Colombo Telegraph

Trading On Human Rights

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Legacy of the Twentieth Century and CHOGM

According to Time magazine, human rights are our legacy from the twentieth century. The legacy has left the world a better and richer place. The far greater danger is when nations make lucre out of that legacy. Nations have the largest potential to strengthen that legacy as well as to breed cynical skepticism about it. A test came with whether Sri Lanka is fit to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November. The Commonwealth failed.

China is China – but Britain?

We have seen China being blind to what Tamils undergo in Sri Lanka and bankrolling a corrupt regime in exchange for white-elephant contracts that do Sri Lanka no good at high interest loans from China. Sri Lankan ethnic cleansing in Tamil areas seems to follow Chinese population transfer policies in Tibet. Planned with World Bank funding, the World Bank cancelled the population transfer project because it failed Social Impact Assessment Tests, but China had its own funds. Sri Lanka has no funds so who funds Sri Lanka’s policies? China of course.

China is China. But Britain, which gave the world the thoughts of the Magna Carta? It would seem that after all that fuss about CHOGM, Prime Minister David Cameroon seems set to attend, now that a multi-billion dollar Rolls Royce Engine deal between Sri Lanka and the UK is being inked. Is Britain’s commitment to our legacy worth just a mere few million dollars?

Australia

Australia has a questionable history with South Asians, for instance, the racially motivated beating up of Indian students (even though Australia badly needs foreign students for their tuition money), and the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard calling Muthiah Muralitharan a “chucker” (a charge of which he was cleared after laboratory testing without receiving a sorry from the bigoted Howard). Australia now seems horrified by the thought of thousands of black Tamils pouring in with genuine claims for political asylum. Julia Gillard’s government, despite Australia’ treaty obligations and her labour-credentials, is unable to overcome its color prejudices and pretends that Tamils have no problems in Sri Lanka.

Yet Kumar, whose case was widely reported including by ANC News (see picture), went to Sri Lanka recently without scars and returned shortly later heavily scarred by torture. He did not scar himself and indeed had a proper visa in Australia which precluded the usual argument that stories of torture are cooked up for a visa. It therefore takes immense stubborn blindness to not recognize what Sri Lanka did to Kumar and to say, as Gillard’s government does, “that there are no legitimate reasons for any person from a specific country, namely Sri Lanka, to seek asylum.”

Gillard’s government reminds me of a corrupt African policemen who stopped me, asked me for my vehicle papers, and, when tendered them, claimed he could not read them. When I asked to see his officer-in-charge, he claimed he would be on duty for another six hours and I was free to wait till then. Unfortunately, like in that Policeman’s case, there is no appeal against the Gillard government’s willful blindness, racism and disregard for Australia’s treaty obligations. Even as recently as the early 1970s, a qualified Tamil engineer was unable to get a visa to Australia from Singapore, even as a Greek sailor who had just come to port picked up his visa over the counter. A Tamil Christian accountant from London with a name like James David applied for a job with the black & white photograph that was required in those days. That photograph having been over-exposed, he got his job and visa. But when he reported in Australia he was told by his shocked employer that a mistake had been made. A mistake indeed!

The system may have changed but attitudes obviously have not. Even today Australia is a rare country where White folk become professors with few seminal publications because publications are outweighed by subjective metrics like “leadership” and “experience.” A useful exercise is to go through the resumes of academics on university websites. The White professors will in general (with a few exceptions of course) have a relatively low number of indexed journal papers compared to the lower ranked Asians at Senior Lecturer grade. Instead of improving the profiles of these universities, these websites badly expose their practices.

Australia stands redeemed only by Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal party, the Greens and a few others who accept our legacy of the twentieth century and agree that holding the CHOGM in Colombo is an endorsement of the evil that is Colombo.

India

And India? India is generally believed by analysts to have intervened in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) on Sri Lanka’s behalf in the matter of Sri Lanka hosting CHOGM in November.

CMAG was set up in 1995 to, in the Commonwealth’s words, deal with “serious or persistent violations of the Harare Declaration, which contains [the] Commonwealth’s fundamental political values.” By escaping being placed on the agenda, Sri Lanka escaped suspension from the Commonwealth – for that automatically follows once a country is on the agenda. Currently the 9 CMAG members are Australia, Bangladesh (Chair), Canada, Jamaica, Maldives, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad, and Tobago and Vanuatu. Although India is not a member, it is said to have used pliant Bangladesh which holds the CMAG chairmanship as the Chairman of the last CHOGM, and India’s former High Commissioner to the UK and presently Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma.

It would appear that in a seeming quid pro quo, almost immediately after the CMAG meeting where Sri Lanka was let off, all of India’s Sri Lankan projects being hampered in Sri Lanka began moving again. It would seem to me that although Black and White folk are equally corrupt, people of our colour have no shame and do not even bother to hide our dirty deeds – my late mother’s student once came home to tell her the good news of his new job with so much in salary and at least so much in bribes. For dharma is caste duty, our only duty. Sharma seems to see no conflict in being India’s agent even as he is working for the Commonwealth. Sharma reminded me of Council of Jurists President Dr. Adish C. Aggarwala, also India’s Bar Association President, who issued a letter to Mahinda Rajapaksa that the Council considered the recent impeachment of our Chief Justice correct, only to be severely contradicted by others of that Council. Sharma at the Commonwealth Press Meet on April 26, 2013, spoke of

“the Commonwealth’s pivotal role in assisting Sri Lanka in practical ways through [my] Good Offices engagement. This includes the provision of technical support to enhance the independence of the Human Rights Commission; and the Electoral Commission. …In the spirit of a helping hand, which we give to all members, we have been engaging across a wide front in Sri Lanka with my Good Offices. … I am sure it will yield very good results in all the areas of human rights, of rule of law, of governance, and institution building and strengthening.” [quoting from Sri Lanka Brief, April 28, 2013].

