By Dayan Jayatilleka –
For personal reasons that would be too painfully obvious to state, I can well remember a time that Sri Lankan newspaper Editors would be unforgiving with their newsroom, if the biggest political story of the week had failed to make it to their front page or any page at all, especially if the story was big enough to be reported in the respected Indian newspaper, The Hindu.
Only two Sri Lankan English language newspapers (Ceylon Today and Daily FT) and a single TV website (Derana) caught the dramatic story of Chief Minister Wigneswaran and the Northern Provincial Council’s 11 page “Genocide” resolution. The intrinsic important of the story was captured by the fact that the Hindu ran it with a quote from Indian officialdom. Thus it was that the Indian Government had already reacted appropriately to a Sri Lankan story which had not, for the most part, made the Sri Lankan media. Then again, this speaks not so much to the state of the Sri Lankan media but to the larger state of Sri Lankan society, which is or has been rendered – one can only guess by whom and to what end—far more concerned about Wele Suda than Wigneswaran. It seems a classic case of what Noam Chomsky termed the manufacturing of consent, which is, at bottom, a term for collective hypnosis or brainwashing.
The Hindu story captioned ‘Sri Lanka’s Northern Province Resolution: India Officials Wary’, with Suhashini Haidar’s byline and datelined New Delhi February 11, 2015 opens thus:
“The Indian government took note of the resolution by the Sri Lankan Northern Provincial Council internally, but officials said it was too early to gauge its importance to the reconciliation process already initiated by President Maithripala Sirisena’s new government. Officials are studying if the genocide resolution would affect the Geneva conference of the UNHRC, where the U.N. special rapporteur is due to submit a report on a U.S.-sponsored “war crimes investigations” that could also lead to a resolution against Sri Lanka being tabled…Any attempt to challenge the new government in Colombo with an international genocide investigation at this point could “complicate matters,” sources in New Delhi have said. The U.N. special rapporteur is expected to submit a report on a U.S.-sponsored “war crimes investigations” and a resolution on Sri Lanka’s ‘genocide against Tamils’ could also be tabled then…” (The Hindu, Feb 11, 2015)
That the Northern resolution cannot be dismissed as insignificant is best evidenced by Delhi’s entirely appropriate reaction, which is in sharp contrast to the reported refusal of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s Office to comment.
The TAMILNET report of the “key development” as it calls the resolution, is captioned ‘Wigneswaran calls for international investigation on genocide’. It states as follows:
“In a key development, the Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Justice CV Wigneswaran, on Tuesday called for real international investigations on genocide against Tamils committed by the successive governments since Ceylon’s independence from the British in 1948. Passing a resolution in the council that demanded international investigations on genocide, the Chief Minister has called for criminal prosecutions at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and urged the on-going OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) to investigate the claim of genocide and recommend appropriate investigations and prosecutions by the ICC…
The case of genocide in Sri Lanka is unique among genocides in history because it occurred over several decades and under different governments before intensifying into a no-holds-barred war for nearly three decades and culminating in the mass atrocities of 2009, the resolution further said. The concluding paragraphs of the resolution passed in the NPC follow:
The obligation to prevent and punish genocide under the Genocide Convention is not a matter of political choice or calculation, but one of binding customary international law. This Council urges OISL to comprehensively investigate and report on the charge of genocide in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015. The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court for prosecutions based on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Alternatively or concurrently, domestic courts in countries that may exercise universal jurisdiction over the alleged events and perpetrators, including but not limited to the United States, should prosecute these crimes…” [TamilNet, Tuesday, 10 February 2015, 08:22 GMT]
The full text of this outrageous and dangerous affront of a Resolution is available at Colombo Telegraph. Click here to read the full text.
While I have little doubt that Sri Lanka’s new administration can deal with this and any such challenge in Geneva with New Delhi’s help—which the Rajapaksa administration absurdly reckoned it could do without—that is not the main issue. Far more important are (1) the fact of the resolution (2) its content and character (3) its authorship and agency and (4) its timing.
Firstly, the fact is that the Northern Provincial council has passed a resolution which is far outside its Constitutional mandate. The subject of the resolution is, it is hardly necessary to say, well outside the list of subjects and functions devolved to the Provincial Council. The very fact of the resolution on a matter so utterly contentious and intensely political, with major diplomatic and sovereignty implications for Sri Lanka, reveals the self-image of the Northern Council and gives an insight into its political consciousness and ideology, its political project and probable trajectory.
