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Deportation of Bob Rae

Some fundamental questions for the future of minorities and the erasure of democracy

A statement issued by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Sri Lanka

(June 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The recent denial of entry of Canadian Parliamentarian Bob Rae, a long time champion of democracy, requires particular attention by those who care about the future of Sri Lanka. His deportation reflects the paradox of continuing internal repression and unhealthy xenophobia despite the end of the war. It reflects a mindset that bodes ill for the minorities and the democratic rights of Sinhalese. It is a government that wants everyone else to conform to its own agenda and is hostile to discussion of any kind based on rights.

In our recent report, released on the 10th June 2009, we highlighted the character of present government and its leadership, which is using the euphoria following the military success to end the war to promote a majoritarian agenda with increasing authoritarianism. If this trend is not challenged, after so many years of war and end of the military conflict, the country is going to be hijacked by those who will continue to impose an agenda which is inimical to the long term interest of the country. The UTHR(J) has experienced and challenged the negative aspects of narrow Tamil nationalism, which allowed the rise of LTTE and its ability to paralyse the community due to its internal terror and created an illusion among the Tamil community based on its military success and failed unify the people with a broader vision.

Many people from the all the different communities hoped that end of the war will allow the goodwill of the people to come to the forefront. They hoped that reconciliation and reconstruction will take place in the context of a just political process. It could be a time to bring about democratic governance and accountability and an end to the culture of impunity. But during the last stages of the war and thereafter, the bankruptcy of the political leadership and an attitude of imposing a majoratarian agenda is becoming clear. The dominant section of the government is showing utter contempt for the emergence of a Tamil democratic culture and is only interested in those armed elements within Tamil community that are willing to toe the ruling SLFP’s narrow interest. It is in that context that the denial of entry of Bob Rae clearly shows the mindset of the present government and those who controls its decision making.

When entry is barred to a Canadian parliamentarian, a former premier of Ontario and one of the leading figures in the Opposition Liberal Party after being granted a visa with the full knowledge of its purpose by Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canada, it is much more than a gaffe. It reflects the atrocious diplomacy into which the country is being driven by a clique that is usurping the due functions of other arms of the state.

How different sections of the state acted tells its own story. Daya Perera PC, High Commissioner in Canada was frankly apologetic. Controller of Immigration P.B. Abeykoon told the Daily Mirror, ‘We denied him entry to Sri Lanka and detained him after State intelligence services warned that Mr. Rae’s visit was not suitable’ indicating that he was taking instructions from the Defence Ministry. Someone at the Mirror tried to be clever by inserting a box item comparing Rae’s deportation to that of Charles de Gaulle from Canada in 1967 after his expression of support for Québec separatism. The state-owned Daily News in saying Rae was involved in pro-LTTE political activities in his home country, was repeating parrot-like something about which it knew nothing. The Island simply described him as an LTTE-supporting Canadian MP.

The Army spokesman as reported on its web site said not only that Rae ‘relentlessly supported Tiger terrorists and their supporters in Canada’, but went on to put words into the mouth of poor Mr. Abeykoon: ‘He was held by Immigration and Emigration authorities at the airport on charges of aiding and abetting terrorism while working against the interests of Sri Lanka.’ The related Defence Ministry web site was strangely silent or had on second thoughts taken down its posting. It is clear where the action came from.

To begin we set the record straight. Far from being a supporter of the LTTE, Bob Rae played an important role in helping Tamil dissidents in Canada to find their voice. It was owing to active moral support from people like him, that the LTTE’s monopoly over the lives of Tamils in Toronto began to crack in 2004. In December 2004 he chaired a Human Rights Watch meeting in Toronto launching a report looking into the LTTE’s recruitment of children. It was his commitment to Tamil children that led him to take a strong stand on the child soldier issue even as pro-LTTE activists attempted to disrupt the meeting.

Bob Rae was firmly on the side of human rights, a committed opponent of violations by the LTTE and its conscription of children. Like most Tamil dissidents and many enlightened Sinhalese he supported a federal political settlement in Lanka and at no time supported separatism in Lanka.

