26 September, 2020

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International Pressure As Part Of Democratization: Possibilities And Limitations

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

‘International pressure’ is something much talked about these days particularly in the context of the impending 3rd resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC next month. If one is not totally blind or prejudiced, it is clear that as a result of the previous two resolutions (2012 and 2013) and concurrent international pressure, that the Rajapaksa regime was kept under scrutiny and the slide towards gross violations of human rights and authoritarianism was to a great extent arrested. If not for that international pressure, much worst things could have happened. The holding of the NPC elections was one good thing, among others, of this international pressure.

On the other hand, one could also argue that as a corollary to this international pressure, the previously moribund LTTE forces in the Diaspora and in Sri Lanka have received much sustenance and that has been inimical to reconciliation or democratization process in the country. The US officials visiting and sitting in Sri Lanka have made many contacts with some of the dormant sections of the LTTE and given much hopes and perhaps dead ropes to them. The US is notorious for these intrigues.

Now the Secretary to the President is pleading to the international community that they have done everything humanly possible to implement the LLRC report which was one of the recommendations or pressures of those resolutions. It should be kept in mind that the LLRC itself was an outcome of the international pressure. The newest offer from the President himself appears to be a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ of the South Africa style as announced through the paid NBC TV program. The US and UK on the other hand say that there is a major deficit in the balance sheet of the LLRC implementation and that is the non-compliance of accountability or failure to investigate the alleged human rights and international humanitarian law violations at the last stages of the war.

Above are some of issues of the international pressure and the government’s reaction to them.

Democratization   

The democratization of the Sri Lankan polity, for the benefit of all communities, is not limited to the issues of accountability. A greater understanding on this matter might be necessary. Changing of the authoritarian presidential system and the distorted electoral system has been on the agenda of democratization for over two decades now. It is over and above that, the 18th Amendment elevated the presidential system into almost a ‘family dynasty’ by abolishing the limited term rule and the independent commissions of the 17th Amendment. Even the National Human Rights Commission has now become a supine instrument of the regime. The onslaught on the judiciary came soon after, with the impeachment of the Chief Justice and many other manipulations. It is not only the electoral system that needs to be democratized, but also the political processes, including the internal democracy of all political parties. What we have today in essence is a constricted democratic system.

The modern highways and beatification of cities are good things, but those cannot camouflage the political brutality or corruption and the mismanagement underneath.

The importance of accountability in respect of the last stages of the war, for the issue of democratization, is that the resistance to conduct such investigations on the part of the government smacks the rule of law, transparency and democratic governance apart from international obligations on human rights and international humanitarian law.

Possibilities and Limitations

Any itemization or annotation of democratic tasks of the country (as briefly outlined before and others) would tell us that some of the matters can or might be achieved under international pressure, but not all. That is why we need to be aware of the possibilities and also the limitations of international pressure. Except under extreme circumstances, for example the war defeat of Japan, total positive changes cannot be made by the international actors alone in democratizing a country.

Under the existing international legal system (i.e. UN Charter), gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law are matters that the international community or organizations could legitimately pressure national governments through various ways and means. The UNHRC is one of the main mechanisms, whether it invariably exceeds its limits or not. This is something that the GOSL hides from the ordinary citizens, misleading them for obvious political reasons.

On these legitimate issues, there are critics or those who exert pressure, whatever the reason, and there are defenders. When there are pressures, there are also reactions from national governments to circumvent these pressures and for example GOSL has been attempting all their tactics and strategies in the past in this respect. It is unfortunately like a ‘political game’ on the part of all protagonists and detractors. International pressure also might not be completely successful in a national vacuum or in an extremely hostile environment. The reason is that international pressure can be counted only as one factor, or rather a subsidiary one, among other factors or processes.

I may repeat what I said in the Preface to Human Rights, Politics and States: Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka in 2002 in respect of human rights development which is equally valid for democratization in our countries.

I have been of the opinion for some years that three main political processes shape and condition human rights circumstances in our countries, to mean the underdeveloped and Asian countries, for good or for bad. These processes are namely: 1. internal political mobilizations by civil society organizations; 2. state-making by political leaders; and 3. International influence by multi-national organizations and Western countries. 

