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Friday, June 14, 2024

The lies need to stop, at least now

Kishali Pinto Jayawardene 
The continued shrill beating of the nationalist drum in regard to the resolution tabled this week before the United Nations Human Rights Council by the United States of America, calling on Sri Lanka to set a time frame for the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), is stupendously counterproductive.

Interjection of local politics into international diplomacy

So indeed is the unwise framing of the ongoing diplomatic event as a ‘battle’ or a ‘war’, which is what we are hearing from Sri Lanka’s mission in Geneva, as its representatives abandon even the façade of diplomatic niceties on the one hand while scurrying around for favourable votes on the other. Meanwhile, taxpaying citizens back at home foot the bills of a massive delegation which includes quarrelling ministers and their hangers-on, those desperately trying to sustain political favours by lying through their teeth and those simply there for the entertainment.  

This is crude strategy of the worst kind. First, whether we like it or not, the interjection of local politics into international diplomacy in such rude posturing only lumps Sri Lanka into the same category as Sudan and Somalia for example, which classification is becoming far too common for comfort now.

This is a sad reality for a country which once had well seasoned diplomats of the likes of a Lakshman Kadirgamar and a Neville Kanekaratne.

Fiery rhetoric in regard to the double standards of the US in pursuing accountability for Sri Lanka while ignoring its own record elsewhere is excellent domestic soap box theatrics but is this all that we have to offer? Certainly, our sword swinging ‘diplomats ‘are only playing into the hands of the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora and increasing the general opprobrium which is visited on us.

Worsening of situation since the LLRC report

Secondly, the ratcheting up of pressure on Sri Lanka, when matters could have been more calmly dealt with, can only rebound negatively on us if not now, then inevitably later. Would all this have come about if the Rajapaksa Presidency had implemented the interim recommendations of the LLRC? Or, if the Rule of Law had been demonstrably restored at least since the release of the LLRC report?

Instead, what do we have? Abductions, enforced disappearances and intimidation of ordinary citizens as well as media personnel continues unabated to the extent that an individual was abducted recently from court premises, which is truly unprecedented. Political thugs run merry over the whole of the land with the seeming blessings of the administration. The latest victims are a mother and a daughter from Kahawatte whose deaths had occurred allegedly with the involvement of a Pradeshiya Sabha member who is also a coordinating secretary to a minister. Police inaction in arresting those responsible was powerfully manifest and even after angry public reaction this week prompted some arrests, the local level politician was thereafter reportedly released.

So we look forward now with bated breath for the court case, in much the same way as we await the wheels of Sri Lankan justice to turn in regard to the Christmas Day rape of a tourist and the murder of her partner by another local level politician with an AK-47 in his hand. The LLRC’s strong suggestion that these gun toting bandits be disarmed has been nonchalantly shrugged off by this government. And we are supposed to believe its sincerity when it swears in Geneva that it would implement the LLRC’s recommendations? Enough is enough.

Mere pronouncements contested by actual practice

Yet, the lies do not stop. This week, we are informed through newspaper reports that Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister, himself a lawyer, had magnanimously proclaimed in Geneva that the Attorney General does not appear any more for perpetrators of torture. But what of appearances marked by state law officers at the initial stage in fundamental rights applications before the Supreme Court with the intention of contesting the allegation of torture in trying to prevent leave to proceed being granted in the first instance? This contradiction of an apparent policy in actual practice should be meticulously observed and documented with relevant journal entries as an example of outright chicanery. It is, of course, not the first time that state law ‘policy’ regarding torture has been contradicted by practice but that is a long discussion which belongs in a different forum.               

Meanwhile we are informed by a former Attorney General again in Geneva, (at this rate, we would be hearing more of ‘apparent’ state policies from Geneva rather than from Colombo), not only that fresh investigations and prosecutions would be initiated into the two instances of extrajudicial killings in Trincomalee and Mutur in 2006 but also that a long pending Witness Protection Bill, would be implemented.  Yet, this statement raises more questions than it answers.

As regards the 2006 extrajudicial killings, it seems that the Government of Sri Lanka believes that those whom it is addressing are fools or idiots, to put the matter bluntly. Two and a half months have lapsed since the LLRC findings were made public but the report of the Udalagama Commission which comprehensively examined these two cases, as acknowledged in the LLRC report, has not been publicly released.  In the absence thereof of minimum evidence of bona fides, what is this talk of fresh investigations? These are antics best left for domestic consumption.

Enough of rhetoric and useless laws

Further, as far as the Witness Protection Bill is concerned, are we to expect a draft to be speedily passed by our ‘actively interested’ legislators purely for the sake of saying that we now have such a law?

We have many such examples to our discredit, one of the most obvious being the grandly titled International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act (2007). This useless law merely occupies space in our statute books. It lacks even the securing of the right to life, even though this right underpins the very Covenant which the local law was supposed to give effect to. These questions are relevant regarding the Witness Protection Bill since the latest public draft in 2008 contained serious flaws including the lack of independence of its Protection Division despite an explicit recommendation to that effect by the Supreme Court. Enacting a law of this nature would be as useless as the ICCPR Act.

So far, the Government of Sri Lanka missed a classic golden opportunity in deftly turning the tables on its determined tormentors and focusing singlehandedly on implementing the recommendations of its own ‘home grown’ commission, of which it was once proudly heard to boast. Who is to be held accountable for such colossal ineptitude?

At least now, this administration must abandon its disastrous and dishonest policies. And most importantly, the lies in Geneva must stop.  


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