Best way to communicate to the world that Sri Lanka is serious about its obligations is to replace Gothabaya Rajapakse
Dushy Ranetunge in London
This week, the UNSG advisory report, unfortunately and disparagingly referred to in Sri Lanka as the “Darusman” Report was formally sent to the UNHRC.
The consequences for Sri Lanka are enormous, as it struggles to put behind it the events leading up to May 2009.
The UNHRC will have to decide what action that it will take after considering the report and Sri Lanka’s representations. In recent months the UNHRC has ordered international investigations into Libya and Syria.
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addressed the UNHRC earlier this week. His speech in defence of Sri Lanka consisted of the following words “candid, holistic, our commitment to human rights is second to none, pluralism and equality, universality, transparency, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights in a fair and equal manner, elimination of double standards and politicization.”
While Sri Lankan’s may perceive this to be a robust defense, from outside Sri Lanka, it sounded as being hollow words, just words, too little too late.
Sri Lanka has placed all their eggs in the LLRC basket. They are telling the world to wait for the LLRC report, expected to be released in November 2011.
The International community is not holding their breath, as it has already been dismissed by Human Rights organizations as lacking the mandate and the credibility deal with the task at hand.
It is now too late for words.
The Rajapakse regime has been ducking and diving for too long and as a result lost all credibility before the world.
Perhaps may be in a different era, during Kadirgamar’s time, words would have carried weight, and Sri Lanka would have had the credibility to deliver such words with confidence. Then there was some balance, a quality of governance close to the middle path.
But today Sri Lanka has veered away from the middle path and is espousing a mind set rooted in fundamentalism of the middle ages.
Today it is “you are with us or you are against us” as declared by George W Bush and Gothabaya Rajapakse, or as the President Rajapakse says “those who love Sri Lanka or those who don’t.”
It is a Presidency that is advocating a polarized fundamentalist position.
The origins of this thinking could be traced to Jesus Christ – “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad”, Lenin – “each man must choose between joining our side or the other side”, Benito Mussolini – “O con noi o contro di noi” (You’re either with us or against us), Hillary Clinton – “Every nation has to either be with us, or against us” and of course George W Bush – “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”.
With this mindset is the politics of branding the opposition as “traitors”, as used by Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe and of course Adolf Hitler.
Where does Buddha’s “middle path” stand in this polarized mindset?
The Presidency of George W Bush, with the “your with us or you are against us” mind set attracted the same censure from human rights groups that the Rajapakse regime is attracting today, although many Sri Lankans are unaware of this.
In time, the fundamentalism of the Bush Presidency was replaced by the middle path of the Obama Presidency, who reversed many of Bushes more controversial actions. No sooner had Obama come to power a team advisers drew up a list of over 200 of Bushes actions and executive orders to be reversed.
Sri Lanka needs to put behind it the events leading up to May 2009 and move forward.
To do this it needs to regain its lost credibility, by moving away from the fundamentalist polarised mind set of “you are with us or you are against us” and “those who love Sri Lanka and those who don’t” to one of the middle path.
Unfortunately this would require a change of key personnel and thinking, which seems unlikely given the relationships and the personalities involved.
In the absence of such review and change, Sri Lanka’s ability to put behind it the events leading up to May 2009 will remain a challenge.
While this would continue to weaken and isolate Sri Lanka internationally, “you are with us or you are against us” polarised mind set will also introduce domestic instability and increase political risk, jeopardising economic prospects for Sri Lanka. Already there have been warnings about political risk in the Sri Lankan business press.
May 2009 presented a golden window of opportunity for Sri Lanka to unleash the shackles that had held it back for decades and move forward to a different era of prosperity reconciled with its minorities.
To achieve this after so much war and misery, we needed a gentle healer of the nation with the qualities of Nelson Mandela, with the focus on a “rainbow nation” and “the middle path”.
Unfortunately, the middle path has been abandoned and a polarised “you are with us or you are against us” mindset has prevailed.
To achieve the vision of “you are with us or you are against us” public institutions have been diluted and compromised.
A good example is the Foreign Service.
Military officers and “favourites” of the regime, many with GCE A/L qualifications have been posted to our Embassies abroad as senior officials.