The first point that needs to be stressed based on the above observation is that international pressure should not be taken in isolation. That is part and parcel of a larger process, where internal or national democratic mobilization takes or should take the role of the major catalyst. Democratization ultimately is a task of state making and constitutional change. That is how it would culminate or put into practice. Based on the experiences of developed countries, Charles Tilly once said the following (Coercion, Capital and European States, p. 101).

When faced with resistance, dispersed or massive, what did rulers do? They bargained…All this bargaining created or confirmed individual and collective claims on the State, individual and collective rights vis-à-vis the State, and obligations of the State to its citizens.

Do our ‘rulers’ dispose to bargaining or change, faced with legitimate international pressure or internal political mobilizations or claims? This is hardly the case at present. The situation in Sri Lanka at present is extremely precarious particularly in respect of the leaders’ willingness to concede the legitimate claims of the international community (or the UN) on human rights; or much less on the legitimate democratic demands of the people. On the latter matter, the unfulfilled demand to abolish the ‘executive presidential system’ is the best example. Another is the aborted promise for a 13+.

The following are some of the markers in understanding the present predicament.

Present Dynamics

The regime has found a ‘lowest common denominator’ for democracy and that is the circumscribed elections. All other aspects of democracy i.e. checks and balances, independence of the judiciary, rule of law, people’s rights and freedoms etc. are gradually reduced and/or condensed. It is true that this ‘common denominator’ is also applied in the North and boasted about as ‘democratisation.’ The whole country in this sense is equal now at a rudimentary level of democracy. Elections are circumscribed in the sense that the State apparatus is blatantly used for the ruling party, not to speak of misinformation, violence or vote rigging (within the possible limits or as necessary for the regime).

The success of the circumscription of elections however depends on the degree of counter mobilizations by the opposition as it was clearly shown by the Northern PC elections. In the South at present, however, the counter mobilizations by the opposition are pathetically weak. In addition, the ruling UPFA has its own political mobilizations both against the international pressure and in hostility to any authentic democratic demands of the people. The opposition unfortunately has not yet been able to make a dent in this situation due to internal disputes, leadership struggles and disunity between various parties and organizations. It is in this context that the proposal for a common candidate and a new leadership is put forward for the next presidential elections.

For the international pressure to succeed in the direction of democratization there should be a necessary threshold of political mobilization/s in the country. If we take the accountability issue in isolation, there is of course a commensurate political mobilization in the North. This is abundantly clear from the NPC resolution, calling for an international investigation, and that resolution to me is completely legitimate. But this is not the case in the South in any tangible manner. This is an issue that the country appeared to be terribly divided on or confused, until yesterday’s interview by Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero came in like a shower in a desert. The failure of the opposition to counter the ‘pseudo-patriotism’ of the ruling regime is one ideological reason for this situation.

What is to be done?

There are those who mistakenly believe that a trigger for change could come through international pressure alone. That to me is a false hope, and not ‘politically correct.’ There are those who even believe or wish that the top Rajapaksa decision makers could be dragged into The Hague and then the country could live happily ever after. That is not correct either. If that were the case, it should have happened not now but before. Anyway, revenge is not the purpose of democratization or resolving Sri Lanka’s problems. Most probably what the US might do is to bring a stronger resolution this time focusing mainly on accountability issue and proposing an international investigation.

While the regime is opposing any international investigation, it now proposes a belated ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ (TRC) to buy time and circumvent an independent international investigation. There is nothing wrong in having a TRC to investigate or deal with a longer period or other matters, but the investigation of the last stages of the war is a moral and a political obligation on the part of the government. It is a moral obligation since not yet determined number of citizens was killed during the last battles between the army and the LTTE, and there are credible allegations, as well as unconfirmed evidence, that killings and other violations took place when some of the LTTE cadres and others were captured or taken into custody. This is not to hide heinous crimes that the LTTE had committed during their reign.

There are credible allegations reported both by the LLRC and the UN Darusman report -committed by the government forces and the LTTE. There are many other sources including Channel 4 to the same effect. There is also a practical necessity for these investigations to be conducted since the perpetrators are still at large and would commit the same crimes in the future. Investigations are a must for a disciplined army, or otherwise the allegations are an affront to the other professional soldiers. The investigations however should be a judicial process and not a political one. After taking all the factors and concerns into consideration, what the opposition could perhaps propose or call for is a ‘Joint International-Domestic Investigation’ to safeguard all legitimate interests.

