Look at Lanka the way others see it

The Chandrika Kumaratunga government dealt adroitly with foreign nations about violation of human rights here under the able guidance of Lakshman Kadirgamar and that perhaps was the reason why the banning of the LTTE came about in most Western countries. - File Image: Former President Mrs. Kumaratunga
by Gamini Weerakoon

(December 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Philosophers down the ages have pointed out that one of the greatest of deceptions people face as individuals and nations is self deception. It is human nature to avoid looking into the mirror when we realise that the image looking back would be repulsive. ‘The rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the mirror’, is how Shakespeare put it. The much quoted Scottish poet Robert Burns said:

‘O would some power giftie gie us,
To see ourselves as others see us.’

Best and greatest

We in this resplendent isle always had a great opinion of ourselves and have not given a damn about how others saw us. Two thousand five hundred years of recorded history, ‘hydraulic civilisation’, ‘Granary of the East’, are some of the magnificent perceptions that kept us and keep us going. After the victory over the LTTE, the ego of our leaders and the collective ego of the nation have gone through the roof. We have won what Western pundits said was: ‘An unwinnable war’. We are the best and the greatest. But only we think so.
Do China and India or our newfound friends and allies like Burma, Iran, Libya or even the non-aligned countries think so? Even if they did, they haven’t said so. But how does the rest of the world see us? The Western powers led by the United States, Britain and even the United Nations have a dim view of us. Investigations have been called for alleged violation of human rights and even war crimes. Anything said against our armed services or President Rajapaksa results in mass hysterical outbursts and accusations of treason. Is winning this war on terrorism, the be all and end all of everything that we aspire to?

Karu breaks the ice

The Opposition, by and large, maintained a strict silence on what Western nations — the democracies of the world — have been saying about us. Last week the quiet and suave Deputy Leader of the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya committed sacrilege in the eyes of the Rajapaksa faithful by making a statement calling for an investigation into the allegations made against Sri Lanka. He said: ‘Since the conclusion of the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka has been dogged by allegations of massive civilian casualties and the blatant disregard for human rights, which has led to the muzzling of the free press, abduction and assassination of journalists and stifling political dissent. The government playing constantly to the sensibilities of the hawkish support base has consistently denied these allegations, refused to investigate even the more serious incidents of violence and extra-judicial killings and adopted an obtuse approach to global criticism by constantly making wild claims about international conspiracies’.

An avalanche of abuse and accusations has descended on Jayasuriya since his comments were made. His speech has been misinterpreted, distorted and words he had not used ‘such as war crimes’ and ‘Tamil diaspora’ put into his mouth. Attempts are being made to show that the Deputy Leader of the UNP has joined forces with the enemies of the state and that he has called for an investigation to probe war crimes of the Sri Lankan armed forces, and normalising relations with the Tamil diaspora. Jayasuriya in reply had pointed out the gross distortions made of his statement. This disgraceful yellow journalism had been resorted to by a once reputed independent newspaper, whose founder was the great and respected publisher and businessman Upali Wijewardene.

Eye opener

Claiming that the world was growing impatient with Sri Lanka’s attitude, he said that President Rajapaksa’s recent visit to London should be an eye opener for the regime and that the ‘only way to restore Sri Lanka’s name in the good world is to investigate these many allegations and take genuine steps to address the just claims of the minority. This is the only way to diminish the credibility of these protest groups, and the only way to counter worldwide sympathy with their cause. Let us put the house in order before the impunity and hubris of today becomes our collective tragedy and shame tomorrow’.

This kind of enlightened politics goes way above the heads of clowns and thugs holding high political office who are attempting to score brownie points with the Maharajathumano. Karu’s statement has been seized as electoral fodder to feed the gullible masses at the forthcoming provincial elections. So far, accusations of association with Tamil terrorists have worked at elections wonderfully well and the political strategists of the regime are anticipating that the electorate would be gullible buffaloes as before.

Varnishing and mud slinging

More than one and a half years after the celebrated ‘patriotic’ victory over the terrorists, it is quite apparent that the nation remains divided and the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is silent and aloof about their future role. Equally important is that Sri Lanka’s image is smeared with mud, however much those seeking to go places are attempting to varnish it. Jayasuriya’s suggestion of investigating alleged violation of human rights, suppression of freedom of expression and the accusations made against the armed forces needs to be investigated. Investigations of alleged crimes by security forces have been made by governments in which President Rajapaksa was a key minister and, many say, present members too.

In the 1990s mass graves in which it was alleged civilians were buried after being massacred were investigated on the request of the UN by the government of Chandrika Kumaratunga. One such grave, the Sooriyakande mass grave, was excavated in September 1994 under the supervision of the High Court and the discovery of an unspecified number of skeletal remains were reported to have been found. These are said to be that of school children who were JVP activists.

There was the Ankumbura mass grave where the police were held responsible. Some officers were indicted with crimes but were later honourably discharged. The Chemmanai mass grave was excavated and 15 bodies were discovered. Even though justice could not be meted out fully to the accused, at least attempts were made to investigate and the government of the day did not insult those nations that called for investigations and justice being done, of conspiring against the Sri Lanka government.

Chandrika and Kadirgamar’s roles

The Chandrika Kumaratunga government dealt adroitly with foreign nations about violation of human rights here under the able guidance of Lakshman Kadirgamar and that perhaps was the reason why the banning of the LTTE came about in most Western countries. The Rajapaksa regime will not be able to avoid allegations of violations of human rights and war crimes by the security forces, and it appears the accusations won’t simply disappear.

What can be done is to appoint an investigating committee — not of foreigners or even the UN — but an independent Sri Lankan committee like a Parliamentary Select Committee comprising of government members as well as opposition members from the UNP, JVP, SLMC and of course Tamil parties. That will solve the problem of credibility of a Sri Lankan committee, and help Sri Lanka look like the Resplendent Island its name claims it to be.

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