19 November, 2019

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Fundamental Rights Is Our Business

By Pradeep Jeganathan –

Dr. Pradeep Jeganathan

It always pays to read between the lines. In fact to read. It seems a truism, but in these days of tweets and clicks, it seems we do this less and less. First comes the actual resolution passed in the UNHRC in Geneva. As I followed the vote and aftermath of celebrations on the Toronto based Diaspora group, Sri Lanka Without Borders, on Facebook – I realized that even nearly 20 hours after the vote, none of the prolific commentators there knew what they were actually celebrating.

Section 3 of the US sponsored resolution now has the interpolation: “in consultation with, and with the concurrence of, the Government of Sri Lanka…”; it wasn’t there before. This significant interpolation seems to have been a last minute addition insisted upon by India. Which may mean that Diaspora celebrations are premature, and fundamental rights in this country, battered and bruised, may continue at a low ebb without any external supervision as envisaged by the previous draft, but with the added burden that the voices of the well known local spokespeople for rights in Sri Lanka, who supported the resolution in Geneva, will ‘smell foreign’, as Indi Samarajeewa puts it.

It seems silly to repeat this, but fundamental rights are important and like many important things, it’s the business of Sri Lankans; neither India nor the US really cares about our rights. That’s what I stress when I hear the argument about the double standard, which is of course true, but they are our rights, and we shouldn’t see double or treble.

It is fascinating in this regard to read former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Teresita C. Schaffer’s Op-ed in The Hindu, where her main point is: “The Obama administration must broaden its dialogue beyond Geneva…Washington needs to broaden its dialogue with Sri Lanka beyond human rights. Its ability to influence Sri Lanka’s policy in that area will atrophy in a one-issue relationship.”
If we follow Shaffer’s logic more closely, we get a better sense of where this conclusion comes from.

Unlike the many INGOs who’ve been painting a dire and grim picture of post war Sri Lanka, especially in the North, this former diplomat sees, “Economic development is where the government is putting most of its energy. This is indeed a critical ingredient in rebuilding both the polity and the economy. Northern Sri Lanka has had basically no economy for three decades….The government is encouraging investors to look at Jaffna…That is the one source of hope for the future.”

It is an old liberal, US foreign policy argument to say, ‘let the economy grow, human rights will follow.’ It’s often wrong, and been so proved to be wrong historically. It’s usually used in places where the US has what’s called a ‘strategic interest,’ meaning it’s a place that’s important to them if they need to saber rattle or even go to war, over trade routes or resources. Schaffer’s arguments reposition Sri Lanka right there, in the ‘strategic interest,’ contra distant to Assistant Secretary Blake, also a former Ambassador, who has been taking the other, rather more Provisional Transnational Tamil Government line of regime change or nothing.

Given the bleakness of the situation as a whole, the continuing fault lines in our polity, the abysmal depths to which the war torn societies have sunk, both culturally, socially and economically, I think there may be in this case, something to what Schaffer says. Or perhaps not.

In any event, those who are investing in the North should understand the special responsibility placed on them; help build a real civil society in that province. Support fundamental rights; and make the possible suturing of economic growth to constitutional freedoms a strong one. This doesn’t take tub thumping or flag waving. It’s quiet work, and it needs to be done.

You can read Dr.Pradeep Jeganathan‘s wrtings @ www.pjeganathan.org

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    1. According to most legal scholars who have followed the case, the last-minute Indian addition to the third paragraph of the UN resolution doesn’t really make any difference: a) there was never any way of forcing Sri Lanka to accept UN assistance or monitoring, but b) the resolution still puts the SL govt under a strong expectation of compliance. If the SL govt doesn’t invite the various special rapporteurs and doesn’t cooperate with the resolution, they will be at risk of an even stronger resolution next March.

    2. It is true, there are no good answers in this current situation – foreign pressure will be slow to have any positive effects, if it does have any, and brings with it risks – of strengthening the Sinhala nationalism the Rajapaksas feed on and of making human rights seem a foreign imposition. On the other hand, lack of int’l concern and pressure means the brothers go on violating their fellow citizens’ rights at will with no resistance. It’s not like there’s a strong opposition or a strong civil society movmenet for rights – let’s hope that begins to materialise, because as you say, Pradeep, its ultimately up to Lankans to demands and win back their rights.

    3. What the motivations of the US and other powerful countries are in this case are hard to say – but I think there is growing worry in both Delhi and Washington that if the Rajapaksa brothers don’t change course, there is a growing risk of a return to violent conflict in Sri Lanka. I think this is a correct analysis – and that despite the risks involved in int’l pressure, they are worth taking.

    4. As for Teresita Schaffer’s position – it’s a joke. Economic development done as the R brothers are doing it will only sow the seeds of future violence – esp in the north and east where the land of Tamils and Muslims is being stolen and given to the military, to buddhist temples and to local and foreign cronies. This is a recipe for disaster in the end. If Ms. Schaffer was serious, she’d be pressing the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank to put in some serious monitoring and conflict-sensitivity provisions to their aid. “Economic development” without a strong system of rights protections will only make things worse.

    5. Finally – Bob Blake was never the mover and shaker behind the US resolution at the HRC – he had to be forced kicking and screaming to agree to it – it was colleagues in other parts of the State Department and the Obama administration who forced the change of policy. Blake has never been a big one for accountability – perhaps in part because he presided over the catastrophe of early 2009, where the LTTE and the government conspired to sacrifice tens of thousands in their twin and immoral quests for domination.

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    At last! A sane and sensible contribution to a discussion that more people should have!

    Yes, it is up to Sri Lankans to make ther choices as to what they want in their country. I agree completely. But have we not forfeited this right by our weak protests when huge human rghts atrocities occcur? There is little use in hoping that the people will kick this arrogant Government out, when they are terrorised and intimidated to the point that elections are now a joke.

    So what alternatives do we have now?

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      ….intimidated and terrorised ..election are a joke????
      Whatever has happened to you? The two recent elections, the presidential and General elections were no different to any other election held since 1977. In fact these two were less violent compared to some elections that were held in 1980s. Only the least educated Somawansa code named the presidential election a Jilmart, because he doesn’t quite understand how the democracy works, his party never is prepared to accept any result unless he wins. Ranil ignores the Jilmart claim and in fact Ranil confirmed there were no malpractices occurred during the the general election. Ironically the General election results matched the presidential election results. When you are politically so bound, it is hard to keep losing, but no need to call names to the election process but the the way the opposition leaders work is what needs rectifying.

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    @Vanderkone, I’m sorry – you may like to live in your little dream world, strumming your guitar to your self but the fate that has befallen Saath Fomseka is the best example that we have that elections cannot be free and fair under this government. I doubt if they can ever be free and fair again.

    Once the rot sets in, it will not go away even with a different political administration.

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    Yes, thats’ true. I agree completely. As a lawyer, may I say that as much as we cannot trust in elections again, the judiciary also has recieved body blows from whch it may never recver.

    As Sri Lanka sinks into the mud, India surges ahead.. Jai Ho!

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    Thanks for your comments people.

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