Turning the Three-Monkey Approach into the National Circus

"The President’s reported outburst at the cabinet meeting is symptomatic of two dominant strands in Sri Lanka’s national discourse of power. First is the kokatath thailaya theory of international conspiracy against the country, where every criticism is represented as an attempt to unfairly tarnish Sri Lanka’s reputation in the service of the LTTE and terrorism, Western double standards and personal financial gain."

By Gongalegodaya

(September 25, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The silent are guilty, the guilty are silent. When the powerful remain mute, their complicity is deafening. The collective blind eye of a regime to the selective violation of the fundamental rights of citizens is its leadership’s surest admission that it benefits from these crimes. The orchestration of silence, and hence the nurturing of impunity on a national scale signals the end of even minimally ethical governance. In such circumstances it is up to individuals within the government and its administration to break this silence on their own account, or forever relinquish the moral high ground.

“President Mahinda Rajapakse, at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting telephoned Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse and asked him to inquire whether Centre for Policy Alternatives Chief Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu was under death threats as revealed in a newspaper notice. The President asked the Defence Secretary to contact Dr. Saravanamuttu and others who had signed this notice to ascertain whether there were such death threats as reported, and if so, from whom. He told the Cabinet yesterday that an international conspiracy in different forms had manifested itself against the government and Sri Lanka today. The President said the newspaper notice carried the signatures of many people representing various organisations and the paper cutting could be used in the international arena as propaganda against the country. He said if there were threats, they should have been taken up with the police and noted that the TNA and Tamil businessmen had met him recently, but there were still elements who were not prepared to tolerate government’s efforts at bringing peace to Sri Lanka.” — Daily Mirror, 17 September 2009.

The Daily Mirror reports that the President had been perturbed by a newspaper advertisement containing a statement signed by many eminent persons expressing concern about the death threat recently received by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu. According to the Daily Mirror the President had contacted his brother, the Defence Secretary, to verify whether this allegation was in fact true.

The President appears unhappy that these signatories had taken this public course of action, since, in his view, the “paper cutting” can be used in international propaganda against the country. According to the newspaper, the President has stated categorically that such threats should be dealt with by the police.

Two important facts emerge immediately from the President’s response as reported in the press. The first and most obvious is that he neither reads the papers regularly, nor is he briefed by his advisors on the key issues of the day.

The death threat

The August 20 threat against Dr. Saravanamuttu was reported in many of the mainstream national dailies, even made it to the international media and has been widely commented on both here and abroad. A simple google search elicited 3500 entries on this subject!

We all know presidents are busy men, and ours especially has miles to go in foreign climes before he sleeps. While he is away on work or otherwise occupied in dealing with the gravest matters of state, his 58 advisors, friends, colleagues, secretaries and support staff do not seem to keep him abreast of what is going on in his backyard, no doubt to shield him from the kinds of unhappiness that this chance reading of the offensive notice has generated. Yet, this combination of isolation and ivory-towerism is deadly.

Second, is the unwavering faith our President has in the police of this country. Let us not dwell on his ignorance that Dr. Saravanamuttu did lodge a complaint with the police; after all even presidents nod every now and then. The point is that he clearly believes that the police can and will get to the bottom of all such complaints and provide satisfaction all round. Which, dear reader is worse, I ask you, blissful ignorance of or wilful blindness to the truth?

International condemnation

The recent extra-judicial activity of “Lanka’s Finest” has appalled even the staunchest supporters of this regime and resulted in international condemnation by human rights groups. So much has been written and spoken about the murders of “criminals” in police custody that even the President cannot claim ignorance; even his aides cannot seriously contemplate shielding him from that unpleasant truth. Yet, he maintains, in the face of such counter-evidence, that we should rely on this police force to seek redress!

No headway has been made to apprehend Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murderers, the abductors and torturers of numerous media persons, or the regular perpetrators of violence whose beneficiary is the current regime. Real and perceived enemies of this dispensation are dealt with summarily, of course, with neither due process nor basic rights even being invoked. There are a number of instances where the survivor of an attack is further victimised by the authorities if she/he persists in seeking justice.

