Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday was prevented from delivering the keynote address at the opening sessions of the Commonwealth Business Council following a raucous demonstration by Sri Lanka Tamil expatriates and human rights activists opposite the venue of the symposium at Mansion House in London. The morning sessions were cancelled by the organisers without giving any specific reasons.
The reasons were all too obvious. An estimated one thousand expatriate Sri Lankan Tamils and human rights activists noisily demonstrated, carrying flags with the ‘tiger’ emblems, displayed effigies of the Sri Lankan President suspended on sticks and burnt one such effigy. BBC TV telecasts indicated a moderate but hysterical crowd that did not warrant the morning sessions to be cancelled. The crowd also demanded that the Sri Lankan President should not be invited to the luncheon at Marlborough House hosted by the Queen in connection with her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Rajapaksa did attend the luncheon for the heads of state of the Commonwealth with his wife.
This is the second occasion on which Mahinda Rajapaksa has been prevented from addressing a respectable audience in Britain by threats posed by Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates, the earlier occasion being an address to the prestigious Oxford Union.
While the prevention of President Rajapaksa addressing audiences in Britain may be a matter of embarrassment to him they are also gross insults to Sri Lanka which should not be tolerated or ignored. Those Sri Lankans who exude patriotism with every breath should demand that the Commonwealth Business Council extend an apology to President Rajapaksa and more importantly to the people of Sri Lanka.
Of course President Rajapaksa, the Foreign Ministry and the Sri Lanka High Commission in London too should be answerable for the second fiasco in which this country was made the laughing stock. Before consent was given by the President to address at the symposium, the British and Commonwealth officials should have been asked whether they could provide sufficient security if the Sri Lankan president made the address.
It is obvious that a very hot reception was being cooked for the Sri Lankan president on his visit. On Tuesday itself Britain’s The Guardian published a report of a Tamil deportee to Sri Lanka from Britain – who had got back to Britain – relating a pathetic story of how the British authorities deported him to Sri Lanka in 2011 saying that there were no dangers awaiting him in his mother country. He had said that soon after his arrival in Lanka he had been arrested, tortured for 17 days. He had been accused of passing information to British officials about previous beatings at the hands of state officials and other human rights abuses to ruin diplomatic relations between the two countries. There was a picture of the young man with severe lashings on his body which he had said was caused by being beaten with an electric wire. The report also referred to a Human Rights Watch report which said that a woman who had been deported to Sri Lanka had managed to make her way back to Britain in 2010. She had said that on being deported to Lanka she had been tortured and raped.
What should be of grave concern to the Rajapaksa regime and all Sri Lankans is that a stage had been reached where even a liberal and a newspaper usually considered impartial such as The Guardian is now accepting these reports without question?
There are reasons for the acceptance of such allegations without verification.
Many grievous mistakes have been made by the Rajapaksa regime in attempting to refute the allegations of human rights violations.
A cardinal mistake has been to rub the Western media on the wrong side.
The most recent example has been the deportation of the sectional head of BBC’s Channel 4 Stuart Congreve and his wife Shirani Sabaratnam (a Sri Lankan Tamil) last week who arrived in Lanka. Congreve had been permitted to enter the country but asked to leave soon after and his wife on arrival had been detained at the airport and sent back to Britain on the next available plane. The reasons for their deportations or ‘being asked to leave’ are not clear but the obvious mistake had been made in that they were apparently issued visas – if not permitted to enter the country – even though they were on the ‘Black List’ of foreigners not permitted to enter the country.
Certainly the very name of Channel 4 being mentioned would have made immigration officials to climb their desks like on seeing a deadly Tarantula creeping out of a bag. But in such situations competent media officials (If there are any in the Rajapaksa cheer squad) should have been consulted and subsequent events ‘played by ear’ as those experienced in the field would say.
Their deportation made another good anti-Sri Lankan story in the entire Western media. The BBC World News tagged it on the story with the embarrassment caused to President Rajapaksa in London. It added on well to their lore of Sri Lanka being not only a killing field but torture chamber as well.
The Rajapaksa regime should realise that most of the allegations made by frustrated LTTE fans are hitting their marks because of the failure of the regime to act on the allegations that have been made. For the past three years the Rajapaksa regime has been attempting to work on alleged violations of human rights like a stubborn schoolboy unwillingly attempting detention exercises after school hours.
On the issue of Tamil grievances, some ministers still ask: Are there Tamil grievances?
On the 13th Amendment the President has pledged to implement it and more – the 13 Plus. But all that waxes and wanes with the full moon.
What of these specific allegations such as investigation into the killing of 18 NGOs in Trincomalee; investigations of the murder and disappearances of innumerable journalists in the north and east and those like Sivaram, Lasantha Wickrematunga and Pradeep Ekneligoda?
Police spokespersons will assure you that investigations are proceeding smoothly. And what of the recommendations of the APC and LLRC? The government has now discovered that the recommendations of the LLRC – its own commission – falls into three categories. So what? When will they be investigated? We are told that the ultimate solution will be Parliamentary Select Committee that appears to be still born. It’s a good mode of passing the buck because a parliament which cannot agree on anything cannot agree in a select committee which will be parliament in a microcosm.
Unfortunately for the Rajapaksas, the world beyond our shores is not inhabited by asses like those in this resplendent isle to whom victory in the ‘war’ is everything. Asses are not taken seriously. All accusations made against them stick.