4 March, 2024


DEW Must Not Betray The Old Left

Pieter Keuneman

By Shanie | Notebook of a Nobody

Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades;
Let each horizon tilt and lurch –
You know the worst; your wills are fickle,
Your values blurred, your hearts impure
And your past life a ruined church –
But let your poison be your cure.” – Thalassa, Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

Pieter Keuneman was a leader of the Ceylon Communist Party and a cabinet Minister in the 1970 coalition government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

A clever journalist made fun of Keuneman’s spelling of his first name by referring to the pronunciation of his name as Pieter (‘ie’ as in Soviet) Keuneman. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Ceylon Communist Party probably does not toe the political line of the Communist Party of Russia. But DEW Gunasekera is from the Communist Party of Sri Lanka and a cabinet minister in the present government. He has recently given an interview to the state media.

As in the old Soviet Union, the state media must surely speak The Truth (Pravda); so it cannot be that Gunasekera is misquoted. Referring to the UNHRC resolution, he bravely says that the government has zero-tolerance towards external interference in Sri Lankan affairs. As for the LLRC recommendations, he is quoted as stating: “The LLRC report has recommendations that are acceptable and that can be implemented. Most have been implemented. There are other recommendations that are under consideration by the government. There are recommendations that cannot be implemented.”

Russia voted against the resolution at the UNHRC. But the Russian Ambassador has also spoken in favour of the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. This was the thrust of the UNHRC resolution. The International Commission of Jurists has been calling, unfortunately without success for many years, for the adoption of a Witness Protection Act. Minister Rauf Hakeem went to Geneva this time and promised that the government was going at last to introduce a Bill for protection and assistance to victims of violence and witnesses. We can only hope that this promise was not only for the UNHRC sessions and that such a Bill be introduced providing genuine protection to witnesses.

Gunasekera will also know that the International Monetary Fund had called for monetary reform as a condition for the grant of loans requested by us. Again, he will admit that Sri Lanka had no option but to comply with these conditions to get approval for the release of the last two tranches of the IMF loan. As a member of the United Nations we have to abide by international humanitarian laws. Besides we have willingly signed many international covenants and treaties. None of them is considered a violation of our sovereignty. Indeed, being a part of the United Nations, we acknowledge our membership of the international community and accept mutual responsibility to each other and a willingness to help and support one another.

Implementing LLRC recommendations

Gunasekera in that same newspaper interview says that most of the LLRC recommendations have been implemented. Others are under consideration and there others that cannot be implemented. He is an honourable man and he knows that what he has stated is not true. He refers to some of the youth detained having been released after rehabilitation. The LLRC in their interim recommendations made in September 2010 wanted the list of all those under detention to be released. That was a basic human right of the detainees and their families. Has such a list been released? Have any of the interim recommendations of the LLRC, leave alone the final recommendations, been implemented?

This is despite the cabinet of which Gunasekera is a member appointing an Inter-Agency Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of the previous Attorney General to implement those recommendations. Another key recommendation of the LLRC was that the armed groups presently operating in the North and East be disarmed.

In treating this recommendation with contempt, the leader of one of these armed groups goes to Geneva as part of the Government of Sri Lanka delegation. Is it then possible for anyone to believe that the government was serious about honouring its promise of implementing the LLRC recommendations?

The old Left consisted of committed and upright leaders like S A Wickramesinghe, M G Mendis, Sarath Muttetuwegama, B Y Tudawe. P Kandiah and A Vaidyalingam, besides Pieter Keuneman. D E W Gunasekera, as a young man, also belonged to this illustrious group. By his willingness to swim with the current tide, he must not betray the old Left and prove right the cynic who called him and some of his ministerial colleagues as now belonging to the dead Left.

Christians observed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and celebrate Easter or Jesus Christ’s resurrection tomorrow. An article in the Island refers to this as the Easter message of liberation, from death to life. If Gunasekera and his colleagues stand up for the right values and for good governance, even sacrificing their ministerial portfolios, they will transform the dead Left to one that can once again give life and leadership to the working people of this country.

The Friday Forum, a group of eminent academics and professionals, have in a statement issued last week under the signature of Jayantha Dhanapala and Professor Savitri Goonesekere called for some urgent measures to be taken to implement the LLRC recommendations. They have stated: ‘Some matters in the LLRC report that need immediate attention are:

1. releasing the report of the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry into killings, including that of the five students in Trincomalee and the seventeen aid workers in Mutur,

2. making available names of detainees and missing persons in regard to whom there is documented information of death, and

3. taking measures to prevent abductions and investigating such allegations as a matter of urgency and prosecuting offenders.

These are measures within the immediate competence of the government, given the intelligence and security apparatus that exists.’ These are indeed matters which he government can and must implement as a matter of priority. Senior government ministers like D E W Gunasekera, must insist that the government do so, instead of pandering to the jingoistic and racist emotions that some of their government colleagues are raising at this time.

They must insist that there must be some transparency on this issue and the government must clearly state which of the LLRC recommendations they do not accept and the reasons for this. In respect of the recommendations which they accept for implementation, there must be a clear road map with time frames so that the people have the confidence that the government intends honouring its promises. This is the only way that the government can ensure credibility and assure itself of healthy respect and a good image, both domestically and internationally. This is critical if the country is to move forward in all areas.

Patriots and Traitors

Another dangerous development against which we do not see people like D E W Gunasekera raising their voices is some of their ministerial colleagues and others labelling anybody opposing the government line on the UNHRC resolution as ‘traitors’ and engaging in a campaign of hate against them. They even encourage the people to take the law into their own hands and engage in violence against these alleged ‘traitors’.

Lakshman Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil, once referred to the LTTE labelling him a ‘traitor’ (presumably to the Tamil nationalist cause) and said that if that was the price he had to pay for doing what is right by his conscience and his country, he was proud of that appellation. The defenders of human rights and activists for good governance who are now being called ‘traitors’ can also say, like Kadirgamar, that they are proud to be given that appellation.

Time will tell as to who is the traitor and who is the patriot.

Loius MacNeice, the poet whom we have quoted at the head of this column was the son of an Anglican Bishop from Ireland. He was, like many of his literary friends, a Leftist in his time but a firm opponent of totalitarianism and communism. He wrote sensitively and critically and this poem Thalassa is no exception. Life provides turmoil and rough weather. We may be surrounded by corrupt men. But we must not lose hope. We need to keep our focus on the ultimate goal. ‘By a high star our course is set. Our end is life. Put out to sea.’

The Island

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