17 September, 2021

Blog

Easter Reflections On Human Rights: No One Is Without Sin, But Everyone Is Throwing Stones!   

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

The caption above is from the gospel story in John about Jesus exposing the male and religious hypocrisies of the scribes and the Pharisees, who were trying to trick the Nazarene to say yea or nay to their question whether they could punish, without trial, and only the woman for an alleged act of adultery. John 8:1-11 is not the assigned gospel reading for Easter Sunday. But it is appropriate reading for secular reflections on a religiously significant day and in the current global context of human rights assertions, disputes and controversies.

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” John 8:7.

Sri Lanka is in the vortex of all of these, even though its immersion is hardly consequential globally but hugely so nationally. There is also the added and very painful twist because today is the second anniversary of the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. And in many parts of the world for the second year in succession Covid-19 and its new mutations are preventing full congregations celebrating their traditional Easter service.

There is really no serious parallel between the dispute over adultery in Judea and the contemporary disputes over human rights except for the symbolism of throwing stones. In the old patriarchal way of dealing with adultery the woman is condemned to double jeopardy and any man on the street gets to feel entitled to throw stones at her. The gospel story pushes back on men by questioning their entitlement when they themselves are not without sin. Worse, they are the perpetrators. In the matter of human rights, there is hardly a government that is without the sin of violating human rights, but that does not stop governments from throwing stones at one another. And the victims of human rights violations are caught in the middle, in the crossfires of often cynical realpolitik stones, with little agency and even less reparations.

New Cold War

There are opinions that human rights are becoming the defining premise for a new Cold War between the US and China. The world is a different place now for a replay of the old Cold War that involved the decoupling and the disengagement of the US and the Soviet Union, and the division of world polities into two camps behind the two superpowers. The world is far too integrated by markets to become decoupled and disengaged all too easily. What is already evident is the disposition of governments to selectively engage in some matters and disengage in others, to cooperate on some issues and confront over others, and to be part of different alliances for different goals and objectives. The Biden Administration has said as much in signaling its approach towards China.

There could be a restatement of the old wisdom that there are no permanent allies or enemies or camps, but only permanent interests. This is evident in the stone throwing over human rights. In what some observers are calling ‘a big thing in international politics,’ the US, EU (with its 27 countries), Britain and Canada have combined to impose sanctions on four Chinese officials and one state corporation for alleged human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

Sanctions targeting individuals are the new tool of choice to deal with human rights violations. There are now sanctions imposed against Russians, North Koreans and the military junta in Myanmar. The US began this procedure after the Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan US legislation that President Obama signed into law in 2012 to sanction Russian officials who were accused of killing Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer, in a Moscow prison in 2009. Although controversial, the law authorizes the US government to act globally against individuals accused of human rights violations by freezing their assets and banning them from entering the US. Other western countries, including the EU, have since developed their own sanction mechanisms. 

China has hit back with its own sanctions but has escalated its rejoinder to include political leaders and parliamentarians in the EU, Britain and in Canada. The unconventional escalation is in keeping with China’s aggressive global outlook and its ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy in western capitals that have become the hallmark of Xi Jinping presidency. Xi has emerged as the most powerful Chinese leader after Mao, and he has transformed China’s global outlook in his own assertive image, quite different from the approach of peaceful cooperation and development favoured by predecessor Hu Jinato.

The transformation in China may have come about after Trump became President in America. During President Obama’s first term, Xi Jinping was Vice President in China and he frequently met with Joe Biden, then Obama’s Vice President. Biden is said to be the western leader who has spent the longest time and travelled together with Xi. But Biden has to contend with a different Xi now. At the same time, unlike any other President before him Biden carries on his shoulders the expectations of human rights organizations and activists. This became evident during his first call with Xi lasting two hours, during which Biden reportedly highlighted the issues of Hong Kong and Uyghurs. And gloves came off when their foreign secretaries met face to face in Alaska.  

Along with sanctions, China is also being accused of genocide against Uyghur Muslims. The paradox here is in the ‘othering’ harassments of Muslim citizens in Western countries even as sanctions are imposed against China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims. So much so, “The Jew, Europe’s prototypical ‘other,’ has largely been replaced by the Muslim ‘other’,” according to the Israeli Political Scientist Amikam Nachmani. The paradox is also that India, while being a Member of the Quad (with Australia, Japan and the US) for the containment of China in Asia, will not join others in sanctioning China over Muslims. The Modi government in India is not ‘without sin’ in its treatment of India’s Muslims. Nor will Pakistan that calls out for international attention to the plight of Muslims in India’s Kashmir, raise its voice or throw a stone in support of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang.

