By Kumar David –
In my piece last week (Black Hand or Manic Folly) I summarised a much canvassed view that a conspiracy was in progress to stir up trouble as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and set in motion a dastardly plot to impose dictatorship. I did not use names for obvious reasons but Victor Ivan in Ravaya of 22 June has taken the plunge and pointed the finger at Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse (GR); Victor accuses GR of being insensitive, heavy handed and brusque, not of intentional conspiracy. This is different from the ‘Black Hand behind the scene’ conspiracy theory. The later is voiced by word of mouth in opposition quarters, particularly the Dead Left and Colombo society. The common factor is that both Victor and the BH theorists agree President Rajapakse is guilty giving his brother too a free hand to damage the fabric of liberal governance.
Victor’s article is going viral thanks to its sensational content, but since it is not available to non-Sinhalese and non-web readers (Ravaya is not on the web but Colombo Telegraph carried a summary in English) it is necessary to describe its main contours. It is also important to note how it sharply differs from conspiracy theories. Victor has fulsome praise for GR as a leading contributor to war victory. Then he turns sharply critical of GR’s role and his brother’s lack of oversight in the post-war period. For example he asks why was the military not sent back to the barracks at the end of the war as any democratic President should have done; why are prisoners held in military custody and not handed over to civilian custodial authorities as after 1971 and 1989-90; why is the military involved in every layer of civilian life; why is military brass filling diplomatic, gubernatorial and corporate placements?
Excellent questions but Victor’s explanation borders on the naïve. Oh aiiya is soft on mali and since GR is popular he is, unwisely, allowed to do as he pleases. I find the reasoning unconvincing but let me move to a more important point. Victor agrees that Gota is stirring up trouble that will end in disaster. He is to blame for the mess in the country; for example increasing alienation of the Tamils, the UNHRC sword that dangles over our heads, the anti-Muslim outbursts and so on. GR is not doing it deliberately says Victor, but the consequence of his wilful and insensitive behaviour is that “he is digging the political grave of his brother and the government”. This is pretty much as verbatim a translation as my rudimentary Sinhala, assisted by friends, can manage.
It is at this point that Victor becomes both unconvincing and incoherent. The crucial question is “Why is Gota conducting himself in this fashion?” Victor’s answer contrasts with other analysts. There are two serious theories on offer; (a) the Black Hand or conspiracy theory that I have adverted to and (b) what I think is more likely, that the government has lost control on all sides and is floundering like a drunken sailor. Victor offers what strikes me as a rather mechanistic and simplistic third alternative. Gotha is just a military man, says Victor, he lacks the sophistication and nuance that someone with political experience would have acquired over time. The only way GR knows to do things is the heavy handed, jackbooted, helmet wearing military style. This brittle, peremptory style of the army when carried into civilian life in peace time leads to calamity says Victor.
That’s Victor’s explanation and analysis. To repeat: GR only knows how to do things in the marching, stomping way and that’s the cause of the turmoil. Actually Victor ties himself up in knots. There are several knots but this is the messiest one. He alleges, and most people readily agree, that Gota has encouraged and protected extremists; the power the BBS wields is not natural nor of its own, it is the reflected glory of the Defence Secretary, Victor concedes. He adds that there is a “mysterious” (that’s the best word in translation I could think of) relationship between Gnanasara Thero and the Defence Secretary. These assertions fly in the face of the relatively innocuous ‘rough and ready military-man’ thesis; instead they give the conspiracy theory very much the edge. Hence there is a contradiction between Victor’s description of the background and his explanatory framework. (I trust my weak Sinhala has not led me to seriously misunderstand the emphasis of the article). I prefer to stick with my ‘This chronic government has made an unholy mess of everything’ gripe, but if I were compelled to choose between Victor’s non-conspiratorial military-man excuse and the offerings of the conspiracy theory addicts, quite frankly, between the two, the latter makes more sense.
