Broad mobilization against dictators
The mobilization of international opinion in Geneva in the shape of 32 governments (24 ayes and 8 abstentions) to decry human rights violations in Sri Lanka was a significant step forward. However, governments are less important than internationalism in the broader sense of the term, or rather governments are but the mouthpieces of the intensity of pressure that their citizenry exert on them. The capitulation of Delhi to Tamil Nadu, forcing it to vote in favour of the resolution, is a stark example. Breaking the back of the military in Burma, parting the clouds for Suu Kyi’s star to rise, is another splendid example of the effectiveness of international pressure. When Assad is finally driven out, or strung up from a lamppost in Damascus, the victory, while not in any way eclipsing the heroic struggle of the Syrian people, will also in some measure, be thanks to sustained international support.
Democracy therefore is an international imperative; nations in the throes of a life and death struggle against repression, dictatorship or fascism (I speak not only of Sri Lanka but also Syria, Burma, the success stories of the Arab Spring, and African countries which flip between coups and democratic restitution) need all round international support, and I mean all round. I do not mean all round in the sense of more governments, though that is important (such as breaking the obduracy of the Chinese and Russian autocrats in respect of Syria); I mean all round in a more fundamental way. Democracy all over the world needs succour from peoples’ organizations of all complexions all over the world – international trade union federations, churches and religious bodies, combines such as the Arab League and ASEAN in addition to UN bodies, federations of journalists, and of course the human rights agencies. In the case of Lanka there are two other specific sources of external support of overarching importance – the people of India and the non-LTTE-rump Tamil diaspora.
There are many examples to prove that broad internationalism, in the sense of global civil society (civil society does not mean NGOs, that is a recent perversion of the term, it means all the institutions between the state and the private domain of the family – churches, learned societies, trade unions and public interest groups), is the key to sustained support. The Obama administration was reluctant at first to throw its support behind the Egyptian revolution; American public opinion right across the board forced its hand. Unions, pro-left and pro-rights groups and churches all across the world can claim credit, almost exclusively, for the boycott campaign that brought down the apartheid monster in South Africa. Certainly without the campaigns of the Tamil diaspora whose influence penetrated through the grassroots of the British Labour Party, US Democrats, Norwegian political and rights groups and similar networks throughout Europe, the nose of the Rajapaksa regime would not have been bloodied in Geneva.
There are also two counter examples one can adduce from the negative side to confirm the importance of civil society intervention; the Obama Administration buckling on anything relating to Israel, and the dumfounding obstinacy of Chinese and Russian autocrats in supporting monsters like Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad. I believe that Obama in his heart of hearts is about as much convinced about defending every act of commission and omission of the Jewish state as Colvin R. de Silva was convinced of the unitary state or Sinhala Only. They both played a power game, an electoral game. Obama dare not antagonize the pro-Israel lobby in the US on pain of losing the presidential elections. Plainly there exist no civil society movements in the US to match this lobby’s influence or to campaign for a just US-Middle East policy. This proves my point from the negative side; QED.
China is an even easier case. There is no independent civil society in China – matter closed! Nobody except a recent eruption of netizens, now hunted like dogs by state and party authorities, dare question the official line on any matter. The official line on Gaddafi, Assad, the Burmese gorillas and the Rajapaksas is gospel. Take one telling example. Not in all my travels, in academic circles, or among my numerous mainland Chinese graduate students, have I met one, no not one, who thought that Taiwan independence had any merit. I am quite lukewarm on the matter myself, but that’s beside the point. Merely by the law of random numbers there should be some people on the Chinese mainland who think it’s a good idea (the pro-Independence side in Taiwan is quite large and enlists the loyalty of about half the population).
There are plenty of people in Israel who oppose its government’s policies on the Palestinian issue; plenty of Americans who reject unconditional American support for Israel, or in the past, for various dictators; many Sinhalese reject chauvinism. But autocratic states crush civil society; this in turn scuttles democracy at home and abroad, thus closing a loop of vicious evil. Once again the case is proved, from the negative side.
International mobilization against Lanka’s white-van state
The UNHRC has sternly called the Lankan regime to order and warned it to stop human-rights violations. The white vans have thumbed their noses at the rest of the world and told everyone to go to hell. According to a reliable website there have been 56 abductions in the last six months, 29 of them in February and March. Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle of the JVP dissident faction disappeared on April 6, 2012; activists Lalith Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganandan were abducted on December 9, 2011 in Jaffna and have not been seen or heard from since. The prime suspect is the state which was fearful of the inroads the movement was making by promoting collaboration of Sinhalese and Tamil youth and its campaign against human rights abuses by the regime. You do not need a degree in rocket science to see why, in the public mind, the state is the prime suspect after Dimuthu’s press conference and Premakumar’s deportation.
Lanka’s trade unions have excellent worldwide connections; many are members of giant international federations. Our churches have connections and influence all over the world. Most important is the ability of Lanka’s intellectual classes to find resonance in India. Don’t discount the influence of the non-LTTE-rump Tamil diaspora which can mobilize global support. Every one of these avenues must be used to the full to salvage basic democracy in Lanka. The last named must recognize the significance of this moment; you can’t have Tamil rights unless you save the rudiments of democracy first. Will a fascist state in Colombo grant devolution, let alone self-determination, to the Tamils? It is not enough to mobilize the populace at home to stand against the rising threat of incipient fascism;