There is more. While joining the Quad group as a strategic measure to counter China’s power in Asia, India is not abandoning its old ties with Russia for arms production. Nor is it going to risk or reduce its growing economic ties with China despite the border clash setbacks in Tibet. Australia is the first western country to seriously challenge China over the handling of Covid-19, and has been economically punished by China in return. Yet, while being part of the Quad for the containment of China, Australia will do everything not to lose the huge Chinese market for its exports.

It is the same with the EU and all of its member countries. More so with post-Brexit Britain looking for new trade agreements, and where Prime Minister Johnson is being ridiculed by his critics for going soft on Hong Kong for trade rewards from Beijing. In sum, the current global circumstances are not contributing to the formation of permanent blocs and alliances among countries. Rather, countries seem to be open to choosing between allies and alliances depending on specific issues and their specific interests.

Closer home, 11 of the 22 countries that voted for the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka have signed up for China’s intercontinental Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) that includes a total of 140 countries. The eleven countries are: Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Cote d’Ivore, the Czech Republic, Fiji, Italy, Poland, Republic of Korea, Ukraine and Uruguay. Also, 18 of the 22 countries are new members without prior baggage. And a majority of the countries in every region either voted for the resolution or abstained from voting. China stood by the Sri Lankan government in Geneva and helps with currency swaps to tide over foreign exchange depletions. But Sri Lanka needs the key countries who canvassed for the resolution – to access their markets for Sri Lanka’s exports. Without them, the government will have to permanently depend on currency swaps. 

Human Rights Genealogy

A common assertion in debates over human rights is that they are a creation of western countries and imposed on developing countries as a new form of domination. This is a false assertion and/or manifestation of ignorance. The Cold War history is replete with examples of subversion of human rights by western countries and the fight by non-western countries and their leaders to defend human rights against their subversion. There is also a tradition of social movements in developing countries to expand the scope of human rights by emphasizing public interest over property rights and to privilege cultural specificities over universal similarities. And specific to the current debate over UNHRC and human rights, Sri Lanka has a tradition of civil rights and human rights movements that can be traced to the 1970s, if not earlier.

As Easter recollections go, four men of the cloth played key roles in championing human rights and protesting against their violations. Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe became the face of the Civil Rights Movement whose moving forces were Suria Wickremasinghe and that doughty courtroom defender of human rights S. Nadesan, Q.C. Complementing Bishop Wickremesinghe were Bishop Lakshman Nanayakkara, Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, and Fr. Paul Caspersz, who were in the forefront of progressive Catholic action championing the goals of social justice, equality, workers’ rights, and, yes, human rights.

It is fair to say that the nucleus of the Civil Rights Movement was formed as a Sri Lankan protest response to the snuffing of the 1968 Prague Spring by the tanks of the Warsaw Pact countries. Then it was to protest against the forces of Yahya Khan trampling over what was then East Pakistan and soon to be Bangladesh. Strange as it may seem now, there were no domestic human rights issues to complain about. Everything changed with the JVP insurrection of 1971 and the deployment of the armed forces to put down the insurrection. The Tamil youth took their turn and went to lengths that no one could have imagined when Sri Lanka became a republic, one year after the insurgency. Human rights would no longer be a non-issue in Sri Lanka. And it was not the result of some neo-colonial imposition.   

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 8
    3

    Why does not the GoSL (current and Past) accept the fact that they have treated the Tamils as second class citizens whose RIGHTS they can freely trample upon all the time. Tamils tried non-violence means to request for Equality and justice in order to live in a HARMONIOUS UNITED country. Sinhalese Buddhists found it easier to attack the economic might of the Tamils in order get elected during the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. This not what DEMOCRACY means in a really CIVILISED country.
    Behaving like a banana Republic gets you to be a PARIAH state. It’s like a wolf wearing sheep’s coverings the Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalist are bringing destruction of the country economically. We are holding our BEGGING BOWL for donations from other countries. Has there been any efforts made to find the causes of JVP & Tiger uprisings? Was any attempts made to tackle those issues?

    • 11
      5

      Oh Naman
      Have you not seen the video of a drunken monk going rampage against a hapless citizen, in utter filth, apparently the monk is a close associate of the PM, the police were just looking on, and the public pleading “Anne haamaduru” he is not a haamaduru he is a thug planted by the Rajapaksa to create terror and obedience.
      Have you not heard of the monks who want to change the name of Sri Lanka to Sinhale
      Sri Lanka is going down the hell hole. The only way the Sinhalese know is violence.

    • 5
      7

      Stop begging for political solutions. You didn’t get any for 73 years and you will get nothing. Sinhala politicians want to remain the sole masters of governance. They will not let it up no matter how much you beg.

      The only solution is to split the island into 3 mono ethnic nations equitably and relocate people. Until then all this will continue.

