7 December, 2019

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Government Denials Will Not Make Problems Posed By Navi Pillay Go Away

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government has rejected the public statement issued by the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay on her departure.  This rejection has been accompanied by a demonstration of anger.  This is evident in the statements issued by responsible government ministers.  The President is reported to have reacted angrily to the UN statement. Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris, whose intellectual powers are second to none in the world, made a point by point rebuttal of Ms Pillay’s conclusions at a media briefing in London. He had said that “the report she had produced was indicative of a prejudiced mind and in no way showed the fairness and open mindedness of an official undertaking such a mission.”

It is said that we often do not see ourselves the way that others see us.  Minister Peiris’s statement indicates that the government is in strong disagreement with the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s conclusion that the government is heading in an authoritarian direction in the aftermath of the war.  Indeed, the elimination of the LTTE as an armed opposition offered the country a great opportunity to restore democratic governance.  However, with the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which even some government members criticized, the country has clearly taken a decision in favour of a radical centralization of power.  The acute, if not excessive, centralization of power in the hands of the President, his family members and a few close associates is no secret.

That the government is heading in an authoritarian direction is an opinion that is held by the main opposition parties, civil and religious society and even by sections within the government itself who speak privately about their misgivings.  On the other hand, Prof Peiris has chosen legitimately to focus on the large number of elections that the government has chosen to have in recent times.  Not only has the government held many elections at local and provincial levels, it has been successful in winning them too in elections that have been reasonably free and fair by third world standards.  Unlike in countries such as Zimbabwe, the government has not used violence to stuff the ballot boxes or to frighten voters away from the polling stations.

Important Opportunity 

The latest round of elections is to take place on September 21, and will be elections in three of the country’s nine provinces.  This will include the first ever election to the Northern Provincial Council.  This election is being eagerly awaited by those sections of the international community who have taken a special interest in Sri Lanka.  The holding of these elections can be considered to be the most important opportunity for vindicating the political rights of the Tamil people through a gradual and democratic process.  The establishment of an elected Northern Provincial Council will vest a reasonable measure of self governing powers in the hands of elected Tamil representatives.  The people of the north are being provided with the opportunity to vote and select those they wish to govern them.

The complexity of the political situation in Sri Lanka is reflected both in the criticisms of the government contained in the visiting UN High Commissioner’s statement on the one hand, and in the generally positive assessment of post-war developments on the ground by visiting foreign governmental delegations on the other hand.  This may be partly on account of the Sri Lankan government taking them on conducted tours.  But the fact is that what they see is positive, be it the impressive infrastructure developments or the sense of freedom that they see in daily life in most of the country.  Again, in comparison to many other countries, particularly those emerging after long periods of conflict, life in most of Sri Lanka is of a reasonable quality and is improving.

It is also a fact that the elimination of the LTTE as a military force has given the Tamil people a freedom they did not have before.  If the LTTE was still around as a physical entity, it is unlikely that the highly respected and admirable Justice C V Wigneswaran and his colleagues in the TNA would have been contesting the forthcoming provincial council elections, which they are most likely to win.  This simple and profound observation was made at a seminar conducted recently at the Marga Institute to discuss former ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, Dr Dayan Jayatilaka’s latest book on “Long War, Cold Peace” which was commented upon by the doyen of Sri Lankan civil society Dr Godfrey Gunatilleke.

Valid Criticism 

However, the positive features of Sri Lanka’s democracy, and its expansion to include the Northern Province, must not detract from the essential truths that are contained in Ms Navanethem Pillay’s departing statement. Her criticisms of Sri Lankan government policy, and governmental actions, are valid and based on facts on the ground.  These include her concerns over the continued high level of military presence in the North and East, the further entrenchment of the military in the form of its expansion into areas of the economy, such as building and running hotels, which ought to be left to the private sector, and the failure of the rule of law when it concerns those in government or supported by government, such as attacks against minority religions.  These are also concerns of the opposition political parties and civil society.

It is important for the country’s future and the government’s own long term success that it can transcend its present inability to see itself and its conduct as others see it.  It is unfortunate that government leaders deny that there are major problems of governance and human rights which the opposition political parties, civil society and the  international community are together saying there is.  The breakdown of the Rule of Law within the country will invariably lead to a situation where persecuted groups will feel justified in looking elsewhere for justice including the international community.  An example of serious denial is the government’s claim that there is no problem of violence against religious minorities.  While the problem may not be large scale, it exists at the local level, not all over, but in some places, and is creating apprehensions in the minds of the religious minorities.

Mosques and churches have been attacked, the perpetrators have been filmed, the evidence given to the police, but no action has been taken to arrest the perpetrators.  There is a strong ethnic majority nationalist campaign that has both tacit and explicit government backing.  This takes the form of speeches by leading government politicians which are widely reported in the state and private media. The power of the government’s propaganda machine may enable it to convince itself and the majority of the electorate that what it provides is better than what anyone else can provide.  To the extent that the government is driven by pragmatic political calculations, a source of countervailing power that is sought internally will be the international human rights community who insist that the government should conduct itself in accordance with international standards of human rights.

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Latest comments

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    This Government deny everything except war victory. Govt. deny killing innocent civilians but proud of winning war.

    Around 35 Journalist’s including Lasantha Wickramatunga killed and govt. deny it’s involvement but failed to bring the culprits to books to date.

    Media Institutions were attacked, there ware ample evidence to suggest who the culprit’s were but govt. deny it’s involvement.

