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The Sovereign Right to Impunity

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants...” - Camus (Resistance, Rebellion and Death)

(August 08, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) After a lull, the onslaught on the media has resumed. “We need to maintain emergency laws to ensure the safety and security of the nation” the Prime Minister informed the parliament, days after the slash and burn attack on the ‘Siyatha’ office, located in a downtown Colombo high security zone. The PM also announced that more than 1,500 Tiger suspects were arrested, post-war, even as the police claimed to be ‘clueless’ about the identity of the Siyatha attackers. When, in a country which accords absolute primacy to security and is spectacularly successful in apprehending Tigers, a media office in close proximity to the presidential abode is attacked, only one of two explanations are possible: either the authorities are criminally incompetent or they are criminally complicit.

Post-war, Sri Lanka’s defence expenditure remains stratospherical; a host of repressive legislations are still in place and the humiliatingly discriminatory practice of registering Tamils has resumed – in name of security. And yet, deputy ministers tie public officials to trees in the West; mysterious attackers bulldoze temples and dispossess Sinhala villagers in the East, to make way for tourist hotels; and displaced Northern Tamils returning to their ancestral lands are expelled, to build cantonments. Behind a façade of democracy, impunity is ravaging post-war Sri Lanka.

Impunity is a cancer, which cannot be localised to one group or region. Impunity is invasive and pervasive, and victimises even its one time practitioner-beneficiaries, as the fate of Gen. Fonseka demonstrates. The Rajapakses became habitués of impunity during the war and their appetite for it remains undiminished, Post-war. Only the congenitally purblind can believe that 15 armed men can wreak mayhem in an office located cheek by jowl with check points, and vanish, without official sanction. Moreover, the Siyatha attack bears a striking resemblance to other outbursts of lawlessness targeting Rajapakse critics, such as the armed assault on Sirisa office and the assassination of Lasantha Wickramatunga. In each instance, ubiquitous and stringent security measures did not hinder the perpetrators from fulfilling their gory mission and leaving unscathed.

Impunity, which took root during the Eelam War behind the twin myths of humanitarian offensive and zero-civilian casualties, is spreading nation-wide. It is evident in the obnoxiously jejune conduct of Mervyn Silva (who summoned the media to witness him tying a public official to a tree), the Siyatha attack, the bulldozing of the Sambodhi Viharaya in Arugambe and the dispossessing of Ragamwela villagers. The insolently nonchalant comportment of the perpetrators could not but result from an absolute belief in impunity, sourced in the certitude that law-enforces will not impede their lawless conduct.

National Sovereignty and Rajapakse Sovereignty

In a society of onlookers, justice is a scarce commodity. Tamil society permitted the Tigers to perpetrate outrage after outrage in the name of national liberation, until aberrations became the new norm, turning such civilisational crimes as child conscription into accepted practices. A similar process of self-debasement is underway in Sri Lanka. Mervyn Silva tied a public official to a tree in full public view. But, apart from a couple of courageous officials (who were promptly threatened by the rampaging politico), no one protested. If a public official is in dereliction of duty, he should be dealt with legally; with Mr. Silva’s act, another dangerous precedent has been set and one more notch in the downward spiral towards a state of lawlessness passed.

Hell hath no fury like a Rajapakse scorned, as the witch hunt against Gen. Fonseka and his intimates demonstrates. Siyatha belongs to erstwhile Rajapakse allies, who fell foul of the Ruling Family when, in the limited realignment of the Lankan polity consequent to the Rajapakse-Fonseka split, they opted for Candidate Fonseka. The timing of the attack is as significant as its target. Post-elections, the regime focused on getting the IMF loan reactivated, blocking the UN panel and regaining the GSP+ facility. The first object was achieved through a budget a la economic neo-liberalism prepared under IMF tutelage. The second and third objects failed, despite isolated acts of political liberalisation (repealing some emergency measures) and a degree of self-restraint (no major attacks on the media since the disappearance of Preageeth Eknaligoda). Now that the Advisory Council is on and the GSP+ facility is lost, external compulsions towards moderation have evaporated and the Siyatha attack may be followed by other acts of violent intolerance.

