By Kumar David –
Whether the Sri Lankan regime is deep-fired or lightly sautéed in Geneva on 23 March will not in itself much affect the lives of ordinary citizens since sanctions, if applied at all will be against some bigshots, so who cares. I am confident that hard sanctions that will hurt the whole country such as withdrawal of GSP Plus or a trade embargo will not materialise. The Executive and military are thick-skinned and they will brush away verbal humiliation with a wave of the hand. Come end of March the regime will shrug its shoulders, heave a Geneva-is-over sigh of relief and get back to normal; its normal! And that’s where danger lurks. Whatever resolution is adopted in Geneva, the Executive President and his military will say “Up Yours” and set about their as yet unfinished business. Irrespective of what happens in Geneva the ‘Tamil issue’ will remain buried and the Double-Paksas have no intention of exhuming anything.
As you may have sensed I am pessimistic: Whether it be “missing persons”, accountability or retribution for war crimes, nothing will change whichever way annual Geneva window dressing unfolds. After an ethnic war the losing side can go whistle; it will find no consolation. If the Serbs had won Slobodan Milošević of Serbia and Radovan Karadić and Ratko Mladić, the Butchers of Bosnia would be riding high and strolling through the gardens of the Palais de Nations. But they lost and collected their desserts. Likewise the LTTE and the Tamils lost the civil-war. The Tamils will find no consolation in Geneva nor on Planet Mars. Realistically and truthfully, the crucial threat we need to focus on is the now looming next crisis,
I do not at all devalue the efforts of the noble-minded who campaign in this season in Geneva and those who labour through the years for justice. But there is another side which is no less important and more urgent – safeguarding freedom in Lanka in the months and years ahead. This fear springs out of anxiety that the regime will bring forward a new constitution with enhanced authoritarian powers and grant more clout to the military. In simple words, democracy is threatened and the duty of international public opinion is to help the people to push back. Sure, the Sri Lanka government has a mandate to execute economic and social programmes but no two-thirds majority is ever a mandate to crush democracy, bully minority communities, intimidate the press, or figuratively speaking, gas the Jews. If the world wants to do Lanka a favour then help stop this! Likewise the world has an obligation to help the uprising in Burma against the military junta which Lanka’s wretched regime has refused to condemn. All of us are our brother’s keepers and as such the world has a duty to assist the people of this country resist a constitutional counterrevolution and an assault on their freedoms.
Nationalist hypocrites make a point that goes like this: What right have others to criticise us, just look at the skeletons in their cupboard; the British Empire did this and that, the Americans bombed Vietnam, the UN Mission could not stop genocide in Rwanda, the Indians defecate el fresco and so on. This is humbug! Take a simple analogy. If when a drunk assaults his wife and lashes the children, the neighbours intervene to stop the rage, is it not a good thing? Indeed one neighbour may be a boozer himself, another a lazy-lout and the third a thief. All irrelevant in the specific instance if the family is protected. If the outside world interferes to sort out human rights violations and mistreatment of minorities when a nation state does nothing, absolutely nothing for ages, I say Hooray! Welcome! To me the morality of the matter is crystal clear. What are nation states anyway? Enclosures erected by ruling classes to demarcate estates within which they exploit subaltern classes, kerb minorities and in some cultures trample on women. There has been no progress in easing the ethnic standoff between Sinhala-Buddhists and other communities in 70 years. If anyone can twist the arm of the state to ameliorate the post-civil war predicament, and in my view more crucial, stem the tide to authoritarianism, I am in favour of such international intervention in our internal affairs.
The Dead-Left and the Bogus-Left serenade ‘Workers of the World Unite’ on May Day and every other day, but if the outside world ‘Unites’ to end oppression in their own backyard they scream Blue Murder! I am not an idealist who expects par excellence internationalism in all the world at such an early stage in mankind’s march towards a civilisation of human comradeship; right now something much less is good enough. That is the recognition of the individuality of nation states with the proviso they do not transgress human values; if they fail, borders must be bent and bullies tamed. It’s time to stop pussyfooting with bogus nationalism and call a spade a spade, and when necessary a bloody shovel. The purpose is not to harm but to benefit the people of a country. Supporting liberty, reconciliation and accountability of state actors is good, it is pro-people. The HRC is well aware of deteriorating conditions and the strongly worded seventh point in the list of Conclusions (12 March version) in the still ongoing drafting of a Resolution on Sri Lanka reads as follows:
“Expresses serious concern at the trends emerging over the last year which represent a clear warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights in Sri Lanka including accelerating militarisation of civilian government functions; the erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights; ongoing immunity and political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations in ‘emblematic cases’; policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief; increased marginalisation of persons belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities; surveillance or restriction of civil society, restrictions on media freedom and shrinking of media space; restrictions on public memorialisation of victims of war including the destruction of a memorial; arbitrary detentions; alleged torture and other cruel inhuman degrading treatment or punishment and sexual gender based violence; and that these trends threaten to reverse the limited but important gains made in recent years and risk the recurrence of policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violations of the past.”
Since the world full well knows what’s going on it is justified for us to ask international actors to pressure the regime to desist from damaging democracy. China’s wishes to safeguard its maritime routes in the East China Sea, Straits of Malacca and the Indian Ocean; friendly states and harbours along the way are much prized. The West including the USA, UK and Europe and Quad members Australia, Japan and New Zealand are committed to stalling China’s upswing. There are also domestic imperatives on both sides. The West has a popular ethos of democratic and human rights in its public spaces – whether bogus or not it exists as a force. If a British or American government goes soft on human rights the domestic opposition (Labour, Republicans, Churches and NGOs) will maul it and the unpopularity will be substantial. See for example the strongly worded Labour Party Statement: https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/labour-party-call-for-referral-of-sri-lanka-to-icc/.
China has internal dynamics too. Its chorus “Non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries” means: So long as its own human rights lapses (say screwing the Uyghurs) are not criticised, it is willing to turn a blind eye to whatever other nations do their minorities or their populations. Hence persuading the world to make a commitment to democracy in any particular country is not automatic. Democratic agencies within a country have to liaise with foreign governments which have their own agendas, international human rights movements and UN agencies to achieve the best outcome. Geneva March 2021 is an episode but protecting democracy has to be a sustained effort.
As I write these lines for publication on March 21 I do not know what juggling there will be between the Lankan regime and other stakeholders in respect of redrafting the HRC Resolution to be put to a vote on the 23-rd.. The feeling among Western stakeholders and India seems to be that whatever resolution is adopted it will be water on the Double-Paksa duck’s back; maybe another 12 years of doing nothing! The grapevine mummer is that the intention of the Core Group is to generously fund the HR Commission to collect data on Sri Lanka to be used at some time, in some place in the future as in the cases of Milosevic, Karadić and Mladić.