Secondly, the resolution is not a token one, in which case it would be short. It is an eleven page document. It also represents an escalation, in that the charge leveled constitutes a moral and legal indictment which cannot be surpassed. It is not limited to a mere lamentation and contains a specific call to international action. It calls for Sri Lanka to be charged under international customary law, both at the international level as well as by domestic judiciaries throughout the world under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. It alleges that the worst of crimes that can be committed against any people, has been committed against the Tamil people of this island, and that is the crime of genocide. It does not allege that such genocide has been committed or attempted in the last stages of the war. It claims that such genocidal acts were committed by all Ceylonese/Sri Lankan administrations since 1948. (This would make it the slowest, most inefficient ‘genocide’ in human history).
Thirdly, this is not a resolution moved by a Tamil diaspora secessionist lobby such as the TGTE, or a radical Tamil nationalist fringe such as that led by Mr. Gajan Ponnambalam, or a radical dissenter within the Northern Council such as the effervescent Ms. Ananthi Sasitharan. On the contrary, this extreme resolution is moved and endorsed by the respected Chief Minister and former judge of the Supreme Court, Mr. Wigneswaran and voted through with an enormous margin, by the Northern Provincial council itself. This is a Tamil nationalist mainstream move, which demonstrates that Tamil nationalism remains within the paradigm of the Vadukkodai resolution. This ‘Genocide’ Resolution 2015 could be dubbed the Son of Vadukkodai Resolution 1976.
Fourthly, there is the timing. A new reformist government of liberal pluralist leanings is in office. The Northern Provincial council and its respected Chief Minister decide to escalate at this time, notwithstanding the assumption of office by the new Government. The Genocide Resolution gives the lie to the interpretation that the Northern Council gets understandably radicalized because someone like Mahinda Rajapaksa refuses to devolve power. The election to the Northern Council had not been held when in in the last days of the campaign, Mr. Wigneswaran called Prabhakaran a “great hero”. Mahinda Rajapaksa has been sent home and so has Gen. Chandrasiri, the Governor. Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe are in office, as is Governor HMGS Palihakkara, respected ex-diplomat, former LLRC commissioner and distinguished ‘dove’. What do the Chief Minister and the Council do? Help the moderates by extending a hand and building bridges, or at the very least observing a political ceasefire for a hundred days? On the contrary, they escalate. They explode a political claymore under the new administration.
If an elected, i.e. representative body of an ethnic community is of the view that the community has been consistently subject to genocide, then nowhere in world history does such a community decide to stay with the larger community or its leaders which have perpetrated such a heinous atrocity against the very existence of the collective. Thus it is very clear that the political consciousness that produced this detailed resolution is dead set on a destiny which is independent of the Sri Lankan state; of Sri Lanka as a country. The charge of genocide cannot be other than a buildup of the case for sovereignty and independence.
How can so irresponsible and anti-national a Provincial Council and Chief Minister be conferred the full panoply of power contained in the 13th amendment, when there is no guarantee that they will be exercised responsibly? How can it even be countenanced that powers beyond the 13th amendment be vested in such a Council? How can the Sri Lankan state fail to retain and emphasize its unitary character when faced with such political behavior by a Council which is dangerously adjacent to a hostile Tamil Nadu?
How will an enfeebled, post-Constitutional reforms Presidency, shorn of most executive powers and no longer the Head of Government, deal with an obviously restive Northern Provincial Council which is ratcheting up the pressure? How will a UNP administration which is dependent on the TNA in parliament do so either? How can the citizenry trust Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who gave away the store during the Ceasefire Agreement and has made the most curious appointments to sensitive posts in recent times (sparking fears of a stealth takeover by Diaspora proxies), be trusted to keep the lid on the increasingly radical Northern Provincial Council?
What could possibly have emboldened the Northern Chief Minister and his Council to gavel this ‘Genocide’ Resolution through, while deflecting the term with due circumspection just a few months ago when it was mooted by the TNA’s Mr. Sivajilingam? What could make them quite so impatient? Is it a sense of entitlement deriving from the arithmetic of the election results and the feeling that the time has now come to pay the Piper?