23 October, 2020

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The Two Sri Lankas

By Dharisha Bastians –

Dharisha Bastians

Dharisha Bastians

Strongly opposing views north and south of the island about human rights, the US draft resolution and the prospect of international intervention tells a damning story about how deep ethnic and ideological divisions run in Sri Lanka five years after the war ended

Five years after the end of a brutal war, the north and south of Sri Lanka have vastly different heroes.

On a humid November day last year, throngs of men, women and children flocked to the dusty grounds of the Nallur Temple in Jaffna. At the appointed time, they moved near the Duraiyappah Stadium, a place where VVIP helicopters typically land. Placards, photographs and black armbands come out, as the crowd stands single file on the road opposite the famous sports ground.

The landing of a chopper in the middle of the stadium ground causes a flurry of excitement. Men in suits jump off the whirring helicopter and into waiting vans. The crowd rushes at the moving vehicle, believing it to hold the VVIP they were waiting for. It doesn’t. Slowly, the crowd returns to its previous formation a few metres away from the Jaffna Library, the Police making no attempt to move them. Silently, as the minutes ticked by, they waited.

But in the end, British Prime Minister David Cameron never saw the missing people’s protest.

Moments before his motorcade travelling from the Palaly Airport arrived at the Jaffna Library, a Police truck was moved across the road, blocking Cameron’s view of the waiting protestors. Instead, other pro-Government demonstrators at the Library intersection were in full view of the Prime Ministerial motorcade holding placards that asked Britain to keep its nose out of Sri Lankan affairs.

Not too far away, the screaming and wailing at the missing people’s protest prompt British journalists travelling with the Prime Minister to run towards the Police barricades. Among them was Channel 4’s Jonathan Snow. Cut away from Cameron, the demonstrators turned their eyes to the Channel 4 news anchor, recognising him from a series of documentaries aired about the last days of the war.
Snow was at the receiving end of the protestors’ anguish, gratitude and hope, as they heaped more documents and photographs than he could carry into his arms. Crying mothers thanked Channel 4 for their ongoing campaigns about human rights violations by the Sri Lankan Government.

Chief antagonists

The Government regularly portrays Channel 4, together with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and human rights activists in the country and overseas, as chief antagonists in its international battle over human rights. In the south, where the people appear content with a no-questions asked, ‘look-at-all-the-pretty-roads’ peace, the Government claims resonate. But in the north, where the war raged most cruelly, the international community provides the people’s only hope against militarisation and State oppression that has continued since the war ended.

The notions are reinforced strongly by Tamil parties like the TNA which have repeatedly asked the people to place their faith in the international community. Bereft of local heroes, Cameron, Pillay and even Snow appear to be flying into their rescue, becoming instantaneous symbols of that hope and change during their visit.

In the rest of the island, where the majority strongly endorse his war effort, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, the Defence Secretary, remain the people’s heroes. Their enemies – real and perceived – are also enemies of the Sri Lankan State.

The reaction to the US draft resolution that sets the stage for an international probe led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka is equally – and stringently – mixed. The dissonant narratives emerging domestically makes international engagement on the issues in Sri Lanka a potential minefield for countries seeking to push Sri Lanka to make post-war changes. The US and India, chief protagonists of the push, must manage both the overwhelming expectations of a community feeling marginalised and victimised in the north and the growing hostility of the ruling Rajapaksa administration that perceives the move as blatant interference.

Neo-imperialist moves?

The Government remains vehemently opposed to any kind of investigation into allegations of abuses during the war by external forces and passionately believes the anti-Sri Lanka actions at the UN Human Rights Council to be driven by pro-LTTE diaspora lobbying and the insidious imperialist agendas of the West.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha alluded to this, when he reminded the UNHRC informal session on the US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka last Friday (7) that the co-sponsors of the resolution appear to have forgotten that Sri Lanka ceased to be a colony in 1948.

Making what is likely to be the Sri Lankan delegation’s sole intervention, Aryasinha said the US moves against the country smacked of prejudgment since Washington had informed Colombo it would sponsor a third resolution this month in January, at least two months before High Commissioner Pillay submitted her damning report on the country’s human rights situation to the UNHRC.

Since 2009, when the first signs of an international movement to hold Sri Lanka to promises made and accountable for dubious incidents that had occurred during the war emerged, the Government has been demanding ‘time and space’ to get on with the work of reconciliation. Five years later, that remains the country’s key defence against growing international frustration over a lack of progress.
But with the argument placed alongside increasing belligerence and the consistent erosion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law post-war and what diplomats call an ‘unyielding’ attitude by the regime on all outstanding concerns, international appetite for the argument has waned.

