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Why Sri Lanka is losing over UN panel visit

Ranga Jayasuriya
Obviously, the government is in a catch-22 situation over the impending investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay early this week informed the government of the appointment of an investigative team headed by Sandra Beidas and asked permission for the team to visit the island in the coming weeks.


If the government grants the request by the high commissioner that would amount to, at least some degree, to accepting the legitimacy of the panel and the investigation, which it has refused to accept from the outset. If it denies visa, it would be heading into a showdown with the UN and the powerful Western democracies that voted for the investigation. Such a showdown would have a host of long term negative repercussions for the country in general, and the ruling cohort, in particular.
Now, the government believes there is a way out for it from this intricate situation.
The latest modus operandi is obtaining the Parliament approval for the non-cooperation with the investigation and the denial of visa for the investigation team of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights ( (OHCHR).
On Tuesday, at the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Central Committee meeting, the president briefed the parliamentarians on the request made by the UN rights chief. Later, on the President’s urging, the Central Committee decided to consult Parliament and to seek a date for a Parliament debate.
Servile lot
What is interesting in this government is that once the President nods in approval, there is a servile lot of low rung MPs, who would compete with each other to earn brownie points, by carrying out the presidential wishes. On Wednesday, a group of SLFP parliamentarians handed over a motion to the Secretary General of Parliament, demanding that the United Nation’s Human Rights Council mandated investigation on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka should not be held. “This Parliament resolves that the investigation to be conducted against Sri Lanka by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s Office should not be carried out on the ground that such a course of action is detrimental to the process of reconciliation and peace, and that it erodes the sovereignty, dignity and stature of Sri Lanka,” the motion submitted by nine SLFP MPs stated.
 A date for a debate on the motion will be fixed today at a meeting of parliamentary group leaders.
The strategy is clear. The Parliament, the composition of which has been distorted by the crossovers to the ruling party would vote for the non cooperation with forthcoming investigation and to decline visa to the members of the team. As Parliament has been relegated to a rubber stamp of the all powerful President, the outcome of the vote is, anyway, a foregone conclusion. But, the government believes, perhaps naively, if not out of frustration, that such a manoeuvring would provide an aura of legitimacy to its decision.
But, one would find this strategy, is a little too familiar.

Sequence of events
It was pretty much the same sequence of events that unfolded before the controversial removal of former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The President and the ruling cohort were nonplussed after the Chief Justice issued a ruling on the Divi Neguma Bill that challenged the concentration of powers at the hands of the Centre, (on that particular occasion with the Ministry of Economic Development headed by Presidential brother Basil Rajapaksa). Then the servile MPs of the ruling party, many of them eyeing a deputy ministerial post, in return for their show of allegiance to the leadership, submitted a no confidence motion against the Chief Justice. (In fact, initially they collected the signatures of their colleagues – who were equally eager to show their loyalty to the leadership – on a blank paper, and later added some flimsy allegations against the former CJ).
The government’s apologist have since been arguing that the government has followed the constitutional process to remove the Chief Justice, though discerning Sri Lankans and the foreigners know well that the process was a farce.
The country would soon witness the Part 2 of what is increasingly becoming the chicanery of the legitimacy of Parliament. Navi Pillay will be told that the august House of Parliament of Sri Lanka has voted against granting access to the investigation team.
The President could even add that he had bowed to the verdict of Parliament, where the will of the people resides.
But, one does not need to be a political scientist to predict that this sycophant extravaganza would not serve the government internationally, nor would the UN or the Western democracies that backed the UNHRC resolution take the government’s explanation seriously.
Options limited
It’s true that the government’s options are limited. Now that the UN Rights Chief is picking experts for her panel, New Zealand’s former Governor General Silvia Cartwright being one, the clock is ticking for Sri Lanka.
The government also feels that the OHCHR and backers of the UNHRC resolution are prejudiced against it. Also, the government would find it hard to debunk some of the incriminating evidence levelled against its forces, whose conduct during the final phase of the conflict has come under intense international scrutiny. It believes that non-cooperation with the panel would leave it with less trouble.
But, if it cooperates, it could also defend itself against some other spurious allegations; for instance the allegations of deliberate shelling of civilians, an allegation which has gained credence due to excessive propaganda of the LTTE rump and the Eelam lobby. Most of the civilian deaths are collateral damages, which is not unique to Sri Lanka, though the numbers could have been higher because the terrorists had herded civilians into an ever shrinking land.
However, there are some inherent challenges to the government, even if it opts to cooperate. The investigators and the external experts that Pillay has appointed are bleeding heart human rights activists, who may have little idea of the intricacies of modern day terrorists, who have discarded moral barriers and shown hitherto unseen determination in advancing their goals. Human rights are universal, but counter terrorism experts and generals who plan counter terrorist/insurgency operations have a different take on human rights, some of which may have to be suspended during the time of war. Terrorists exploit those rights to attack the very foundation of our society. And the LTTE did that regularly. The government should be able to justify the path it took to wipe out terrorism. Many students of terrorism studies would understand the government’s rationale, but, it is unlikely that Beidas or Cartwright would.
However, there again, the government is handicapped by its conduct after winning the war. To successfully argue for the suppression of rights and use of draconian measures at one point of time, in defence of long term peace and democracy in the country, the government, in the first place, has to revive democratic rights and credentials of the country, which were suppressed during the war.
But, not only did this government fail to do that, it also further militarized the country during the post war period. Instead of reviving democratic traditions, it sacked the former Chief Justice, passed a controversial 18th Amendment, thereby weakening independent institutions and concentrating powers at the hands of the President.
It orchestrated mass crossovers of MPs from the Opposition to the ruling party thereby obtaining a 2/3 majority in Parliament. When those MPs, many of whom have crossed over for pecuniary gains, vote to please their political masters, to call it the will of the people, is sheer bunkum.

Ceylon Today

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