| by Nilantha Ilangamuwa
“They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…” – Hatuey1 (Cuba’s First National Hero)
( February 03, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) It happened 500 years ago in America. On February 2, 1512, Hatuey was tied to a stake at the Spanish camp where he was burned alive. Just before lighting the fire, a priest offered him spiritual comfort, showing him the cross and asking him to accept Jesus and go to heaven. “Are there people like you in heaven?” he asked. “There are many like me in heaven,” answered the priest. Hatuey answered that he wanted nothing to do with a God that would allow such cruelty to be unleashed in his name.2 Hatuey was widely known as the first American freedom fighter. Today what they call a social system is the result that people like Hatuey fought for hundreds of years ago to achieve. There would still be slavery and other inhuman acts dividing the society if there were nor such a genuine rebellion against the tyrant. A tyrant is none other than the manipulator of power. If we use this same context in Sri Lanka where we are celebrating 64th anniversary of Independence from the British Empire we can see nothing other than the abuse of power and the undermining of the freedom of the ordinary people.
Sri Lanka is an illusion of freedom even after eliminating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam3, also known as the Tamil Tiger rebels. One can see that the government is in no mood to find a way forward to a sustainable solution for the structural collapses of the institutions in the Island nation. Even worse is the fact that no one has any idea of how to restore the basic structural formula which can provide a chance for the people to enjoy real independence (freedom) with dignity and self-determination. As the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) mentioned in a statement seven years ago in 2006, just two months after the Tsunami disaster which was cost thousands of lives, “the totalitarian political model, which was established in 1978, was continued by all major political parties in power since then. Under this model of governance, democracy became a façade while all the basic institutions of democracy, such as the parliament, courts, government bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies significantly disintegrated and lost much of their credibility.”4
The cruelty of abusing power has now reached a peak after the introduced of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution by President Mahinda Rajapaksha, which allowed him to stay in power indefinitely and murdered the possibility for any balance of power while buying legislators from the opposition. The AHRC has clearly analysed the 18th Amendment hours after it was passed by Parliament in September 2010. In their statement the AHRC pointed out that: “A nation can be destroyed by the political power of one person. The idea of checks and balances within a presidential system is connected to the placing of limitations on the terms of the presidency.” 5 Furthermore it has described, “When the head of a state has the possibility of remaining in power indefinitely he will interfere with all the other units; the Attorney General’s Department, the courts, the police, the public service and all other independent components of power. All those components that deliver services will be interfered with when one person has unlimited power.” 6 This is what exactly happening in the Country today.
If we are concerned about human rights and freedom in the present situation then what we must clearly realise is that after eliminating the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world, today Sri Lanka has become one of the most ruthless violators of the norms of human freedoms and dignity. The system within Sri Lanka has become the result of the cynical manipulation by the regime which has resulted in the significant collapse of the structure of democratic system. Within this system there is very little space to fight against unjustness. It is in this situation that we are going to celebrate our 64th anniversary of the independence that we received from Britain in 1948. In other words we see an exact framework of the present situation in that the ruler has become the king, and his citizens are none other than his subjects. In this context celebrating independence is switching faces ourselves by the king’s mask. At the end of the day we will achieve nothing but hopelessness and regret.
When we are going into the present actual situation in the Country, we are reminded of a fundamental principal in the writings by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 7 “A man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy.” (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward). There is no choice other than to be happy when the King is in power but another option that we have is to cut our legs to suit the shoes that we are ordered to wear us by the abused power. Another option is to stay away from the ground. In these circumstances there will be thousands of people who are intolerant of the unjust system who will remain silent because of fear. There will be nothing useful in a society when fear is a regular factor which undermines justice and the very basic rights of the people.
In his book entitled, Mao’s Great Famine, Frank Dikotter, noted a core notion of this kind of darkness in the societies where tyrants are in power. According to him, “terror and violence were the foundation of the regime. Terror to be effective, had to be arbitrary and ruthless. It had to be widespread enough to reach everyone but did not have to claim many lives. This principle was well understood. “Kill a chicken to scare the monkey” was a traditional saying.8 In other words we can understand this to mean, punish one to deter a hundred. This is the actual path that governance is walking through today in the Country. Even though after the end of the long term bloody civil war which cost thousands of lives on May 19, 2009; torture, custodial deaths, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing…etc. are very often seen in the country. In Sri Lanka today there are no genuine investigations into crimes and violence. Rather they are either swept under the carpet or presented as eliminating “branded terrorist” outfits or counter terrorism experiences. But what we should realize at this point is that terrorism is not a disease but a symptom. In fact without addressing the core issues of the problems all we have is a smokescreen that defeats any hope for freedom. Perhaps talking about an ethnic crisis is also the same fiction. In fact, there is no such a crisis other than the collapse of the system which is the nation’s real problem faced by every citizen in the country. Investigation is a farce in cynically manipulating society where all institutions are physically appearing, but structurally collapsing and dysfunctional.
The point that the so-called ‘International Community’ is yet to understand is how the situation of the country would change if these institutions had not structurally collapsed and become dysfunctional. Reconciliation is nothing less than a day dream when the system collapses or is run by a tyrannical manipulator who has distanced himself from the rule of law and democracy. Talking about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution or 13th Plus is a kind of funny experience in the Sri Lankan context and that can be used for killing the time and avoid the people’s real feelings of oppression towards the regime. What is the point of talking about the 13th or 13th Plus if the regime is unable to restore standard policing and a judiciary system that can work without political interference? If the country is able to restore the genuine function of those two social institutions then it will lead to very strong anti- corruption mechanism.