Inside the informal session

Member states of the Council met for the second informal discussion on the Sri Lanka resolution on Monday (10) in meeting room VIII of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Following the circulation of the US draft resolution which happened last week, informal sessions on the sidelines of the UNHRC session are used to firm up the language of the draft resolution, lobby support for the resolution and this year, to discuss the modalities of a proposed international inquiry into violations in Sri Lanka.

Members from all five sponsoring states – the US, UK, Montenegro, Macedonia and Mauritius – reportedly chaired Monday’s meeting, a sign that with two weeks to go before a vote on the resolution, the talks were getting serious.

At Monday’s session a representative of the Chinese delegation made the argument for Sri Lanka to be provided time to work on reconciliation, since it had been only five years since the Government had concluded a 30-year war. The Canadian delegation counter-argued that while the Government was demanding time, the issue had to be observed also from the perspective of the victims. How much more time was fair by the victims of human rights violations and disappearances when the Government had failed to make a single credible prosecution, the delegation argued. The points were reinforced by other member states also backing the US resolution.
Pakistan and member states from Latin American and some African member states spoke supportively of Sri Lanka during the session. The Government has been engaged in heavy lobbying of Latin American and African countries ahead of the session in Geneva this month, sending several Ministerial missions overseas earlier this year to shore up support.

Precedents

Pakistan and Cuba strongly opposed the inclusion of an inquiry by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka, arguing that the Council had no mandate for such action.

DBHowever while this argument is being made by Sri Lanka and her allies, the UNHRC has established both OHCHR investigations and Commissions of Inquiry (CoI) through resolutions at the Council during its eight years in existence. (see graphic).

Several delegations at the informal session argued against this claim therefore, citing examples of previous investigative mechanisms mandated by the Council against member states with major human rights problems. Syria is the most recent precedent for an OHCHR type inquiry mechanism that the US resolution on Sri Lanka appears to be setting up.

In April 2011, the UNHRC, through a resolution sponsored by the US and other Western states, mandated the Office of the High Commissioner to investigate major violations in Syria, where a civil war was raging, after the Arab Spring elsewhere in the Middle East prompted pro-democracy protests in the country.

The OHCHR, headed by Pillay established a Fact Finding Mission on Syria in May 2011. The mission never obtained access to the country, but presented a report of its remote findings to a Special Session of the Council in August of the same year. With violence escalating, the Council set up an independent commission of inquiry on Syria, through a resolution at the Special Session. It took just four months after the OHCHR inquiry was begun and Syria was in the throes of conflict at the time. The response to Sri Lanka will be far more paced out, diplomatic sources explain, a process that will still prioritise negotiation and engagement with the Government over direct intervention.

During the discussion on Monday, member states also dealt with the scope and budgetary demands of the OHCHR investigation in Sri Lanka. Member states were attempting to reach consensus on whether the investigation would take the form of a fact finding mission or a special rapporteur mission nominated by the High Commissioner’s office. UN Special Rapporteurs have investigated and reported to the Council on Myanmar and North Korea previously, and the mission could comprise one individual or a team of rapporteurs with separate mandates. These are the two available models for OHCHR inquiries.

Explicit OHCHR inquiry?

Observers at the session in Geneva said that while Sri Lanka’s allies at the Council seemed vocal in their opposition to the resolution, indications are that the balance was tilting already in favour of the US-led move. While China appeared to be determined in its position against an inquiry against Sri Lanka and the Russian delegation is likely to hold a similar view, it was not yet clear if these two power brokers would use their muscle with smaller states in the Council to swing votes for Sri Lanka.

There will be one more informal meeting on Sri Lanka next Tuesday (18), by which time the language of the final draft to be tabled later this month should be ready. The vague reference to the OHCHR inquiry in the first draft is likely to be made more explicit in the final version of the resolution, according to authoritative sources. What remains unclear is whether the co-sponsors will risk including the phrase ‘international investigation,’ which may make New Delhi in particular skittish in the race to the vote on the resolution on 27 March.

Indian officials are reportedly privately pleased with the US draft resolution, since it does not overreach on the investigation, after months of build up internationally over the prospect of a war crimes inquiry into Sri Lanka. In its current form, the US resolution is infinitely palatable to New Delhi, which must balance the twin concerns of an irate neighbour across the Palk Strait and an agitated Southern electorate at home ahead of key elections for Parliament in April-May.

With the resolution likely to be adopted at the end of this month, as it stands Sri Lanka has two options. It can opt to cooperate with the OHCHR inquiry and attempt even at this late stage to put credible measures in place to address the concerns over human rights that are mounting globally. At this point, it remains unclear whether the Government will permit entry to Pillay or staff from her office who could be representatives on the fact finding mission or to a Special Rapporteur on Sri Lanka.

