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Motions & Emotions

Neo-Feudalism in Sri Lanka

by NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA

The battle is on the edge. Few hours are left. Hopes and despairs are mixed in the air. One of the important establishments after the Second World War is about to take a crucial decision as its next move. This is a decision that would affect over 20 million people. This is the decision affecting justice meted out to hundred thousands of dead people and their descendants. This is the decision affecting thousands of victims of torture, sexual assaults, and other forms of inhuman treatments which we have legally termed, “punishable crimes.” Time and again the country fought for real freedom but only achieved longer lists of dead men, women, and children while providing another opportunity to remain in old feudalism. This nihilistic practice has buried even the value of one’s rights to “have the body” known as a writ Habeas Corpus.

The decision which is going to be taken is on behalf of the people in this country and also is the consequence of rulers’ great ignorance. Unfortunately, nobody knows who is going to have the last laugh.  One imminent outcome appears to be that the people in this country in general are going to have another difficult time. It will be rather different from what Myanmar/Burma faced during the period of the house arrests of Aung San Suu Kyi and imprisonments of thousands of political activists.

The President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his hypocrite diplomats were busy making appointments and telephone conversations not only with the African and Latin American leaders and their envoys, but also with some of the trusted allies to gain support against the third UN resolution on Sri Lanka, which is going to be tabled today at the Human Rights Council. Many predictions abound under the dark cloud of the future of Sri Lanka; large sections of groups (including some within the lawless nepotistic ruling government) are thinking negatively, predicting imminent losses in the battle in Geneva. In other words, like with the past two resolutions, the third one also will have majority to approve implementation of actions the resolution has framed.

It was a good move on the part of the member states to reassess the first draft of the third resolution on Sri Lanka, finally thematically “call[ing] upon the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner concerning the implementation of this resolution.” Implicitly the international community no longer is going to trust the president or the ruling government.

The final draft which has been circulated illustrates that the destruction of criminal justice system, as result of the deliberate attack by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is not capable enough to have an independent investigation into the crimes that have occurred in the last few years. Those crimes related not only to the last phase of the civil war, but are also directly linked to his misbehaviors and abuse of power in post-war period in the country as a whole. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, while accepting the orders of his brother (who is the authority of Defence establishment in the country), punished the man who was previously dressed as the best army commander in the world. Then there was the dismissal of the country’s first lady chief justice, who at one time praised President Mahinda Rajapaksa and later, despite being a messenger to the ruler, tried to hail for judicial independence in Sri Lanka. Not only has the culture of “white vans” created tremendous stress and tension among those who even speak for their very basic rights, but also it has claimed scores of lives. These crimes were not against cattle on the farm, but human beings.

President Rajapaksa is the slayer of ethics of freedom and principles of rule of law which were vitiated by previous leaders. Therefore, he seems confident that no one can intervene as long as he can win the election and show his so called popular power. Having capacity to glorify his manipulation he is able to disguise his personal desires as the needs of the country. While acting like a primitive tribal leader, he tried to adopt isolation as the best political strategy to protect his sovereignty from alleged external interferences. This is none other than political vulgarism to muffle crimes against the country’s own people. It has been strengthened by “popular patriotism”, which is strictly based on the campaign against the United States and the “west”, where the President’s brethren handsomely obtains his citizenship while playing a key role in Sri Lankan government.

True, the US Government does not have moral authority to ask for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred in final stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka. This is so not just because of what they have done in Sri Lanka, but what they do all around the world.   Certainly, the US enhanced their assistance in many ways during last decades to fight against the Tamil Tiger rebels. But does the Government of Sri Lanka have moral authority to deny an international investigation? The answer is no.

This very question cannot be buried by distraction from t regarding US foreign or domestic policies. The question is ours, what we have to realize is that these pressures come from the outside because of our wrongdoings. The question is about the elimination of the hundreds of thousands of people who had the rights to live and enjoy their basic freedoms on their soil. The rulers eliminated them. Our governments, which we elected to govern us while protecting the dignity and respected status of all in this country, has killed them. Did anyone respectfully attempt to find justice for those victims? The tremendous failures of the state of Sri Lanka lies on this basic structural failure and neither any of our politicians nor any of the military leaders accepts and attempts to correct it. What they have done is make the situation worse than before while keeping on justifying what they have done. The third UN resolution is the result of this exact failure at the local level.

However, there will not be a problem for the President or his clan because the local political situation is getting ready to elect two Chief Ministers and provincial councilors. It is a different, but related argument: that the provincial council system is nothing more than another white elephant delivered from the womb of the rotten and disordered socio-political system in Sri Lanka and through her constitutional evolution. However, the forthcoming election will be another event to celebrate the popular patriotism and adulations of Rajapaksa and his family party. The media (and other messengers) are being armed by the ruling party to pave the way to electoral victory with flattering coverage. This is a cynically manipulating present day democracy. Apparently they will deliberately ignore the result in Geneva over the third resolution once they are informed that they have lost.

Truth can be cynically manipulated when one has authority to control the media. This is known theory and has been practiced by many monsters in different territories. Sri Lanka, which has internet for about 18.5% of total population, is still depending on yesteryear’s media outlets to be kept informed of the bigger picture. Almost everything is controlled by President Rajapaksa and his associates. In addition, he has blocked some of dissident websites which operate from abroad. This very act has given him a chance to stay in the chair and show his “toothpaste smile” to con the public.

The President may continually win the battle of emotions in local politics but he is losing the real battle of motions regarding his wicked cynicism against the state and its people. In his political propaganda he tried to force people to accept that Sri Lanka is “another Israel.” But the county seems more close to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, when anyone looks at the political culture and conduct. However, in reality the country is most on par with Swaziland.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa edits the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper, and he also an editor of the Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, bi-monthly print magazine. He is the author of the just released non-fictions, “Nagna Balaya” (The Naked Power), in Sinhalese and “The Conflation”, in English.  He can be reached at ilangamuwa@gmail.com