‘Fire and fury’
UNHRC – 46th session at Geneva had drawn to its close four weeks ago. Yet, the virulent attacks unleashed, initially, against the UN-HR Chief Ms. Michelle Bachelet and the UK-led sponsors, and lately, against an expanded list of ‘enemies’ (including countries which had voted for the Resolution plus others who had abstained from voting) still continue unabated with the same intensity. Apparently, the latest salvo of recriminations on the subject has been fired by Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera ( Daily Mirror, 20 April 2021 – “Geneva -the misconceptions …….”) In the run-up to the D-day at Geneva, when discerning sections of the citizenry were despairing that this country had got to this sorry pass, frantically fishing for friends at Geneva, the ultra-nationalists, rehashing their bellicose rhetoric, had ganged up on the global West – threatening to unleash ‘fire and fury’ (Trump style, vis-à-vis North Korea).
Pseudo-patriots had closed ranks in a show of tribal solidarity. The most vituperative among them were the tribal journalists – viz. columnists, commentors and other nondescript scribblers. They had started trashing Ms. Bachelet’s Report on Sri Lanka (A/HRC/46/20) even before the report officially entered the public domain. Mediascape in Sri Lanka had since been saturated with their nasty narratives on the subject, couched in ethno-fascist vocabulary vilifying the Tamil people.
Quest for Justice
In the post-Mullivaikkal milieu, aside from certain international advocacy groups, ethnic Tamils have led the collective cry and have largely been the dominant voices in the persistent quest for international justice at Geneva – although some enlightened liberals from the ethnic majority have empathized with the Tamil pursuit of justice. But happily, this time around, even some sections of the Sinhala and Muslim political activists have articulated their qualified support for the Geneva agenda on Sri Lanka. There are reasons for this change – factors which have even shifted the focus of the new Resolution: This time, the main thrust is not on war crimes; the Resolution has taken note of some ongoing abuses in Rajapaksas regime; Muslim minorities and sections of the Sinhala people also have been directly hit and hurt by an abusive/oppressive administration; small pockets of progressives from among the intelligentsia wanted to arrest this trend.
In any event, when all’s said and done, it has been business as usual for the dominant ultra-nationalists who call the shots in a depraved domain – the mediascape. Some representative samples of their discourses may be revealing:
Dr. Laksiri Fernando
Dr. Laksiri Fernando’s series of articles – diatribes, discharged in rapid succession against Ms. Bachelet /UNHRC/UK-led Core Group/Amnesty International and other ‘enemies’ confirmed his credentials as a closet-racist from Down Under. His latest piece is a loser’s lamentation: (CT, 08 April 2021 -“After Geneva Resolution: What Next?” ). In fact, Geneva proceedings touching on Sri Lanka have had a laxative effect on the bowels of many a member of the SB literati.
Lest we forget, Laksiri had been one of the fair-weather friends of the Rajapaksas. Close on the heels of the Mullivaikal massacre of Tamil civilians in May 2009, and when Rajapaksas were basking in the glory of the war victory and gloating over their triumph, it was Laksiri who, as member of the Colombo University Senate, on 29th May 2009, initiated the move to decorate the ‘learned’ Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya, with honorary Doctorate degrees – LL.D and D.Sc degrees, respectively.
Sublime to ridiculous!
BTW: There was a time when a crème de la crème of intellectual giants and scholars par excellence of the calibre of Dr. Gamini Corea, Dr. C.G. Weeramantry, Justice Mark Fernando et al were the recipients of honorary Doctorates from the Colombo University.!. O tempora! O mores! From the sublime to the ridiculous. But, there is another facet of this funny story. In 2015, Laksiri sought to revoke the honorary degrees of the two Rajapaksa siblings. (Colombo Telegraph, 11 Oct. 2015 – “I propose to revoke doctorates from GR & MR“ )
Interestingly, in seeking to revoke Rajapaksas’ honorary degrees, one of the reasons cited by Laksiri was as follows: “There are credible allegations of gross human rights violations at the last stages of the war under their command.”(Colombo Telegraph – ibid). Perusing his articles carrying brazen denial of the war crimes and broadsides against the HR Chief’s report and recommendations, it beg the question – what is it that this gentleman is denying and disputing now?. And why this complete volte-face?
Getting back to Laksiri’s aberrations, he has lunged at Ms. Michelle Bachelet snarling and breathing fire and brimstone: “I can be very clear and blunt. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is going in the authoritarian and dictatorial direction preaching others to be democratic and justiciable (Sic). This is very clear from the Report……. In February 2009, Castro called her part of the ‘fascist and vengeful Chilean oligarchy’ ”(Commenting on Ms.Bachelet’s recommendations to GoSL) “…… Who is this High Commissioner dictating terms for a ‘vision for Sri Lanka’ giving the impression that the country has no efforts to be ‘inclusive’ or ‘pluralistic’? I will explain to you who she is later.” (Sounds like goons’ gutter lingo ?)
