By S. V. Kirubaharan –
Often, the question is raised internationally about Sri Lanka giving the foremost place for Buddhism and making it the state’s duty to protect and foster Buddhah Sasann (Sri Lanka’s constitution – Chapter 2 – article 9). Buddhist diplomats reply that Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e) of the same constitution allow others the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of their choice and permit them to worship in public or private. But is the freedom and inclusiveness conveyed in Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e) evident in the true situation in Sri Lanka?
On 9 March 2013, President Rajapaksa’s brother, the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was the chief guest at a ceremony of an extreme nationalist Buddhist organisation known as Bodu Bala Sena – BBS (Buddhist Strength Force). In this ceremony Gotabhaya said that the Buddhist Monks are those who protect Sri Lanka, Buddhists and the Sinhala race! BBS claims that Sri Lanka is a “Sinhala-Buddhist nation” where the Christians, Muslims and Tamils have no place. Presently Sri Lanka is experiencing saffron rule backed by the Rajapaksas.
In fact, authentic Buddhism abstains from killings, protects living creatures and promotes loving-kindness. Hatred has no place. If the Buddha’s preaching were practised in Sri Lanka, there would not have been two consecutive resolutions by the UN Human Rights Council – UN HRC. Also the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – HCHR would not be visiting Sri Lanka in another 3 weeks.
Three forthcoming events have pressurised Sri Lanka to temporarily reduce its acts of hatred. The pending visit by the UN HCHR, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – CHOGM – to be held in Sri Lanka in November and the forthcoming 24th and 25th sessions of the UN HRC. Does this mean that all these checkmates must happen continuously for Sri Lanka to be a peaceful country?
The President, Cabinet ministers, the Defence Secretary and Buddhist monks regularly made political statements imbued with hatred and the security forces personnel and their henchmen commit all-out violations. The recent attacks on Muslims, Mosques, their businesses and properties seem to have decreased. Kidnappings, arrests, rape, torture and disappearances have reduced due to the international pressure mentioned above.
Having said that, about reduced violence, many were seriously injured and three people killed by shooting at a mass public demonstration, protesting against ground water contamination in Weliweriya in Gampaha district. This serious incident has earned international attention. According to human rights activists who visited the place of the incident, army soldiers are responsible for what happened in Weliweriya. One of the army officials in Weliweriya said: ‘we know what is happening in Pakistan and how Christian nuns are helping the insurgents’. This suggests further analysis is needed to find out who is really behind the shooting in Weliweriya, which took place on 1st August 2013.
Since the visit of Mr. Shiv Shankar Menon, National Security Adviser of India, nobody has uttered a word about making changes to the 13th amendment. Is this silence permanent or temporary? That is today’s question. In the past we have seen many photos of Shiv Shankar Menon, smiling and happily chatting with the President of Sri Lanka and other officials. This was not the case on his last visit. His face was the index of India.
Over the last weeks we learned from the media that the UN Chief Security Advisor Abraham Mathai was in Sri Lanka to see the security arrangements for the visit of the UN HCHR. He indicated to the government that the HCHR preferred to fly in privately managed aircraft rather than Sri Lankan Air Force – SLAF aircraft or helicopters operated by Heli Tours (managed by the SLAF). It is to be noted that in May 2009 when the UN Secretary General visited Sri Lanka, no such security advisor from the UN visited Sri Lanka to see the security arrangements. One of the Colombo newspapers reported that ‘The visit helped to dispel their fears’! This is the reputation Sri Lanka has earned with their saffron democracy and street accidents that killed and attempted to kill parliamentarians, human rights defenders and a Christian bishop.
The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances – WGEID which held its 100th session last month in New York, has examined 17 reported cases of enforced disappearances under their urgent action procedure that have occurred in the last six months. Also they have examined more than 400 newly reported or existing cases. Sri Lanka is one of the 28 countries concerned.
This prompted President Rajapaksa to appoint yet another NULL and VOID inactive Commission on Disappearances in Sri Lanka. Unlike his predecessors, Rajapaksa has directed a commission be instituted to look into disappearances that have taken place during the 30 years of conflict. Wonderful! This is one of the best ways to hide the disappearances that took place during his period and give him the opportunity to speak about his predecessors violations. Also, these days former President Chandrika Bandaranaike is showing some interest in coming back to politics. So the Chemmani disappearances and mass graves can check-mate her future politics.
