ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW : A RESPONSE TO FRIDAY FORUM
| by Gamini Gunawardane
( April 23, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As much as the Friday Forum had articulated their point of view in their article titled “The wise give up the idea of victory and defeat” published in the ‘Sri Lanka Guardian’ of 16th March I believe other mortals who are not in that forum too have room to express their views on some of the matters stated therein. After all, Friday Forum’s could not be the last word on this matter as much as mine could not be either. Hence this attempt.
The LLRC was appointed by the President of this Country to advise HIM on certain matters pertaining to armed conflict that was concluded in mid May 2009, a conflict that raged over 30 years. I believe the LLRC was required, by and large, to analyse the problem and make recommendations that may help preventing recurrence of such a situation and also measures desirable towards reconciliation. They were asked to make recommendations to HIM (President) and not to the UNHRC or to any one else. But the President Rajapaksa presented this report in Parliament. It was not sent to any one else as far we know, not to the UNHRC or to the prime mover of this contentious Resolution, the US government. It is this report that the UNHRC unseen by them that is required to be implemented. How come? It is unlikely that the contents of this Report was studied by those who voted for, abstained or voted against it. Again how come that they exercised their vote on something that they did not know?
In regard to implementation of the
recommendations of the various
Commissions, it has to be accepted
that the record of the various regimes
have not been exemplary as much as
in some other countries.
The LLRC Report was presented in Parliament only in mid November. Notice that this Resolution was to be presented was given, in 2012 February. Why did the countries that voted for the Resolution assume within 3 months, that the President will not be implementing it, when in fact in the same month he had declared that he would implement it? Is it because the Cabinet appointed IAAC for the implementation of the interim recommendations of the LLRC proved to be unproductive? It is for that Committee to explain why they failed in their mission. As far as the government is concerned it is clear that they intended to implement them. Hence on what grounds did the mover of this Resolution and those who voted for it assume that the President’s intention was not to implement it, to think that he needed to be pushed by the UNHRC? If on the other hand, the government had done nothing after at least on year such a push may have had some justification. Then, there is an argument that nothing had happened for 3 years. Government had spent those years taking some important preliminary steps to bring relief to the people who had suffered under this armed conflict which was considered to be of higher priority. The magnitude, speed and results of such moves are to be seen by anyone visiting the Northern and Eastern Provinces and even in Colombo. This is apart from appointing the LRRC to look into longer term issues. I say this in the context of what other countries had done in similar situations like the UK which took over 20 years to deliver the Report on such an inquiry, the manner in which US, the prime mover of this Resolution acted in the case of various allegations that were made against their soldiers fighting, not in their country but those of others!
Incidentally, the Forum in passing says that the LLRC “ report did not meet all our expectations”. It would have been useful to know what those expectations were, in order to see whether those expectations were the same as that of the rest of the country. There had been several other parties including the TNA who had expressed their dissatisfaction with the recommendations for varying reasons. In fact it is learnt that a report submitted by the US State Department to the Congress had even questioned the constitution of the Commissioners of the LLRC itself though of course they had no such problems with the constitution of the members of the Darusman Committee.
In regard to implementation of the recommendations of the various Commissions, it has to be accepted that the record of the various regimes have not been exemplary as much as in some other countries. For instance, the report of Shirani Thilakawardane Commission on the alleged corruption charges on the former Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri was never released by President Rajapaksa saying that it is not in the inertest of state security. This was amidst the fighting. However, recently there was a notification that he is again appointed to head some state organization! President Chandrika Kumaratunga, released the Buddhist Commission Report but never implemented any of its recommendations. President R. Premadasa implemented some of the recommendations of his Youth Commission appointed after the 1988/90 JVP uprising and nearly lost his presidency in an Impeachment motion where some of his MPs supported it because they found that they could not even appoint a peon to an office! Hence at a practical level it is tricky business which calls for a lot of political acumen. Yet on the other hand President Jayawardane promptly implemented the findings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to send Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the political opponents whom he feared most, out of business. His argument was that the Presidential Commission Act left no option to him! In such circumstances the Forum might find some justification in saying that UNHRC needed to push the government with a Resolution despite the UN Charter article 2.7 which forbids the UN from interfering in the internal affairs of any member country.