After the furore created by Navi Pillay when she concluded her visit to Sri Lanka with a blistering statement that the country was headed in an increasingly authoritarian direction and the international attention her visit garnered, the Government would be loathe to permit access to any persons associated with her office to the country again.

The Sri Lankan Government may place their hopes on the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who will take office in August being more sympathetic to its situation, but this strategy could backfire badly. Pillay will be gone by the time the oral report on the Sri Lanka inquiry is due in September, but who her successor will be remains a mystery. And with Washington driving the push for accountability and a political solution in Sri Lanka, the international pressure is unlikely to go away whoever sits next on Pillay’s chair.

Crucial decisions

Any attempt to bar access to UN rapporteurs or an investigative mission mandated by the UNHRC would seal Sri Lanka’s fate. It would be in the Government’s own interest therefore to eschew jingoism, seek to engage and have its voice reflected in any investigative report that goes before the Council next year. But that has rarely been a motivational factor for the regime since it embarked upon this precarious path.

Yet again, the Sri Lankan Government stands at an unprecedented crossroads. Decisions made now, will prove the Government’s salvation or destruction on this road to international justice. The regime had similar choices in May 2009 and it made all the wrong ones. It chose polarisation over unification, marginalisation and alienation over reconciliation. It put physical reconstruction over healing hearts and minds that had been brutalised and broken by 30 years of war. It heaped minorities with terrorists and then proceeded to do the same with dissidents.

The result is the two Sri Lankas, the post-war story that goes two separate ways, depending on the ethnicity and ideology of the narrator. Imagine a different Sri Lanka. What if the north and south had the same post-conflict heroes? What if truth and magnanimity had presided over denial and jingoism? Imagine life after war if this was only the Sri Lanka that produced the soldier who gave a 12-year-old boy a packet of biscuits to put him at ease.

Imagine the country that produced only men of war who instinctively covered a woman’s exposed body even in the heat of conflict, because of personalities nurtured by an age-old culture of respect towards women. Imagine the war-winning President who had not only defeated a ruthless terrorist outfit, but also brought healing to all communities of people rent apart by 30 years of war?

Imagine only those images on a screen and watch it tell the story of everything this country might have been five years after the guns fell silent. Would Sri Lanka’s political leadership still be hurtling down this road to a potential international war crimes inquiry then?

Courtesy Daily FT

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Latest comments

  • 6
    2

    If only? These two words sum up the post-war story or is it the tragedy of Sri Lanka. The size of the shoes of opportunities on offer, were too big for the feet of our pygmies!

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1
      1

      Ms. Dharisha Bastians.

      RE:The Two Sri Lankas.

      It used ti be socialists and capitalists. The socialists gave up their egalitarian principles and joined Sinhala Monk Mahanama “Buddhist” Racists for portfolios. LSSP and JVP are examples.

      So we now have,

      Sinhala Buddhists and Non-Sinhala Buddhists.

      Sinhala Buddhists consist of Monk Mahanama “Buddhist” racists and Buddhists.

      The non-Sinhala Buddhists comprises everybody else.

      Tamils, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Atheists. Agnostics. Jews, etc.

      It is like Black and White.

      The New “Sinhala” Buddhism. It is not in the Tipitakaa.

      This is the greatest stumbling block for nation building, the curse of Sinhala Mahanama “Buddhism”. Mara must be happy.

  • 0
    0

    Sadly, the reason why the alternate universe hypothesised by the author in the last three paras never saw the light of day is because, as she so eloquently says: “It chose polarisation over unification, marginalisation and alienation over reconciliation. It put physical reconstruction over healing hearts and minds that had been brutalised and broken by 30 years of war. It heaped minorities with terrorists and then proceeded to do the same with dissidents.”

    Telle est la vie au Sri Lanka!

  • 3
    3

    Dharisha, enjoy your analysis, but please do not conflate the “South” of Sri Lanka which is diverse and where many Tamils and other minorities live with the Jarapassa regime.
    Many liberals in the SOUTH of Sri Lanka are glad that the US is moving to reign in the Corrupt and criminal Rajapaksa military dictatorship – so there is NOT a dramatic north-south divide as you seem to think here.. Indeed the silent majority in the South also support the US resolution against the CORRUPT AND CRIMINAL Rajapaksa family dictatorship and militarization especially because the opposition under the morally corrupt Ranil Wickramasinghe the UNP DICTATOR is useless..
    Also please remember, The US resolution is against the Jarapassa regime and NOT against the people of Sri Lanka or against the South! COlombo is over 50 percent Tamil speaking so please be careful to make the distinction between an anti-Rajapakse resolution which is NOT against Sri Lanka.