In some countries, War crimes charges have been filed, or are in the process of being filed against some of these appointees, and one “General” has hurriedly and embarrassingly been recalled from Europe this month, less than two years after his appointment.
If the logic of the regime of appointing military officers to foreign embassies is followed by our five star hotels they will have to promote all the good cooks to the front office reception, on the premise that if they could cook well, they should be good receptionists.
It was obvious that the screws were going to be turned in Geneva.
It was obvious that our previous “Rottweiler” diplomacy was flawed. The celebrations of our previous “hero” of Geneva was premature and foolish. Even then, our more seasoned diplomats sounded a warning.
One of our most respected ex-diplomats H. M. G. S. Palihakkara stated, “Sri Lankan governments, and the political parties, had shown a failure of leadership and that therefore “external prescriptions become inevitable” with the country facing intense international attention.”
“diplomacy was not a “zero sum game of cultivating one or one set of friends at the expense of another”. Instead, it was about seeking common ground.”
It is not that we don’t have the ability for good diplomacy. It is simply that the regimes mindset has veered from the middle path and as a result they are acknowledging good diplomacy as being bad.
For those with the polarised mind set of “eelam or nothing” or “you are with us or you are against us” and the politics of “traitor” the prescription of Palihakkara would have been bitter.
After this week’s debacle in Geneva, we hear that a national action plan for human rights has been approved. These are again empty words, which have no credibility and we cruise towards the inevitable in March 2012 at the UNHRC.
The inevitability is because this regime is trapped in its own actions. With international allegations of war crimes and Fonseka locked up in Welikada, the regime needs to win every election in sight. As long as it is in power, it can claim sovereign immunity.
If it falters, it risks losing sovereign immunity and with it the prospect of prosecutions for its aberrations.
The war was conducted well for most part. No one is finding fault with the war on terror or the defeat of the LTTE.
Sri Lanka needs to put behind it, the last weeks of May 2009.
To do this, it needs to demonstrate to the world that it is serious in its commitments to human rights and its international legal obligations.
Words will no longer suffice.
A clear signal needs to be sent, of Sri Lanka’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
The best way to communicate to the world that Sri Lanka is serious about its obligations is to replace Gothabaya Rajapakse, the defence secretary of Sri Lanka.
As George W Bush (you are with us or you are against us) was replaced with Obama (Yes, we can), Sri Lanka needs to replace Gothabaya (you are with us or you are against us) with someone who returns the republic towards the middle path by moderating the military footprint on the island, especially in the North and replacing it with a Tamil police force.
Gothabaya Rajapakse is a wartime Defence Secretary. His contribution to the republic is considerable.
His recent interview to an Indian news channel in answering questions of rape exposed the weaknesses of the “you are with us or you are against us” mind frame.
The Indian TV channel was clearly, “against us”. Most of India is beginning to turn this way.
There are reports that a Buddhist mob had demolished a mosque in Anuradhapura earlier this month, and there are photographs of a Buddhist monk burning an Islamic flag. The photographs show a large police contingent standing by, while this was happening. The failure of the government to prevent such incidences and address them by swiftly arresting those involved sends the wrong signal to the Islamic countries whose support we are seeking at the UNHRC.
Such incidences indicate that the dominant tribe has seized the state apparatus and that the security and property of minorities are compromised. LTTE supporters are saying that if the LTTE were around, this incident would not have taken place.
The incidents with regards to the “grease” yaka’s have further damaged the credibility of the security services in the eyes of the population, especially the minorities.
We now need a peace time Defence Secretary with a different mind frame, who will review all security related legislation as requested by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
As Robert Blake says, we must engage positively and constructively with the Human Rights commissioner and her office with a view to address the issues without branding them all as some Tiger conspiracy against Sri Lanka.
When Sarath Fonseka made a statement that Sri Lanka is a “Sinhala” country to a Canadian newspaper, he should have been replaced immediately, as such a statement by our army commander sent out the wrong message to the world, and undermined the very foundations of our multi cultural republic.
No army commander of a multi cultural democratic republic would have survived such a statement. But ours did.
Later the administration would have regretted for not taking action against Fonseka at the time.
Today, in this late hour, Sri Lanka needs to send out a strong message to the world, that it is serious in its obligations towards human rights and is taking drastic steps to self correct the situation.
If we don’t, as Palihakkara said, “external prescriptions become inevitable”.