3 March, 2021

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The Responsibility To Prevent The Next Myanmar 

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The global democratic community has a responsibility to prevent another Myanmar in Sri Lanka.

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s report sets out the current Sri Lankan context as she perceives it:  

“19. The following section highlights six of these broader trends: i) militarization of civilian government functions; ii) reversal of Constitutional safeguards; iii) political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations; iv) majoritarian and exclusionary rhetoric; v) surveillance and obstruction of civil society and shrinking democratic space; and vi) new and exacerbated human rights concerns. The High Commissioner is concerned these represent important early warning indicators that require the Human Rights Council’s urgent attention.”

What is of cardinal significance is that every one of these trends describe a process unleashed by the administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Taken together, they constitute a grimly alarming ‘scan report’ of the country and its prospects. All of them were unnecessary and avoidable. They exist only by conscious choice, i.e., because of the ideology, model and decisions of the Gotabaya presidency. It is these six trends that lend credibility and constitute the launchpad for the Human Rights High Commissioner to “urge” alternative options for justice, aimed at the Sri Lankan armed forces and the conduct of the last war. 

Latin America was for decades a laboratory of militarization including under elected Presidents. In the latter cases, military rule has been more cumulative degenerative process than conclusive dramatic episode; more creeping cancer than coup d’état. Militarization turned Latin America into a vast torture chamber, until after decades of horror, the continent was liberated by the protracted struggles of popular democratic forces. 

Michelle Bachelet was part of that history, that story. A Latin American, a democrat, a socialist, an ex-president, an ex-defense minister, an ex-prisoner, a daughter of a tortured and martyred General (a democratic dissenter), and a woman, she knows what she’s talking about and tells it like it is. 

Listed as the first of the disturbing trends she perceives as ‘early warning indicators’ is the Militarization of Civilian Governmental Functions. Paragraphs 20 to 23 paint a convincing and alarming picture, revisited in Paragraph 54 in the all-important Conclusions and Recommendations:

“54. …an increased militarization of the State. The Government has appointed active and former military personnel, including those credibly implicated in war crimes to key positions in the civilian administration, and created parallel task forces and commissions that encroach on civilian functions. Combined with the reversal of important institutional checks and balances on the executive by the 20th Constitutional Amendment, this trend threatens democratic gains.” 

When she sees Sri Lanka over the past year, she perceives a military machine from which those who were responsible for terrible incidents in wartime have not been weeded-out over a decade later, being reactivated, empowered and handed increasing control over a long-standing democracy by an elected ex-military leader with questionable commitment to and controversial views, to say the least, on human rights.        

Having brought her enormous political experience as a two-term President of an important country of the global South (as well as her considerable academic training) to bear in scrutinizing the evidence of the recent structural changes and dynamics in Sri Lanka which are causing the rapid erosion of civilian control and democratic and civic space, she is alarmed by the prospect of renewed large-scale violence and a human rights catastrophe and is therefore sounding the alert, calling for a global effort of containment, deterrence and pre-emption/prevention of a bloodily tragic outcome. 

The UN’s Human Rights chief implies that in Sri Lanka today the dice is so heavily loaded by the 20th amendment, the dominance of the military and ex-military brass, the thrust of monk-and-military task forces, and the incumbent regime’s implacable hostility to checks-and-balances and accountability, that counterbalancing or deflecting the extremely dangerous domestic dynamics which have achieved accelerated momentum can only come –or must primarily come–from outside, from the ensemble of the UN system, the international system of states, the ICC, national judiciaries of UN member-states and global society. 

The most crucial line in the text of the Report is literally the bottom-line of the Executive Summary: “She also urges Member States to pursue alternative international options for ensuring justice and reparations and support a dedicated capacity to advance these efforts.”

What exactly this means is spelled out in the Conclusions and Recommendations, Paragraph 59:

“59. Member states have a number of options to advance criminal accountability and provide measures of redress for victims. In addition to taking steps towards the referral of the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court, Member States can actively pursue investigation and prosecution of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka before their own national courts, including under the principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.” 

This is reinforced in detail in Recommendations, Paragraph 61:

“The High Commissioner recommends that the Human Rights Council and Member States to: 

…Support a dedicated capacity to collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial proceedings in Member States with competent jurisdiction; 

Cooperate with victims and their representatives to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka through judicial proceedings in domestic jurisdictions, including under the principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction; 

Explore possible targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans against credibly alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses …” 

Reading the past through the present and the future through the past and present, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s Report is intended as a clarion call to save human rights in Sri Lanka from a clear and present danger, by any legal means necessary. Her moral-ethical argument is not so much the Responsibility to Protect, but the Responsibility to Prevent.  