Had a clear line of demarcation been drawn between Tiger interests and Tamil interests, early on, the subsequent debasement of the Tamil struggle could have been prevented. Post-war, we need to prevent national sovereignty from becoming a cover for Rajapakse impunity. The process of international de-legitimisation Sri Lanka is experiencing currently is caused not by a necessary fidelity to national interests but by a damaging insistence on Rajapakse interests. International pressure which advocates the implementation of the 17th Amendment and citizens’ rights are not inimical to Sri Lanka, however much they may obstruct the Dynastic project of the Rajapakses. In any case, the Rajapakses are not opposed to international intervention per se, as their compliance with IMF conditionalities demonstrates. Their allergy is to international interventions which promote democratic and human rights. The fates of Ragamwela villagers and the Sambodi Viharaya demonstrate that the wellbeing of the Sinhalese and the protection of Buddhism stops when they impede Rajapakse interests.

Given the Rajapakse adherence to their brand of trickle-down economics (development via mammoth infrastructure and construction projects), ordinary citizens will increasingly find themselves ignored, incommoded or dispossessed. The Rajapakse model’s disregard for job creation and poverty alleviation is evident in the importation of Chinese labourers and the absence of a contingency plan to address the adverse effects of GSP+ withdrawal. According to World Bank Report, ‘The Towers of Learning’, “Sri Lanka under-invests in education compared to other middle-income and developing countries”; we spend 2.8% of GDP on public education, below the 4.3% lower-middle income average. Our rank in the Knowledge Economy Index is 82, again below the lower-middle income average. Hardly a performance worthy of an aspiring Miracle of Asia!

The Chairman of the NHDA opines that 1.2 million people will be homeless in Colombo by 2012. The official panacea is to double the housing loan to Rs. 200,000, when most of the homeless will be poor and lack even the land to build on! The only realistic solution is to restart the Premadasa housing programme island-wide and not to demolish houses of ordinary people, from Mews street in Colombo to Ragamwela in the East or to spend scarce resources on building cantonments in the North (the inalienable right of a Lankan to live anywhere in Sri Lanka is not akin to state-engineered colonisation schemes with political agendas).

This is a government of the Rajapakses, by the Rajapakses, for the Rajapakses. And the Rajapakses are subverting democracy, violating fundamental rights, attacking media freedom, sabotaging the APC consensus and implementing an anti-poor economic model, under the guise of patriotism and national sovereignty. That is why the necessary defence of national sovereignty should not be allowed to degenerate into a defence of Rajapakse sovereignty to act with impunity.

Israel has nothing to hide. The opposite is true. It is in the national interest of the state of Israel to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world. Netanyahu guardian – 2.8.2010

For the first time

Fundamentalist Islamic groups have filled the void created by the inability of the Pakistani regime and international aid agencies to help those affected

The timing of the Siyatha attack is revealing.

Norman Finkelstein characterises the attitude of Israeli elite as ‘hunkering down’ (similar to that of South African whites during the period of international boycotts) the ‘belief that they are the victims, the whole world is against them, that there is a double standard, that they are the victims of propaganda and conspiracy, and basically a complete contempt for international opinion’

Interview with Guernica Aug. 2010 son of Holocaust survivors and radical Jewish sholar

Genesis – before 5 students Navy reprisal/Kayts incident

Differential treatment to Tiger and army victims – Vallipunam – statement by victim of navy attack

No accountability per se even for Southern victims; even pretence is due to international pressure, like the IGEP and the new commission

Rate of ineffectivity

Conspiracy theory mentality – “has a built in response to lack of evidence; ‘of course not; that’s how powerful the conspiracy is”

Dan Dennet

The quid pro quo between Rajapakse first and Sinhala first

Marx on Ireland

Got a comments

Counter Enlightenment

According to media reports, the President has said that ‘Constitution would be drafted taking into consideration the wishes of the public of Sri Lanka and not individual interests’ (Daily News – 28.7.2010). The obvious question is whose interest was taken into account when the government obtained cabinet approval to introduce a constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits. The President’s invective against foreign inputs does not explain why he is yet to comment on the final consensus of the APRC. The APRC is hardly a foreign plant as it was appointed by none other than the President himself. Furthermore the APRC final consensus has the backing of the UPFA constituent parties including the President’s own SLFP. Therefore the President’s curious reticence about the APRC final consensus is rather inexplicable.

