Colombo Telegraph

Whose Rights Are Human Rights?

By Thrishantha Nanayakkara

Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara

Ravana Balakaya was on the streets protesting Navi Pillay’s visit to Sri Lanka. One banner asked, “Hey Pillay, don’t you have better things to do?” The same tone was seen in the statements of the Government, state media, and Bodu Bala Sena.

When we are born to this World, some say we are born free. Well it is not true. We are born so dependent on many things. We first heavily depend on the care of parents. Parents depend on the care of a society and the care of a constitution of a country whether they like it or not. If there is some flaw in the care of the society or the constitution of the country, whom should the parents depend on to protect the child? Shouldn’t it be the greater human kind on planet Earth? Then, who is going to protect the greater human kind?

Well, there was no such higher authority at the level of the planet till the end of World War II. It was a winner-takes-all game. The parties to the war came together to formulate a set of universal conventions that all Nations should abide by, and that resulted in the establishment of United Nations (UN). This did not still get rid of the special privileges of the super powers. The negotiations settled down in the formulation of a security council where each super power got a veto power to decide any united military action outside their countries. This too, did not insulate any country from a military action from a super power outside the UN charter. However, the World was left to accept that military action from a super power is most often done with good intention. This was proven to be blatantly wrong in the push of the Bush administration to find out weapons of mass destruction (WPO) in Iraq. Not many are aware that it was an action taken in denial of UN recommendations, and even outside the recommendation of the US house of congress. This kind of historical blunders undermined the respect for the UN’s original vision to be a Global umbrella organization to protect humanity from unfair military action. That resulted in denial of the rights of so many thousands of children born in Iraq and other countries affected by that unfortunate incident.

However, if somebody uses Iraq or impending action on Syria by some super powers by-passing the UN charter, to further dilute the authority of the UN, they shoot their own feet, and empower people like George W. Bush and his advisors. In fact we should do the right opposite. We should question meddling with the over-arching mandate of the UN to safeguard the rights of all human beings on the planet, and condemn arrogant action like the one taken by President Bush. Here, there is a cultural difference between the US and Sri Lanka. In the US, a country I love so much based on my direct experience of civil liberties, criticizing president Bush or any other president does not amount to criticizing the United States or its people. In fact James A Baldwin wrote – “I love America more than any other country in this World, and, exactly for that reason, I insist in the right to criticize her perpetually”. In Sri Lanka, criticizing Rajapakshas is often interpreted as a criticism of Sri Lanka and its people.

In Sri Lanka, Rajapaksha administration is not the first to intimidate the Supreme Court and the chief justice that holds the supreme mandate to guarantee the fundamental rights of citizens stipulated by the constitution. JR Jayawardana administration did the same. He even justified stoning judges as a democratic right of the people. Well, perhaps Mahinda Rajapaksha maybe the first to ignore the constitutional process to impeach a chief justice. However, the fact remains that there has been a considerable mass of people in any of these eras who jumped into justify these challenges on the very crest of judicial authority that protects of the fundamental rights of the people. The arguments are the same too. One popular pattern is to quote history – “look, it happened when the opposition was in power too! Then why do you blame our president?” Some others quote radical groups in the country like the JVP in 1980s and LTTE as a reason to justify heavy-handed action, often quoted as state terrorism – “look, people die in all counter terrorism actions! Why do you blame this counter terrorism action only?”. Some others quote the West – “look, this is not the worst country in the World. Look at them. What is UN doing to them? Why us?” And, some paint all human rights defenders with a broad brush of the label – “the traitors”, or the “NGO agents nourishing on dollars”! Finally, they leave the people wide open and vulnerable, without realizing that someone related to them would also be victims one day. I bet many victims of human rights violations, including those who got shot or beaten by a military action on civilians in Weliweriya too, at some point, contributed to these arguments.

So, when there are groups in the very society that is supposed to give warmth and protection to the rights of the fellow countrymen justify blatant human rights abuses quoting history, radical groups, or even the West, and look down upon human rights defender as traitors, and when the Government denies the constitutional rights of the people, where should parents go? Parents of a child, like a mother or a father who cried for clean water in Weliweriya to see the dead body of their child, like a mother or a father who cried when the Jaffna library was burnt down with no culprit to be found in 1980’s (under JRJ), or a mother or a father who pleaded not to kill them during 1983 riots with no culprits to be found (under JRJ), or a mother or a father who lost their civilian child in the cross fire between the LTTE and the Government forces, during the last phase of the war? To people like George W. Bush? Or to an organization like the UN human rights council? Who can be better poised to serve a citizen of a random country who believes that his own country failed to protect his basic rights as a human being? Then, whose rights would those who protested the visit of Navi Pillay maybe protecting?  Whose rights would those who protested the visit of Navi Pillay maybe denying?

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