Who will answer the public about what has happened to all the Commissions appointed by earlier Presidents? The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), Presidential Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances of Persons (PCIDs), Zonal Commissions, etc. In fact some Commissions never had any independent inquiry nor released any reports. At the same time the recommendations of some Commissions were not implemented either. It was same with the recommendations of the UN WGEID.
Very recently we saw in the media that Veddah Chief Uru Warige Wannila Aththo was given an official double cab with a driver and free fuel by President Rajapaksa. The motive is obvious, to convey the notion to the international community that indigenous people are looked after well in Sri Lanka. However, giving a vehicle to the Veddah’s chief is hardly in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This gesture by President Rajapaksa is absurd and can even be seen as interfering with Veddah’s distinct culture and life style.
People who visit Jaffna by road say that when they travel between Killinochchi and Elephant-pass, they see many huge Buddhist statues and wonder whether they are driving through one of the best Parks in Europe! Both sides of the roads are adorned with plants and flowers. But those who have ventured into the inner roads of the Vanni tell a very different story.
The election for Provincial Council in the North, the visit of the HCHR, the forth coming 24th session of the HRC in Geneva and the CHOGM in November are all causes of great misery for Sri Lanka.
Now it is too late for anyone to stop the CHOGM taking place in Sri Lanka – thanks to Australia who lobbied very hard on behalf of Sri Lanka. The main reason for this is that some people like Dr Palitha Kohona, Shirani Gunatilleke and few others from the South are well rooted in Australian diplomatic circles.
The diaspora should make use of their diplomatic skills to make CHOGM in Sri Lanka, work for their benefit and the benefit of the people suffering in Sri Lanka. One way is to request the Heads of Commonwealth States to make use of this platform to question Sri Lanka on its Human Rights record, War crimes and Crimes against humanity that were committed especially during the last days of the war. This naming and shaming will be even more effective delivered in the country itself, rather than from outside.
At the same time, during the period of CHOGM in Sri Lanka, the diaspora can have demonstrations in front of the Secretariat of the Commonwealth in London, as well as in front of Embassies of Commonwealth members in other parts of Europe and elsewhere.
The above mentioned impending events have led to a pause in anti-Muslim activities in Sri Lanka. In the same way that Tamils were used with the intention of destroying the Tamil Nation, now the Muslims are being used to destroy their own community.
In March 2012, when the 19th session of the HRC was about to bring a resolution on Sri Lanka, it was well known that President Rajapaksa sent a jumbo team to Geneva. The unknown factor was that this jumbo team consisted more than 60% of Muslims, including three Muslim Ministers – Minister of Justice Rauff Hakeem, Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen and Deputy Minister of Economic Development M.L.A.M. Hizbullah.
In February and March 2012, Minister of Justice Rauff Hakeem visited many Islamic countries lobbying on behalf of Rajapaksa, boasting about the democracy in Sri Lanka and explaining how the minorities’ rights are respected. On 22 March 2012, when the voting was over in the UN HRC, we saw how Rauff Hakeem was grieving over the defeat, outside the plenary in the UN building.
However, what happened to the Muslims in Dambulla in April 2012 proved to the Islamic countries that what was said by Rauff Hakeem was for his personal survival. All those Muslims who came to lobby in Geneva were put in a very embarrassing position. At that time if all these Muslim Ministers had joined together and submitted their resignation in protest against what happened to their community in Dambulla – not only the Islamic Countries, the whole world would have been alerted and alarmed. Now it is too late! Like what is happening to the Tamils, the divide and rule among the Muslims is successfully carried out by President Rajapaksa.
When I write about Muslims in Dambulla, some may say then what about what was done by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE to the Muslims in Jaffna. I have written enough about this in the past and here I repeat the same.
In 1990 the Muslims in Jaffna were evacuated by the LTTE and they were compelled to live in Puttalam. In fact, the political advisor of the LTTE, the late Anton Balasingham, tendered the organisation’s apology for this incident.
