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LTTE was defeated for Democratic Institutions to flourish, not to be replaced by clones

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by Shanie

"People say of consumption, that in the early stages of this disease it is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; whereas, later on, if it has not been recognised and treated at the beginning, it becomes easy to diagnose and difficult to cure, The same thing happens in the affairs of the state."

(June 11, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) That was Niccolo Machiavelli, famous or infamous for his cynical treatise on political power relationships. But he was a clever analyst of political affairs and his comparison of the affairs of the state to the diagnosis and cure of tuberculosis could not have been truer. Our political leaders failed to understand and resolve the ethnic conflict at the early stages. It led to the thirty year war. The state won the war but now, still failing to diagnose the conflict right, it is well on the way to losing the peace. As Machiavelli would say, it requires skill to bind people to a new political set-up. To inspire people by things of the present over things of the past requires prudence. In times of peace, he said, rulers did not think that things might change. (It was a common failing not to anticipate storms when the sea is calm.) Machiavelli’s advice to rulers was that they should never let themselves fall in the hope that someone will be there to help them up. ‘Either you will not be helped up, or if you are, your continuing safety will be in question, because your defence was not sparked by you but by your cowardice, and defences are secure and lasting only if they are sparked by your skill.’

The government’s claim that, with the defeat of the LTTE, there was normalisation of civilian life in the North was been disputed but the state propaganda machinery has prevailed. Visitors to Jaffna reported increased militarisation but this was hardly highlighted even by the private media. An occasional columnist or a private websites reported on this but the news pages in the media, print and electronic, was full of the return of civilian administration and ‘massive development work’. The pervasive presence of the military at all civilian meetings and functions was never reported. It was this that led many people in the South to dismiss reports of militarisation as being exaggerated.

When the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), driven underground by the LTTE, used to report on atrocities by the LTTE, the state security forces and earlier by the Indian Peace-keeping Force, they were duly quoted in the media and lapped up the reading public because they were happy to read of LTTE atrocities as reported by a Tamil group. As the LTTE had military control over large chunks of the North and East, the UTHR reports naturally had a disproportionate account of LTTE atrocities. But when the LTTE was defeated in the East and were on the run in the North, the atrocities and violations of human rights reported in UTHR reports became increasingly on incidents involving the state security forces, as for example the massacres of the students at Trincomalee, the killing of the NGO workers at Mutur and the farmers at Pottuvil. At that stage, the mainstream media ceased publishing the UTHR reports, the obvious inference being that the readers need only be informed of LTTE atrocities. The Udalagama Commission of Inquiry was appointed as a result of international pressure to inquire into human rights issues and the killing of civilians in several areas in the East and the North central Province. The mandate to the Udalagama Commission was terminated before it had concluded all the inquiries but it duly submitted its report to the President on the killings in which inquiries had been concluded. But there has been hardly any agitation by the media for the release of that report which continues to gather dust in the President’s Office.

Military Intrusion in Civilian life

The same goes for the recent statement issued by Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole on a recent meeting of the Noolaham Foundation held in Jaffna where the Army barged in and and an officer remained seated with the members throughout the meeting. The statement has been widely publicised in private websites but the mainstream media seems to prefer their readers being kept in the dark about the incident. The Noolaham Foundation (Library Foundation) is a private charity run, like the UTHR, mainly by Jaffna academics with the objective of collecting and preserving rare books and manuscripts in electronic form and so make them easily available to researchers and future historians. Recently they have added the collection of photographs and videos of cultural and religious monuments among their objectives. According Professor Hoole’s statement , the Foundation had in the past year alone, collected over 3000 documents from across the globe to its e-library.

