The Follies of ex-ambassadors,media misreporting and lessions of our times

by Pandu de Silva

(September 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) While people are going before the Lessons Learnt Commission, expecting reconciliation and lessons to be learnt, the government merrily goes ahead with its hugely undemocratic constitutional reforms. The only noticeable impact of the Commission’s sittings up to now has been to destroy the public credibility of witnesses like Amb. Jayantha Dhanapala as evidenced in the hot air created over Amb. Dhanapala’s statements before the Commission last week when the Island reported that he had said that international humanitarian law should not apply to conflicts between States and armed terrorist groups.

We had no refutation demanded from the Island by Amb. Dhanapala if, in fact, what was reported in that newspaper, was wrong. Amb. Dhanapala only released his written submissions, expressed surprise and disappointment at erroneous media reportage and said that he is waiting for a transcript of the proceedings to do anything else. The issue is simple. If the Island had published a wrong report of Amb. Dhanapala’s submission and his responses to the most honourable Commissioners, Amb. Dhanapala should have resorted to a demand for a correction the next day. This is ordinarily what people do when the media misreports. If the Island had not published such a correction, then the refusal should have been publicised, reflecting on the integrity of the media. Instead, we were told initially that Amb. Dhanapala is waiting for the transcripts to come to do anything further. Is it that Amb Dhanapala could not remember what he precisely said in response to as important an assertion attributed to him, that humanitarian law should not apply in internal conflicts such as Sri Lanka’s?

Now that the transcript for which Amb. Dhanapala was so eagerly waiting is out, we expect him to demand an official correction from the Island. In the absence of a demand for an official correction, there is little point in this e-circulation of transcripts and outraged comments by Amb. Dhanapala who should, in fact, be little outraged if he expected the Island to report what he said correctly. The people who should, in fact, be outraged are those who believed that Amb. Dhanapala was among those few people having credibility in this country and who are still waiting for a formal demand from him to the Island that the relevant news report is corrected. Probably my father, who is a senior public servant and does not surf the net may then relax after being outraged at the initial news report.

As of now, in the minds of many people who do not spend time in cyber space, the Island report is all that they will recall. Did Amb. Dhanapala believe that the Island, of all paper, would not seek to misrepresent what he said? Should he not have adequately guarded himself against this at the outset by handing out written submissions accurately reflecting what he said? This simplicity on the part of our purported intellectuals is harder to take than the misdeeds of the government and its media apologists.

The problem is the fact that the stress in Amb. Dhanapala's submission as well as in his responses before the Commission is not on the need to protect civilians but on the need to reform the laws of war. The Island should have reported also on his passing reference to civilian protections but chose not to so which is not surprising given the line that, this newspaper pursues. However there is also an ambiguity in Amb. Dhanapala's comments. So accusing the media of selective reporting is not the whole truth.

The question is also why people persist in appearing before this Commission which is just a cover up while the Constitution is being thrown into the wastepaper basket. Are we expecting anything positive to come out of the Commission sittings? Why are people like Amb. Jayantha Dhanapala participating in this exercise? It is quite striking that he commends the Commissioners in his submissions before the Commission. The Chair of this Commission was responsible, almost singlehandedly, while Attorney General, for destroying the legitimacy of the Udalagama Commisison. And yet, we commend these people?? Shame on you, Amb. Dhanapala!

And then we have people rushing to the Supreme Court as if expecting that the Court will do anything against these amendments. Among these people is a noted sycophant of Chandrika Kumaratunge who was among those in league with the former Chief Justice, to destroy the judiciary, details of which can be found in Victor Ivan's book, "The Unfinished Struggle" which I read as a law student at that time. And these individuals are our defenders of democracy now??

No wonder ordinary people reject these games. No wonder civil society has so little moral standing in this country today.