It is a sad comment of the section of the elite in Lanka close to the President, that once the Government started on a no-holds-barred military course, they became nervous about any criticism of violations by the government forces and by minions of the Defence Ministry. Any criticism was branded as support for terrorism and hence for the LTTE. This was the route by which Bob Rae is being labeled a Tiger supporter in the minds of this clique.

The quality of intelligence on which the Defence Ministry deemed Bob Rae an LTTE supporter raises a very fundamental question. Beginning with the killing of five students on the Trincomalee sea front in January 2006 through the thousands of extra-judicial murders over which the Defence Ministry presided were based on the premise that the victims were LTTE supporters. These were culpable acts based on the intelligence of paranoid minds and cry for a thorough investigation that will never come from the Sri Lankan Police.

For the Press too there are some fundamental questions. This government has assaulted, threatened and killed persons in the media who refused to feed off their trough. It is hard for anyone to work under these conditions and keep their sanity. They know there would always be the next incident where a tragedy would befall a journalist whose understanding of patriotism does not conform to the norms set by those in the top rungs of the Defence Ministry. They must constantly worry about crossing the line unawares. Playing safe imposes a conformity into which people slip in unawares. That is what the LTTE relied on. Its effect in the South is reflected in how even the independent media have covered Bob Rae’s deportation. One day perhaps, they would understand that Bob Rae was their friend and a true friend of Lanka.

Bob Rae’s deportation is reflective of the arbitrary abuse of power, the clamp down on dissent and lack of space for dialogue within Sri Lanka. Such openness is particularly necessary for peace and reconciliation, and this attack along with recent attacks on journalists critical of the military and the relentless abductions are reflective of a continuing war mentality of the military establishment. Over the last twenty years we have documented the deterioration of the Sri Lankan state and its various institutions. Such deterioration was in many ways a consequence of the overwhelming role of the military leadership in the affairs of both state and society. At the current moment, the President in continuing to give unwarranted licence for his brother, the Defence Secretary and the military establishment, is undermining the international goodwill that is necessary for Sri Lanka to rebuild and more importantly inhibiting the ability for ordinary people to begin democratic life having suffered the onslaught of the war.

It is high time the Government, the President, the ruling SLFP and the other political parties stop deferring to the military leadership. The rank and file and many of the high ranking officers over the decades have shown considerable professionalism in the face of politicisation. The people of Sri Lanka have a strong democratic ethos. Now, democracy should roll in the entire country. To delay movement towards peace and reconciliation due to the personal whims and ambitions of the Defence Secretary and the military establishment would be a historic blunder.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

3 comments

Chaminda said...

Mr Bob Rae, can start by helping Sri Lankans living in Canada from LTTE terrorist intimidation, if he really wants to help us.

Alternative he can always catch a flight to Iraq or Afghanistan or even better, fly to Guantanomo Bay and speak for the rights of Muslims incarcerated by the Western powers against all forms of Human decency.

Well BOB? I thought not! This is called Whiteman’s hypocrisy.

kahagalle said...

The thoughts of the writer is one sided. Bob Rae has not been a champion of democracy, but a political turn coat for his own agenda. Once a prominent NDP member who went on to form a government in the most prominent provincial parliament in Canada, just left that party to seek leadership in a bigger party for his narrow political agenda. However, after becoming a Federal MP in that party, he became more vocal on the Tamil issues, but his perspective had been Tamil Diaspora. He only wanted to win his Federal parliamentary seat somehow, and he became a mouth piece to LTTE. He undertook all his Sri Lankan trips at the invitation by the LTTE and paid for by the Tamils in Canada.
He was claiming that he had done more than 10 trips to Sri Lanka and had widely travelled in LTTE controlled area. Did he ever come back to Canada and alerted the authorities what he saw by this group collecting huge amounts of weapons? Did not he see the people living in LTTE controlled area was not given a reasonable chance to survive? Did not he see what is happening to 300 odd million dollars collected by the Tamil Diaspora? Did not he see the life style of some of the LTTE fundraisers in Canada, including the 100 odd Markham millionaires? If he did not know all this he is not worthy of meddling in this dispute.

Sri Lankan said...

Bob Rae should be denied entry. He is obviously interested in supporting the terrorists. Matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he is in Sri Lanka only to make a scene and get some votes his constituencies.

Thank god we have leaders like Gotabhaya and of course Chandrasiri

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