24 September, 2020

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Accountability & The Politics Of Selectivity

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

When US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal speaks, there’s usually someone listening and taking down notes. The lady knows subtlety and there’s plenty of THAT in what she says. Big time. So when she makes her first or second (I forget which) visit to Sri Lanka and barely a WEEK after elections were done and dusted, questions are raised. Whether she answers them or pleads ignorance, then, is not important. What’s important is inference. And conclusion.

Biswal, people will remember, was not comfy with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency. Whenever her colleagues visited here they usually privileged the opposition and more importantly parties known for hardcore communalist stances. They demanded accountability and THEN inserted reconciliation. Biswal in particular spoke about the international community and how its patience (whatever that meant) was running out with regard to this government delivering the goods (whatever those goods were and whether or not they were really needed).

That was one year back. Times have changed. The lady who seemed to privilege and hobnob more with the opposition, strangely, has opted to do the same with the government now. She went easy on the government, curiously enough, and went to the extent of meeting the president himself, something she could never do with his predecessor given that she was someone whom the then president neither had the time for nor the patience with. Rightly.

TNA and BiswalHer choice of words is different too. True, some words haven’t changed. She still wants investigation into war crimes (“alleged”, please note). She hasn’t inserted “accountability” but that’s a word that’s still being tossed around, never mind whether it’s achieved through a domestic or international mechanism. But for the most, her comments on the USA sponsoring a resolution of “collaboration with the government” and thereby widening scope for domestic investigation merit assessment.

Biswal has a way with words. So does everyone representing her country’s interests in the field she’s cut out for herself, diplomacy. That’s why, when she inserts a caveat (she added “along with other key stakeholders” to “collaboration with the government”) we should worry.

Let’s not forget that the US knows and (s)elects these stakeholders. Let’s not forget that it tends to privilege some stakeholders and push out others. Let’s not kid ourselves that the reaction of the “international community” to alleged war crimes here amounts to anything other than a need to bully a democratically-elected government into condemning and censuring itself, even irrationally.

And then there’s the investigation itself. As Chris Dharmakirti comments in an article (“Sinister Campaign Afoot To Block Sri Lanka Using Paranagama Report At UNHRC”), the TNA and an organisation calling itself Sri Lanka Campaign for Justice and Peace effectively tried to cripple the Mahinda Rajapaksa-sanctioned report on missing persons (the Paranagama Commission) and more importantly one of its chief advisors, Sir Desmond de Silva.

Having inferred that this move was tilted towards the pro-LTTE Diaspora, Dharmakirti then concludes that by stifling the Commission, what will get preserved is the accusation (unsubstantiated) that Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE was committed by a “genocidal army”, in particular because the Commission at once rubbishes the findings of the controversial Darusman Report ON THIS COUNT.

Biswal will not speak about this and nor for that matter will the government. There’s no need to, some will offer. Maybe, but that doesn’t really counter the issue. If at all, by pleading ignorance here, neither the government nor whatever Biswal represents will be doing itself any favour.

Point is, Sir Desmond de Silva erred. He coughed up something the TNA wasn’t comfy with. He commented that the “great mass of civilian deaths which occurred in the final stage of the conflict were regrettable but permissible collateral damage”.

Now the TNA, despite that moderate-garb it wears from time to time, has been known to pander to anything that absolves (in part at least) the Army. It’s known to have censured the government and some of its heads have been wont to openly invite the international community to bully and arm-twist this country. So it shouted “rescind Sir Desmond’s appointment!” and (without really explaining) alleged “lack of independence”.

Having thus got rid (technically, that is) of Sir Desmond and therefore the crux of the Paranagama Commission (which mind you created to counter the United Nation’s howls against Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government), these people should, we feel, be grilled. They should be questioned.

There’s that allegation they levelled against Sir Desmond, for one thing. Speaking about independence or the lack thereof, what would the TNA say about the fact that a key figure advising the organisation which opposed that gentleman was (surprise, surprise) none other than Yasmin Sooka, who was on the Darusman Panel! This isn’t just about bias after all. It’s about conflict of interest too, especially given that Sri Lanka Campaign has denied that Sooka pushed for Sir Desmond’s dismissal WITHOUT denying she’s IN the organisation.

