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Lankan McCarthyism?

"SR said that while preparing a programme for ITN, Daya Master himself had told him the names and the amounts paid. Now this was a serious breach of journalistic ethics. If Daya Master had told him something in private, in the context of a professional meeting, this should not have been made public, unless Daya Master’s permission had been to do so. Even a man in custody has rights."
_______________________

By Nalin Swaris

(June 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, his Deputy Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha and Ambassador in Geneva Dayan Jayatilleka performed brilliantly to thwart attempts by some Western nations to drag the Sri Lanka’s President and Defence Establishment before a War Crimes Tribunal. This special session of the Human Rights Council was called solely to pillory a sovereign member state, on not credibly substantiated charges, that the Sri Lankan army had indiscriminately shelled an area packed with hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians and had repeatedly targeted hospitals.

A motion to this effect was tabled by Switzerland and sixteen other nations. In a brilliant manoeuvre, an alternative resolution was tabled by Sri Lanka praising the government for successfully winning its war against terrorism and urging member nations to support its humanitarian effort to provide help and rehabilitation for nearly 300,000 internally displaced Tamil citizens. The Lankan resolution was adopted with an impressive majority of 12 votes. The European were red in the face. Considering the majority of countries that voted with Sri Lanka, one commentator remarked, it was a contest between Asia and the West, which Asia won.

The Crusade is not over

Shedding even a semblance of the impartiality required of her office Navaneetham Pillay (NP), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for "an independent probe into abuses during the country’s war with Tamil separatists" after a majority of the Human Rights Council rebuffed her appeal to that body to do just that. Steven Edwards of Canada’s Calgary Herald reported Pillay’s latest stunt under the headline: "UN Rights Chief ignores vote, seeks probe of Sri Lankan war". This is truly an extraordinary step. "A UN Human Rights Chief wanting to override a decision taken by her own Council – the top body of the Human Rights Commission." After KP, NP has become the most famous anti-Sri Lanka Diaspora Tamil! She is back with the demand of "unfettered access to IDP camps" and "free movement" for those in the camps. This is a repeat of the amendment that Germany attempted to smuggle into the Lankan resolution which was shot down by the Cuban delegate.

Disturbing trends

Patriots like Mahinda Samarasinghe, Dayan Jayatilleka and Rajiva Wijesinha are vigilantly guarding the fort. Their work may not be jeopardized by petty minded men with small axes to grind. It is churlish to cast suspicion on Dayan Jayatilleka for what expressing his opinion on the question of devolution. Is someone to be considered politically unreliable simply he was once an eloquent spokesman for the JVP? Are we seeing the emergence of a Lankan Macarthyism where a few zealots are going to decide who the true patriot is? Lanka’s foes are watching and waiting to pounce. Meting extrajudicial justice will provide more ammunition to those determined to crucify this government. With friends like that who needs enemies?

Readers will recall that the President himself mentioned that some had objected to his appointment of Roshan Goonetileke as Air Force Chief because he was not a Buddhist. The President said he was not swayed by such considerations but appointed Goonetileke as he was the best man for the job. The president has been proved right. A man’s religion or the religion of his spouse cannot be an index of his patriotism.

The government must also keep some of his newshounds at bay. The government’s Sinhala daily Dinamina, editorially denounced Sunanda Deshpariya as a Tiger agent and found Poddala Jayantha guilty by association. Both were fingered in visuals of ITN’s after-news editorial Vimasuma. Are we back in the goni billa days of the late eighties, when a shrouded informer fingered someone as a JVP-er and sent the latter to torture or summary death? An editor must act with the dignity befitting his office and not descend to the level of a rabble rouser ranting night after night.

Sudarmishta patriotism

The entire nation waited with expectation, the daily interviews with Armed Forces Chief hosted by Sudarman Radaliyagoda (SR). They were rather disappointing. What enhances the Army Chief’s heroic stature is that he survived an assassination attempt. Considering that it is coming to light that some army officers have been hired by LTTE, did the suicide killer have inside help? That would have been the best way to begin

A war is won by a series of successful battle field victories. One might have expected that the General would be asked about the brilliant strategies and tactics that were deployed for the various battles and taken the General stage by stage from Mavil Aru through Mutur and Sampur to Thoppigala, Mannar District, Muhamalai, Pooneryn, Paranthan, Elephant Pass, Kilinocchi and the last devastating defeat of the LTTE’s best fighting force in Anandapuram. Since he was not asked, the General on his own explained that he adopted a unique strategy that was not based on military text books ancient or modern, but on years of experience fighting the LTTE. Radaliyagoda failed to further explore the subject. Clearly out of depth, he fished in bora diya - shallow muddied waters. He was ashamed, he said more than once, "of some people in my own profession who I know have been in the LTTE’s pay." SR said that while preparing a programme for ITN, Daya Master himself had told him the names and the amounts paid. Now this was a serious breach of journalistic ethics. If Daya Master had told him something in private, in the context of a professional meeting, this should not have been made public, unless Daya Master’s permission had been to do so. Even a man in custody has rights. Moreover, what Daya Master says remains hear-say. To pass muster in a court of law it would have to be corroborated by other evidence. Above all, Radaliyagoda failed to ask the General about the burning issue of the day, the allegation that the army had indiscriminately used heavy artillery against civilians in the No Fire Zone. The General should have been asked that especially because certain Western countries were planning to bring war crimes charges against him. But Radaliyagoda was more interested in knowing what the General thinks should be done "with those journalists who had worked for the LTTE." Without naming him, the General mentioned a so-called defence expert whose writings distorted facts, depicted the armed forces in bad light and were calculated to demoralize the armed forces. But, he said there are allegations even against army officers. Again, without revealing the name, he said, one officer had been court marshaled. The President had commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. Therefore media zealots should be careful about rushing to judgement. The army had followed due process to determine guilt. The President had been clement and spared the traitor’s life. The place to name, accuse and convict is not the media.

