Colombo Telegraph

Will Manmohan Singh Shake Hands With Mahinda Rajapaksa?

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Every recent Sri Lankan expatriate conversation has been on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – why the UK, Australia and New Zealand are fully behind Sri Lanka, whether India’s Manmohan Singh would and even whether he should go. Naturally tonight’s (Nov. 3) Channel 4 Broadcast has added to the anxiety of those on all sides.

Many have asked me what I think. As a Sri Lankan I want a Sri Lankan state that is multicultural and respectful of the rule of law. All the evidence I have seen points to terrible things having happened at the end of the LTTE’s rule and the life of its leader Prabhakaran  – I deliberately avoided saying end of the conflict as many say because, the way government is going, it is adding to the list of causes that resulted in that terrible war.

All the conversations I have had with friends and associates who lived through those terrible days of bombs,  and death all around them in Mullaitivu, and being shot at if they tried to flee, leave no doubt in my mind as to the accuracy of the UN Marzuki Darusman Report. The little doubt that would remain in any rational person’s head as to whether the government could be telling the truth vanishes quickly as its leaders evade an inquiry that could only help it, if things are as it claims.

Yet, plans for CHOGM on Sri Lankan soil continue under the primary case that Sri Lanka must be engaged by Commonwealth member-states to help her correct course. However, when a neighbor rapes a householder’s wife and kills his children, can he argue that the neighbor must be engaged? For minor offences such a principle would work, but not for the major ones that Sri Lanka stands accused of. In this case, the primary duty of the CHOGM is to protect and safeguard the people, rather than the system of solidarity among member states.

Britain, the primus inter pares among the members of the Commonwealth, is vulgarly rushing to participate in the CHOGM meeting. David Cameron says that he will push for accountability in Colombo, something, I note, he can do even from Downing Street. Indeed what better incentive for Sri Lanka to investigate current allegations than to be threatened with isolation? Verbal entreaties made while rewarding the Sri Lankan President with the chair of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, constitute active encouragement to do nothing.

This British attitude really reminds me of the Pakistanis privately telling Barrack Obama to go ahead with bombing Pakistanis while they publicly issue pro forma objections to address domestic compulsions! This is exactly what is happening with Britain, Australia and New Zealand. It seems to me that they want to do business with Sri Lanka, yet seem to only be annoyed and embarrassed by the Sri Lankan regime for refusing to put on a show of contrition – or at least blame the killings on a few undisciplined soldiers in the heat of battle. Sri Lanka doing this would address their domestic compulsions from the human rights lobbyists.

Unfortunately for them, Sri Lanka is not cooperating because hubris from their victory over the LTTE prevents any admission of wrong-doing. However, with government claims of no violations and zero deaths (already undercut by census figures), denying the murder of civilians is a rhetorical exercise put forth by the UPFA party and the Sinhalese right.

Sri Lanka’s denying any wrong doing, especially as Channel 4 releases a steady stream of evidence, is causing problems to western nations,  whose high standard of human rights standards seems selectively applied – for example when the US was caught this past week breaking into Google’s databases abroad, it did not become a scandal because, as government officials argued without any shame, no US laws were broken. By extension, killings in Sri Lanka too violate no laws of western nations. In this, Canada really needs to be congratulated for its principled stand, while western human rights lobbyists deserve our eternal thanks for standing on principle against their seasoned governments.

What is of greater concern, however, is the imminent participation of India, especially under the Congress which is the party of all India: South Indians, Christians, Muslims, lower castes and so on; the party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. The argument of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s foreign policy advisors is, just like the argument of the western nations, that Sri Lanka must be engaged. Indeed, there are business and geopolitical reasons for India to engage the Sri Lankan government. But India cannot think like western nations – that is, like a company manager poring over an accounting spread sheet – all about profits and loss. The legacy of the Congress is to put principle before profit. Western reasons (with the notable exception of Canada) are antithetical to the pro-minority, pro-poor, pro-underclass values of Gandhi and Nehru. India must take a broader, principled stand rather than a geostrategic stand like the West.

The Tamils of South India have with near unanimity – unanimity that surprisingly includes Tamil union ministers – expressed their anger and hurt over the contemplated hobnobbing of their prime minister with a regime accused of egregious crimes against fellow Tamils. In these circumstances, what does the Prime minister’s participation in CHOGM say about how much the Indian Center cares about the Tamils of India?

Jonathan Miller of Channel 4 has pointed out in an article dated today the travesty inherent in Prince Charles – representing the Queen as the head of the Commonwealth – and David Cameron shaking hands with President Mahinda Rajapaksa (on 15 November). Will Manomohan Singh also do that?

England, Australia and New Zealand can ignore the murder and rape of “those poor Black Tamils” in Mullaitivu and carry on doing business with Sri Lanka. But India has to be mindful of whether the decision to participate would send an awful message to her citizens of the South; about how much the Indian state cares for them and whether they are seen as full citizens whose feelings the Center listens to.

As a Sri Lankan I trust that my fellow compatriots from the Sinhalese community will agree with me in the sentiments expressed here. We must all want inquiries into the mounting allegations against the state so that our land will be free of murder and respectful of the rights of all citizens. I find that the Sinhalese are either vocally against a discussion on this topic or silent. Newspaper editors are reluctant to publish an article like this.  I challenge those Sinhalese who care about a united Sri Lanka to show that they care enough to ask for and push and boycott for an inquiry when there are credible allegations that their fellow citizens, even children, were brutally killed in cold blood. It is for you to tell us Tamils if Sri Lanka is one country or two.

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