By Malinda Seneviratne –
Navanethem “Navi” Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is due in Sri Lanka today. Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe expects Pillay to come with an open mind. Pillay, for her part, said on Friday (23rd) that she has an open mind and will not be pre-judging anything ahead of her visit.
Well, words are words, can be used to communicate, can be used to miscommunicate, to lie and distort, play down or exaggerate. Pillay knows words. Pillay employs them. And there are times she’s silent.
Navi Pillay says she won’t pre-judge and that’s a good thing to say. On the other hand she has pre-judged before and has shown a clear penchant to believe tall stories cooked up by pro-LTTE elements and regurgitated by the naïve or else sour-graped, i.e. those who prayed for a different military outcome in May 2009, backed a different horse or bet on a different political winner in January 2010 and April 2010. None of the claims treated as fact by Navi Pillay are substantiated; dig from source to source and one ends up with an LTTE spokesperson or someone held hostage by the LTTE as Source No 1.
But Pillay is a human being; she can make mistakes. There are things Pillay’s confidantes have not told her and things she is not ready to give ear to because she is not ready to believe anything contrary to what she has decided was the truth. That’s human too. She cannot with finger-snap divest herself of all the judge-baggage she’s accumulated over the years. So let us not entertain any illusions about Pillay’s open-heart.
On the other hand part of being human is being able to recognize error and having the humility to acknowledge. Pillay can compare and contrast. She must. She can take into account context. She must. She can be fair. She must. She can visualize the what-might-have-been if things didn’t happen the way they did. She must.
All this time, she’s clearly been fed by mischievous elements in the I/NGO sector that sided with the LTTE (for a variety of reasons of course, not necessary because of love for terrorism or Tiger but perhaps in accordance with the adage, ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’). There was that infamous and laughably flawed ‘Darusman Report’. There were scurrilous documents authored by pen-for-hire ‘scribes’ who are either utterly naïve or incompetent or else suffered traumatic childhoods, not to mention great television productions by Channel 4 (key word: productions). Can Pillay shed all that? Let us see.
Pillay must, most importantly, take care not to confuse issues. This regime is not the best on earth. It has erred horrendously on many counts. In this, there’s very little to pick between this regime and its predecessors going all the way back to 1977 at least. Pillay’s project however is not regime change. That’s the business of the people of Sri Lanka. Now there are people who want regime change (for right and wrong reasons), but it is the most pernicious and politically bankrupt among them who would deliberately tag regime-change-need to a tall, uneven and politically tainted narrative about the last stages of the struggle against terrorism.
Pillay is going to be here for a week. That’s a short time to walk the length, breadth and depth of thirty years of a nation, so it would suffice for her to acknowledge that she is but tiptoeing on the corner of a territory that is mapped out according to cartographer’s political preferences. But blood is blood, terror is terror. Even Pillay won’t find it impossible to imagine a 2013 with the LTTE (by briefing herself about a Sri Lanka that had to contend with the LTTE) and contrast it to the LTTE-less Sri Lanka she is visiting.
She can think ‘resettlement’ and think of IDP camps she’s known and re-settlement programs that haven’t got off the ground in countries with immense resources. She can think rehabilitation and integration and ask herself which country held to ransom by terrorists and terrorism rehabilitated and reintegrated into society more than 10,000 terrorists and terrorist suspects, against whom there hasn’t been even a single police complaint since. She can walk around Colombo and imagine a city that had roadblocks and checkpoints at almost every junction, and get a rough idea of freedoms gained.
There are a lot of things Pillay can do. If she can open her mind (yes, she can say she is coming with an open mind, but few will buy that).
One thing she can be assured about is that whether she comes with open or closed mind, whether she sheds her biases or not, she will see a lot of smiles. From total strangers, especially those who don’t know what on earth she’s doing in Sri Lanka. That smile has a name: Resilience. We have survived all kinds of invasions. We will not be deterred by judgment, especially by the partial (even if they tell themselves ‘We are fair’).
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com