By Emil van der Poorten –
Let me begin this piece with a rhetorical question that should perhaps be the final question asked: why, despite the very loud pronouncements about “newborn media freedom,” “freedom of expression,” “the re-emergence of the rule of law,” “the return of human rights” and a plethora of other motherhood-and-apple-pie slogans, have not those freedoms been exercised by those proclaiming them from the rooftops? Why have they not simply asked Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa some very obvious questions that relate to the plight that this country is in today?
As background to all of this there is one very obvious fact. J. R. Jayewardene declared the republican constitution for which he was responsible as empowering him to do anything except effect gender change. After the passage of the now (in)famous 18th Amendment to the Constitution enacted by the sheep (or is it goats?) of very violent persuasion who inhabit our legislature, it would appear that even that “shortcoming” had ceased to exist!
I have regularly seen, on far less prima facie evidence, for crimes of significantly lesser magnitude, “ordinary” Sri Lankans taken into custody, often without access to lawyers, leave alone bail, and then languishing in one of our “remand facilities” or a cell hidden from public view for an inordinate length of time, sometimes being sent home because no prosecution could be launched for lack of evidence or simply because the “framing” of the accused had only been needed on a short-term basis. In all fairness, much of this, even if of lesser magnitude, existed before the Rajapaksa Regime’s attempted takeover of every aspect of our lives.
Why, when there has been embezzlement of Sri Lanka’s resources on what can truly be described as “an industrial scale” has Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, not so much as been questioned when, time after time, the joining of any set of corruption dots has led clearly and conclusively to him?
I’ve heard the claim being made that there was some form of Presidential Immunity from prosecution for any and all crimes, up to those of a capital nature. However, I’ve also heard that any such immunity did NOT extend beyond the period in which the individual held such office.
Even if the former opinion can be sustained, why has the media of the country refrained from so much as asking Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa ONE SINGLE QUESTION about the mountain of corruption for which he certainly had “command responsibility?”
There are three possible explanations for this:
- That anything resembling morality and a belief in the rule of law has disappeared off the face of Sri Lanka and such concepts only exist in dim, distant history or in outer space
- Rank cowardice on the part of the media and those seeking to influence public opinion in any shape, form or fashion
- The emergence of a clearly-identified “Insurance Mentality” in which one does not piss-off those currently out of power because they might return to exercise life-or-death authority over one, authority that, given their substantiated record, they would be only too willing to exercise!
While there does seem to be some evidence of the first in that list raising its very ugly head, I do not believe that philosophy to be so widespread as to account for the deathly silence that surrounds issues of command responsibility in Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa’s conduct.
As for the second explanation, given the history of the Sinhala and other “Weerayas” choosing to define themselves by ethnicity, this could, perhaps, account for part of their historical failure to rise to a challenge that could well determine Sri Lanka’s continued existence as a civilized country. However, I have encountered far too many skilled writers, particularly of the female gender, who have, literally, put their lives on the line to level justified criticism at a crypto-fascist regime, to buy completely into that suggestion. Now that, in large measure, the heat is off, no matter how temporarily, I don’t think this is the factor it once may have been when people like Ekneligoda were “disappeared” (while subsequent-Chief Justice Mohan Pieris claimed he was alive and well in Paris) and Lasantha Wickrematunge was butchered in broad daylight in a so-called “Security Zone” and the erstwhile Secretary of Defence not only displayed chose to display an atom of regret but went out of his way to disparage the late newspaper editor in the vilest and most vicious terms.
I believe that No. 3 in my list is the most likely explanation going on the “form” displayed by the self-proclaimed “defenders of our fundamental freedoms.” In fact, this sort of behavior is achieving proportions when there might be a need to develop a whole raft of legislation to legitimize Insurance Agencies intended to cater to the needs of those wishing to have their political and ethical bread buttered on both sides, bartering their silence in matters of rank corruption and complicity in robbing the national treasury for future “favours” in the event that those very criminals return to power. This will ensure their ongoing wellbeing no matter which coalition wields the instruments of power. I suspect the Sinhala expression “Kadey yanawa” could well express this philosophy as well as any.
This approach to anything resembling morality or ethics would be consonant with the current government’s stance in the matter of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well. Let’s not beat about the bush in this matter: it is, essentially, the same as the Rajapaksa Regime’s and goes, “THIS IS AN INTERNAL MATTER. BUTT OUT! WE WILL CONDUCT OUR OWN INQUIRIES.”
I have said it before and I will say it one more time, “Would anyone except a stark raving lunatic have asked the leaders of the Third Reich to conduct the Nurnberg Trials at the end of World War II?”
That might sound like a provocative statement but it is an absolutely legitimate one.
If you have nothing to hide, Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa, why do you object to an international inquiry? And, perhaps more important, why does the current government march in lockstep with its predecessor in that regard?
Were the inquiries held into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the former Yugoslavia and in some of the West African countries a travesty of justice? If they were in any way flawed, would you please tell us how? Though I believe that any response you would proffer would, of necessity, be placed in the context of the unequivocal statement that “THERE WASN’T ONE SINGLE CIVILIAN CASUALTY IN THE FINAL BATTLES AGAINST THE TIGERS” made by Percy Mahendra and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
IS THIS THE SAME STAND THAT THE CURRENT SRI LANKAN GOVERNMENT HAS CHOSEN TO TAKE?