“In December 2020, the President proceeded with the appointment of new members to the HRCSL, including a former Minister as chairperson. The High Commissioner is concerned that the new appointment process undermines the credibility and independence of the Commission.”
“…. the comedy is that the High Commissioner who makes this (sic) observations or accusations herself is not just a former Minister but a former President of a country, Chile (2006-2010 and 2014-2018). (Colombo Telegraph,17 Feb.2021 – “Authoritarian & Hypocritical recommendations of the UN High Commissioner….”)
The comedy lies in the cockeyed ‘chalk and cheese’ comparison of this academic. Doesn’t Laksiri see the fundamental difference? Human rights issues which come within the purview of HRCSL/Chairperson Jagath Balasuriya (Rajapakses’ relative, Mahinda’s former Minister & SLPP Organiser of Kegalle) are critical issues arising within the territorial and jurisdictional confines of Sri Lanka. The Resolution that was under deliberation at the UNHRC 46th session was not concerned with Chile.!
Perhaps, the following features about Ms. Bachelet’s personal/public life may be the details which Laksiri offered to expose when he first said: “I will explain to you who she is later.” (Colombo Telegraph – ibid). Evidently, there is nothing particularly shocking or sensational about Ms. Bachelet’s profile. Any serious student of contemporary history would appreciate that a host of celebrated rebel leaders/revolutionaries – Yasser Arafat to Nelson Mandela included – have had traces of similar traits/track record. Now, let’s see Laksiri’s ‘revelations’ ! :“She is utterly political. As a Minster of Defense (2002-2004) she is known to have wearing sometimes a military cloak and a cap. In her fairly young days (1985-1987) she was alleged to have connections with the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, ‘an armed group that among other activities attempted to assassinate Pinochet in 1986.’ During her Presidency she was known to have tried to preach and dictate terms to other Latin American countries…”(Colombo Telegraph-ibid)
Dr. Mervyn Silva
In seeking to denigrate Madame Bachelet Dr. Laksiri Fernando’s diction and tone are reminiscent of the crude remarks of another ‘doctoral degree-holder’ vis-à-vis a former UN Human Rights Commissioner. In August 2013 during HR Chief Navi Pillay’s official visit to Sri Lanka on the invitation of Mahinda government, Minister Mervyn Silva, addressing a public meeting at Maradana, Colombo offered to marry the visiting Human Rights Chief. Far from being indignant, the local media was quite amused at the antics of Mervyn Silva. A week later, at a press briefing Minister Alahapperuma apologized to Ms. Navi Pillay. ( DailyFT, 5 Sept.2013 – “Dulles apologises for Mervyn’s proposal to Pillay”). Such boorish behaviour by a State Minister towards a UN dignitary would not have impressed observers from civilized nations. It is in this backdrop that recently ‘Daily Mirror’ had carried a news item that the government intended to invite Ms. Bachelet for a visit to Sri Lanka. (Daily Mirror, 16 March 2021). Welcome Madame Bachelet! Stay safe in Sri Lanka !.
But then, Laksiri Fernando prefers an aggressive approach ! : “I recommend the Sri Lanka government to completely prohibit anyone from the OHCHR to step into the country”. (per Laksiri, Colombo Telegraph, 29 March 2021 – “Amnesty International’s questionable approach to human rights”)
Jittery about UNHRC
Is it not strange that the mere mention of the name ‘UNHRC’ has always made Sri Lankan rulers jittery. SB helmsmen have always had something to hide from the international community and have been furtively pussyfooting around accredited international fora. Ms. Bachelet is not the first and only UN-HR Chief who is anathema and a persona non grata to Sri Lankan rulers. To everyone’s knowledge, at least during the past two decades, every other HR Chief who preceded Ms. Bachelet and held that office eminently had been vilified by Sri Lankan ruling cabal and the tribal media– whether it be Ms. Louise Arbour (2004-2008), Ms. Navi Pillay (2008-2014) or Mr. Zeid Raad Al Hussain (2014-2018), they were all excoriated and demonized by Rajapaksas and their loyal subjects. Is it not uncanny, if not outrageous? Maybe, the ruling class may not change their stance until one of their ilk – say, Sarath Weerasekara, Wimal Weerawanse or Udaya Gammanpila – assumes the mantle of HR High Commissioner in Geneva.
