By Dayan Jayatilleka –
A recent speech by Mohan Pieris, former Chief Justice and currently Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, illustrates that which is credible and correct about the position of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), that which is grossly inadequate, and that which is dangerously paranoid and totalitarian in implication.
First for the legitimate, credible and truthful part of what he said, which is regrettably weakened by what he fails to see and say, and then negated by what he absurdly goes on to say.
A news report in The Island says:
‘Speaking during consultations on the Seventh Biennial Review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Pieris said: “For nearly 30 years, we tried a cocktail of mechanisms from peace talks to ceasefires with the aid of our interlocutors, however the high price, to bring the group of non-state actors responsible for their extremely brutal terror tactics to the table, into the democratic fold. Regrettably all these efforts did not work. Innocent men, women and children continued to be terrorized, lost their lives and we witnessed the loss of public assets. Their distorted ideologies continued to incite hatred along ethnic lines even as I speak sitting in the comfort of jurisdictions outside. Finally, the Government had no choice but to carry out the humanitarian operation in 2009 that finally liberated the people of Sri Lanka from the clutches of that group of non-state actors.”’
So far so good, though the embittered segment of the Tamil diaspora, the inveterate Western peaceniks, and the hardcore UNP fans of the CFA and PTOMS may say otherwise. What is stated above by Ambassador Mohan Pieris is a narrative on which one could secure a fairly broad consensus in the international i.e., inter-state system.
The problems arise later. They are threefold. Firstly, he seems to assume that simply because it was unavoidable and legitimate to go to war against a terrorist militia which had initiated lethal military action whenever there was a ceasefire and peace negotiations, there is no need for accountability afterwards. He is obviously ignorant of the case of Peru’s (elected) President Fujimori who crushed an insurgency by two leftwing movements, one of which had a track record of barbaric brutality, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). Years later Fujimori was extradited and jailed for two massacres committed by death squads of the Peruvian armed forces, for which he had command responsibility.
Secondly, Mohan Pieris seems to think that terrorism can be sustainably combatted and prevented without addressing the root causes of the conflict, which in the Sri Lankan case would mean a political settlement with the elected representatives of the Tamil people; a settlement based upon a reasonable measure of autonomy with the 13th amendment as the baseline, as agreed upon by the Sri Lankan state during and immediately after the war, including in the joint statement of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 23rd 2009.
Thirdly, and most dangerous of all, Ambassador Pieris articulates a paranoid theory of ubiquitous terrorist penetration, which if believed by the Sri Lankan state—and there is absolutely no reason to assume that he is not representing its views–can only result in a totalitarian policy and system, almost certainly reflected in the new constitution that is in the pipeline.
This is the grotesque vision that Ambassador Pieris rolled out at the United Nations General Assembly:
‘Mohan Pieris said that Sri Lanka had come a long way since those dark days yet there were those who found peace an inconvenient environment.
“Peace is anathema to their geopolitical aspirations which are played out through the pawns of terror namely Non-State Actors. We see today that by far more sophisticated machinations terrorists have gained access to our governments, civil society organizations, private sector entities, religious organizations, the judiciary and the entire canvas of human activity,” he said.’ (The Island, ibid)
Whose geopolitical aspirations is he talking about? What is the link between them and “the pawns of terror”? How, on what basis, is it possible to name ‘Non-state actors’ as ‘pawns of terror’? Which non-state actors are these? Can he give examples? Does he mean all non-state actors, including trade unions, student movements, women’s organizations, human rights organizations, civic associations, journalists associations and social movements? What about political parties?
Worst of all is the grotesquely paranoid perspective he goes on to present, without adducing a single scrap of evidence.
‘“We see today that by far more sophisticated machinations terrorists have gained access to our governments, civil society organizations, private sector entities, religious organizations, the judiciary and the entire canvas of human activity,” he said.’ (The Island, ibid.)
Where pray, have “terrorists gained access to our governments…private sector entities… [and] the judiciary”?
Most incredibly, how on earth can he claim that ‘terrorists’ have “gained access” to “the entire canvas of human activity”?
This would be laughable if not for its implications. If ‘terrorists’ have gained access to “the entire canvas of human activity”, then it would almost certainly follow, that the state should gain access if not control to “the entire canvas of human activity” so as to prevent/pre-empt or counter the ubiquitous access of the terrorists!
This paranoia which is doubtless the doctrine of the regime he represents, is a clear warrant for and signal of a totalitarian state, likely to be created by the coming Constitution.
The Sri Lankan citizenry and society, the democratic political parties, the United Nations in New York and Geneva and the international community ranging from states and legislatures to civic bodies, must surely take note of this dangerous lunacy and act before it is too late.
*The writer was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN Geneva, a Vice-President of the UN Human Rights Council, and a Chairperson of the ILO