      • 6
        3

        Two.
        Muslims are Tamils (Tamil speaking people) whose religion is Islam and therefore further division based on religion is a matter to be sorted out among themselves.
        .
        Tamil desire for self rule deserve sympathitic consideration as well Sinhalese deire to live away from them.

        Soma

        • 2
          1

          soman

          “Muslims are Tamils (Tamil speaking people) whose religion is Islam and therefore further division based on religion is a matter to be sorted out among themselves.”

          Good point, however why does the Sinhala speaking people call themselves Sinhala/Buddhists (a newly concocted Anagarik’as perverted political identity) and not simply Buddhists or Sinhalese.? Every day, every hour, every minute, second, nano second Gota claims himself to be a Sinhala/Buddhist.

          Peace be upon you today hence you should chose not to visit Churches and Mosques.

      • 1
        3

        GATAM,
        “Sinhala politicians want to remain the sole masters of governance.”

        It is not Sinhala politicians WANT, Sinhala politicians ARE the sole masters of governance of Sinhale/Ceylon/Sri Lanka, the Land of Sinhala people who speak Sinhala language which is not spoken anywhere else in the world. Sinhale is the only place Sinhalayo have in this world. Tamils have Tamil Nadu as their homeland where they can live as ‘First Class’ citizens instead of living under racist fascist Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalists and for Muslims there are many Muslim countries that will warmly welcome Muslim brothers and sisters from Sri Lanka.

        • 2
          1

          Dear Senstive Readers,
          .
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5x6AoC1bzI

          See how helpless people are today.
          .
          How long would the victimized families need to wait ? FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE WOULD BE A DREAM SO LONG RAJAPAKSHES ARE IN SRILANKEN POLITICS.

    • 4
      1

      Get it right let lone today, SRILANKEN is fallen that deep because of TWO MRs (Mahinda Rajapakshe and Malcome Ranjith)

      Why has Rev Malcom Ranjith wait to heart his out untit today ?:

      This Rev. Malcome Ranjith is not a teenager, he has been living in the country also observing what Rajapakshes did to the country in the post war period. Nevertheless, his partiality together with that of FAKE monks as Alle Gunawanse and Murutherttuwe BP cheerwaradhariya were highly instrumental to outreach the masses, and mislead the stupid majority of this country.
      :
      Rev. Malcome R is publicly supporting Mahinda Rajapakshes but in the same time, he is trying to put the blame on ONLY Sirisena / labdog of Mahinda Rajapkashe. Rev. Malcom Ranjith is not born yesterday. As for me, not only Gotabayas, MaRa but Ranjith Malcome are all complicit to EASTER bomb blast that took the lives of innocient worshipers on very days.
      :
      Now the man who has always been behind the attacks inflicted by name Sarath WEERASEKARA being the minister to INTERNAL affairs/police, what the incumbent GOSL has been trying to do is misealing the world. Howeve,r every same audience would not be cheated again and again, even SINHALAYAs (modayas of the world) would have to see it right sooner than later.

      • 1
        0

        This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

      • 2
        0

        Why Malcom Ranjith stayed mum, at the time, SIRISENA was supporting last PE and GE ?
        .
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE-LxXAgFko

        Not only MaRa, but also Malcom R is a cancer to srilanka. That is what I feel not being able to watch YT filled with the torment of victimized people.

  • 9
    1

    Who is the minister of justice? SL will never get justice for the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.

    • 3
      1

      He is in long slumber. We thoght Ali sabry would be neutral but he is obviously controlled by GOTA. Bugger is loyal to him as a dog with muslims stay eternally mum. 😎😎😎😎😎😎😎

      • 3
        0

        Ali sabry warned this also prior to GOTA s election.. The kind of cheap men born to minorities are the catalysts for abusive govts? 😎😎😎😎😎😎

    • 2
      0

      “The unconventional escalation is in keeping with China’s aggressive global outlook and its ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy in western capitals”
      The demonization of China is reminiscent of the treatment of Japan in the 1930’s by the West. Not that Japan was not brutal, it was only following Western methods but with typical Japanese efficiency. Basically, the West was irked that a feudal society had turned into an industrial and military powerhouse within a generation. Sounds familiar?

  • 6
    2

    Dividing the country into three states is not going to bring harmony and prosperity. Most of us, after 1963 got our education in our own mother tongue and missed the oportunity to mix up. We do not need schools on RELIGIOUS or Ethnic basis. The Tamils in the North and East hardly interacted with the Majority leading to hatered and malice. Basically we Sri Lankan citizens are good kind hearted people. It is the POLITICIANS who like to promote all kinds of DIVISIONS in order achieve their AMBITIONS which is NOT in the interest of the country. It’s UTTER disgrace for political Leaders using Monks and priests to mislead the masses and to CREATE chaos.
    We do NEED a New Constitution for our country that punishes these kind of politicians/Religious dignatories. With NGR at the helm we will ONLY see a new DEFECTIVE /BIASED /WORTHLESS Constitution. We need all peace loving educated Citizens of the country to aim for an appropriate GOOD new constitution as soon as possible. The new Constitution should bar candidates who have committed crimes or have pending court cases from contesting elections.

