By Kumar David –
The crucial clause in the UNHRC September 2015 Resolution on Sri Lanka reads as follows:
“Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators”.
The paragraph is cleverly and convolutedly worded. The crucial linguistic transition worthy of a Wittgenstein follows after the second semicolon and says “; and further affirms . . . the importance of . . . foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorised prosecutors and investigators”. All else prior to this is anodyne and GoSL can affirm it with eyes closed. The transition phrasing is ambiguous whether GoSL also “further affirms” foreign involvement, or whether this refers only to the views of the Council, leaving GoSL free to go ahead with, but not necessarily committed to foreign participation. The ambiguity is intentional; GoSL is fearful of a backlash of Sinhala chauvinism, the domestic version of a universal phenomenon I call narcissistic-nationalism. Nevertheless, this verbal conjuring will not keep chauvinists at bay nor dampen the bloodlust of rabble-rousers; have no doubts about that. The realistic choice for the government is to steel itself and confront the menace head-on.
The Prime Minister has affirmed his commitment to the, albeit watered down, Resolution at his 27 September press conference but retained the ambiguity. President Sirisena and External Affairs Minister ManSam (MSx2) have given him their fullest backing. It is the PM, not the President (though the former wisely observes correct protocol at all times) who is the de facto source of political power in the country at the present time. Therefore if a GoSL plus MSx2 core team led by the PM has made a firm decision, it is crucial. Surely they must be aware that the Resolution is the signal for MR’s henchmen and the WUDU djinn-band to foment trouble. (WUDU = Wimal-Udaya-Dinesh-vasU). For the PM to set out on this path sans firm resolve to subdue possible mobs is defeatism in advance. Since GoSL has co-sponsored this paragraph we must also assume that it is ready to face the consequences on the streets.
In several previous pieces I have made disparaging references to “R&S” as backing away in the face of communal rabble-rousers and not having the nerve to act firmly against MR-era crooks and criminals. I would be delighted if I were proved wrong; but let’s watch for a while. I go further and say it is the duty of progressives (civil society and political parties) to be the intellectual vanguard against false ideologues and the physical wall against provocateurs. The police force was exemplary during the elections and on the whole has done well since January 8, but old habits may linger. Sections of the military may be confused that some colleagues could be named as war-crimes suspects; some discontent is possible. It will take time to build respect for human rights and subservience to the Constitution in our military, but it is necessary and must be initiated as a matter of urgency. Taking into account this background and the emerging scenario, my point is that mass action led by civil society and radical progressives should form the leading edge in the mobilisation to quell the racist-fascist black-hand.
To give it balance I should add that TamilNet and even some non-LTTE-rump Tamils in the diaspora decry the Resolution as a sell out of the Tamils, by the West and the international community, to the Sinhalese state and war criminals. The give away, they say, is that the mechanism to include a foreign element is discretionary and is to be managed by GoSL. Actually it is possible that a chauvinist blitz may force GoSL to back down irrespective of any type of wording. In any case to work out what’s in the minds of these Tamil actors one needs to appreciate that these assorted grumblings are more an effervescence of pet prejudices and hobby horses of entrenched interest groups than reflections of reality.
A lot of rubbish is being regurgitated on the interpretation of the text. The text matters less than reality. Tamils, many Sinhalese, UNHRC members (except rights abusers Russia, China and Cuba) and of course this correspondent, hold that Lanka’s judicial and prosecutorial systems are abysmal; it is irrational to expect them to handle grave war-crimes allegations against the military or the last regime. The system is too far compromised, deplorably unreliable and cannot be trusted. Conversely, apologists on the MR side of the fence are bent on acquittal of all but LTTErs, irrespective of whether guilty or not – that is if they agree to have their “heroes” investigated at all. This is the core contention; all the rest of the debate is sophistry; nothing can mediate or meliorate this divide. This is no time for debate and disputation with djinn-bands and MRs; instead it’s time to make ready to crush them.