The Air Marshall was to be interviewed on the evening of the day the Human Rights Council met in Geneva. I managed to get Radaliyagoda’s mobile phone number and urged him to ask the Marshall about that UNOSat picture which was used as proof that the No Fire Zone had been bombed by the Air Force. I did so because I felt that Radaliyagoda probably does not do any proper home work. So many of us wanted our fighting men vindicated. I suggested in the most friendly way, he take down some notes about key questions that need to be asked. Radaliyagoda told me he does not take notes to interviews "as a matter of principle". Despite my reminder, he did not ask the Air Marshall about the UNOSat photo. Instead he asked about the LTTE allegation that the Air Force had dropped cluster bombs. Now that was an old hat allegation. Radaliyagoda apparently did not know that even foreign military experts had accepted the Air Force statement that it not only had not used no cluster bombs, but had none its arsenal.

On the evening of Thursday the 4th, Radaliyagoda interviewed Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe on his Tulawa programme. The Minister had returned that morning from a glorious victory in Geneva. Radaliyagoda was totally out of his depth to understand what the minister was saying - the stratagems used by the Europeans and how he and his team had brilliantly Navi-gated around Pillay. To appreciate that, an interviewer must have an educated understanding of diplomatic intrigue: the lobbying, the bribing, the backroom deals that go on behind closed doors of the so called sacrosanct Headquarters of the UN and of its various agencies. Unable to respond to what the Minister was saying, Radaliyagoda looked quite ill at ease this time (body language). So he drifted to his pet topic – "those journalists" who had been in the pay of the LTTE. What should be done? It was utterly stupid to ask this from a Human Rights Minister. Any unguarded statement would have damaged his reputation and stature. The Minister had dealt with trickier questions and would not be would not be drawn into making any pronouncement on the matter.

Interviewing the Armed Force Chiefs and an internationally respected parliamentarian like Samarasinghe demand greater skills than those required for a weekly chit chat pandering to run of the mill politicians.

The next morning Friday 5th, ITN excelled when Minister Samarasinghe, was interviewed by Sanjeewa Edirimanne during the Hathveni Peya - ‘seventh hour’ - Programme. Sanjeewa seems an educated, intelligent looking young man with a pleasant and engaging manner. He is focused, well informed and to the point. It was a wide ranging interview touching on the way, not just the UNHRC but other UN agencies like UNICEF, and even the ICRC and certain Western Ambassadors have behaved. It was a fascinating and informative conversation. Minister Samarasinghe was explaining an important point, when a (planted?) caller popped the ‘big question’ – Sunanda Deshapriya’s presence at the Human Rights Council. Sanjeewa would not be distracted but let the Minister first finish what he was saying. The Minister then addressed the caller’s question: "People can address a UNHRC meeting through an affiliated NGO. They are free to express their views. We cannot stop them." However, views unfavourable to the Lankan government were expressed by bigger wigs than the local upstart. Lanka’s supporters would have been surprised rather than impressed by this joker testifying against his own country, at a Council meeting called for the sole purpose of criminalizing the President and the entire Defence Establishment. It did not affect their vote for Sri Lanka. Of course, the minister remarked somewhat dryly, without mentioning names, some people could make such public displays to get asylum in a ‘friendly’ country. But one may not tar all journalists with the same brush.

The waving of a ‘list’ menacingly, is reminiscent of that joker character in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado – the Lord High Executioner. Strutting the stage with a large axe on a shoulder, he pompously declaims: "I’ve got a little list - I’ve got a little list. They’d none of ‘em be missed - they’d none of ‘em be missed."

If there is such a list as the Editor of this paper wrote (June 3 2009), "the government must name the journalists on the LTTE’s payroll without further delay, if it has evidence to that effect. Its failure to do so will only mean it is propagating a blatant lie to justify a witch hunt against the media."
-Sri Lanka Guardian

3 comments

mahinda said...

It appears that Mr. Swaris wants S.R's Job.

Ranabahu said...

This is not Macarthyism.. We may call it Andareism or Fonsekism or Gotarism. It all means the samething. Any joke is acceptable, to stop opponents. People who are shouting Huras to Ranaviruvo, do not realize how their own freedoms are taken away. No point blaming a TV interviewer. He is just doing what he is told. Blame goes to masterminds who plant these jokes.

Rob said...

The writer does not seem to understand the role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Ms. Pillay is a United Nations officer with the principle responsibility for the UN human rights activities. Her tasks include: “to carry out the task assigned to him/her by competent bodies of the United Nations system in the field of human rights and to make recommendations to them with a view to improving the promotion and protection of human rights; she also is expected to “play an active role in removing of current obstacles and in meeting the challenges to the full realisation of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world, as reflected in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.” While the commissioner works under the direction and authority of the Secretary General, the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council, she has the duty to make recommendations to all these bodies. She is not merely an executive officer of the Human Rights Council. She is selected on the basis of proven commitment to human rights and she has the duty to advise the council. What she did at the session on Sri Lanka was to give her advice on the basis of principles she is bound to uphold. While complying with the Human Rights Council, even when she may not agree with it, she has the right and duty to advise the council of her own independent views.



It is unfortunate that the author referred to her as a Tamil, because whatever her ethnic background she has been entrusted with a duty to perform on the basis of her competence. If a Supreme Court judge who is a Tamil makes a judgement on the basis of relevant principles such a judgement will not be wrong because he is a Tamil. That we have degenerated to the point of looking into people’s ethnic backgrounds when talking about the acts they do officially is a sad reflection of an intellectual degeneration.

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