By Rajiva Wijesinha –
In considering again the extraordinary attack on Dayan Jayatilleka by the destructive elements in the Ministry of External Affairs, being indeed forced to do so by their gratuitous inclusion of me therein, it occurred to me thatone reason for the ongoing dysfunctionality of government at present is the contradictory motivations of some of those who exercise influence with regard to not just international relations but also those subjects that are of close concern to the international community.
I refer to those who believe that they are best equipped to deal with the West, and in particular those in the Ministry who believe that Dayan and I have been too tough and that, had things been left to them, the West would be very happy with the situation in Sri Lanka. According to the incisive commentary about divisions in the delegation in Geneva, they had been engaging in discussions with the West, as it seems they had been doing for many years before.
While I am not sure that that commentary is right in seeing such individuals as traitorous, I believe that their approach was wrong on two counts. One was the belief that the West would be happy with assurances without any action with regard to matters on which they could build up feeling against us. The second was the assumption that the West was concerned only about such matters, and that what has been going on over the last few years need not be studied, but can be dealt with by hasty reactions.
With regard to the first point, I have some sympathy with those foreign ambassadors who have made it clear that they have no faith at all in what they had initially been led to believe was the civilized face of the government. I do not share their view that this face suffers from schizophrenia, ie that it is double faced, but I do believe that it simply has no resistance when faced with different perspectives from those considered more powerful. A stunning example of this was what occurred at a recent discussion about the pronouncements of Minister Mervyn Silva following the debacle in Geneva. I was of the view that no intelligent person could have failed to realize that such pronouncements were immensely damaging to the government, and to the President personally. The majority of those present were of the view that the intelligence I thought basic could not be expected of Minister Silva.
However one perspective put forward, and that from someone I have always believed committed to rights and the rule of law, was that the Minister was using an idiomatic expression which was not to be taken seriously. When such excuses are put forward, not only is there a failure to exercise damage control, but we fail to actually look into the possible motivations for such excesses.
Not necessarily that particular excess, but others one comes across seem to spring from a desire to polarize, to reject involvement and intercourse with the West, on the grounds that this will destroy not just our sovereignty but 2000 years of autonomous civilization. Such a perspective is of course nonsensical, and involves denial of historical reality as well as the structure of the modern world, but in some cases I believe it is held sincerely. One cannot therefore quarrel with sincere beliefs of this sort, especially because it is clear that they are emphatically a minority viewpoint, and not shared by the vast majority of those in government. The number of leading members of the SLFP who have made clear their moderate views on how the country should move forward makes it clear that, while the success of this government in getting rid of terrorism within Sri Lanka is appreciated, the popular view, borne out by all opinion polls, is that government should now also move forward on constructive reforms.
The minority that disagrees with this cannot, as I said, be criticized, though they should not be allowed to hinder government moves towards Reconciliation, as well as implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan. While we can understand that scrupulous adherence to the Rule of Law was not always possible when we were under grave terrorist threat, now that that threat has been overcome, we must obviously move swiftly to re-establishing the systems that suffered under pressure. In particular we need to strengthen the Police, and develop Operational Manuals that will make clear to sll members of the public the duties as well as the responsibilities of the Police.
All this will be stymied if those who should know better continue to defend the indefensible. More importantly, their failure to give sensible advice will allow those who do not quite understand what a modern democracy needs to continue to cut corners.
One of the greatest blunders we suffered from was the failure to ensure, after the 2010 election, a Ministry dedicated to Human Rights. I was at fault myself here, for when I was told by the Secretary to the President that this would come under the Foreign Ministry, I thought that an acceptable solution since I believed the Minister had vision as well as commitment in this regard. I hope I was not mistaken, but the excess of work thrust upon him meant that this was not fulfilled, and my suggestion that he take over all our staff at the Ministry of Human Rights was not immediately implemented by his officials. Those who were absorbed were not supported in their work, and the system we had set up of answering any inquiries promptly was totally forgotten.
The sad thing was that no one in authority seemed to care. I kept suggesting that the Action Plan we had drafted should be taken forward, but though in time the Attorney General assured me that he was putting to Cabinet what he described as ‘your Action Plan’, the lack of specific responsibility meant that it took another year to be finalized. Then it took six months for a system to be set up to ensure action but the necessary instructions have still not gone out formally to all Ministries.
I can see then why those genuinely committed to Human Rights are suspicious about our intentions. But at the same time we need also to examine the other reasons for critiques of this country. We should avoid inadequacies that can be taken advantage of, while ensuring relations based on mutual respect with those who do not play games in this regard.