There is a glimmer of hope in the statement made by Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero yesterday in an interview, clarifying his position on the international concerns or pressure on the subject of accountability.  He has said as quoted by Kumar David (Colombo Telegraph),

“Sri Lanka is a part of the international community, we have to abide by international norms, and if there is a call for an international investigation, I have no problem in agreeing. If we have done nothing wrong we can go before an international investigation and vindicate ourselves.”

National mobilization for democracy or democratization obviously is the most important task ahead for Sri Lanka and for the opposition. However, that cannot be done without a correct perspective or attitude on international influence or pressure on human rights. Sobitha Thero has forthrightly calcified that matter.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    I’m all for Sobitha! Hurrah! I hope that he comes out to oppose MR and that Karu and others join him, leaving that useless Ranil!

  • 2
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    You are right on Prof – democracy is a SHELL GAME because the local NGOs, civil society and academics who have failed to EDUCATE SInhalaya modayas on what democracy really means. Sinhalayas have had democracy for many decades but do not know what it really means..
    Sri Lanka needs an Aam Aadmi party (as in India ),to be an alternative to both the corrupt SLFP and UNP, and a social movement against corruption and criminality led by Sobitha Thero to EDUCATE the moda Sinhalayas who do not have a clue about what democracy really is..

    Sinhala POLITICAL CULTURE is rotten to the core, so the Sinhalaya modayas distract themselves by attacking minorities, rather than looking inward and fixing their ROT and CORRUPTION.
    You should be writing articles to EDUCATE the SInhala voter on what democracy is and is NOT. Particularly, there needs to be a campaign against more than 1 member of a single family being in government positions at any given time.
    Today democracy does not exist. It is a SHELL GAME run on MONEY POLITICS and FAMILY BUSINESS of corrupt politicians.. Please start a voter education campaign in Sinhala Language to educate Sinhalayas..

    • 0
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      “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”
      – George Bernard Shaw

  • 0
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    Dear Dr. Fernando @,

    Every right thinking ones would agree with you

    “Changing of the authoritarian presidential system and the distorted electoral system has been on the agenda of democratization for over two decades now. It is over and above that, the 18th Amendment elevated the presidential system into almost a ‘family dynasty’ by abolishing the limited term rule and the independent commissions of the 17th Amendment. Even the National Human Rights Commission has now become a supine instrument of the regime”

    The man in power not to have uttered a single word on the Abolition of EP is more than questionable. There the man would not even boast of prevailing 2/3 mandate either. However, going to work on SA style- TRC is drawing an another redherring(sinibola)

  • 2
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    A very lucid, balanced and well argued presentation. Do those who matter in this government and those who are arrayed against it, read such presentations ? Even if some read, are they objective and rational enough to concede the points being made and tune their positions accordingly ?

    Prof. Laksiri , thanks for doing your mite for this country and her peoples.

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

    • 4
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      For a president who talks so much of international conspiracies and how he will fight them and home grown solutions ton our problems he had to finally turn to South Africa for TRC and announce it on NBC in America …..ah what irony !

    • 1
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      Thanks Dr Rajasingham. I think now we should focus more and more on changing the situation democratically and peacefully, and educate and empower the people towards such a change. What might be necessary is a broad democratic front with the existing leaders and new leaders who can see beyond sectarian or narrow ideological lines.

  • 0
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    .
    VP became Sun God for fighting India….

    MaRa is the King of Kings for challenging the World(west).

    :-)

  • 0
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    “Except under extreme circumstances, for example the war defeat of Japan, total positive changes cannot be made by the international actors alone in democratizing a country.”

    There is no need for international intervention in a democracy you idiot! Cant you f—ing see that? Don’t talk sh-t and disgrace all intelligent people on this island.

    No body is going to intervene in corruption and you know that very well but no one wants to see a government that tortures rapes and kills with impunity. All the infrastructure that is being built will not bring in the FDIs required to pay back loans. All the businesses being run by the government using the armed forces will not be able to bring in revenue. The fools behind this planning do not realize that if you want growth you have to make a deal with big business and big business is global.

    Big business requires careful positioning and big business does not want any murders and torturers and rapists sitting on its boards.

    Right now all this drivel is just a more sophisticated version of shaitans sh-it.

  • 1
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    Nonsense as usual.

