7 June, 2023


Regime Change

By Sanjana Hattotuwa –

Sanjana Hattotuwa

The Rajapaksa government will fall and several in it will have to answer allegations of war crimes. There are many who will disagree with both assertions, indeed, violently and with the usual rhetoric. The animating logic behind regime longevity, seen from within government, is that the international community will forget Nandikadal in May 2009.

This is unlikely.

Phaidon’s colossal ‘Decade’ is the sequel to ‘Century’. It’s not available in Sri Lanka, but at Waterstones or Barnes and Noble there is usually a display copy one can peruse. Sri Lanka is featured, from memory, twice in the tome. One photo features the LTTE’s attack on Katunayake Airport. The other is a far more interesting photo. It is one taken when Prabhakaran’s freshly killed body is being taken on a stretcher across a ditch in May 2009, with dozens of soldiers looking on.  The photo in and of itself is a revealing frame, but if one looks closely, there are over 13 cameras – including camera phones – captured in that single shot. It is improbable that the soldiers, after the zenith of war, rushed back to their homes and returned after picking up their cameras or mobile phones to capture this moment.  It is logical to assume they had these cameras and mobile phones with them throughout the final weeks of war. What are personal digital trophies of war are in fact records of intent, orders and action in the frontlines. They will go public.

Former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison has just released a book with harrowing testimonies by those trapped in and around Nandikadal. It will be progressively released globally, and with each launch, add to scrutiny on Sri Lanka. With each review of the book – good, bad or indifferent – attention on Sri Lanka’s bloody secrets increases. Channel 4, it was noted on Twitter recently, is working on yet another documentary on the end of the war. High-resolution satellite imagery that can be commercially acquired based on initial scoping, for zero cost, via Google Earth can highlight instances of shelling, and through more rigorous analysis, direction of fire. Inferring by extension which party shelled where, when and how often is possible. The UN Human Rights Council is not going to forget its March Resolution. The real nature and extent to which cluster munitions on the ground have been discovered, though obscure and very contested now, will in the months and years to come, invariably filter out. One reason why some openly supportive of and close to the former Army Commander haven’t met with fatal accidents post-war is possibly because in the event of their death or disappearance, it has been made known that content will be released to international and domestic fora, including media, which can put the government in an uncomfortable and untenable position. It is unlikely all the information submitted to and acquired by the UN Panel of Experts was reflected in its final report and released publicly. This information can months and years hence, by strategic design or sheer carelessness, leak. Individuals who have not been paid for their work and never travelled to Sri Lanka have interviewed those on the ground in the final weeks of war in duty stations like Haiti, beyond Government scrutiny. The resulting reports again highlight horrific ground conditions at the end of war. With every single international event Sri Lanka hosts – be it cultural, film, sports, literary or political – sections of the diaspora will raise the volume on human rights abuses. The more Sri Lanka engages with the international community on bilateral and multilateral issues and agreements, the more these alternative narratives will persist, pique and propagate.

Several staples bind these disparate information release points over an extended temporal arc that weaves through many capitals. One, they will be predominantly against government. LTTE atrocities will be noted in passing, at best. Two, there is no one left in Sri Lanka the government can kill to thwart the release of this information or analysis. In fact, such moves may accelerate their release and dissemination. Three, each release or leak will be increasingly graphic and therefore more telegenic. Four, released predominantly online, this content will have a long-tail – that is, it cannot be erased and will be used and useful long after first publication or release. Five, accountability will take the form of domestic and international public shaming long before any IHL is brought to bear. Five, regime instability can be fermented from within. The discussion and release of inconvenient truths can over time and cumulatively become a body of evidence too hard to defend publicly or be associated with. After all, regime apparatchiks also have a basic survival instinct.

In the fullness of time, whether the underlying mechanics of illiberal governance and not just government is changed remains the only open question.

Courtesy Sajanana’s blog

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Latest comments

  • 0

    I read the article….then read the responses. Hmm…alot of war still around isnt there?
    Are you not intelligent people? With such knowledge and passion that these analyses and judgements come flying out of keyboards at tremendous speed. Calling ppl ‘stupid’? Humiliating each other because your view HAS TO BE THE RIGHT ONE!

    I have always wondered about the Sri-Lankan people…so warm yet so full of hatred, so pleasant but only if you agree, so spiritual in ways and yet so barbaric…in thought, word and deed.

    Your power and money help your voices. They mean nothing to me. Knowledge is understanding that truth is the champion of both sides. All of it true…what this side did to that…what that side did to this…its all true. Yet you didnt suffer so much did you? Where were you when Sri-Lankans were getting gunned down in their thousands? Were you kept in a camp with no food, water, medical supplies, identity? Did you die? Did you lose your basic rights of love and kindness? No? Then what are you saying?

    This is not an ethnic crisis…this is a humanitarian crisis. That fathers and sons are obliged to carry their hurt…for decades, lifetimes and beyond and noone…..wants to forget what was done to them. Someone is to blame but who?

    Me, thats who. You, thats who. Every Sri-Lankan thats who…every man, woman, child…every monk, priest and healer. We failed.

    So now, can we start educating our children properly? To understand that money, religion, ethnicity etc is forgotten and rejected as causes of hatred? (After all, homo sapiens originated in Africa so seems abit ridiculous to call a land ‘ours’ or ‘yours’…because if you want to look at history then we could all go a little further back couldnt we?)

    What is it you want? To educate or to stand on the heads of those you perceive to be below you? Whoever you have vilified and continue to do, is you in another form. Accept it, learn…move on. Or perhaps it IS the youngest generation that we must rely on because, in my humble, lay-man’s opinion, if you have a memory of the war and a side, then you are already tainted in hatred and could not be suitable for any position in the country.

    We are capable of much more than we think, just a shame that we continue to thrash in what we know without understanding the possibilities of the new.

    Peace and Love

  • 0

    For people who do not believe in satellite image evidence, click the link and read the article. :)

    • 0

      For those who do not believe in English comprehension (particularly Dunces), please re-read my comment slowly. I didn’t say I don’t believe in satellite image evidence. I asked for such evidence to be produced. Someone claimed you went to St Thomas’, Shehan. Fell asleep during English class?

  • 0

    The democratic pathways to “regime change” such as term limits and an independent judiciary have been eroded by Rajapakse Ltd. So it will have to be an Arab-style uprising that does the trick. Unfortunately, most Sri Lankans (save for the Northern Tamils) are yet to feel the full force of Rajapakse’s hubris. That is because the Sri Lankan economy is being kept on artificial life support via high-interest IMF and Chinese loans.

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