by Mangala Samaraweera
The ineptitude of the present regime in the face of intensifying and relentless international pressure is driving Sri Lanka further and further into isolation and is likely to have devastating effects for this country’s prospects for rebuilding and reconciliation in the post-conflict phase.
The release of the Channel 4 documentary on Sri Lanka, alleging that extra-judicial killings have occurred during the final phase of the conflict in 2009, has undoubtedly damaged the image of the Sri Lankan state almost beyond repair. Where once the world viewed Sri Lanka as an Elysium bearing brutal battle scars, today, the obstinacy of the current government with regard to answering the growing calls by the world for accountability and some semblance of process by which to determine the veracity of the heinous accusations against this state and our military, has turned most of our friends away and led them to join the chorus that is building hard and fast against Sri Lanka globally. We are very much alone, increasingly isolated by the international powers and organisations that matter, or will matter someday, although the short-sighted foreign affairs experts aligned to the regime do not appear to realise this, unless immediate steps are taken to ebb the flow of negative publicity about the conduct of the Sri Lankan military.
As I see it, the government has two options here. If this footage is fabricated and if this documentary aired on Channel 4 is in fact tainted by prejudice or separatist agenda, file charges against the television station. Channel 4 is merely a media outlet in the United Kingdom, which must be held to certain ethical reporting standards, a fact no doubt that a British court will uphold if it is proven that their reporting was entirely false. If so, the Sri Lankan state is duty bound to act on this and take legal action against this channel for the incredible damage it is doing to the image of our nation and the manner in which these documentaries and video footage have degraded our standing on the world stage. For some reason, despite ongoing release of this footage over the past two years, the government has chosen not to act.
If so, the government of Sri Lanka has another choice. Put the claims and accusations and allegations that the government is decrying as false and motivated by LTTE agendas to rest by putting in place a credible and transparent process by which to determine if there is any truth to these allegations and prosecute those who might be responsible if they are in fact true. It wounds me deeply that the entire Sri Lankan military, which in my opinion has conducted itself impeccably for the most part in the execution of the defeat of the LTTE, is paying the tragic price for what is at most, the incompetence of a few political leaders.
We have a duty towards our military, to act. We have an obligation to the soldiers who sacrificed so much for our benefit, to ensure that their names are cleared. This government talks grandiosely about their respect for the soldier, even though they have incarcerated the man who led the Sri Lankan army into battle and won the government this victory. They build monuments and conduct victory parades, apparently to honour the sacrifice of these brave young men and women. And yet, when it matters most to erase the ugly blight that has been cast upon our men in uniform by these heinous allegations, the government does not act. It continues to make the case against the Sri Lankan military for the world that is agitating for an inquiry, by acting as if we have something to hide, making bombastic claims and alleging international conspiracies, all for the consumption of the local electorate. It is clear that the international community will not stand aside and allow the government to hoodwink the world and lie to its allies the way it has these two years, forever. The day of reckoning is near and it is in the best interest of this regime – for that is the primary motivation of this government, country be damned – to be seen as making some effort to quell this tide of accusations either by way of credible evidence to disprove the Channel 4 allegations or by conducting our own inquiry into what truly transpired in the fog of war. If these claims are smoke and mirrors, the government has the best possible case to present to the world – they can irrevocably damage the credibility of Channel 4 and prevent them from acting against Sri Lanka’s interests again and clear Sri Lanka’s name and restore the goodwill and positive image this country has always maintained in the world.
I urge the government to stop playing world politics with the nationalistic jargon that it plays the Sri Lankan public, decrying all those who disagree with the some of its actions as traitors.
Under the watch of this regime, the definition of ‘nationalism’ has taken on new meaning. It has come to mean that a ‘nationalist’ must work first and foremost in the interest of the regime in power; it implies that only those loyal to the Rajapaksa administration can be ‘true nationalists’ and takes ‘patriotism’ on as a cloak under which to hide ugly, racist undertones. The spectre of the LTTE is constantly evoked to perpetuate this perception.
I am a Sri Lankan nationalist, although this regime has worked hard to denounce me, and I stand for one nation, a nation in which Tamil, Muslim and other lives mean as much as Sinhalese lives, and I believe that Sri Lanka belongs to us all, and is not the exclusive domain of one ethnic group. I urge the people of this great country, to break away from the shackles this government has placed on us, with its jingoistic rhetoric and its subtle yet transparent hegemonic, dynastic agendas.
We are a compassionate people, we are inspired by the teachings of Gautama Buddha. Today it is the name of the Buddha this regime uses to create division and hatred. It is within all of us that we thirst for truth and knowledge, so at this time of great crisis for our nation, I plead with my countrymen, to take off the blinkers, and see what is right before your eyes. Demand that your government clears your name, because these accusations are a blight upon all our peoples. Take the words of Lord Buddha as your guide, and open your eyes, break free of the fog of disinformation and ask your rulers to cease their speaking with forked tongues.
“Believe nothing merely because you have heard it. Believe nothing simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many …. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders…..but whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.” – Kalama Sutta