By Emil van der Poorten –
Particularly with the visit of Navi Pillay which might well have occurred before this sees print (or the web equivalent), it seems like every columnist and his or her aunt and uncle have brought out their crystal balls or miniature wishing wells for that momentous occasion.
Suffice it to say that it isn’t that important that this submission sees the light of day while that discussion resides in the “matter of burning interest” category. In response to the obvious question of, “Why so?” let me say that, given past history, the visit is not going to mean a great deal in the larger scheme of things and may end up being yet another (boring) chapter in any effort to introduce even a smidgen of decency into the conduct of Sri Lanka’s affairs. You will note that I have not so much as made reference to matters of accountability, democratic practice etc. etc. The reason for that is very simple, we appear to have passed that “best before” date on those issues and it will take more than a Herculean effort to inject some freshness into them at short notice.
This is no reflection on the Louise Arbours and Navi Pillays of this world (and the UN agencies that they represent or represented, as the case may be). Both of these giants of modern human rights practice did more than most men and women, put together, have done in recent times in that field but there is a limit to what even human genius can achieve in the face of a “do-nothing” set of international powers.
China and Russia, for the very simple reason that they do not want anything resembling human rights established on the world’s stage because they are against that very concept, will torpedo every effort by the Pillays and Arbours of this world. The hypocritical brigade led by the Brits, the Yanks, the French and Germans will continue their leadership role in what I have previously described as the “Tut-tut brigades,” strutting the world stage while uttering inane platitudes. There is some hope from among the economic second tier of democracies, but nothing to write home about!
As for our neighbouring behemoth, India, it has displayed a singularly unprincipled and unethical pattern of conduct being driven purely and simply by what it sees as political opportunities on its (Federal) scene which are in turn driven themselves by the two major parties of Karunanidhi and Jeyalalithaa in Tamil Nadu who jump up and down whenever sentiment in their state seems to suggest that some political gains are to be made by supporting their Tamil cousins across the Palk Strait.
It seems that it is only some of the non-governmental organizations – much reviled by the Fascist rump that claims to represent “the interests” of Sri Lanka while bludgeoning journalists and “non-believers” left, right and centre – will valiantly strive to keep the flame of decency burning in this benighted nation.
If that sounds (again!) like an apocalyptic vision of the Pearl of the Orient, A Land Like No Other, The Miracle of Asia (take your pick), I make no apology. Facts need to be stated and reality faced.
Pillay’s visit given her credentials and track record cannot be reassuring to those who shoot unarmed young people down in cold blood for the crime of being in the vicinity of a demonstration in support of safe drinking water. However, to expect that it is going to seize the high ground of morality and force a government that has displayed nothing less than consistent contempt for the rule of law to change course would be more than a little optimistic.
All that said, events like Pillay’s visit are “the only game in town” and it is up to everyone who wants civilization to return to this land to do whatever they can to reinforce the message to Ms. Pillay that something is particularly rotten in this particular State of Denmark and that we desperately need the good offices of those from outside Sri Lanka because any effort at reform from within this country is doomed from the get-go as experience has shown, time and time again.
The recent attack on Columnist of the Year Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema was an obvious warning – “a shot across the bows” – for anyone so much as contemplating criticism of the Rajapaksa regime even in a newspaper owned by one of their minions. The fact that the lady is alive as I write this owes everything to good luck, not bad planning on the part of those who terrorized her, her parents and ten-year old child, and I have it on the best authority that the “official” story is a more than a little economical in the matter of truth. It continues to describe the event as a common-or-garden burglary. Period. In the circumstances, I suppose the fact that a dead cat was laid on the Abeywickrema doorstep shortly before the event and the family car tires slashed have to be assumed to be (an innovative) part of the modus operandi of the current crop of “ordinary” Colombo burglars! Not to mention the dialogue among the two groups that formed the “raiding party” and their explanation to Mandana of why they were there.
The seeming amateurishness of the attack against her should in no way dilute the seriousness of what was attempted. That amateurishness is reflective of an impunity and arrogance that has grown and says very clearly, “We don’t have the time to spend on slick planning. When there’s a job to do, we’ll do it in the manner most convenient to us. If there are a few casualties along the way, too bad.” As for silencing any potential ‘squealers’ among those captured, the manner in which they can be dealt with has already been more than adequately demonstrated both in and out of remand facilities in this country for a considerable time now.
While the preceding paragraphs certainly paint a picture of doom and gloom, it is not intended to provide an “out” for anyone of conscience. Those who fit that description still living in this country must do whatever they can, in whatever way possible, to show resistance to the juggernaut of violence and subjugation. Much bigger and more sophisticated machines of repression have been pushed off what seemed at the time their inexorable track to crushing whole populations. There is no reason for Sri Lanka with a history of representative democracy going back well into the last century to be any different.
As Sri Lankans, as humans of decency who believe in law and order and the application of the principles of justice in our lives and those of our fellow citizens we owe that, not only to the generations to come but to OURSELVES. Without that demonstration of decency we have no right to call ourselves human beings. The fact that “They are all the b….y same” doesn’t make it any less essential that we continue to fight the good fight for decency in this country.