The OHCHR Report cannot be spun as part of a western imperialist conspiracy to punish a nationalist regime of the Global South. 

Firstly, Michelle Bachelet, the former Socialist President of Chile and former political figure in the resistance against the Pinochet military junta, is hardly a western imperialist puppet. 

Secondly, no UN Human Rights High Commissioner ever made such drastic recommendations during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who stood up to external powers far more directly than his sibling-successor has done and is doing while prosecuting the war through to its decisive end. 

Thirdly, though the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, Admiral Colombage just declared that “When you look at the composition of it [the UNHRC], it is global Political North dominated” (Daily Mirror, Jan 25th 2021), that’s Trumpian ‘fake news’. Whatever is meant by ‘political North’ and ‘political South’, the truth is that the Institution-Building (IB) package, i.e., the Constitution or foundational text of the UNHRC, embedded ‘equitable geographic representation’ ensuring that 34 of the 47 member states are from the Asia-Pacific (13), Africa (13) and Latin America and the Caribbean (8), which means that the North is in a structural minority (13). 

I was an active participant in the negotiations to overcome a deadlock as a Vice-President of the UNHRC when the IB package was gaveled through in 2007 by Mexico’s Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba (whose letter of thanks I still have). 

It is the changed (target) profile of the Sri Lankan state and its policies and practices that have caused the escalation in Geneva, because these have set off many early warning alarms. That target profile was changed and those policies introduced or persisted in by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This is how one such policy, the burial/cremation issue, is seen by the UN Special Rapporteurs, and the conclusion arrived at about Sri Lankan trends under the Gotabaya dispensation:

‘… “The imposition of cremation as the only option for handling the bodies confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 amounts to a human rights violation. There has been no established medical or scientific evidence in Sri Lanka or other countries that burial of dead bodies leads to increased risk of spreading communicable diseases such as COVID-19,” said the experts.’ (Daily FT)

‘… “We deplore the implementation of such public health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country” the experts said. “Such hostility against the minorities exacerbates existing prejudices, intercommunal tensions, and religious intolerance, sowing fear and distrust while inciting further hatred and violence”, they added…’ (UN News)

This description is a damning indictment never deployed about Sri Lanka even in wartime. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was never accused by UN agencies or officials of “aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism” or “persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country”. That is what differentiates the military-studded ultranationalist regime of Gotabaya Rajapaksa from that of his war-winning elder brother. 

The President has counter-productively over-exposed the wartime command-and-control structure, including and especially every single one of his high-profile military/ex-military appointees across the state spectrum, as targets worldwide, vulnerable to asset-freezes, sanctions, and far worse, the global net of prosecutions that UN High Commissioner Bachelet “urges” through national courts in all UN member states, under the doctrine of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction. 

It is the profile, conduct and character of the regime that is contaminating any credible defense in Geneva and globally, of the Sri Lankan state, its armed forces and its legitimate war (2006-2009). 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made Sri Lanka utterly vulnerable to its critics and foes by distorting our ‘country profile’, neutralizing our traditional defensive advantage of being Asia’s oldest democracy; a proudly civilian one. There is no Great Wall of China to hide behind in Geneva.

*The writer was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN Geneva 2007-2009 and a Vice-President of the UN Human Rights Council 2007-2008.

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Latest comments

  • 13
    3

    This is a good article, and puts the salient points in front of lazy folk who can’t be bothered to read Michelle Bachelet’s entire report. They do make for both alarming and optimistic reading; optimistic because of the hope that her convincing report will trigger member states to undertake her recommendations and thereby bring maximum pressure on Herr Nandosena and his servile followers, as well as the characterless military cabal that will eventually result in their downfall.

    Having said that, Dayan continues to plug the line that “Mahinda was a better president than Herr Nando”….. this is puerile rubbish. Mahinda Mama was primarily responsible for the moral turpitude and impunity that prevails in Lanka today, even as he dispensed his prescriptions with his disarming smile.

    The old scheming fox JRJ must be grinning between his teeth while grimacing in his bed of nails, at the destruction that has been wreaked on our country that he thought was his to won and do as he chose.

    • 2
      0

      By handover to uneducated known criminals what was not in good shape was national safety. But as of today almost ever had turned out to be upside down. This is tragody. But main stream media cover it to the very same manner in north Korea and Myanmar. Situation was not unexpectable. Sangaratne shows their true colours not telling a single word. 😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉

  • 4
    13

    Easton Scott 
    What does she say about the actions to be taken on the atrocities committed by the Tamil side during the 30 year war ?

    Soma

    • 6
      2

      Soma,

      But Tamils lost in 2009. What is the point it bashing the loser any more? Get real for once!