Sharma should visit Jaffna to see all the ongoing preparations to rig the Northern Provincial Elections, including Tamils being beaten up. Was Sharma a fool to think the Sri Lankan government would change so easily, or is he a brazen manipulator of our minds? At the press conference after the CMAG meeting, we see Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Sharma joining forces to mislead the world. Sharma said, in answer to the question by Channel 4’s Jonathan Miller, “No member of government has indicated remotely that it wishes to change [the CHOGM] venue.” This was clearly untrue since Canada is a member of CMAG and thinks holding the meeting in Colombo is to reward Sri Lanka for its evil ways. Again when Canada’s  Foreign Minister John Baird asked Sharma at the Press Meet as if to verify what he heard, “So, the issue of the possible change of venue was not on for discussion today?,” Dipu Moni (Chair of CMAG and Foreign Minister of Bangladesh) answered, “As I told you before, the issue of CHOGM and its venue is not a matter of CMAG. It is a matter of the Heads.”  How clever! Without saying no, the impression of no is conveyed.

The formally correct statement that Sri Lanka was not on the agenda was clearly to mislead and this became clear when the angry Canadian John Baird stormed out and let on that the matter had been discussed without giving details. Apparently there was an understanding not to speak of it outside. Immediate press reports pointed out the contradictions but a transcript released by the Commonwealth had Sharma admitting that Sri Lanka was discussed off the agenda.

Canada

Canada at this point seems to be the only Commonwealth country taking the Harare Declaration seriously without looking at how that would affect its finances or adversely affect its vote base at home. Perhaps for India the only value of the Harare Declarations is in getting projects. And for Australia it is in using Sri Lanka to keep the ruling party’s racist voters happy and saving all that money that would go into settling refugees.

What is happening in Sri Lanka

I do not think Mr. Sharma and Ms. Gillard are ignorant of what is happening to Tamils in Sri Lanka and why we keep running away for asylum. If Mr. Sharma and Ms. Gillard are truly ignorant of the problems that Tamils face even after the war, she has diplomats in Colombo and Sharma has his Indian Diplomatic Service colleagues. They are well informed and can tell him of news and personal reports of Tamil MPs being repeatedly asked to report at the Terrorist Intelligence Department; of TID officers tapping phone lines, and going to the homes of those who have to pay the next installment to smugglers who carried a member of the household to Australia to demand the money for themselves; of the recent press-meet in Jaffna by the TNA being overawed by police presence; and Colombo’s former Deputy Mayor Azath Salley being arrested for speaking out about the government’s ill-doings. If Azath Salley cannot talk about what Colombo is doing, who is the refugee returned to Colombo and tortured like Kumar who will?

It would seem that Australia is in collusion with Colombo – Australia backs Sri Lanka’s human rights records in all forums and in exchange Colombo interdicts the flow of “curry-slurping Abbo Blackfellas with curtain-wearing women” dirtying the Australian landscape with our ugly presence.

If Ms. Gillard and Mr. Sharma would look into the Vanni, they would see ongoing iniquities which would make any Tamil there want his children smuggled abroad for a better life. I will mention 4 such situations from around Kokilai which is a little southerly towards Trincomalee from Mullaitivu close to the coast:

1)      Thirty seven acres of private lands belonging to 12 Tamil families have been sold without their knowledge or consent to the Chinese for an ilmenite factory in Kokilai West. Following protests by NGOs who have taken up their cause, the possibility of the land being returned to its owners is not being talked about but compensation has been promised for more than a year with nothing offered so far.

2)      Nine acres of Tamil land in Kokilai West have been forcibly occupied by a Buddhist monk (5.25 acres is private and belongs to 7 Tamil families and the remaining 3.75 is crown land. Out of the 7 families three have land deeds but the others have lost their deeds. The monk claims to want it for a hostel for children but there is only one construction, of a Buddhist statue, and no signs of any orphanage or orphans.

3)      2500 acres of land have been occupied by Sinhalese in Kokilai West and the nearby Kokkuthoduvay Centre. The Tamil owners had been displaced when the Navy attacked them in 1984 or so and the rich paddy lands were surrounded by the navy which brought in unruly Sinhalese elements who were settled on the lands and armed to fight alongside them. The Tamil owners returned in April 2011 and have been unable so far to get their lands.

4)      Welioya has been expanded to gobble up Manal Aaru to extend into three districts, Trincomalee, Mullaitivu and Anuradhapura, so as to have more Sinhalese voters in them. A formal renaming happened recently.

Harare Declaration: Colombo Chairing CMAG

Come November 2013, Sri Lanka after chairing the CHOGM will take over the Chairmanship of CMAG until the next CHOGM in 2015. This effectively means the Commonwealth values of the Harare Declaration will never become an issue. And there goes the legacy of the twentieth century in 13 years of the twenty first century.  Thirteen truly seems an unlucky number.

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