However, since 1995, the LTTE was not in control of Jaffna. If this is the case, what was lacking and obstructing the resettlement of Muslims in Jaffna? There were airports, harbours in Puttalam as well as in Jaffna and the land route. Since 2002, the A9 road was opened. This is to say that it was the Sri Lankan government which prevented the Jaffna Muslims living in Puttalam from being re-settled in Jaffna. The government wanted the Muslim to remain in Puttalam, to serve a highly motivated international campaign against the LTTE. In other words, they have been using the Jaffna Muslims to justify the government’s Sinhalisation and ethnic cleansing of Tamils in the North East.
In fact, I raised this matter in September 2007 in a meeting held by the Sri Lankan Mission in the UN Geneva. Four Sri Lankan Ministers – Mahinda Samarasinghe, Keheliya Rambukwella, Athauda Seneviratne Douglas Devananda and Lalith Weeratunga, permanent secretary to the President Rajapaksa were on the panel. None of them could give a proper answer to the question of resettlement of Muslims in Jaffna. This was clearly witnessed by various diplomats and representatives of international institutions. This meeting took place as a parallel event, during the 6th session of the UN HRC.
Mr C. V. Wigneswaran
The arrival of retired Justice C.V. Wigneswaran into politics may be a ‘light at the end of a tunnel’ for Tamils. In the past, there have been a few Tamil Chief Justices – P. Ramanathan, Herbert D. Thambiah, Suppiah Sharvananda, V. Manicavasagar, V. T. Thamotheram, T. W. Rajaratnam, H. W. Thambiah, V. Sivasubramaniam, P. Sriskandarajah and Chellappah Nagalingam. They all had successful careers, retired and led a good family life. Only T. W. Rajaratnam entered politics. In 1989 he was a National List Member of Parliament for Sri Lanka Freedom Party – SLFP.
Interestingly, Mr Wigneswaran says publicly that he has no experience in politics. He has never belonged to any political party. Therefore we can consider Mr Wigneswaran’s acceptance to be a candidate for the post of Chief Minister on humanitarian grounds, considering the plight of the Tamils in the Island.
Below I quote what Mr Wigneswaran said to the Sunday Times of 21 July 2013:
“My point is, look, you keep your views to yourself, as I would like to do some service to the people who are suffering. So let me do my work. You go on talking what you want to talk. I’m not concerned.”
“These don’t concern me- whether it is self-determination, separation, that or this. That is a long-term plan. I am talking about short-term plans, of what we should do for these people.”
“Civilians in the North have lost loved ones. They don’t know the whereabouts of others, their properties are occupied, and they have no jobs. People from the South cultivate lands forcibly held by the army, and the produce is sold to the owners of these lands….”
He is vehemently opposed to the presence of the military in the area, and does not believe an ex-army officer should remain as Governor.
“There are around 60,000 widows there, for whom we are trying to do something,” he explained. “It would be ideal to have a person who is sympathetic towards them. On the contrary, the incumbent Governor, Maj Gen (Retd) G.A. Chandrasiri, acts like an army fellow even now.” (Excerpt – The Sunday Times, 21 July 2013)
I have seen a few critical remarks about Mr Wigneswaran. Unfortunately these were originated by some Tamil politicians who lost in the last parliamentary elections, wanting the North Provincial council to fall into the hands of their Masters, the Rajapaksas. This narrow-minded thinking has been circulated by their contacts in the diaspora.
One says that Mr Wigneswaran knows only the Nallur Temple in Jaffna; another one says that his children are married to Singhalese. Mr Wigneswaran was a person who worked as a District Judge in Mallakam and Chavakachcheri. Does this mean that he was transported everyday by a chopper from Colombo to Mallakam or Chavakacheri?
Why is it a problem that his children are married to Singhalese? Because of some Buddhist chauvinists, can Tamils hate Singhalese? Those who say this should know that the wife of late Nadesan, political leader of the LTTE was Singhalese and there are more examples too. There are Singhalese who strongly support the right to self-determination of the Tamils and they don’t change their position like some among us.
Some say that he has spoken against some killings! It is a joke to criticise such a stand. What expectations can we have of a retired Judge? Who in this earth will justify a killing or say that killing is the best method?
A Tamil proverb says that, “Does the Donkey recognise the smell of Camphor?”