      • 2
        1

        What about arms suppliers?
        And those who promoted LTTE as the sole representatives of Tamils there by complicit in terror and prolonging the war.
        And +12,000 terrorists released by Mahinda Rajapaksa without any parliamentary approval.
        Sinhalese shoud demand that coincident with the announcement of punishments to the Sinhala side these released terrorists must be all rearrested.
        UN Madam has created a precedent that no proof is necessary – mere accusation is sufficient. Surrendering with arms is ‘credible’ enough for the purpose.

        Soma

    • 4
      3

      I don’t think extremist sinhala buddhists understand that when they compare a government with a terrorist organisation it isn’t a positive note for that government.
      .
      I understand that there was a new level of idiocy for the 69 lakh people but day after day the extremist sinhala buddhists continue to suprise with their ever increase decent into idiocy.

    • 3
      2

      Soma,
      What does you say about the action to be taken on the atrocities committed by you people from the first 30 years before the 30 year war?

    • 3
      0

      Many commenters on CT are not familiar with the meaning of the idiom ‘Flogging a dead horse’. They keep on beating the dead tiger relentlessly. Where will it get them?

      • 0
        1

        Captain morgan
        What about arms suppliers?
        And those who promoted LTTE as the sole representatives of Tamils there by complicit in terror and prolonging the war.
        And +12,000 terrorists released by Mahinda Rajapaksa without any parliamentary approval.
        Sinhalese shoud demand that coincident with the announcement of punishments to the Sinhala side these released terrorists must be all rearrested.
        UN Madam has created a precedent that no proof is necessary – mere accusation is sufficient. Surrendering with arms is ‘credible’ enough for the purpose.

        Soma

  • 7
    2

    This article describes what is happening to Sri lanka since 2009 to 2015 and from 2020 to present under the President ship of two brothers , who are responsible for all the calamities that the country has to face with in the international forums. This situation would not be going to improve in the near future.

  • 3
    9

    Now that Dayan J has been appointed as a Senior Advisor to SJB can we take his opinions as representating the official position of SJB?
    People should know.

    Soma

    • 0
      1

      Some when would u see it right? Please be honest to you first. Can they be always successful in shooting the messenger? Today not only foreign communities but also we the expatriates are becoming their enemies. So how would they face the world in coming months and years? The name Rajapakshe becomes hateful word for all in every corners of the country. Now who is getting ready to kick the bucket soon will surely be caught by same fate to the manner Tripoli men faced it. 😉😉😉😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎

      • 0
        0

        leelagemalli
        Will you read my comment again?

        Soma

        • 1
          1

          Yes indeed I did it again.
          .
          Quote
          soma / February 3, 2021
          3 12
          Easton Scott
          What does she say about the actions to be taken on the atrocities committed by the Tamil side during the 30 year war ?

          Soma
          UNQUOTE

          ——-
          Why should the victimized be investigated while leaving govt criminals allow roaming in the city. Dont you guys have hearts to see how criminal those army men of Nishanka Senadhipathi… please read today article on ” repatriation mafia handled by NS et al”.
          .
          I know this very well since my FLIGHTs being scheduled these days to our next trip to lanka. As a highly sensitive srialnken, I really dont know how I would digest any kind of ill treatment on our arrivals.
          :
          We have no other choice but to act against THIS BRUTAL regime by being CLOSE to UNHRC. That i will..

          • 0
            0

            leelagemalli
            If you are going to UNHRC please raise the issue of the single-handed release of +12,000 terrorists by Mahinda Rajapaksa without any parliamentary approval.

            Soma

  • 3
    3

    If SL becomes the next Myanmar, that is a tremendous improvement for SL. Since 1948, for exactly 73 years, SL was ruined by democratically elected racists, crooks, clans and maniacs. How long should this continue?

    SL, Myanmar and Thailand are the 3 Theravada Buddhist nations. Only SL is not governed by the army! How strange!

    Now every sector in SL has collapsed. SL is in a debt trap, ethnic trap, UNHRC trap, superpower trap, extremism trap, terrorism trap, chauvinism trap, etc. Myanmar is not!

    Democracy didn’t help SL at the UNHRC did it?

    Also change the name from democratic socialist repugnant SL to just Xi Lanka.

    So hopefully SL will end up the next Myanmar. Looking forward to it.

  • 7
    3

    Tamils don’t care for the so-called democracy for 73 years in Sri Lanka.

    They have lost most of their human rights in these years and the violations are continuing.

    In fact a more vigorous form of genocide of Tamils in their homeland in the North-East is now occuring with the destruction of Hindu Temples and state aided colonizing with Sinhalese from the South.

    Tamils don’t care if it becomes Myanmar or Zimbawe, they want rule of law, and upholding of human rights as a community.

    Dayan can go on blabbering about the need for preserving democracy.