In my personal experience there is only one municipal council that functions well even during the war and that was the Jaffna Municipal Council, Northern Province. In our discussion in 2008, the former Jaffna Government Agent K. Ganesh revealed that even though the Municipal Council was functioning he cannot ignore the bitter political interfere and the militant intervention to the administration which is destroying strength of institution.9 In fact most of local government bodies are controlled by paramilitary backed or underworld backed groups who are favour of the Regime. Recently when the Tamil National Alliance led by the R. Sampandan and Tamil Moderate political party led by Veerasingam Ananadasangaree, Tamil United Liberation Font were raised the issue of Iniya Bharathi, who was former Tamil Tigers then later a regional leader of the Government backed militant moment, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puliggal ( TMVP) and now adviser to the President, is the man who responsible for large number human rights violations including extrajudicial killing in the Eastern province, the regime kept silent.
In the speech in Colombo by Mr. S.M. Krishna, Minister of External Affairs, Government of India, pointed out, “I discussed this matter with His Excellency the President this morning. The President assured me that he stands by his commitment to pursuing the 13th Amendment plus approach”10. However a few days later the President of Sri Lanka came across with entirely different idea for the so-called ethnic problem which inspired the Chinese media to become curious about India. In the meeting with newspaper editors of the country the President stated that he never told India that he is going to give land and police power to the provinces. 11 This is a very recent example that provided us real picture of how the political game is played while undermining the structural problems in the Country. The way the International Community is looking at the crisis also indicates pro and con views that can be advantageous for the Regime but not the people.
How can we change this kind of society? It is obvious that without an in-depth understanding about the particular society restoring it is a day dream. When the whitewashers are dreaming for a kind of Arab spring in the country where the ruler is above the law and the paralyzed opposition is suffering from their repulse it is laughable. In his excellent essay written in 1930, entitled Custom and Reform, Mr. Lu Xun12 raised points which are appropriate for all the time. “We must first understand tradition and custom, and have the courage and integrity to look darkness in the face. For unless we see clearly, we cannot make reforms. Mere shouting about the brightness of the future is actually a deception to fool our lazy slaves and our lazy hearers.” 13 Does any international pressure come on Sri Lanka with the understanding of her traditions and customs of the people? Over the last 64 years there have been many political reforms, and the present constitution which is 13 years old has been changed 18 times. Freedom has become an illusion. The future of the nation will be an unexpected miserable fiction.
Today we are not fighting an outside tyrant like what Hatuey did against Spain 500 years ago with the deep knowledge that the tyrant within our society who is above the law. Our main problem is the prevention of justice. The absolute power is robbing us of our belongings, seducing our women, violating our daughters, destroying our children’s future, and eliminated our discipline and health. The cancer of absolute power will lead the country toward another narrow minded blood bath, if we are unable to find a solution. In other words what William Hazlitt noted at the beginning of the 19th century, “Men do not become what by nature they are meant to be, but what society makes them. The generous feelings, and high propensities of the soul are, as it were, shrunk up, seared, violently wrenched, and amputated, to fit us for our intercourse with the world, something in the manner that beggars maim and mutilate their children , to make them fit for their future situation in life.”14 Talking about independence is not enough. This is the time for an informative consciousness of ordinary people in order to motivate them to fight to gain real freedom where everyone is equal and before the law. This is the essential challenge that we have to fight for.
1. Hatuey (died February 2, 1512) was a Taíno Cacique (chief) from the island of Hispaniola who lived in the early sixteenth century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatuey
2. History of Cuba www.historyofcuba.com/history/oriente/hatuey.htm
3. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) , also known as the Tamil Tigers that fought against the State seeking for separated sate which based on North and East of the Sri Lanka. The organization was eliminated by the security Forces of the Sri Lanka in May 2009 after killing its leadership and other top level ground commanders.
4. A statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission on 3rd February, 2006. http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AS-10-2005/?searchterm=Independence%20Day:%20An%20opportunity%20for%20fundamental%20change%20in%20Sri%20Lanka
5. SRI LANKA: The 18th Amendment destroying democracy by manipulation of the democratic process itself http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-189-2010
7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a writer in USSR ( Former Soviet Union).
8. Mao’s Great Famine authored by Frank Dikotter, Chapter 34, Page 292.
9. In his interview with the writer, Jaffna Government Agent (GA), K. Ganesh at the Municipal Council Jaffna, on July, 2008.
10. Indian External Affairs Minister’s remarks at joint media interaction with Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka.
11. Sri Lankan president denies making land, police power deal (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-01/30/c_131382803.htm)
12. Lu Xun, was the pen name of Zhou Shuren (September 25, 1881 – October 19, 1936), one of the major Chinese writers of the 20th century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lu_Xun
13. Lu Xun: A Chinese writer for all times – written by Ruth F. Weiss – Chapter 07 – Page 140
14. William Hazlitt, “Memories of Thomas Holcroft,” in Collection Works, Vol 2. Page 155 , quoted by Chris Hedges in his book, Empire of Illusion – Chapter 03 – page 108
( The article originally appeared at the Asian Human Rights Commission’s web site )