    Govt. deny it’s involvement of disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda and from time to time jokers like Mohan Peiris and Arundika Fernando, Keheliya Rambukwella, Laxman Hulugalla are telling different stories.

    Govt. backed Goons like Gaanu 5 Naanasara Bebadu Baku Sena attacking other religious places and Govt. denied it’s involvement.

    Army killed 2 innocent students and a civilian in a peaceful protest in waliweriya and Govt. denied the responsibility and failed to announce as to who gave the shooting orders to date.

    Once the Govt. denied on something whole world knows that the Govt. is behind it.

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      Jehan, as Kishali writes, Dismantling the Rajapakse MILITARY Dictatorship – for which DOWN SIZING the MILITARY and military businesses and Sacking and bringing to TRIAL Gotabaya Rajapassa the moron (who thinks he is an expert on all things) for INCITING RELIGIOUS AND RACIAL HATRED AND INTOLERANCE AND HATE SPEECH and promoting the Balu Sena that is harming to Buddhism, is a must.

      For this civil society organizations such as NPC and CPA, MUST engage the international financial institutions and bi-lateral development agencies particularly the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, who have been funding Gota the Goon’s militarization project via the Urban Development Authority. They must stop their aid to the Ministry of Defense. These agencies are funding the bloated military that should be DOWN SIZED and Right sized and paying soldiers’ wages. AID IS FUNGIBLE – i.e. transferable across sectors. The IFI’s should STOP pretending that they are deaf and dumb and be FORCED by civil society to STOP funding the Ministry of Defense and the military dictatorship..
      Gota is LANKA’s PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1 with his project to DIVIDE, DISTRACT and RULE. He is the real threat and NOT the diaspora or the international conspiracies that he has invented to militarize Lanka and distract the people. Civil society organizations must ACT NOW!

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        UDA must be removed from the Ministry of Defense.

        Soldiers salaries for city “beautification” while the insides of administrative institutions are purtifying (viz. Burning of Files at the CMC and hiring of unqualified individuals the burning of the Colombo Land registry at the Kachchery fire) due to militarization and military take over of civilian institutions, cannot be funded for by the World Bank and ADB!
        This is an AID joke!
        It is an old saying the development aid can help or hurt peace…
        DO NO HARM should be the principle for aid disbursement and the WB is violating this principle of ethical development assisstance.

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          The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is doing its job now, and has appointed a committee to study the gazette notification assigning powers to the President as the Commander-In-Chief to deploy army personnel to any district.
          The donor driven NGO sector should also do its job and NOT remain silent on civil-military relations and the need to restructure, reform and demobilize and reintegrate the army. UN claims to be an expert in DDR – and World Bank used to talk of good governance which requires taking the military out of corrupt business and the economy. But in fact donors are silent on post-war militarization and military dictatorship AIDING it by giving arms. India is the latest clown – to provide war ships to the corrupt Navy that has grabbed all valuable coastal lands. The racist Aussi govt was also funding the Navy to prevent boat people..
          The fact is NGOs should call for SL to be a “zone of peace” and to ensure that its part of the Indian Ocean is a demilitarized zone, and military MUST be down sized and right sized and the NGOs and think tanks must start a research and policy process and public discussion to do this as the first step to restore democracy or there will be a Syria type scenario in Lanka when it comes to getting rid of Rajapassa who would be worse than Assad when it come to regime change…

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    This nonsense will start another war and guess who will be again howling genocide, etc.?

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    You write… ‘the government is driven by pragmatic political calculations’…
    All our governments since independence have appreciated that over 70% of the electorate is dyed in the wool Sinhala-Buddhists. Be their savior and protector in this wicked world and you are home and dry. So, keep the Mahanayakes onside and give them a ringside seat at all government ventures. Tolerate the rabid racist elements of the Sangha and manage their effectiveness. Crush the slightest hint of politically inspired civil uprising. This we have already seen with the JVP uprisings of ’71 and ’87-89’, however, the festering of the tamil cause was tolerated as it was never a factor that would fracture the Sinhala-Buddhist vote; on the contrary.
    So, MR drove the political will that won the war against the LTTE and delivered to a grateful Sinhala-Buddhist electorate, peace. More than that was the meteoric esteem it gave to the Sinhala-Buddhists to their Sinhala-Buddhist armed forces victorious and their beloved Buddhist flag fluttering high above the desolate sands of Nandikadal beach. All that MR now has to do is gate keep the aspirations of these proud people. Identify and repel the machinations of the foreigners who have been perceived as helping the forces that would divide our country. Child’splay!
    Government denials? No problem; the GOSL have the masters of the art of counter and obfuscation on our side and importantly they know the electorate will appreciate, even cheer, their stand. Nothing else matters in this game.
    As the nice woman in the Mahiyangana market place exclaimed ‘what is the increase in our cost of living compared to the peace that our rajathuma has brought to this thrice-blessed land’.
    There is a long way still to go in replacing this authoritative authoritarian government.
    Finding an united and effective opposition in parliament would be a good start.

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    “Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris, whose intellectual powers are second to none in the world, made a point by point rebuttal of Ms Pillay’s conclusions at a media briefing in London.”

    Jehan Perera’s intellectual powers must be as good as GLP’s: Second to none in the world! Are all the people he is referring to mutts?

    GLP has made many gaffs.

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    How many times this Grand Liar Peris got caught issuing false statements as being issued by Foreign Sources? This Bugger is a Total Disgrace to the Country’s Educated. He has no shame to have been blasted in filth like a Pickpocket by MR once, where he ended up in a Private Hospital afterwards. So what more can one expect from this Joker?

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