Colombo Telegraph

How Can We Become A Credible Country?

By R.M.B Senanayake –

R.M.B. Senanayake

We have challenged the UN Human Rights Commissioner about her statement that those who met her have been questioned by the Security Forces? Surely she made her statement on what was told to her by the people themselves? The Government denies it and wants the UN High Commissioner to give concrete evidence. Surely the world knows how journalists have disappeared or have been killed for writing anything which has displeased the powers that be. So the Government must do more than asking the High Commissioner to give concrete cases which would involve betraying the trust of the complainants when the credibility of the Government is at low ebb. How has the Government’s credibility eroded?

At the end of the war the Government first took up the position that there were no civilian casualties but later modified its stand to say a few thousands only were killed. It also took up the stand that the Army was engaged in a humanitarian rescue mission to save the civilians from the grip of the LTTE. Each time the Government changes its stand it loses credibility. Then there are the disappearances not only of the Tamils but also of the Sinhalese journalists who have migrated stating that they were under threat. There was the farce created regarding Ekneligoda.

We must become a predictable country with a credible government if we want the world to take what we say seriously. If we want the world to think of us well we must become a normal country like other normal countries in the world.

If we want to attract foreign capital, to attract foreign investors and achieve growth we need to be a normal predictable country where there are established procedures and where the Rule of Law prevails and where the Security Forces are confined to their role to defend the country against external enemies instead of spying on our own citizens and seeking to intimidate them. The Government has a big task before it and it involves changing the image of the country across the world.  The UN Office must be receiving complaints from citizens and from Human Rights organizations. The Government must honestly find out what the world thinks of it and the country not from the hurrah boys but from normal educated persons. Usually, being predictable is what is expected of any normal country. Our foreign embassies must be encouraged to report honestly how these countries see us- as a normal democratic country where people are free to go about their ordinary business or a country described in George Orwell’s 1984 where the people are spied upon, intimidated and disappear. The spying is done largely on the Tamil citizens but also on journalists and critics and members of the opposition. Can the military involvement in civilian activities be justified in the North? A distinction has to be drawn between the military engagement in
civilian economic activity and military involvement in the social activities of the community. The latter is based on the suspicion that
the ex-LTTers and their sympathizers are still active and that their activities need to be monitored. Yes but such intelligence gathering
has to be done without intruding on civilian life just as the Secret Services in other countries do.

There is a difference between the right to self determination and the right to secede. The right for Tamil people to decide their future
cannot be denied. But even the UN does not recognize any automatic right to secede. That requires evidence of oppression by the State. It
is up to the Sinhala dominated State to show the world that there is no such oppression and that the Tamil people enjoy the same rights as the majority Sinhala Buddhists. Devolution of power to the Northern Provincial Council will accomplish this objective provided we
co-operate with it instead of striking an antagonistic posture. The Tamils have all to gain by being part of a larger entity like the Sri
Lankan State. They have much in common with the Sinhalese and it is the politicians which have muddied the waters since 1956.The 13th Amendment provides a framework for devolution and any changes will have to be done with mutual consent. The right to secession is not automatic and it is not recognized in the 13th Amendment or in the Indo Lanka Pact. India has said she is committed to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. But if we go back on the Agreement then the issue is once again open. The ruling party cannot and must not whip up fears of secession and Eelam in order to win the support of the Sinhalese. This has been done enough by selfish politicians in the past and at least now they should give it up.

The British framework of law and governance which prevailed for 150 years did provide such a framework and we could ensure that it
continues to be upheld. It is the attempts to convert the State into a Sinhala Buddhist State enforcing Buddhist religious and ethical values which are not universally accepted that has led to problems. In a plural State this cannot be done without antagonizing the minorities. If the UN were to accept the Tamil demand for secession the folly of the present regime’s massive investment would be apparent to the majority Sinhalese. Now that we have invested so heavily the best course of action is to attend to the remaining grievances of the Tamil people like the demand for restoration of their private lands. They allege that the Government wants to settle Sinhalese in the North to make them a minority in the North. The Sinhala nationalists state that there were Sinhalese in the North. Yes there were and I remember even in 1960 there were Sinhalese bakers in Jaffna town. But these Sinhalese settlements in the North were not the result of any action by the State. It was the result of the operation of free market forces. Probably the only action required by the State was to modify the Thesawalaimi just as the government in the 1970s abolished “fidei commissum” The opportunity was missed then and now any changes will have to be done with the consent of the Tamil people. The British recognized the private customary laws called the Thesawalamai. There are two other private customary laws recognized by the British- the Kandyan Law and the Muslim Law. I think all three should be abolished and all citizens should be brought under the same set of general law. Then the law governing property transfers would be uniform as will the family law governing all communities. The pope’s has invited all States to defend religious freedom to create a “harmonious society”. The ICCPR is the best guidance and we should adhere to it.

Another grievance of the Tamil people at least of those who have seen the disappearance of their loved ones is the absence of any information about them. They hold the government under an obligation to disclose what happened to them. A Commission on Disappearances can deal with this problem.

It is important that the international economic and political elite see the country as an understandable and predictable reality, which –
despite its complexity – is similar to them.

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