    Tamils will be the ultimate losers.

  • 0
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    What , Fat Fucksheema? Sinhalese have already lost everything.Those savages called sinhala baudhdhyaas are about to begin their downward journey to hell !

  • 0
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    MOD says the following:
    “No Outsider Can Solve Our Problem; We Trust Army” – Displaced Jaffna Civilians

    So we really have no problem then do we ha ha ha I can’t stop laughing at this headline.

  • 2
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    Laksiri
    A very good and useful piece, but written from, and somewhat confined by, your point of view as a political scientist. You have laid out, lucidly and comprehensively, the problems with our politics, administration, law and order etc, and you have suggested what could be done to put things right. But these problems are not new, and they are getting worse and seem thoroughly intractable. We need to complement your view point with a historical/ sociological viewpoint to understand why we got to our current sorry state and why we are unable to take the steps that we need to take in order to get to a better place.
    We tend to take the view that our recent history is and has been shaped by the acts of comission and omission by the many prominent men and women in our national life. But the actions/ failures of actions of these past or current actors are conditioned/ permitted/ constrained/ induced by powerful historical and social undercurrents. The most significant and obvious of these undercurrents or ‘spirit of the age’ is of course sinhala buddhist ethno-nationalim. It is deep rooted, widely based, intensely felt and politically extremely potent. Its influence has been largely malign, and is not confined to inter-ethnic strife. At its core it is anti-modernist, very much in the manner that fundamental islam is in Muslim countries.

    Unless the powerful spell of this ethno-nationalism is broken, we are unlikely to extricate ourselves from our plight. But an ethno-nationalist spell of this power and tenacity is not easily broken. Unfortunately, the historical trajectory of this sort of nationism is towards a catastrophic end: catastrophic economic or social collapse or humiliating foreign intervention. From the ashes of the catastrophe, with the nationalist spell finally broken, we may be able to rebuild a saner society and country.

    • 0
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      I presume Pillai’s ethno-nationalism in Sri lanka encompasses the Tamil nationalism of the mono-ethinic variety too. This variety of a exclusive Tamil enclave advocated by some Tamils is the biggest threat and impediment to the formation of an inclusive, fairer, democratic state in Sri Lanka. Until Tamils are educated by Tamils to accept their own short comings, progress towards a fairer State will remain elusive.

      • 1
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        You are the overwhelming majority and you get your house in order in terms democracy, fairness, equality and justice. If you then find the minorities behave irresponsibly you point your fingers at them! Since independence, the majority community has been irresponsible and behaving like a minority.

        • 0
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          OK, so supporting a terrorist organisa, sustaining war and LTTE and prolonging human suffering looks like responsible to you?

          The reality is Sinhalese can be accused of things upto early 80s. After that they didnt have control of many things that happened in SL

          • 0
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            Nor the Tamils had control! Once the militancy became prominent with potency, there was no way the Tamils were in control. As I said before, the Tamils had to choose between two evils and they chose the lesser evil according to them. I am sure you would have done the same!

            Get your house in order rather than finding excuses. The Tamils have bravely entrusted the reigns with some educated and capable people. I am sure they will endeavour to work the Sinhala within reason.

    • 0
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      Joseph,

      Thanks for your comments. Yes, if I move beyond the specific theme that I was discussing, I don’t have any disagreement in identifying the causes as related to ethno-nationalism/s, the Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianism as the main culprit. However, there are other socio-historical roots or reasons for the tendency towards authoritarianism that I was discussing as democratization. These are largely Asiatic. We all are responsible for these tendencies, in society, politics, religion, and neighbourhood or in family.

      I feel in respect of ethno-nationalism, you have raised two points: (1) historical and social roots (2) how to contain or get rid of it. The first is a long story and I may revisit the subject in the coming future. However, it is my view that ethno-nationalism or its religious variety is not unique to Sri Lanka. For example, Hindutva ideology advocated by RSS-BJP is very much similar. However, the constraint there is the fairly established rule of law and democratic governance with still a secular state/constitution. Based on that observation, if I may come to your second point, I would think, if Sri Lanka could establish its democratic structure and rule of law, then the fallout from ethno-nationalism might be able to contain to a reasonable extent. The withering away of ethno-nationalism/s might take a long period, if at all. I think we have already had enough catastrophes believing that a new society might emerge from its ashes.

