemical attack on civilians. International community intervened and UN experts sealed off all the stocks of chemical weapons making them inaccessible to the Syrian government. International community “took notice of Syrian government’s fault” and did the right thing; that is how accountability works. Usually, we Buddhist are being blessed by saying “May the Triple Gem Bless You.” Here, the Triple Gem means the Buddha, his revelations and his clergy disciples with supreme mental qualities. Such blessings resonate with me in a good way since I am a Buddhist. In fact, President Mahinda Rajapaksa ended his solemn speech by saying “May The Triple Gem Bless You.” But, sometimes, I feel that it might also appropriate to say, “May the Triple Gem upholds Accountability” – An important tool in the maintenance of the international peace and security by the UN Security Council.
Terrorists reject “accountability.” International community holds terrorists accountable for their crimes. LTTE was held accountable. LTTE is still a banned organization in the United States, Canada and in many more western countries. LTTE’s bank accounts and assets were frozen. Their operatives were put in jail. Should the other side of the warring party be held accountable for the alleged violations of human rights during the war and now? This is the question that international community is asking. The learned answer to this question cannot be; “We have nothing to hide.”
During his speech our president Mahinda Rajapaksa raised three important questions. Let me quote him.
“Your Royal Highnesses, Fellow Heads of Government, Excellencies, and friends, Faced with tough challenges, we, in the Commonwealth, need to ask ourselves, a few questions.
First, Can we realistically say that the need for basic facilities, healthcare, education, productive employment, access to food and safe drinking water, eradication of poverty and hunger, are of lesser importance than political concerns?
Second, Should not the Commonwealth, collectively strive towards the realization of development goals, to enable its member countries to reap economic benefits?
Third, Shouldn’t we be addressing more vigorously the issue of ‘common poverty’ before we talk about ‘common wealth?” (End of quote).
The answer to all these questions, is “Yes – but subjected to the principles of accountability.”
In fact LTTE is still being considered as a ruthless terrorist organization which did many crimes against humanity. Due to this very reason my observation is that still many powerful countries are sympathetic towards Sri Lankan government. They understand the legitimacy of the war. I feet that they do not hold Sri Lanka accountable in the same manner that they held Syrian government accountable in recent chemical attack.
Even after visiting North, British Premier David Cameron did not ask all out international mechanism to investigate alleged human right violations that happened during the time of war and are happening now. In his own words this is what Cameron suggested; “Let me be very clear. If an investigation is not completed by March, then I will use our position on the United Nations human rights council to work with the UN human rights commission and call for a full credible and independent international inquiry.” This is exactly the same thing that the United States suggests.
In other words those countries just want Sri Lanka to use “the practical tool” of accountability through a domestic mechanism rather than through an international mechanism. Those who reject this call might appear to be great patriots now, but in fact they put our country and the military at large at a greater risk. I think president might need to break and come out of the ideological cocoon spun by those advisors who refuse to see the big picture. After I watched the interview given by Dr. Chris Nonis to the CNN, I felt that he should be one of those advisers. He argued as he was doing a debate in a high school.
A while ago, I remember one child of grade 4 came victorious after a debate in his school. The topic was; “The pen is mightier than the sword.” He had to take the side of “sword.” His rival had a lot of facts to defend that the pen is mightier. The child who defended the “sword” uttered a few lines that were not compelling but the last line made him victorious. He questioned his rival and the school audience as follows: “If the pen is mightier, then why the lion in our national flag is not holing a pen instead of a sword.” The child won the debate and like the child, Dr. Chris Nonis came victorious after the CNN interview.
But one thing is sure, the UN Security Council or any other international institution that take care of human rights and good governance has not yet accepted the Dr. Chris Nonis’s “restorative justice” as an practical tool that can promote peace and security. Reconciliatory justice has a role to play but it still falls within the parameters of the principles of accountability.
However, before I finish this essay let me translate the true meaning of the Pali verse of the Buddha which was quoted by President Mahinda Rajapakse during his speech so that he may use it in future with correct perspective. Premise of incorrect meaning of the Budhha’s words might possibly do a disservice to Him. The quoted Pali verse is as follows:
“Na paresaa vilomani – na paresam katakatamAttanova avkkheyya – katani akatani ca”
The meaning of this Plai verse is translated into English as follows:
“Do not pay attention to anybody’s blame or what others have done or not done. Yet be concerned about what you have done and what you have not done.”
Isn’t this about accountability or taking responsibility for one’s own action? My answer is yes. In fact the Buddhism, we know is all about being accountable for our own actions. Let us accept the principle of accountability in national and international level. The best starting point is being accountable to the Rule of Law now, because the international community knows how to differentiate a “rent a mob protest” from a true people’s protests even though our High Commissioner to U.K. Dr. Nonis could not.