    • 4
      2

      N
      Nobody in his senses takes notice of this nonsense about dividing the country seriously.
      It has been repeated ad nauseam by him.
      Perhaps this is the first time you have noticed it.

      • 2
        3

        SJ, are you making jokes? Since 1947 Tamils voted for a separate country. There was a war for over 3 decades in SL for a separate country for Tamils. Did all turn rosy after the 2009 Sinhala army victory? Dream on!

    • 1
      2

      Should, should not, etc. Who is listening? No one.

      Not dividing the island into 3 means SL will continue as it is. Too greedy! You cannot eat the cake and have it too.

    • 2
      3

      Senanayakes, Bandaranaike, Jayawardena, Sirima, Premadasa, Chandrika, Brigadier Priyankara Fernando, Ponnambalam, Chelvanayagam, Sambandan, etc. all grew up and studied in multicultural societies and schools!! That didn’t change them!

      In the internet age you don’t have to be physically close. I never had Chinese and Hindi speaking friends at schools. Now they are my best friends.

      1 island. 3 mono ethnic nations = peace
      1 island. 1 nation = chaos, bloodshed, riots, discrimination, war crimes, UNHRC, etc.

      Don’t do the 73 years of mistakes and expect a different outcome. You will not get it.

  • 2
    4

    Human rights got adopted by imperialism as a major political weapon against potential victim states, especially after the Cold War.
    It became a lifeline fort several NGOs who were sponsored by oppressive states.
    While to press for human rights is important, one has to be alert to hidden agenda, especially when dubious NGOs are involved.

  • 4
    1

    Going forward English should be the main language used in academic, business and government institutions.

    Sinhala and Tamil should be mandatory upto O/L so that students could appreciate their own heritage while appreciating the other major language and culture ( Sinhala or Tamil what ever is applicable).

    However AL science , maths, commerce, Economics should be delivered in English and university education should be delivered in English.

    All students sitting for OL should be required to attain at least a Credit pass in English to proceed to A/L.

    Govt should seek international help and invest more on English education for all – rural as well as city schools.

    Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim students should be encouraged to work in teams at school so that they could carry this collabarative environment to university as well as the work environment.

    • 2
      2

      WK
      You forgot about asking QEII to be our ruler.

    • 1
      1

      WK,

      How can Tamil students in the entire Northern Province and Batticaloa district do it? They don’t have Sinhala classmates.

      Good for a joke though.

    • 3
      0

      Whimpy,
      It isn’t the language of instruction that matters, though it affects of course the quality of education and what ideas you are exposed to.
      But in Sri Lanka, historical education is the problem. If students are taught from a young age from a holy book that paints one set of people as invaders, and that one religion is so superior that others deserve death, is the current mess surprising? Some facts are suppressed outright, like who shot SWRD. Then there are “The Problems That Cannot be Named” like the provenance of the Tooth Relic, or child ordination. What a screwed-up world-view are children getting?
      Religion and race have to be de-linked from education. Dhamma school, Madrasas, etc should not be compulsory. Children should be taught modern facts about the country. They should know that there are no pure races, that practically all of us are of South Indian origin, mostly quite recent.

  • 2
    2

    SJ,
    Please don’t be petty minded – English is a positive attribute for any young man or woman we all know that.
    Make it avilable for all not only for the – Elite ( Bamunu kule ).

    • 2
      1

      Fully agree with English.

      But don’t waste time teaching Tamil to Sinhala kids and Sinhala to Tamil kids. Teach them more English instead.

      If they want a third language, teach them either French, Arabic, German, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or other developed nations’ languages. Be practical.

      • 2
        0

        Gatam,
        Sorry, but you are the best argument against teaching English to some people.

  • 0
    0

    Goal is world domination
    ..
    Advertising is Human rights and democracy but will never deliver.
    ..
    Tools are Identity politics, premature predictions and media oscillation.
    ..
    Political view is autocracy.
    ..
    Economic view is communism.
    ..
    End goal is one leader, one currency, one nation.
    ..
    Though on surface it sometimes looks good, they know about our natural Human weaknesses.
    ..
    This method will disconnect humans and will make us more selfish than we are.
    ..
    Will completely eradicate the community feeling and our tolerance for each other.

  • 0
    0

    Rajan, recently read a comment in a news paper. When politician Ranjith asked MS “are you wearing any clothes”? Why , aren’t you wearing a nice costly decorative cloth.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.