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It’s elementary, restore democracy!

[Lakbima News, Sunday, 4 October 2009 21:39 No Comment]

Instead of sending four asinine ministers globe trotting at public expense, with not much hope that they can pull the wool over the eyes of the EU, there is a more direct, straightforward and reliable way to secure the GSP+ preferential protocol. Some practical steps that must be taken forthwith are releasing the Forcibly Detained Persons in the Vanni concentration camps, lifting the Emergency which is now being prolonged using cock-and-bull concocted excuses, and bringing to book the murderers of Lasantha, the Trinco students, and the 17 aid workers. Make no mistake about it; the government can jolly well do all this if only it was so- minded and had the political resolve. There is no way the EU can refuse after such steps even though this will not immediately bring us into line with the written text of the ICCPR. The irreversible nature and moral impact of these actions will be sufficient.

West bashing xenophobes froth that the white-man’s human rights violations are worse than ours – Iraq, Afghanistan, Nazis – and yeah, sure they are worse. “Its not that we do not perpetrate gross violations, it’s just that they, the West, are or have, been worse”. So try getting GSP+ with the ‘we are bad but you are worse’ line of reasoning! Then there are the Casabianca xenophobes – standing on the burning deck and all that – logically consistent even if a bit suicidal: “Tell the white-man to go stuff his GSP. We will never allow anyone to interfere with our sovereignty. If we screw-up our human and democratic rights, that’s our sovereign monarch and our government’s privilege. Let them screw their workers, minorities, or whatever, and leave us free to screw ours”. Let’s leave this delirium aside and get serious.

It’s not the war, stupid!

The core concerns enunciated in the EU Expert Committee’s (EC) adverse report does not all relate to the atrocities of war but rather to the substantive issue of whether we effectively conform to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is surprising and unreasonable that the EC has concluded that Sri Lanka has not effectively implemented all three of the covenants. I agree that we fall far short of the ICCPR and the CAT, but it was only the LTTE that was in violation of the CRC and its elimination has removed the stain of child soldiers from our landscape.

Torture at the hands of the authorities is widespread in Lanka; water-boarding and the Abu Ghraib obscenities are a children’s Christmas party compared to what has been done here in the last two decades. Recalling 1989-91, what do you think of poking a barbed wire up the rectum and slowly turning it till the victim vomits out information, or more likely disinformation? The thing about disinformation is that successions of other victims are then lined up for treatment to vomit more disinformation. None of the tortures and state sponsored murders of 1989-91 are secrets anymore; the media talks about this now and will have the Dutch courage to talk about the closing stages of the war in ten years time.

At the root of our state sponsored atrocities lies the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the State of Emergency. In the last 31 years Lanka has been under emergency rule for all but three and a half years – the brief false dawn was after the 2002 ceasefire. I need to pause and say that by no means can we castigate the present government alone for the permanence of rule by emergency, or the arrogation of power into the hands of an autocratic regime, or the abuse of democratic and human rights. The point relating to GSP+ is that the EU will be looking for improvements and progress in recent years, but on this score the track record is downhill.

I concede that most (but not all) Sinhalese have a different view from mine about how the war should have been brought to a close. I believe that there should have been a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement with the LTTE – oh yes, start screaming “Closet Tiger” as many have done, pointing-out to the white-van driver the road to my hovel. Time will show that I was right, but we can postpone the quarrel between Marxists and chauvinists to another date. Nevertheless, many who dispute this will have no hesitation in granting that there is a grave and spreading threat to democracy. That gives us a common point of departure in advocating the practical steps enumerated in my opening paragraph to secure GSP+, and more important, to protect freedom in this country.

The EU’s Expert Committee has made strong derogatory comments on the judiciary and the criminal justice system, the freedom of the press, and the failure to implement provisions of international covenants to which the country is a signatory; these are portions of the report that have little or no connection with war and ethnic conflict. The report says that “The court system has failed. There are strong indications that it has been politicised. The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is observed to have misused position by putting pressure on judges who have incurred his displeasure”. Those who have read Victor Ivan’s book (no libel action was ever filed!) or have listened to the hair-raising stories many lawyers tell, will think this an understatement.

But the problem is not the ex-CJ, it’s the judicial system. For example this very ex-CJ’s comment that the recent judgement on the P B Jayasundera case is so extraordinary that it could not have happened “anywhere else in the world” is well-founded. And by the way, the culture of toady submission has gone so far that people think that disagreeing with a court verdict and stating that it is bad in law is contempt. Rot! Then are those who agree with the court’s majority in contempt of Justice Tillekewardena?

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