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Sri Lanka: Charades and Its Price

by NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA

Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.

– African proverb

Columbo, Sri Lanka. 

The entire country, not just its diplomatic missions, is in a dilemma today. This has its roots beyond the present regime’s misuse of authority. Absolute authority it did attain, since the Big Ben alarm sounded three years ago after winning the coldblooded war against the LTTE. Since then the government has spared no opportunity to make a drama out of every tragedy. The LTTE and the daily war that the country and its people fought are tragedies. Celebrating such a misfortune is also a tragedy. Perhaps the only people who do not know this are those who devour absolute power in Colombo. Or are they orchestrating a celebration out of everything to hide their stupidity?

We do not have a culture of preventing crimes by timely investigations and prosecutions, operating within a legal framework. Instead, custodians of power have chosen to flush out and eliminate witnesses.  Since 1971 when the government started extrajudicial executions of not only the rebels but also of innocent persons, there was none in the country, political parties in particular, who demonstrated a commitment to put an end or at least to challenge this rapid disintegration of the country and its institutions. Developing an investigation and prosecution framework was nobody’s concern. The public suffering that the country faces today, in all fronts, domestically from white-van abductions and the complete failure of the country’s criminal justice apparatus, and internationally from the amassment of being identified as a citizen of a rogue state is the result. Today Sri Lanka is equated with North Korea and Burma in the region, a position that our governments for decades have wrestled hard to seek and attain.

The ongoing debacle in Geneva at the United Nations Human Rights Council is an extension to this despicable situation into which Sri Lanka is. Attempting to succeed against the proposed resolution brought against the country is nothing more than a diplomatic charade. Lobbying that lacks morale is the closest a state could get to play fraud upon the international community. Calling it self-respect is nothing but fraud played upon the country and its people.  Thus far there has not been a single attempt to deal with the issue strategically. Indeed having pretentious positions is also a strategy. Sadly Sri Lanka is only capable of doing that and nothing more.

It is the same attitude that we witnessed during the last stages of the Eelam war, where the government used narratives to fool the people. Provoking the people against other countries, and claiming it as people’s uprising against an international conspiracy is in fact a spent trick, tried and proved a failure by many dictators. What value do our expensive diplomatic missions have if they fail to effectively manage sensitive issues relating to Sri Lanka? If the government of Sri Lanka looses this ongoing diplomatic game unfolding at the UNHRC, which by all probabilities it will, the chances are the regime would launch an internal offensive against its own people to create internal divisions. The memories of 1983 are not far away.

The real situation on the ground in Sri Lanka is that the regime has both its legs in the water, ridiculously attempting to test its depth and flow. In another words, with one hand on political turmoil and the other on economic chaos, the country is on a knife’s edge.

President Rajapakse has no genuine solution to the problems at hand. However, he has started talking about Chinese and Russian markets in Colombo to provoke the people against the UN resolution. Can the president solve the deepening economic crisis in the country, by leasing parts of the country to the Chinese or importing thousands of sex-workers from Russia and China, while his own mega development pandals are wasting billions from the exchequer?

The media has reported that the government would stop crude oil imports from Iran from March 29, ahead of the June 28 deadline proclaimed by the US. Any country importing goods from Iran after June 28 would be subject to penalties imposed by the US. Iran supplies 93 percent of crude oil to Sri Lanka. According to the media, ‘fuel purchases from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Oman were options Sri Lanka was looking at. Sri Lanka has depended almost entirely on Iran for its crude oil supplies, importing 93 percent of its requirement from Iran with the country’s only refinery at Sapugaskanda able to process only Iranian crude.’ So what do we do after we stop importing crude from Iran? Or is it yet another bluff, a consistent character of this regime?

Yet another worrying factor is the chaotic social disorder and structural decay of the state agencies. A thirteen-year-old girl, Jesudasan Lakshmi, was abducted, raped and killed by a man in the first week of this month. The girl reportedly died from the deep injuries she suffered on her skull since the suspect hit her repeatedly with a stone on her head. The incident happened when the girl was on her way to school in Delft Island. The suspect is a member of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), led by Mr Douglas Devananda, who is the minister of traditional industries and small enterprise development. Meanwhile on 17 March 40-year-old Thurairasa, a taxi driver by profession from Marathadiya was killed in the lagoon area of Kuchchaweli, Trincomalee by an unknown armed gang. There was a notice written in Tamil on his dead body that reportedly read, “punishment of traitors will continue, we are back – LTTE”.

