EXCLUSIVE: Democracy and Human Rights

Are they western or universal values?

“You see why human rights and democracy are dying in Sri Lanka. It is because they are western values. What is wrong with Gotabhaya ? " - India asked
by Our Political Editor in Colombo

(August 04, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A scholarly debate has begun in the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka after the last official visit by Nirupama Rao, who relinquished office as Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs on 30th July this year.

The subject is of great importance not only to diplomats but also to all students of political science. It is whether democracy and human rights are Western values that need not be practiced in developing economies like Sri Lanka? The person who has propounded the new theory is none other than the most powerful person in the country – Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and dearly beloved brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Is he right because he is powerful and can have you abducted in a white van if you disagree? Please read on.

It all began when Mrs Rao arrived in Colombo, at the invitation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, for her very last visit as Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, on the night of 29th July. President Rajapaksa who moved closely with her when she was India’s High Commissioner in Sri Lanka was engaged in a public relations exercise. Mrs Rao, who has been named as India’s Ambassador in the United States, he believed, would be helpful to Sri Lanka to moderate the Americans and soften their tough attitude towards Sri Lanka.

On 30th July afternoon Indian High Commissioner, Ashok Kantha, a shy but shrewd diplomat, hosted Mrs Rao to lunch. Seated at the lunch table across Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary, Ministry of Defence, was one time Mahinda Rajapaksa ally, Mangala Samamaraweera, now head of the UNP communications unit.

Gotabhaya was engaged in a long conversation about Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). He said they were a set of rogues and those who were working in them were greedy only for money. He was looking at Minister S.B. Dissanayake, Mr. Kanth and Mrs Rao when he spoke. High Commissioner Kanth whispered that there were “some good ones also.” Few at the table looked at the ceiling at the harsh remarks Gotabhaya continued to make about NGOs. “We should throw them out” he exhorted. Among them was Sithy Tiruchelvam, wife of the late Neelan Tiruchelvam, who headed and also advised a number of other NGOs. She was looking at Samaraweera when Gotabhaya said NGOs were of no use to Sri Lanka.

“They talk of defending democracy and human rights. As far as I am concerned, democracy and human rights are western values. They are not for us,” declared Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Those remarks were from the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who speaks holistically of democracy and preaches the value of defending human rights.

Mangala Samaraweera, who looked uncomfortable, may have perhaps felt others would think he consented to what Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was saying. This is when both Mrs Rao and High Commissioner Kanth were nodding their heads as Gothabaya Rajapaksa continued his tirade. Of course they were being very polite, part of diplomacy, towards the most powerful man in the country, one who never tolerated or gave ear to another point of view.

Mangala Samaraweera remarked “democracy and human rights are universal and not western values.” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa flew into a rage and shouted “I am not interested in what terrorist supporters are saying.” He threw his hands up to gesticulate he was enraged.

A blushing HC Kanth quickly got up and said “it is time for us to go for some coffee at the drawing room.” By that time, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, well known for his inferiority complex, had got up in a rage and walked out of the lunch. Later, Mrs Rao had whispered to High Commissioner Kanth, “you see why human rights and democracy are dying in Sri Lanka. It is because they are western values. What is wrong with him!!! (Gotabhaya Rajapaksa )”

The High Commission is still debating who is right – whether it is Mahinda Rajapaksa who speaks of defending human rights, democracy and does nothing or Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who says the two are western values and embarks on a heavy militarisation programme.

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