Reconciliation needed with the British Government

| by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(November 03, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) On 31 October, I received from a Tamil leader the message headed ‘Britain urges Sri Lanka to make progress on rights by 2013’, published in The West Australian. I registered particularly the following part of that report:

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‘Put to him in a BBC interview from Perth that Canada might boycott the 2013 meeting, Cameron said: "I've been discussing this with the Canadians and I think we all have a similar view, which is we want to see Sri Lanka do more in terms of human rights, we want them to do more in terms of reconciliation after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

"I've had that conversation myself with President Rajapakse, who's here.

"They should be aware of the fact that they're holding this Commonwealth summit in 2013 and it's up to them to show further progress so they can welcome the maximum number of countries when they do."

He refused to say whether Britain might boycott the meeting.

"The message I've given is look, the Tamil Tigers have been defeated, you're in government, you have an opportunity now to show magnanimity and also to show a process of reconciliation and to demonstrate to the rest of the world that you don't have things to hide," Cameron said.’

As a global conscious citizen of the Commonwealth I identified with most of the above. This feeling was further strengthened when I read the tribute paid by author Tom Keneally, to Shooty – the Tamil Refugee who died in detention at the Villawood Detention Center – ‘Your death comes at the end of a period when the psychiatric advisers to the government had warned the government that self-destructive acts like yours would occur. Yet the funny thing is, Shooty, that had you been able to endure, you would have become a resident and an Australian. A brother. A fellow guest at the table of the Commonwealth of Australia’

Then this morning I received from the same source in Britain email with the following news item published in Daily News:

External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris yesterday said that the government, mandated by the majority of people, is not prepared to implement or change policies to satisfy other countries.

Referring to a recent statement by British Prime Minister David Cameron that Sri Lanka should make progress in terms of human rights before the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting in Colombo, Minister Prof Peiris said that Sri Lanka is no longer a colony of a foreign nation and no country has any right to dictate terms to Sri lanka. He said that Sri Lanka is implementing policies to achieve the aspirations of people of the country.

The External Affairs Minister stressed that no country had reservations over the venue of the next CHOGM. He said that all countries unanimously agreed to hold the summit in Colombo. “The venue of 2013 CHOGM was decided in Trinidad in 2009 and that decision was never revisited. Not a single country raised the issue at the CHOGM in Perth,” Minister Prof Peiris added.

Commenting on the Canadian Prime Minister’s Stephen Harper that he would not participate in the next CHOGM that is scheduled to be held in Colombo, the External Affairs Minister said that Canadian Prime Minister did not raise objection for holding the CHOGM in Sri Lanka. “Whether the Canadian Prime Minister is participating in the summit or not is a decision of that country.

The government yesterday said that it has every confidence that the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in Colombo will be a great success.’

Even as I read this above report, I felt upset as a Sri Lankan. I felt upset that the Government of Sri Lanka was damaging the global investments made by Professionals and Intellectuals who carry the Sri Lankan flag with dignity.

As per the Commonwealth Secretariat ‘The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and development.’ Also ‘The Secretariat aims to increase awareness of and respect for human rights in the Commonwealth.’

In the consciousness of the above commitment, I ask as a citizen of Commonwealth of Sri Lankan origin – as to whether British Prime Minister, the Hon David Cameron had in any way damaged the Commonwealth’s commitment to Democracy & Human Rights. The answer was that the British Prime Minister was in fact working towards these goals.

Sri Lankan Minister for External Affairs – Professor, the Hon G.L. Peiris – has however expressed a different interpretation to mine of the statements by the British Prime Minister. The question I ask is – whether Professor Peiris went beyond his authority to make the above statements on behalf of all Sri Lankans?

In her article ‘Oppressed North; Lawless South’, published in Sri Lankan Guardian, Author Tisaranee Gunesekera says about this I ego factor - ‘Officially, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is just a senior bureaucrat. But, as his comments reveal, he is his brother’s de facto Defence Chief: “I have a huge task in re-orienting the war time military machinery to suit the peace times. I have to keep the forces active… I have immense pressure from the international community to reduce military presence in the NE….” (ibid). I, I, I; not even ‘The President and I’, but just I, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the sole-protector of his family’s state.’

