By Basil Fernando –
In mythology we always hear about transformations; that a frog became a prince, or a beautiful princess became an ugly hag, and the like. These stories reflect the phenomenon of transformation, which happens in the lives of individuals as well as societies. When we talk about Sri Lanka, we also see many similar transformations. Some decades ago, Sri Lanka was a democracy. Now it is not a democracy. There has been a very basic transformation.
Such transformations can also be illustrated by what is happening today regarding the Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayke, being called before the Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption. The world is questioning what the government did in removing a chief justice without following the norms and standards that are expected to be followed in such a removal. She herself publically claims that she is still the legitimate chief justice. The government wants her image to be transformed in the minds of the public, locally and internationally, into that of a criminal.
Understanding this phenomenon of transformation is essential in enabling us to grasp what is happening to Sri Lanka before the United Nations Human Rights Council. Formally speaking, Sri Lanka is a member of the United Nations, a member like any other. Membership in the United Nations requires the acceptance of certain ideas and ideals regarding governance. Among such ideals are that each government treats its citizens as persons having human rights. The UN treatises enumerate these rights.
The organization has also, by agreement between the members, developed a system of review regarding the observance of these rights by the member states. The assumption on which any review is based is that, if there are any significant violations, other members have the right to question any member state.
Meanwhile, there is a fundamental transformation within the political system of Sri Lanka, wherein the government is no longer obliged to treat its citizens as persons having basic human rights. The constitutional system is so designed to make these rights a matter of irrelevance. To make a basic system for complaints available, to have complaints investigated and, where there are serious grounds to believe that violations have taken place, to prosecute the violators before the courts and punish them, are fundamental assumptions about the existence of human rights in any country. As for Sri Lanka, the system is so transformed now that there is no obligation on the part of the government to carry out such investigations or prosecutions.
It is on the basis of this transformation that the Sri Lankan government proclaims that it rejects the resolution passed by the Human Rights Council in 2012 and it will similarly reject the proposed resolution, which will be voted upon in the coming weeks. The resolution is based on the assumption that Sri Lanka, as a member state, accepts its obligations relating to the rights of its citizens. However, as far as the Sri Lankan authorities are concerned, that is no longer the case.
While all kinds of rhetoric is used to defend the government’s rejection of these resolutions, the actual reason is that the government believes that the issue of whether citizens have rights or not is its own business, and that membership of the Human Rights Council or the United Nations should not be based on the criterion of respect for the rights of citizens.
This is indeed the kind of situation that you find in mythology. What Sri Lanka is assumed to be, as a member of the United Nations, and what it is in reality is substantially different. It is not a question of the difference between an accepted ideal and its performance. That contradiction is always there, as no one will be able to conform to the ideals it proclaims in all circumstances. The situation of Sri Lanka is that it rejects the ideal itself. The Human Rights Council assumes that Sri Lanka is a prince or a princess. But Sri Lanka has politically transformed itself into a frog.