    He can’t see that the emperor (democracy) is naked – Sinhalese barbarism in amude.

    Sinhalese are emulating the Chinese in Uighur and the Israelis in Palestine.

    What is happening now in Tamil homeland is similar to what happened in the final stages of East Timor.

    Will the Sinhalese ever own it?

    Genocide, genocide, and genocide of Tamils.

    • 6
      0

      T
      If ‘Tamils don’t care for the so-called democracy’, why did they want elections held for the Northern PC?
      *
      The LTTE did not care for any kind of democracy. Were the people really happy about it?

  • 6
    4

    These extremist sinhala buddhists need to be punished for their crimes and human rights violations they did during the war, what they’re doing now by forcefully cremating to prevent future catastrophes.
    .
    In my opinion these sanctions, freezing of foreign assets, travel bans on these extremist sinhala buddhists is not enough. The world bodies must go a step further to drag these rabid mongrels on their faces to the Hague.

    • 3
      2

      Do you know any other English phrases apart from ‘extremist sinhala buddhists’ which appear in every post?

  • 1
    2

    Michelle Bachelet has missed one point, i.e. Gotabhaya’s proposal to subject all civilians above 18 to SIX-MONTHS’ compulsory military training!
    I think what he actually wants is to give military training-including blade work :) to Muslims. — Muslims are the new Tamils since 2019!
    My guess is, it is the Rajapaksas themselves who encouraged and facilitated Muslims to take their burial case to the UNHCHR. Why? They are up to a big game.
    .
    In the context of Sri Lanka, I think we should be more worried about Vietnam than Myanmar.
    “Divided we stand!”
    We should never forget how the United States destroyed Buddhist Vietnam on the pretext of fighting communism.
    When the environment is conducive, history has a tendency to repeat.
    Gotabhaya’s unholy compassion for drug kingpins in prison, mostly Muslims, and other Sinhalese drug offenders, his Saradiel style visits to villages to “give away” free lands, widespread deforestation despite protests, Rothschild’s (un)expected visit to Sri Lanka, Rothschild, Vietnam and Opium, the connection between Gotabhaya and Jews, his “sudden interest” in growing and legalizing Cannabis “inspired by a timid villager”, etc., are all weird signs that something big is going on without anybody’s knowledge.
    .
    I don’t agree with Bachelet’s accusation for “aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism”.
    It is the Sinhalese people who are subjected to violation of human rights under Gotabhaya.

  • 4
    1

    What Rajapakse family saying is we will continue to kill anyone who are against to our family whether it is Tamil or Sinhala or Muslim you have no right to stop it.

  • 4
    0

    I have seen many critical writings of Dayan since November 2019. I recall one particular article, post November 2019, he wrote praising the first “Viyathmaga” gathering. I wonder what made DJ to change sides? Can he please explain.

  • 0
    0

    With all due respect for the data before us, drawing parallels with Myanmar is risky, and can lead to the wrong lessons, especially owing to overemphasis of superficial similarities.
    (Please see fuller text under article by Prof. David.)

  • 5
    1

    Shanthilal, no he cannot. He changes according to the current political climate. Can you remember his Nugegoda Uprising nonsense? He is the sort of pontificating garrulous fool who passes for an educated man in Sri Lanka.

  • 5
    0

    FOOD FOR THOUGHT
    This extract is from
    “https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/2/2/analysis-why-is-myanmar-military-so-powerful”
    I trust that it will make us think before we theorize.
    *
    A state ‘born as a military occupation’
    The military has been the most powerful institution in Myanmar…since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.
    General Aung San, the architect of Myanmar’s independence and the father of detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, founded the Burma National Army with help from Japan in the early 1940s. General Aung San was assassinated in 1947, but his legacy lived on in the military, and the Tatmadaw [Armed Forces] continued to enjoy strong public support in the years to come as the institution that liberated the nation from colonial oppression.
    The military enjoyed unchecked control over the country’s political scene from the very beginning. As renowned Burmese historian Thant Myint-U observes in his recent book, The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, “The modern state of Burma was born as a military occupation.”

  • 1
    0

    In understanding DJ who better to quote than DJ?
    .
    ‘I am not ontologically a nationalist. My support for nationalism is neither unconditional nor unqualified. I am however, a patriot who is also an internationalist and a universalist…..It is because I come from the Marxist tradition that I have never been a federalist, moderate or otherwise. While I did support self-determination in my early twenties as a bookish Leninist, for 40 years since I have consistently been for equal rights as well as for devolution/regional autonomy’.
    .
    So there you have it. A bookish Leninist has blossomed into a patriotic universalist internationalist Marxist. Just what the impoverished stunted and pitiful people of Lanka need.

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