Then there’s the fact that the Paranagama Commission was (technically speaking) a domestic mechanism. Isn’t that what Biswal wanted? Isn’t that what we were forced to resort to and didn’t that in the end become a mechanism through which Darusman and his credibility-challenged report (it speaks about 40,000 civilian deaths even as the UN itself concluded a figure of 7,721 towards the end of the war)? If so, why are we howling? Why are we arguing?

These are questions that will not be asked and for reasons of (we hope not but fear) expediency. In the end reconciliation is and will be a two-way process, whether or not the likes of the TNA will okay someone as distinguished and (relatively) untainted as Sir Desmond. As such the implications of both the Paranagama Commission and Biswal’s official support for Sri Lanka the next time the country’s grilled, no doubt, be taken up and assessed.

Whether this bodes well for us is for another article. For now, what matters is whether Biswal comes with clean hands. Given that we have no option but to trust that the American government will stick by us (in a world where governments stick by each other as long as there’s submission to whoever’s affirming “sticking-by loyalty”), we can only wait and watch.

So far Karunanidhi, self-professed lover of Sri Lankan Tamils and no stranger to the anti-Sri Lanka lobby in his country (India), has condemned Biswal. Superficially at least that bodes well, notwithstanding the caveat that all that might be “show”. The important thing however is that the US sticks by us and that in a way which sustains the truism that reconciliation (and yes, accountability) was and will have two sides or more, never mind what NGOs and civil society groups that love to badmouth the country will say.

I noted “no option” for Sri Lanka. This means, logically enough, that the US’s promise will have to be accepted and trust between that country and ours will be based on whether we choose to accept promise or act with caution. Sad, yes. Can’t help.

*Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com. Blog – fragmenteyes.blogspot.com.

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  • 0
    0

    What the last elections reflect? The balance of voting depends on Tamils and Muslims Votes in Sri Lanka either in deciding the President or the Parliament. And within the Parliament also. For that the Tamils vote have to be unified. Anti Tamil and anti Muslim sentiments did a good job for that. The forces want to control Sri Lanka , wants favour, want to coerce SL They work behind the scene to unify and integrate the Tamil speaking votes. Tamil speaking votes are en blocked as north east Tamils, Muslims, upcountry Tamils., and Colombo Tamils . The effects of these votes are clearly seen during the last election. So these votes are necessary not for Sri Lanka but for the forces interested in SL. So it has become imperative to those forces to maintain the Tamil speaking votes to a certain level of strength in the mean time keeping them with different Identity and dividing them when ever it is necessary. The Tulf was fragmented in the past. and Tharaki was made to dissapear for this reason.So it has become imperative to those forces to maintain the Tamil speaking votes to a certain level of strength.
    That is what now the forces are trying to achieve.

  • 1
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    Apologies for the typos. The 11th para in particular should read ” Now the TNA, despite that moderate-garb it wears from time to time, has been known to pander to anything that absolves (in part at least) the LTTE and condemns the Army.” Was in a hurry.

  • 2
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    Accountability & the Politics of Selectivity,