This is not a matter of supporting some megalomaniacal Fascist Tamil leader with separatist pretensions. This is a matter of the soul of the Sri Lankan nation and that nation’s need to for a life of dignity and respect in the community of nations in the future.
The states that comprised the old Yugoslavia exist and grow as democracies, however flawed, because they chose not to rush to the rescue of the Slobodan Milosevics, the Ratko Mladics and the Radovan Karadzics among the 150 citizens of various ethnicities in the old Yugoslavia brought to trial and convicted.
There has never been any question from any quarter that Mr. Taylor and his murderous cohorts in West Africa who were brought to trial were in any way unjustly treated, either.
If the current government, advancing no matter how specious, reasons, continues to play the same lying and obfuscating games that the Rajapaksa gang played, we, as inhabitants of a nation with pretensions to decency, democratic behavior and all those other wonderful attributes will have, instead, reduced ourselves to a position befitting the pariah nations of the world.
If any Sri Lankan is hauled before an international tribunal, we should have sufficient depth in our legal fraternity to afford them the defence due them and to have them exonerated if they are not guilty. Failing that, we could well find such as Sir Desmond de Silva, who has already given ample evidence of his loyalty to the Rajapaksa regime, to mount the required defence.
If they are found guilty, let international law take its course. Unless, of course the perpetrators of the Batalanda, Matale and similar atrocities feel some sort of affinity with those who might be accused and feel obliged, not only to ensure they are found not guilty but, to make sure they are not even brought to trial.
The accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity did not go away because of the obfuscations and downright lies that the Rajapaksas and their followers uttered. A repeat of that same performance could well be described as, “The more you do what you’ve always done, the more you’ll get what you always got!”
What has been expressed, in the world of backward Sri Lankan politics and its obsessive belief that “the whole world is against us because of jealousy” is going to be a monumentally unpopular opinion. However, at some point in time some government has to stand up for what is just and fair, not what wins favour with a xenophobic chauvinist mob. That is something that used to be called “statesmanship” and which one can hope can still be resurrected in this country.
As I prepare to conclude this piece, the news comes through that through, probably, the efforts of Jayantha Dhanapala and Mangala Samaraweera, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been persuaded to postpone the delivery of the report that was due next month for another half year.
Let’s make no mistake about it, this is nothing but a pyrrhic victory because, ultimately, that report which is only being withheld because it is “bad news” for the current Sri Lankan establishment will, ultimately, have to see the light of day. In the meantime the Rajapaksa Horde is going to proclaim as loudly as possible the fact that the current government is of like mind to them, both seeking to move heaven and earth to postpone the inevitable. They will also, in a display of typical “Mahinda strategy,” provide the public with several other “takes” on the issue, all varying to some extent from the central thesis, thereby covering all bases on that side of the equation.
When the UN ultimately decides to present the report they will, again, cry “victory” for their stance and stand, claiming that this is what they’d fought against and which would not have taken place if Mahinda Rajapaksa wasn’t removed from the Presidency! Even judged on the basis of the most amateurish political strategies, the current government’s lobbying is going to prove to be a failure, and abjectly so.
Jayantha Dhanapala was an active and completely supportive participant in the infamous Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission hearings that every human rights organization in the world boycotted because it was nothing but a smokescreen and a device to buy time for the beleaguered Rajapaksa horde. It was not coincidental that the late C. R. (“Bulla”) de Silva chaired that travesty of an alleged investigative commission. This was the very same “Bulla” who, as Attorney General, at the behest of Mahinda Rajapaksa, deliberately created the chaos that led to every one of the senior jurists from all over the world resigning en masse from the travesty of justice that was unfolding before them in a Presidential Commission, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP ), that had been appointed to investigate, among other atrocities, the execution of several dozen aid workers in Muthur and five students at Trincomalee. This was done when Bulla discovered that things weren’t going the “right” way and disruption was the only way to get rid of a process that was turning out very different from the whitewash that he and his master wanted it to be.
As someone who is not a “nationalist” by any of the current Sri Lankan standards (and proud of the fact) but one who believes that this country has the right and capacity to be a beacon of democracy in southern Asia once more, I hope I am dead wrong, but all I believe has been achieved by this recent turn of events is that the forces of chauvinism and xenophobia have been reinforced and the return of Mahinda Rajapaksa, with or without Dhanapala and Samaraweera in tow, has been assured.
One of the diasporic Tamils did hit the nail on the head when he quoted that very old (and very true) aphorism that “Justice delayed, is justice denied.” That will be justice denied not only to the Tamils of this country but, in a historical context, to every Sri Lankan – irrespective of ethnicity, religion or any other mark of difference – that wished this country to be, once again, a place where the rule of law prevailed and people could live in amity and dignity.
What is in the works at this point of time will free Mahinda Rajapaksa and the coterie around him from anything resembling “Command Responsibility” for what happened in this country in the name of “fighting terrorism,” right up to January 8th.