Sinhala rabble rousing
Provocation and incitement got under way without a moments delay. Wimal and Udaya froth that “sovereignty has been betrayed”. A guttersnipe pontificates: “Which is larger: hypocrisy, cowardice or moral outrageousness. Is the hypocrisy of the West larger or smaller than the supine cowardice of GoSL? Are either of those factors smaller or larger than the ethical travesty and moral outrageousness of what we have signed up to?” Another similar trashcan declaims: “For today, the vital question is which political and social forces in the country are on the side of Sri Lanka’s national interest? Are they ready to stand up?” These are examples of open calls inciting civil strife – what else to do in the face of “ethical travesty and moral outrage” by a despicable government bent on selling the nation into imperialist bondage? “Stand up”, overthrow it and bring back MR! The two commentators are frontline fall-guys of the WUDU djinn-band; loot and burn mobs will be unleashed by heavyweight MR-group politicos later, at the opportune moment.
I am in two minds about Ranil’s purposefulness. Many less charitable than I fear he is up to a game of cat-and-house with Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Or maybe he is an example of the Brutus syndrome. Allowing Mark Anthony to address the Roman throng after assassinating Caesar is history’s (or at least Shakespeare’s) supreme example of suicidal munificence. This “noblest Roman of them all” was a gentleman to his fingertips but a strategic idiot to the depths of his sainted soul. Anthony turned Rome around thanks to Brutus. The uncouth slime balls of the Paksa era may have another day of glory courtesy our respected PM and our dignified President, both of whom seem short of an essential political ingredient, the killer instinct. Poor observers of the Paksa siblings they have been! This is the context in which one needs to encourage Ranil to stand firm and, what is more important, ensure that he has the political forces backing him up to take on and defeat a racist assault. If the Prime Minister is prepared to stand and fight it will help enormously; but the people’s movement must stand firm irrespective.
The big picture
Stopping the mobs and subduing inciters is the superficial side; the real struggle is to nurture democratic and pluralist consciousness in the people. If the mobs are chased, but the hearts and minds of the masses are not transformed, it is only postponing the evil day. A massive educational thrust, using every available avenue (schools, media, eager religious entities) must be launched. The objectives should be to teach pluralism (Lanka is the home of many religions and races), an appreciation of devolution, and a commitment to punish wrong doers be they perverted child abusers, molesters of women and tourists, or war criminals on both sides, whether in uniform or not.
I am disappointed that neither government nor civil society have kicked-off a campaign to achieve these objectives. NGOs did some good work on a small scale in the past; the government has and is doing nothing. There are some 90 ministers sitting in cushioned comfort, warming their posteriors, enjoying their perks and doing bugger-all about this the most incandescent issue of the day. One would expect them to be in every nook and cranny of the island, visiting every hamlet and town, working their guts out to break the chains of narrow mindedness. They have no such intention, so the PM has to instruct his ministers to get off their idle backsides, go out into the field, mingle with the people and break the back of chauvinism. Yes, they have never undertaken such a task previously; if anything 90% of UNP and SLFP parliamentarians have spent their lives singing the opposite tune! So it’s going to be tough on them. Yes tough, but do it! Otherwise what are they doing as ministers? Slurping over their perks?
Bale bedeema is an unfortunate term; its auditory resonances are close to rata bedeema. A better term has to be invented to convey the essentials of the devolution concept such as redistributing power from the apex to the grass roots, strengthening regions instead of centre, endowing local people with more clout in running their affairs, and finally in the Lankan context, ensuring that national minorities have administrative authority and decision making power over their cultural, education and welfare related, and economic affairs. Public awareness has to be raised on all these matters. Chasing out racist mobs without completing this task is like taking aspirin without curing the root of the ailment. Civil society and government must together evolve a programme to educate the nation on pluralism, ethnic and religious tolerance, recognition of minority status and a bold commitment to stern justice. Many people may not understand and accept the UNHRC related processes that have been set in motion without this effort. It will be time and money well spent and there is not a moment to lose.