Nothing will be done

Inconvenient human rights defenders and non-kept journalists are threatened and worse with impunity. But, the President is most worried that due process has not been followed, that the police have not been brought in to solve the case. Cynics will say that to depend on the police is to ensure that nothing will be done, no serious investigation will be undertaken. Surely, this cannot be the reason that the President requires that all such incidents become the sole purview of the police?

The President’s reported outburst at the cabinet meeting is symptomatic of two dominant strands in Sri Lanka’s national discourse of power. First is the kokatath thailaya theory of international conspiracy against the country, where every criticism is represented as an attempt to unfairly tarnish Sri Lanka’s reputation in the service of the LTTE and terrorism, Western double standards and personal financial gain.

The President speaks of “an international conspiracy in different forms (that) had manifested itself against the government and Sri Lanka today.” Thus, Gongalegodaya will be accused (found guilty, really) of earning filthy lucre by aiding the Tigers’ terrorism through supporting a Western conspiracy against this hallowed land. A deliberate slippage here is the mis-identification of criticism against the current government with an attack on the country.

To pre-empt whistle-blowing

Closely connected to the first is the second premise, where patriotism is invoked to pre-empt any whistle-blowing or even constructive criticism of the regime in any form whatsoever. Thus Gongalegodaya will be seen not merely as a mercenary selling his soul for a mess of pottage but also as an ungrateful Judas betraying his home. Taken together, this continuous refrain harks back to the President’s claim that there are only two types of citizens – patriots and traitors – and that traitors (defined as those who do not agree with him, no doubt) need to be rooted out of the body politic.

In the report quoted above, the President repeatedly expresses scepticism about the death threat, as if such claims of extra-legal pressure are either non-credible or non-serious in today’s political climate. Nothing can be further from the truth: Sri Lanka is seeing a systematic continuation of the dismantling of the rule of law and due process, justified earlier on the basis of the ongoing war, and now through a mantra of international conspiracy and hidden terrorist forces.

Imaginary assassination plots

Despite the demise of the LTTE, official sources continue to unearth plots to assassinate our political and military leaders, with new discoveries taking place at regular intervals and with a frustrating level of vagueness. The President and his men are aware of the seriousness of these revelations, and national vigilance has not been relaxed one iota.

We even seem to require more troops than before, more stringent security checks, fewer balances. Why then is there such a sharp contrast in attitude when it comes to the manifest intimidation and threats to civil society leaders and human rights defenders in this country?

If he is ignorant of Dr. Saravanamuttu’s death threat or the cause of Lasantha Wickrematunge’s assassination, the President may not want to be aware of the fear and paralysis created by such acts of terror against some of the country’s most eminent citizens; but others in his government cannot claim the luxury of such ignorance.

The deafening silence

Has the deafening silence of the likes of G. L. Peiris, Sarath Amunugama, Tissa Vitharana, Dilan Perera, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Milinda Moragoda been bought by a few baubles and some portfolios? What of the Rajiva Wijesinhas and Lalith Weeratungas too? Do they all agree to see, hear or speak no evil. Is the Presidential model worthy of emulation?

The point is that this paralysis of non-partisan principled elements within civil society is precisely what any undemocratic regime requires to remain unaccountable. Its lackeys and appendages fall over themselves to justify state omissions, excesses and lapses.

And, despite police brutality and violence with impunity, the disappearance/murder of perceived opponents, and the intimidation of independent voices, this government has done nothing at all to reassure the public that any real change of heart has taken place after the war.

If the government as a collective cannot see its way to doing this, the so-called progressives within its fold must raise their individual voices or be roundly judged for the cowards that they have become.

(The writer can be reached at gongalegodaya@hotmail.com)
-Sri Lanka Guardian
Pearl Thevanayagam said...

Sara is a man of integrity.He bows to no politician or sycophant. He may not speak Tamil but he knows when Tamils are vindicated.
Please do not tie his hands. He is soemone who believes in fairplay and justice and he is not afraid to call a spade a spade.
If this tiny island of ours is to flursih as a democracy let us not cast aside what God had put asunder in that Sara is a true son of the soil and not just a drum - beater for those in power.
Peaarl Thevanayagam