It is not only life in the former war-torn areas that is facing difficulties, but the entire country is in uncertainty as to the basic guarantees in life. In these circumstances using anger and intentionally provoking people’s sentiments to fight against each other and other states is nothing less than vulgarity. What that matters to the people is not about winning or losing the Geneva game, but how long Sri Lankans have to tolerate this vulgarity of their own government.

Intolerance to injustice could be an alternative though. That could be the creation of a real opposition. Such an opposition will lead to balance of power. Balance of power could lead to the creation of principles for good governance.  Good governance will help change the present state of social disorder to social order. This may lead to the creation of the basic institutions that today do not exist in the country. But, the present regime is deliberately engaged in sabotaging every possibility of such a dream becoming true. The government of Sri Lanka is engaged in the systematic elimination of everything and everyone who is intolerant to injustice.

It is in these circumstances India has turned against Sri Lanka, thanks to the enemy building exercise what the regime in Colombo calls diplomacy. Rajapakse, the self-proclaimed absolute owner of the victory in the war, must also be responsible for train crashing the country’s diplomatic profile.

What was witnessed in India is the process of democracy, something that Rajapakse would find hard to understand and believe. Dr. Manmohan Singh has declared in the upper house of the Indian parliament, the Rajya Sabha, yesterday that India may vote in favor of the resolution concerning Sri Lanka. What need to be understood is that this is not a resolution against Sri Lanka, but against the perpetrators who have committed crimes against humanity in the pretence of patriotism.

Dr. Singh said yesterday indicating his government’s position in support of the UN resolution that “… another issue which was raised during the debate relates to the state of Sri Lankan Tamils. Some members have raised concern regarding the situation in Sri Lanka. The central government fully shares the concerns and sentiments raised by the honourable members regarding the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. Since the end of conflict in Sri Lanka, our focus has been on the welfare and well being of the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka. Their resettlement and rehabilitation has been of the highest and most immediate priority for our government. The steps taken by the central government in this regard have been outlined in the suo motu statement made by the external affairs minister on 14 March, 2012. As a result of our constructive engagement with the government of Sri Lanka and our considerable assistance programme, the modicum of normalcy is beginning to return to the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka. There has also been progress, given the withdrawal of emergency regulations by the government of Sri Lanka and the conduct of elections to local bodies in the Northern provinces of Sri Lanka…”

“Members have also raised the issue of human rights violations during the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka and on the US initiated draft resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka at the on-going 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The government of India has emphasized to the government of Sri Lanka the importance of a genuine process of reconciliation to address the grievances of the Tamil community. In this connection, we have called for [the] implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission appointed by Sri Lankan government that has been tabled before the Sri Lankan Parliament. These include various constructive measures of healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering the process of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”

“We have asked the government of Sri Lanka to stand by its commitment towards [the] pursuit of a political process through a broader dialogue with all parties including the Tamil National Alliance leading to the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution so as to achieve meaningful devolution of power and genuine national reconciliation. We hope that the government of Sri Lanka recognizes the critical importance of this issue, act decisively and with [a] vision in this regard. We will remain engaged with them through this process and encourage them to take forward the dialogue with the elected representatives of Sri Lankan Tamils.”

“As regards the issue of a draft resolution initiated by the United States at the on-going 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, we do not yet have the final text of the resolution. However, I may assure the House that we are inclined to vote in favour of a resolution. That, we hope, will advance our objective, namely, the achievement of the future for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka that is marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect…”

The dream world of Rajapakse will suffer a setback if India supports the resolution. Or Rajapakse has an option of continuing his ruffian attitude with help from China.  Perhaps then he can call for a boycott of Indian products. However, the focus of only the Tamil issue by India is questionable since that could also encourage separatism without addressing the core concerns that eventually led to the Tamil issue, which is the complete destruction of the justice apparatus in Sri Lanka.

There is no doubt that there should be a beginning. But what is important is where we begin which is acceptable to everyone in Sri Lanka. In the past five months, there have been more than 40 reported abductions, mostly in Colombo and its suburbs and in Northern Sri Lanka. The victims are from all communities: Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. In some cases unidentified dead bodies were reportedly found. Without addressing the root causes of these debacles happening daily in the country, reconciliation or building a society based on equality, dignity, justice and self-respect is impossible.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa is journalist and editor of the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily news paper based in Colombo Sri Lanka. He can be reached atilangamuwa@gmail.com or editor@srilankaguardian.org 

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Nilantha Ilangamuwa is Editor of Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives. He also edits the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper. He is the author of the recently released non-fiction books, “Nagna Balaya” (The Naked Power), published in Sinhalese, and “The Conflation”, published in English. 

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