Colombo Telegraph

In Other Words

By Sandra Fernando

Sandra Fernando

The British Prime Minister has made his views on Sri Lanka and the interim government clear in an exclusive for the Daily Mirror published recently. It is an unpleasant, biased and positively negative little bit of rhetoric.

And that’s the important point: it is a bit of rhetoric. It’s not something that one needs to take seriously except as a statement of intent. His purpose is to further criticise the man who lost the elections two months ago and to issue a veiled threat to anyone who is paying attention.

The criticism:

  • “a new President who . . . is fully committed to reconciliation and reform”
  • “by fairly and transparently addressing the issues of the past”
  • “a dramatic contrast to . . . his predecessor Mr Rajapaksa”
  • “we want to see genuine reconciliation in Sri Lanka”
  • “Strengthening respect for human rights, eradicating corruption, improving political accountability and ensuring the freedom of the press. These are all essential elements of a democratic, fair and functioning state”

I wonder

  • Why is he still harping on their perception of contrast between Mr. Sirisena (as he wishes to be called) and President Rajapaksa? Does he feel that Mr. Sirisena is still in need of his validation?
  • What does he mean by “reconciliation”? When the mandate of the LLRC was made public, no one murmured. After the report came out, they howled. Isn’t that a bit late in the process? Why didn’t they question the mandate before the process began if they thought it was limited? There have been about two dozen such exercises over the decades around the world, not just the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa alone. The international community has stood by and supported the other efforts. Some of the mandates were quite limited and one wonders why there were no comments about them?
  • Why was “the past” a block and tackle used to hamper President Rajapaksa but Mr. Sirisena, who was also closely associated with the same “past”, is set free?

Anyone would think that there was an agenda here.

And this brings us to the last few points extracted from Cameron’s oped above:

  • “Strengthening respect for human rights” – Whose human rights? Everyone’s or those of just a few? The strides we have made in this area have benefitted the whole population. There’s lots more to be done here in lots of areas: youth, elders, the handicapped, women’s rights . . . and so on. So kind of him to care. Except that I don’t think he means that.
  • “eradicating corruption” – we need to establish the evidence of corruption before we can eradicate it. Where’s the evidence? Allegations of corruption are not evidence. Not even in Britain.
  • “improving political accountability” – President Rajapaksa’s manifestos from his election bids of 2005 and 2010 are still available on the internet. He never hid them. Anyone who wants to hold him accountable for his promises is entirely at liberty to do so. He made himself accountable to the people of this land a whole decade before it became fashionable.
  • “ensuring the freedom of the press” – Is he talking about the press that blossomed over the last few decades? The press that increased in number so much that we now have local newspapers? There are so many new papers, radio stations, tv stations and electronic news outlets now. How is it possible for news outlets to proliferate where there is no freedom of the press? Since Chandrika became president, we have not obliged the newspapers to forward issues to the censor so the censor could order entire articles removed, leaving blank spaces with the word “censored” stamped across them. Remember that?!

But the most serious comment made by Cameron is this one: “These are all essential elements of a democratic, fair and functioning state.” He implies that, minus the list of features itemised above, it is possible to call Sri Lanka a failed state. Cheers, chump!

It is necessary, now, to consider one particular strategy of international relations: calling the shots to meet specific agendas. Theoretically speaking, the Cold War is over and Cold War politics is over. Except that Cold War interests never went away. We still have super powers (the US because of their military and China because of her financial and military strength), regional powers (India) and ordinary countries (Sri Lanka). That means that we still have some countries that want their way for their reasons and other countries that are being managed, manipulated or simply bullied. While President Rajapaksa was in office, Sri Lanka was bullied. Now Sri Lanka is simply being manipulated. That’s really all the difference.

One way to manipulate a given nation is to make statements about their internal affairs using specific terms designed to meet a given agenda. If country A, for example, is too independent, country B can fall back on human rights rhetoric or good governance rhetoric or some such. If this sounds familiar, it’s because that is exactly what has happened to us: President Rajapaksa was intent on developing Sri Lanka as an independent nation and Britain and the US wanted to be able to control and manage us for their purposes. India was hopping about in the background as well for their own reasons, so Britain and the US were happy to let them have a piece of the action in manipulating things here. What suits India for one set of reasons also suits Britain and the US for another set of reasons.

Mr. Sirisena is a breath of fresh air for the controllers that be. He is amenable to their designs. But it is necessary to ensure that he doesn’t get ideas, now that he is in power, and become independent. History is full of people who were placed in hot seats as puppets and then discovered that they had spines. Britain and the US can’t afford to deal with another independent leader here. So Cameron’s kindness to Mr. Sirisena has to be qualified: if Sri Lanka does A, B, C, and D, she will qualify as a functioning state. In other words, he has left the back door open for further vilification.

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