    • 0
      1

      ha ha this is the voice of the feeble and so called liberal sinhalese. They wag the tail accoringly thinking the tamil separatists and the west well pardon them!

      And no west isnt targeting MR, it is SL that is being targetted. And that is again not for MR’s corruption but because MR defeated LTTE

  • 1
    0

    Its time for another Human rits council to be formed in the world. this time Russia should lead involving the countries that was effected due to the unprecedented back up by the USA on escalating the war situation in countries and purposely destabilizing the economies. eg Libya, Iraq.
    parallel ICC too should be formed.

    • 0
      1

      Halt ,

      “Its time for another Human rits council to be formed in the world.”

      are you happened to be a blood relative of our ” Thunmulle Google Mudiyansilage Modawansa ” , remember PoE (Darusman) report,actually when the report was released , exactly the same thing proposed by your hero ! wonder what happened to that call ? i guess its high time for our Mr lemon puff and his ilk to initiate/ start for another round of death unto circus before the UN building , hopefully this time round (Keep our fingers crossed) world leaders will take notice of our greatest patriot’s erstwhile request seriously and do some thing about it !

      PS : GL also went on record saying , if UN released the poE report , UN would fall in to pieces.

  • 2
    3

    Nothing tangible towards peace with the ethnic and religious ‘others’ in Sri Lanka would happen until the Sinhala society is purged of the Mahawamsa inculcated falsehoods and prejudice.

    This poison of the Mahavamsa mentality permeates the bulk of the Sinhalese population, more so among its political demagogues and the bhikkus.

    Another viable alternative is for the Sinhalese and Tamils to go separate ways.

    This is the choice before the international community to ensure peace in the island and the region.

    • 1
      0

      There is no so called mahavamsa mindset of sinhala people. Sinhala people dont treat it as gospel truth for them it is just a history book with some truths in it. It has rather done disservice to Sinhala people by making them look like some north indian origin people.

      I have said mahavamsa’s first section is bogus and just a set of myths. It seems it is the tamils who depend on Mahavamsa more than sinhalese

      • 0
        0

        Ok if Mhavamsa is wrong. How about Ma Hinder Chindanaya? Your answer will decide whether you get a lap top or not ? Let us see.

  • 2
    1

    The of caption “Two Sri lankan” divide by writer that proceed to be split land claim in North by Tamil-LTTE terrorist and TNA International political party base in Sri Lanka. Human being are universal but human rights are confined to ongoing present democratic world order.
    However if the sudden emergency of so-called ‘war crime and human rights’ against sovereignty nation of Sri Lankan by responsibility member of international community that USA, UK and UNHRC(hijack by big power politics) new phenomenon as I believed it is this time really different political agenda behind more than Tamil Eelam Rough State.
    By knowingly or unknowingly Indian center of political ruling class and foreign policy strategist that thinking tank had been miscalculation imbalance of Indian ocean and Indian suncontinational politics and economics of future important of sea lane and Air route and Trading Hub role play by larger World economy allowing enter and new access to Moribund superpower that which emerging region of Indian Ocean.
    TNA has narrow sight of political leaders of Tamil chauvinists and Tamil Nadu politicians are day and night working
    to be so-called “international politics of Tamil ” by that hook or crook they seek to established Tamil-Eelam in soil In Sri lanka.
    The crux of matter is NOT the Politics of Tamil Eealm but military base politics is going to Change Indian ocean?
    In long-term plan is will be SPLIT GREAT INDIN REPUBLIC OF INDIA.

    • 0
      1

      The only thing that I like in your comment is your initial “P”. Keep the P in tact. Unfortunately there are no Ps in Sti Lanka. Shall we call her Pri Lanka

  • 2
    2

    what nonsense!

    The ones who want to divide the country knows very well as to what can be used to divide the people. So they use the best tool to divide the people. that is a war crimes investigation which is not a priority for any of the people in this country.
    As they know that is the best method to polarise people they are using it.

    Rather the HR issues (a political tool) is dividing and polarising people further, than it shows the prevalent divides.

    • 0
      1

      Sach,

      What Dharisha is referring to two visions of Sri Lanka and not two geographically divided Sri Lankas- a nomenclatural impossibility !

      Dr.RN

    • 4
      0

      sach

      “The ones who want to divide the country knows very well as to what can be used to divide the people.”

      No one can help you cure your paranoia.

      I am not interested in dividing the land. However, in the fullness of time I want both descendants of kallthonies to be kicked out of my ancestral island.