      Laksiri

      • 0
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        Laksiri
        Many thanks for your thoughtful reply, even though, as you ever so gently point out, my comments were somewhat tangential to the main theme of your article.
        I look forward to future posts from you on the theme of ‘underlying causes’ , specifically (1) ethnonationalism as an underlying motivator in our recent history and as it is currently unfolding (2) societal roots of the recent and accelerating drift towards authoritarianism and anti republicanism.

  • 0
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    For a start,let us have 100% free and fair elections,shall we.
    But,all know that this is IMPOSSIBLE – as the government parties know that they will lose if such free & fair elections happen – some have already lost with all their corrupt election malpractices!!!
    This time,the Governors too may campaign for the UPFA as the NPC Governor has shown – and noone objected!
    The Elections Commissioner is a powerless dumb duck who only makes noises – the police care two hoots for his directives.

    MR exists because of the Executive Presidency which is his lifeline and also of his siblings,sycophants and fellow-travellers.

    What Sobitha says will never happen,even if he becomes president – the die-hards of the sinhala buddhist heirearchy will not allow it.

    MR will ‘muddle-through’ until the next presidential election is due.

    UNLESS THERE IS ANOTHER REVOLUTION – like what JVP staged – MR is there to stay – but – such attempt will be nipped in the bud by the army which owes its comfortable existence to MR.

    There is NO solution unless external forces intervene.

  • 1
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    Please translate this valuable article into Sinhala and Tamil if we are keen to see political mobilization in the South.

    • 0
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      Indeed – a very good idea. I wonder if the Colombo Telegraph itself could – perhaps working with other exiled Sinhala and Tamil journalists – begin translating select articles from its site into Sinhala and Tamil so that it’s not just the small English-speaking slice of Sri Lanka and its international friends that get to read the many insights in its pages. There might be some foundations or other donors willing to cover the costs.

  • 0
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    International intervention is a fact. Without it no regime can survive. China and Russia follow the principle of unobtrusive intervention in the form of economic and military aid but supportive of despotic regimes. The west intervenes in support of democracy and human rights, aid is conditional.

    Dictators and despots demand aid without strings so that they can further their writ and subjugate their people. They make money out of international aid in the name of development. Aid only helps to strengthen their position.

    Increasingly people are rebelling and revolting against Govts perceived to be dictatorial. These are often prompted by economic factors. As long as the economy is stable, the country will remain stable and the regime will survive. Even though the govt is in debt, as long as there is enough liquidity in the market, people will not protest.

    The stability of the regime is dependent on the economic more than the political factors. It can withstand any number of resolutions unless they are detrimental in an economic sense.

    • 1
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      Safa:

      China and Russia follow the principle of unobtrusive intervention in the form of economic and military aid but supportive of despotic regimes. The west intervenes in support of democracy and human rights, aid is conditional.

      Anagarika Dharmapala said that by the time the British leave Sri Lanka,
      they will leave behind a class of Sri Lankans who will be their slaves.

      In spite of all the information that is out their on the web, you must certainly be one such slave to not notice that the West has their share of despots that they support.

      Is Middle East in your world map? Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, … you want more? They will create, patronize, protect, weaponize and destroy despots and democracies when it suits them.

  • 0
    0

    There is another things.

    Sl needs strong democratic institutions, but US dont intervene in SL just because they care about democracy and human rights.
    Human rights is one of the last things in US agenda.
    SL is just a tool in its recent foreign policy architecture. They see SL as an opportunity for them.

    This is like inguru deela miris gatta wagei.

    And i again mention democracy and HR are the last things on US agenda. That was abundantly clear during Maldivian coup.

  • 0
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    Dr. Laksiri Fernando:

    The importance of accountability in respect of the last stages of the war, for the issue of democratization, is that the resistance to conduct such investigations on the part of the government smacks the rule of law, transparency and democratic governance.

    There is a saying that “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

    Investigating the conduct of the government only during the last stages of the war at the behest of LTTE supporters and their passive backers in the West and India does not appear justice done.

    When UK demands Sri Lanka probe war crimes, they should at least answer people of Sri Lanka why they allowed LTTE theoretician refuge in UK and how LTTE was able to raise so much money in that country for terrorism for so long – that is if we are interested in justice.

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