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No man is an Island

by Manel Abeysekera

(May 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The above adage is well taken and accepted. The reasoning behind it is that man does not live alone in isolation but with others of his ilk and that his speech and actions impact on others. With the development of communications and fast travel, there has come about a linkage not only between man and man and groups of human beings with other such groups but there also came linkages of various sorts relating not only to man’s basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, but also to his mental needs of fellow-feeling, common interests and support; and with this went the belief that such linkages could lead to a common good or evil. As in the domestic domain, the common good came to be enunciated and codified, while the common evil was left unsaid and unstructured in substantial form.

With the emergence of human groups in the form of states, just as there was a legal regime within a state, there came to be recognized an international legal regime which in time came to be accepted as international law, written or unwritten. The written was recorded, documented and formalized as treaties, covenants, conventions, agreements and the like; some of these are between two states, others between groups of states and yet others among all or most. The common factor among all these is their binding and obligatory nature once a state formally accepts the documents through the process of signing/acceding and ratifying them; just as much as good domestic governance was the claim of a state, international good governance came to be the raison etre and the principle for inter-state relations, written or unwritten.

Hence it follows that, while a state can be neutral in terms of linkage, it is not possible for it to ignore observance of good inter-state relations and behaviour in principle.

Just as much as no man is an island, no island state can be an island in the international community without accepting reciprocal norms of good conduct internally and externally in terms of its actions in relation to human security, dignity and welfare. However, to admit total responsibility in situations of conflict between state actors and non - state actors in the form of vicious terrorists is impractical. But what must be borne in mind is that, while state actors are deemed subject to an international law regime and even if they are not party to specific legally binding international agreements, it is always the state that is recognized as operative in internal governance, it is the state that the international community recognizes as a lawful entity and expects much of in terms of human security, dignity and welfare and not terrorist groups which are unlawful.

Therefore, it is hardly a matter for surprise that, in a sever e state versus terrorist conflict lasting three decades as in Sri Lanka, while it is well taken that violations of various moral norms of human conduct may have occurred on the part of both sides, it is on the state actor that the burden of accountability for such violation is foisted for which it is expected to be answerable as it is recognized as a responsible legal entity and not the terrorist who is regarded as being illegal and below par in its concern for humanity. It is well taken that the state must protect its sovereignty against terrorists seeking to undermine it and that this inevitably results in loss of civilian lives. Terrorists, as is well known, resort to despicable subterfuge and camouflage using whatever they can lay their hands on - human or material – whereas the Sri Lankan Government can justify the intensity of its fight to the finish which is a great victory of state sovereignty over terrorism.

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