  • 1
    1

    darisha bastians,

    “In the rest of the island, where the majority strongly endorse his war effort, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, the Defence Secretary, remain the people’s heroes.”

    I am asking darisha bastians, is the war effort by MR wrong? Is ending the war by MR wrong? Had MR did not end it what do you expect? Continuance of war and prolonging human suffering?

    that is why we dont take what you say seriously, the reality is you people wanted war to continue and ultimately LTTE to win. had that happen, all these talks about HR, disappearances and everyother so called human rights would not have happened!

    • 1
      2

      sach:

      Hey dud, did you really read what Darisha has written or is trying to say? She did not mention anywhere that she was against the defeat of the LTTE, but rather how badly the regime behaved after that.

      • 1
        0

        I quoted the part she said so.

  • 2
    0

    A well written article. Dodo,
    ‘Many liberals in the SOUTH of Sri Lanka are glad that the US is moving to reign in the Corrupt and criminal Rajapaksa military dictatorship’

    I am not sure whether the US is exactly trying to do what you say or is only trying an arm twisting exercise once an year to keep Sri Lanka away from China. Remember one week after the first Resolution they gave Millions of Dollars as donation to S.L. They never mention the word ‘Genocide’ against GOSL in their resolutions and when EU wanted to move the resolution against GOSL, US hurriedly came forward to do it because they wanted to use this as a tool to be used in favour of their design as they are also complicit along with India in the Genocide on Tamils as mentioned in their findings by the Permanent Peoples Tribunal recently at Bremen in Germany. India is another shameful country run by a descendent of Mussolini, a former Italian waitress in U.K. where she found her Indian Prince and a turban wearing Robot. However I am ashamed of the so called liberals in the South who can’t stand up against the tyranny of a few who are ruling them.

    • 2
      2

      “However I am ashamed of the so called liberals in the South who can’t stand up against the tyranny of a few who are ruling them.

      As if you stood against the terrorist tyranny in North. oh no you funded it ne

      • 2
        1

        sach

        “As if you stood against the terrorist tyranny in North. oh no you funded it ne”

        Assuming that you stood against terrorist tyranny all over the island, why couldn’t you stop JVP killing so many innocent people in the South including Vijaya Kumaranatunga and LTTE killing Amirthalingam in Colombo?

        Yes you funded both terrorists groups no?

        • 2
          2

          when you were inside the jungle the SL army destroyed the JVP the same way they did to LTTE.

          • 2
            0

            sach

            Did you stand against the terrorists tyranny of the North and South?

            How, when, where, ……?

            Dayan was a minister in EPRLF dominated North East provincial council when EPRLF and IPKF committed war crimes.

            Did you stand against the tyranny of IPKF and its paramilitaries EPRLF?

            Did you stand against the Sinhala/Buddhists armed forces’s tyranny in 1971 and between 1987 and 1991 in the South when it committed war crimes?

            • 0
              1

              And your point is?

              • 1
                1

                sach

                “And your point is?”

                My point is too complicated for you to grasp.

                I am simply saying you are a coward, a hypocrite and a stupid all at the same time.

  • 1
    1

    Thank you the liberal from the south for accepting the tyranny of the democratically(?) elected rulers of the south who have double responsibility as Galtung puts it, as the government of the day and as signatories to various conventions and declarations of the U.N. organs to maintain Human Rights of the citizens of the country even if they are Tamils. Additionally as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and more so as its Chair its core values of human rights and rule of law they have to abide by. Although state and non state players are expected to honour these values you can’t expect the same standard of adherence from those who were in the jungles for over quarter of a century.However liberals like Rev.Fr.Karunaratnam who was killed by the deep penetration force of the present government formed the Northern Secretariat on Human Rightswith its head office in Kilinochchi itself and fought fearlessly with the ltte and released the under age recruits.He also got them to sign the Convention against the Recruitment of Child Soldiers. UNICEF and many visitors from the Southern NGOs,Ian Martin, former Secretary General of the Amnesty International who acted as the Adviser on Human Rights during the Peace Process (CFA) will bear testimony to this.

    Sach, could you please cite any such activities against the state terrorism by liberals like you. Chances are that you will get shot like young Raviraj, Member of Parliament and the student who protested against the pollution of water perpetrated by a multi National Company, both in the South. Sivaram and Wikramatunga are other such examples.

  • 0
    1

    If there was no crimes why is Sri Lnka worry about. They can proof to the world that they are innocent decent and law abiding country. This is Golden opportunity. Take it up ans show the world? Or you are repeatedly telling the world that “we are criminals and no body has the right to investigate us”.

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