The Foundation meets on the last Sunday of each month. At its last meeting in May, as they began the meeting, the statement states, a contingent from the Sri Lanka Army arrived. A person who identified himself as Colonel Jayawardene brusquely entered the meeting hall and rudely shouted, "Who is in charge?" When the chairperson, a retired professor, identified himself, the colonel shouted at him for all to hear: "No LTTE commemorations. Ministry of Defence orders. Do you understand?" The meeting proceeded but only after a Tamil speaking person from the army in civil attire was allowed to sit at the meeting on the condition that copies of all presentations should be given to him. Soldiers were moving around the hall peeping in on the meeting. As the members left, their names, identity card numbers and addresses and telephone numbers were recorded.

Professor Hoole’s statement goes on to state that "our day was spoilt; the meeting was ruined because we were so worried by the military presence that we could not focus on the speakers. We could not freely express ideas since the military presence and weapons were intimidating. The public will keep off from our functions now and those who rent us halls will be fearful of doing so. Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence in Jaffna. Just 2 days ago, an official event at St. Charles’ School was interrupted by the army barging in on a false tip-off.

Squandering the gains of war

For peace and prosperity and indeed normalcy in Jaffna, endeavours like that of Noolaham are of the essence. But the gains made by the government are being squandered by the army without discernment, treating all of us who are Tamil like suspects. The government, after winning the war, is losing the peace. We must point out the irony of our government working with former hardcore LTTE personnel and using some of them as informants while branding respectable Tamil civilians as LTTE."

Colonel Jayawardene stated on that day that he was carrying out orders from the Ministry of Defence. As we noted last week, the Police involved in the provocative shootings at workers in the Katunayake FTZ could not have been acting on their own. They too, like Col Jayawardene, were probably carrying out orders from elsewhere. Unfortunately for the Police, they have been made the scapegoats when things went tragically wrong. Using the law enforcement forces for unlawful political ends has been going on for decades. It reached nadir levels during the government of J. R. Jayewardene; there was a distinct improvement from the early nineties but it seems to have now reverted to the nadir levels of the eighties. This much must be said to the credit (sic) of Jayawardene. He had a code of honour, albeit a warped one. He stood by the policemen who carried out his illegal orders. He did not make them scapegoats. On the contrary, he openly rewarded them and gave them promotions, giving a slap in the face to the then judicial officers who had the courage and the strength of character to uphold the rule of law by holding police action as being unlawful.

Hoole appears to believe that the gains made by the government are being squandered by the army. On the contrary, it is the gains made by the military that are being squandered by the political leadership. The security forces won the war but the defence establishment by playing politics is losing the peace. Both in the north and in the south, the police and the military cannot be acting on their own unless they have the nod from the political leadership in Colombo. The government must realise that illegal orders will alienate them from the people, not just because they are illegal but simply because of the very heavy-handed methods that are being employed. Whether it is dealing with civil society like the Noolaham Foundation or with trade union concerns about the private sector pension plan and the salaries of university academics or the expulsion of the urban poor from their traditional places of residence, the government must be willing and take the initiative in first talking to the concerned stakeholders – in these cases, the workers and academics. Openness, transparency, dialogue and a commitment to the rule of law are essential for good governance and for lasting peace.

The country breathed a sigh of relief when the LTTE was defeated. But there cannot be any peace and stability if the LTTE is to be replaced by a machinery that clones the methods of the LTTE. The scenes of violence and heavy handedness being unleashed on unarmed demonstrators, of the law enforcement authorities barging into factories and work places and beating up defenceless workers must never again be repeated. When the LTTE was defeated, the country expected the democratic institutions to be restored and allowed to function with integrity throughout the country. There is something tragic when a senior Police officer, referring to scenes shown in a private TV channel of a UPFA politician leading a gang of men armed with poles moving towards demonstrators at Lipton’s Circus, nonchalantly saying that the Police cannot take action and arrest such persons because there is no law against people carrying poles which they could be carrying to beat a dog on the road. He probably thought he was being clever and that he would have pleased his political masters, but it is tragic for democratic freedoms in our country to have the enforcement of the rule of law to be in the hands of such people.

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