Malinda Seneviratne is yet another columnist – a columnist as well ! – of the Sinhala-Buddhist fascist mold, still smarting under the Geneva fiasco. Lest you may forget, Malinda was the proud recipient of a gift of (2) free laptops from President Mahinda at a public ceremony in Dec. 2013. He had ever since vowed fealty to the Rajapaksas and had remained fiercely ‘independent’ as a journalist, churning out copious stories fomenting ethnic passions and defending war crimes. Of course, the poor tax-payers paid for the laptops. To their credit, Ravaya News Editor Lasantha Ruhunage and Sunday Times Editor Sinha Ranatunge had some semblance of integrity to spurn Rajapaksa’s offer of free laptops. Freeloading fakirs are the frontline media warriors mostly fulminating against the Geneva proceedings.
“Cesspool of bias’’
Malinda’s vitriolic diatribes denouncing the Human Rights agency had ad nauseam used the ‘cesspool’ simile to buttress his arguments. Likewise, other SB journalists have cited the 2018 US pullout from the UN agency calling it “a cesspool of political bias.” Those were the words of Ms. Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s Ambassador to UN. When snarling at the UNHRC and liberally using Haley’s invective, these journalists lose sight of the context in which Trump’s crazy administration pulled out of the HR body. The powerful Jewish lobby in the US, backing pro-Israel Trump, hated the Human Rights body for its pro-Palestinian stance. “Haley also pointed to the continued existence of “agenda item 7”, a permanent fixture on the schedule, exclusively devoted to the discussion of rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” ( The Guardian, UK, 19 June 2018 –“US quits UN human rights council…..”)
Malinda’s latest fusillade is against the UK. (The Island, 11 April 2021 – “The British will not learn English……..”). The context? UK had refused Sri Lanka’s request made during the Geneva session for the disclosure of wartime dispatches from the High Commission in Colombo. The dispatches were the basis of Lord Naseby’s brouhaha about the number of civilian deaths during the final stage of the war and he had disputed the casualty figures produced by Darusman Report. Naseby had frequently visited Sri Lanka as state guest – and had enjoyed the lavish hospitality of Rajapaksas. He had thus established a close liaison with the SB lobby. What was the response of the British Foreign Office?
“The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), in its objections filed with the Information Commission, following Lord Naseby’s bid to gain dispatches from Colombo, stated; “Lt. Col. Gash was the FCO’s defense attaché at the British Commission in Colombo during the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Many of his dispatches contain information provided directly to him by his contacts in the Sri Lankan government, the Sri Lankan Army or other military sources….” (Island, 07 April 2021 – Midweek Review by Shamindra Ferdinando). In essence, the information was not from independent sources and, therefore, was not conclusive evidence. Is it not intriguing that the same scribe Shamindra had, in his story published the next day, sanitized the narrative and supressed the material fact concerning the precise sources of the information ?:
“However, when Sri Lanka made the request, the UK asserted that Gash reports couldn’t be taken seriously as he merely reported irregular information obtained from various parties at different times, sources said.” (per Shamindra, Island, 08 April 2021 – “UK rejects Lanka’s request for handing over of Gash dispatches to Geneva”)
Call for Unity
Commentator Ms. Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka has sought to subvert the very substratum of the ‘Accountability’ process. (CT, 25 March 2021 – “Who’s afraid of Accountability? …..”) Assorted authors of no fixed faith or fidelity have joined the fascist fraternity due to an instinctive urge towards tribal loyalty. It is not possible for me to delve into and dissect each of those ‘a dime a dozen’ write-ups. After the Geneva vote, there is clarion call for unity: “Retired Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage says the country should take a united stand at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) or face the consequences.” – (Island, 07 April 2021 – “Geneva challenge: Chagie calls for united stand”). Minister Sarath Weerasekera says: “This is the time we all must shed our differences and stand together against this conspiracy.” (Daily Mirror, 20 April 2021- Ibid )In response, there is an amalgam of mutually antagonistic parties chorusing a common refrain: We “would always defend the troops, the war heroes, who have made a great sacrifice during the separatist war…” (per SJB General Secretary, Ranjith Madduma. Sunday Times, 04 April 2021 – “Sri Lanka shows appreciation to her ‘all weather’ friends abroad”).
If the military men are all sacred cows, beyond reproach and beyond the reach of the law, who will account for the multitude of civilians – men, women and children – massacred by the troops in the “No-fire Zones”? Who will face the penal sanctions for the thousands of victims of abduction, torture, sexual savagery and disappearance in military-controlled internment camps ? Who will take the fall for the hundreds of captive Tamil rebels summarily executed by the armed forces? Who will be brought to justice for the slaughter of “White Flag’ surrendees? The answer is ‘NONE’. Why? They were all Tamils. In the reckoning of the fascist fraternity, the victims are vermin. To them, (to use a Nazi phraseology, applied to the Jews), the Tamils are their misfortune – and are unworthy of life !