By Malinda Seneviratne –
The High Commissioner of the UNHRC Navi Pillay came and went. She brought words with her, gathered some words during her visit, and generated some words before she left. She is not done yet, since she has to ‘word’ sessions of the UNHRC in New York in a few days and in Geneva early next year. Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris, in statements made in London and Colombo, has taken issue with some of these words.
All in all, Pillay has violated the principle of proportions, both in visit and in word. That however was expected, was a ‘given’, and one that is par for the course from highly positioned civil servants in the UN system. Selective myopic, impaired hearing, sporadic bouts of getting tongue tied and occasional attacks of the Numb-Finger Syndrome that stumps accusation are occupational hazards such employees are required to suffer.
She recalled by way of refuting claims she was partial to the LTTE that her only precious visit to Sri Lanka was to pay her last respects to Neelan Thiruchelvam who was murdered by the LTTE. She even said ‘Those in the diaspora (sic) who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organization’. She did not include ‘glorifiers’ in Sri Lanka. That’s a glaring omission on her part and amounts to a glorification green light which elements in the TNA have pounced on, a go-ahead that arguably shaped the manifesto of that party. Pity.
That was word. What of ‘deed’? Pillay wanted to lay a floral tribute ‘to the dead’ at Mullavaikkal. Touching. On the other hand, the political symbolism associated with a tribute at the spot where the terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran breathed his last squarely questions her stated antipathies to the LTTE, ruthlessness and terrorism. Whatever sentiments she had in 1999 appear to have changed by 2009 (going by statement made) and her 2013 words are mocked by her own deeds. She decried LTTE-glorification and at the same time desires to glorify. Pity.
Pillay, as Peiris has correctly pointed out, glorifies an incurably flawed document (the Darusman Report). Her inability to question the travesty of justice in classifying source and evidence therein, recall the same mechanism adopted by the USA with respect to non-existence weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and more recently regarding Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons. More disturbingly, she appears blissfully unaware that this same report described the LTTE as a ‘disciplined’ organization. Can anyone be faulted for asking if the lady a) really means what she said about the LTTE, b) really abhors glorification of the LTTE, and c) is a neutral actor in all this?
What does Pillay find most disturbing, though? ‘The harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders,’ she said. What is the evidence? What she has been told and reports she has received. Has she verified? She doesn’t say so. Has she questioned credibility of source? Not to our knowledge. It adds up to a single word: heresay.
But why is Pillay so keen to believe what she is told? We can only surmise. So here goes.
She’s put in more hours of conversing with these self-appointed pundits on all things related to Sri Lanka than she has with Government officials. She’s read and seen documents and documentaries respectively based on ‘information’ provided by the same people. Uncritically. The errors of believing the unverified uttered by the unreliable accumulate and if an uncritical gaze casually grazes over all this, it is naturally to come to conclusions.
Those who told stories didn’t have anything to show to justify their whines. They naturally had to conjure up something for the benefit of Pillay’s ears. Ready-to-listen ears, one might add. If she knew that some of the biggest names in the human rights and media rights business have hoodwinked donors and are so dependent on donor funds that they have to manufacture, distort and exaggerate in order to justify work and funds, she would take the lists offered and shake each one twice. But if she insists on believing the written word and the said word uncritically, then the principle of equality imposes upon her the need to resist selectivity. That would concede, in the very least, an understanding that things said need to be verified.
Pillay made a mountain out of statements made by shady individuals with dubious agenda. Pillay made a molehill on the post-conflict work of the Government. Pillay forgot a word called ‘context’. Pillay did not realize, obviously, that these omissions and commissions don’t do anything to dispel what she ought to understand are not unjustifiable concerns about the claimed impartiality of UN agencies and indeed her office. The primary beneficiaries, given realities of political economy, are the biggest stakeholders of the regime, not the ordinary citizenry. The legitimation edge vis-à-vis conferred by all this on the regime can and as history has shown, here and elsewhere, is likely to be abused, to the detriment of the citizens.
Navi Pillay must ask herself why no one is cheering her visit or her words, except those she has by omission, commission and confusion, shown partiality to her.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com