    Thank you very much Uditha Thevapriya for the above heading, that have helped my mind traverse throughout my life in Sri Lanka, since my birth, and few years earlier history of this tiny nation.
    Accountability to whom, it should be within we, in-fact your reference to “we” clearly manifests Sinhalese Majority, but I really mean it for ourselves – the entire Sri Lankan society, tap your inner mind please, you did not mean it to that extend. Accountability, anyone can demand it when it is not existing within ourselves.
    How did you helped me by your own heading, Does Accountability had (ever) existed, within Sri Lanka, during the anti- Tamil riots by Sinhalese 1958, 1977, and 1983, – doesn’t the Politics of Selectivity by the Government of Sinhala Majority annihilate the Accountability within ourselves for the alternative share or struggle of power within the two political parties. ? Sansoni Commission Report on 1977 rioting wouldn’t havevgone into the dust bin if there was Accountability for crimes against minorities. If there was Accountability when hooligans in the likes of Sril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake, brought down the Jaffna’s Cultural Symbol Jaffna Public Library to ashes within matter hours? Never, ever!
    Therefore nobody have to visit from anywhere and whisper among anyone to elicit an external demand for Accountability in Sri Lanka. That explains the exodus Tamil Diaspora as well …. I have faced all these Anti-Riots face to face, and the war of 30 years at my door step and I am quite fortunate to survive all these to be a witness in Accountability matters related to successive Governments of Sri Lanka
    USA‘s or any other’s blunders pulled out as an defense, is itself a prove for that, matters in home something parallel those blunders isn’t it? Failure of prevailing wiser!
    Coming back to present situation, it just the continuation of the past ………..
    The courage that prevailed for annual euphoric celebratory channeling for political gains, did not prevail to research the defense personals’ victory reasons & shortcomings particularly for future references; that is the Accountability we as Sri Lankan should have searched for on their own rather than barking zero causalities, this much and that much, – The government was at fault right from the beginning, and it was government that tossed word “reconciliation” to (and nobody else) UN and Palitha Kohana would claim it proudly still, far away from with of any good intention but as a cover up for what transformed in Mulliwaikhal, and Nandhikadal, rather unexpectedly!
    Prabaharan was let lose by Politics thrice, with genocidal intentions, fortunately Prabaharan committed suicide as claimed by Karuna now;true not the army is genocidal but the politicians who let loose the ruthless terrorist.
    And I would conclude this comment by saying, even the normal criminal law application against the crimes against minorities, far from satisfactory, therefore
    Unless there is an proper satisfactory mechanism for accountability regarding minority conflicts with majority there cannot be a meaningful reconciliation.
    Accountability is the base for Reconciliation

  • 1
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    Correction
    Please add
    ////Darusman and his credibility-challenged report (it speaks about 40,000 civilian deaths even as the UN itself concluded a figure of 7,721 towards the end of the war)? If so, why are we howling? Why are we arguing?////……..

    why are we howling? Why are we arguing?, so it is such a matter for ignoring in Sri Lankan standard as it has been since independence –

    Accountability is, why it so happened to that much rather than how many and settled there on.

    Instead Parabaharan, read Prabaharan wherever matters!

  • 1
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    Pardon for Correction again please,

    Instead of 1.
    “Sansoni Commission Report on 1977 rioting wouldn’t havevgone into the dust bin if there was Accountability for crimes against minorities”
    read as
    Sansoni Commission Report on 1977 rioting wouldn’t have gone into the dust bin
    instead 2.
    Prabaharan was let lose by Politics thrice, with genocidal intentions, fortunately Prabaharan committed suicide as claimed by Karuna now;true not the army is genocidal but the politicians who let loose the ruthless terrorist.

    Prabaharan was let lose by Politics thrice, with genocidal intentions, fortunately Prabaharan committed suicide as claimed by Karuna now;true not the army is genocidal but the politicians who let loose the ruthless terrorist thrice.

    ////if there was any Accountability for crimes against minorities.
    something she could never do with his predecessor given that she was someone whom the then president neither had the time for nor the patience with Rightly/// so as to prevent any give away or as means of shield for cover up that could have happened

  • 1
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    Please Pardon me for yet another Correction again

    I am not shy for whatsoever, to correct myself, thus instead of

    “Therefore nobody have to visit from anywhere and whisper among anyone to elicit an external demand for Accountability in Sri Lanka. That explains the exodus Tamil Diaspora as well …. I have faced all these Anti-Riots face to face, and the war of 30 years at my door step and I am quite fortunate to survive all these to be a witness in Accountability matters related to successive Governments of Sri Lanka”

    read as

    Therefore nobody have to visit from anywhere and whisper among anyone to elicit an external demand for Accountability in Sri Lanka. That explains the exodus Tamil Diaspora as well …. I have faced all these above said Anti-Tamil Riots face to face, 1985 upcountry rioting and the war of 30 years at my door step and I am quite fortunate to survive all these to be a witness in Accountability matters related to successive Governments of Sri Lanka

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

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