It is the position of the Forum that Sri Lanka, is accountable to the UNHRC by reason of the fact that she has accepted the UN Charter & and related treaties, and is left with no other option than to implement them .”None of this is seen as interference in our internal affairs or as a violation of our sovereignty”. My position is this. Whatever infirmities there may be in our Constitution, our President is elected to that office by the individual votes of the people of this country unlike Saddam Hussein, Muhammar Quathafi, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or Assad of Syria or some other leaders of some Middle Eastern countries or even unlike the Military Junta of Myanmar. And sovereignty lies with the people. It is inalienable. Thus, it is not to be shared with or subordinated to the UN or UNHRC. Our President therefore he is directly & primarily accountable to the people of this country. If he does not perform to our satisfaction we will deal with him at the next presidential election. Therefore it would mean that the LRRC was appointed for the people. Nobody opposed it. The discretion of implementing its recommendation fully or in part or not at all, is his discretion. He acts in trust reposed on him by the People and not by Some People. Therefore it is only the people of this country who have to decide whether or what part of the recommendations are to be implemented or not. It is a transaction between the President and his people, not with the international community or with its neighbours. We accordingly trust that our President will exercise his discretion responsibly in the matter of implementing or not implementing these recommendations and that he will do it in consultation with the people and be accountable to us primarily.
The Forum statement says “All of us citizens should be concerned regarding the extreme intolerance for differing views that has emerged in the aftermath of the resolution” I thought expression of differing views even aggressively is that mark of a vibrant democracy? The matter concerns every body. So it is natural that even intemperate views will be aired by at least some people who would feel humiliated, in their view. “Any expressions of views that do not support the government position have been highlighted in vicious and intemperate language in the state media as acts of treason.” That the state media is monopolized by the political Party in power at any given time, has become a fact of life in this country, though not at all commendable. But let us not forget there are other media that have boldly taken opposite positions who are still functioning though may be under pressure. There are also news and other websites some of whom are viciously critical of the government and even carry out vicious personal attacks on the presidential clan and others. So this is fair game I believe in Sri Lankan style! Let us not forget that this is a country where the residences of Supreme Court Judges were stoned probably with presidential blessings!
As regards “….those citizens of Sri Lanka who legitimately traveled to Geneva ( with their private funds?) to express a different point of view” being treated harshly by the state media agencies, one could only say that such public spirited people who take up such causes should expect harassment from those who do not agree with their view point. This is not to say that such things are condoned but are natural outcomes in a vibrant democracy caught up in bitter strife. And this is not the first time either. One reads that people like Angarika Dharmapala Thuma, Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda and Col. Olcott encountered similar difficulties when they launched their campaigns going against the prevailing trends. They continued their campaign regardless. To whom could they complain? So this is how life is. Those who swim against the current do have to face difficulties.
The Forum refers to intimidatory speeches made and threats issued by Mervyn Silva, to support their case. We all know that that this man is like a clown in a circus. He brags irresponsibly. Whenever he tried to get into action we have seen what happened to him, for instance at the Rupavahini or at the new Fish Market at Peliyagoda. In fact those individuals who participated in the Geneva deliberations out of their deep conviction have since returned home and are continuing to engage in the same conscientitious work unharmed. Hence one could not be so naïve to regard a clown’s statements to be policy statements of a government. In this country we have had clowns in several governments before this too. In some instances one wondered whether even some party leaders too were clowning!
Let us be realistic. What we have in Sri Lanka is a caricature of a democracy. There is much to be desired in it. But this is how we are handling this yet unfamiliar instrument called ‘democracy’.
The Forum statement goes on to quote the Dhammapada to say “that despite the end of the armed conflict there is a constant obsession with achieving victory and a dominant concern with not being defeated……………This is hardly the path to achieve peace and reconciliation .” Dhammapada quotation reads: ”Victory breeds hatred , the defeated live in pain, happily the wise live giving up the idea of victory and defeat.” It is certainly a great vision to have in mind. The “wise” referred to here are undoubtedly those who have attained Arahanthood and achieved Upekkha or equanimity. We in this instance are talking in terms of more mundane problems arising out of Sammuthi Sacca (conventional truth) where there was a Terrorist problem. Unfortunately we did not have the Buddha who handled the fearsome elephant Nalagiri, through the power of Metta. We being still worldly human beings who did not have the advantage of such powers, had to fight a bitter battle at great cost to put down that vicious Terrorism and have succeeded. Till then we were vilified for not being able to do that in peaceful negotiations while the terrorist avoided it. Hence to feel undefeated is a necessary morale to continue the rest of the journey to peace. It is not practical to put behind what all of us the so called ‘victors’ and the ‘vanquished’ went through for 30 years, in just 3 years. That is why our delegation at Geneva requested the world body to bear with us for some more time to recover from this great trauma that we all suffered.
However having said all that, I do agree with the Forum that, now that the Resolution has been passed by the UNHRC, whether we like it or not, we have a problem in our hands. How do we deal with it without loosing our self respect as a nation? Let us discuss that without loosing our bearings.