Mounting international pressure
Whether you are persuaded that conspiracies are hatching, or gross military brawn is on the march, or maybe agree with me that the regime has landed itself an unholy mess, there will be more hazards for the government when the UNHRC investigation starts work. Let it first be granted that Navi Pillay’s parting shot has been brilliant – I doubt if a better set of “Experts to assist the UNHRC team in conducting the investigation” could have been put together. The three Experts will lead the investigation while the skills of the officers (forensics, law, investigative expertise) will ensure that nothing can be hidden. Taken together the credentials of the Experts and the skills of the 12 person team are excellent and those like me who welcome an international investigation are delighted. There is little that will give comfort to alleged human rights violators, whether in Ministry, military or paramilitaries, or among LTTE-rump survivors. I hope the investigation will also make it a point to enter a posthumous verdict in respect of the alleged war-crimes of the late LTTE leaders. All this is essential if Lanka is to realise closure of this most tragic phase, put the past behind and turn a brighter face to the future.
A lot is known of the background of Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, Pillai’s successor at the UNHRC. My reading is that it is not that he is a Muslim but that he is steeped in the springs of Western liberalism that will make him Pillay’s true intellectual successor. It is lousy luck for Gotabaya and the BBS, and for the Rajakapse government that anti-Muslim riots, with state connivance at worst or apathy at best, fanned out at just this moment. But if my hunch is right it is not Islam’s Bedouin tracks in the sifting sands of the dessert, or the muezzin’s call echoing across the stillness of the morning that will count; it is modern liberal values that will spell out what the new Secretary General’s moving finger inscribes. This is scant comfort for an atavistic regime.
Zeid bin Ra’ad (50) schooled in Surrey, read for his B.A. at Johns Hopkins, and took a PhD from Cambridge. His mother is Swedish. He is married to American Sarah Butler whose father is British. Ms Butler was educated in Texas and at SOAS and has worked with the UN and UNICEF. Zeid bin Ra’ad is currently Jordon’s Permanent Representative to the UN and an expert in criminal justice. He played a central role in setting up the International Criminal Court and served as president of its governing body (I hear “God Forbid!” gasps). He investigated and wrote a report for the UN Secretary General in 2004 on abuses committed by UN Peacekeepers; the focus was sexual abuse by men in uniform (Nimalka must be cheering the appointment!) Let’s be clear about it; human rights violators and war criminals will be ladled out of the frying pan into the fire not because the new Secretary General is a Muslim, but because he is palpably steeped in a Western humanist and liberal ethos.
Will this government shun the Panel?
On the face of it the regime and to its shame (again) the Dead Left is toeing the JHU-Weerawansa line; “Boycott the Inquiry, deny visas to the Panel, declare Sri Lankan sovereignty supreme over all the nations of the earth”. The UPFA slogan is Defy the UNHRC! Damn the consequences! These guys are such loonies that they may actually do it. The other day I heard a Dead Left Minister declare “How dare they investigate us”. I bit my tongue not to ask “Us! When comrade did you get involved in war-crimes”. But after the treachery of voting for the Eighteenth Amendment and the duplicity of participating in the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, this lot is capable of soiling its undergarments in all circumstances.
The Dead Left counts for nothing, so let’s ask the real question: What will be the consequence if the regime boycotts the investigation and obstructing its work? By obstruct I mean not only denying the team entry visas, but also enacting regulations and resorting to threats to prevent loved ones of the dead and surviving victims from giving evidence. The inquiry will then go ex-parte, but maybe in a perverted way that’s to the advantage of the government whose witnesses will shrivel under cross-examination. What will the world and the UNHRC think of a government that refuses to cooperate with a duly constituted inquiry by a formal UN body? India abstained in the UNHRC vote but it certainly will not condone thumbing the nose at the world body once it starts work. Will the unstoppable momentum of all this lead to sanctions on the regime’s leaders (I hope not export-import, banking and the country as a whole). This is new territory in international law and we will have to watch. Or better we can send the Rajapakses packing before 15 April 2015 when the panel is expected to submit its report. Why not we do this and give ourselves a nice present in time for Aluth Auvurudu?