In the same speech the President claimed that security would be a paramount concern in any effort at constitutional reform. Under the Rajapakses security has become a euphemism for repression. When dissent is criminalised, political rights can become security concerns.

According to the Economist “Sri Lanka has become the most militarised state in South Asia” (7.2.2008). In order to sustain this state the regime will print money, borrow heavily and impose more burdens on the masses.

* Economic autism and political autism
* Socio-developmental spending cuts together with high defence expenditure will mean that growth may remain high while unemployment, relative and perhaps even absolute poverty increases. This will worsen thanks to the attempts to control inflation through demand depression via high indirect taxes, which will have a disproportionate effect on the poor and the middle classes.
* The regime is politically populist in the South but economically anti-popular.
* Flour – plantation workers.
* The cost of occupati on – army commander’s comment – Israel

( Bond vigilantes – investors who pull the plug on governments they perceive as unable or unwilling to pay their debts.

The Irish example – “Ireland has been a good soldier in this crisis, grimly implementing savage spending cuts. Its reward has been a depression-level slump – and financial markets continue to treat it as a serious default risk. Other good soldiers like Latvia and Estonia have done even worse.

Paul Krugman – NYT – July 1st.

The state sponsored musical programme Jana Jayawe (held on under the patronage of the President and his family) began with a lullaby (depicting the ‘heroic saga’ of ‘King Mihindu’ and his ‘Chief General Gotabhaya’ and of how they defeated the ‘demons’ threatening the motherland) and ended with a song which referred to the President’s mother as ‘Our Mother’ (ape amma) (in an unconscious echo of the North Korean practice of referring to Kim Il Sung’s mother as the ‘Mother of the Nation’, an early indication of the dynastic rule that was to come) and asked rhetorically, ‘Mother, are your watching from heaven, as the Son, who the gods and the Brahmas sent to your womb from golden palaces, is protecting the Nation?’


We are losing all sense of justice and decency; this is the way to a moral quagmire.

The evening ‘Mihindu came and saved your Mother Lanka, Son’, sang the songstress, while in the foreground a troupe of dancers rocked a baby to sleep. A century from now Lankan mothers will sing such lullabies to their sons, the comperes assured the audience confidently.

The show ‘Jaya Jayawe’ was billed as a ‘Musical Tribute to the Heroes of the Nation’. As song succeeded song, it became clear that the heroes so honoured were just President Mahinda Rajapakse and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse (albeit a long way behind). And their mother, to whom the last song of the evening was dedicated: queried the songstress, mellifluously, casting reverential looks at the said heaven-donated son in the audience.

The musical show was organised by the state owned Independent Television Network (ITN) and attended by the President, his wife and brothers, Basil and Gotabhaya.

The evening also contained a Guest Lecture by JRP Sooriyapperuma, which, despite its howlers, was remarkably perceptive. He defined ‘Jaya Jayawe’ as a symbol of the ‘New Civilisation’ that is coming into being. Each political era has its cultural representations and Mr. Suripapperuma is absolutely correct in identifying the show as representative of the ethos of the Rajapakse era. Jaya Jayawe has a task – that of manufacturing consent for Rajapakse Rule. Jaya Jayawe promotes the concept of a leader who is not the First Citizen of the country (as is apposite in a democracy). Jaya Jayawe advocates the idea of a leader who is superior to the people, of an infallible leader, of a divinely anointed leader, of a leader who is not a leader for a season but the Leader forever - a leader who resembles the absolutist monarchs of yore rather than the democratic leaders of the present. This leader is the Father of the Nation and to him the nation owes the duty of absolute, unquestioning obedience. Since the leader is infallible, questioning him or his deeds is unnecessary. Since he is the nation, such questioning is treasonous. In this worldview there is no room whatsoever for dissent or opposition. One cannot disagree with or oppose the divinely dispatched leader who represents the nation without committing the crime of heretical treason.

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