Professor Peiris also seems to be a victim of this ‘I’ factor by Sri Lankan Political Heads.

Whether we like it or not, whether we agree or disagree – Sri Lanka’s current status at the global level, as per majority impressions - is that it is an anti-democracy country. Those of us who are honest with ourselves, would know that this is true. It may be right or wrong for Sri Lanka at this point in time but Sri Lanka does not qualify to call itself a democratic country.

As for authority to hold CHOGM and to discuss through CHOGM, Britain is the mother of Commonwealth. A child may have equal voting rights but the wisdom of the child at 18 is highly unlikely to be anywhere near the wisdom of the parent. The Sri Lankan Government that depends heavily on majority power, is not likely to appreciate this deeper wisdom. This has been the root of the problem in Sri Lanka – ever since the British left and Sinhalese took over power due to majority vote. But they did not make special effort to carry forward the wisdom of the British in governing Sri Lanka. In other words, they made out that they were ‘INDEPENDENT’ of everyone . This led to Sri Lanka being seen as an isolated Island.

We needed mentors as per the vertical system and/or lateral power through practice of democracy. Those who claim to be independent while being driven by votes, actually influence divisions. Even leaving aside Tamil areas, the Sri Lankan Government is struggling to maintain law and order in South because of this ‘attachment’ to votes and majority power. To my mind, the mess that we Sri Lankans are in today, is due to this indiscriminate mix of autocracy and majority power – the body of democracy. True democracy is confirmed when the citizen/minority is taken as being ‘right’ until proven otherwise.

The West, through its investments in immigration and Equal Opportunity values, has been gradually moving out of autocracy and into democracy thanks also to the Public. Sri Lanka lags behind due to this kind of disrespect for their British predecessors/parents and for Democracy. Like it or not, Sinhalese took over from the British and therefore the British are their parents. Commonwealth confirms this without giving any particular form. Common Values help us see ourselves as others see us. If the picture we see through CHOGM is identical to the picture we see as per our individual and independent assessment – then we are that CHOGM. Likewise when Sri Lankan citizen is able to identify with the picture s/he sees through the Sri Lankan Government – that citizen becomes the Government. If majority part of this picture is different – then the citizen is yet to become Government – for better or for worse.

Right now, Tamils of Sri Lanka are not able to see themselves through the Central Government. I was not able to see myself through the Australian Government, beyond a certain point. From that point onwards, I consciously led myself and this has helped me better appreciate global values than I would have, had I waited for the government to lead me after that also. I do believe that a strong factor in this was that I did not consciously receive any welfare benefits. If the benefits and opportunities I received and identified with respectively were greater than the costs and problems I paid and identified with in the activity, then I consciously paid respect to the position and where possible to the occupier of the position which was the source of those benefits and opportunities. Where I could not, I moved out of that environment. In most instances, my contribution as per my assessment was greater than those benefits received. Professor Peiris had the responsibility to likewise, respect the position of Britain in CHOGM rather than react to the individual.

In the case of CHOGM, Britain’s contribution to the core values of CHOGM – Democracy and Human Rights is clearly much higher than Sri Lanka’s. Hence it is understandable that Britain would be more aware of its higher leadership abilities – whereas Sri Lanka is still an ordinary member. In addition, due to the open contribution that Tamils - especially educated Tamils - have made to the Western system of democracy, upholding their rights is a duty of CHOGM leaders. If Sri Lankan Government also had heard Tamils on the basis of the real contribution by Tamils to Public Administration in Sri Lanka, we would not have had the war. Velupillai Prabakaran would not have had the silent approval of Tamils to wage war against the brawn power of the Sri Lankan Government.

They say ‘As we sow, so shall we reap’. The Sri Lankan Government used its leadership powers to reduce the status of Tamils. That karma has come back through Britain. If Professor Peiris had not asked ‘Who are you to tell us?’ but accepted Britain’s statements as ‘family advice’ – there would have been no room to think that Britain, its allies and Tamil Protestors were being unjust in accusing the Sri Lankan Government. Since the Government has failed to accept advice from seniors, we are seeing the return of karma during our lifetime.

Those driven by Votes would end up dividing and separating themselves. Those who abuse lateral majority power would get their payback/karma through the leadership power of One and/or become minority in a foreign environment over which they do not have leadership influence. What we do to others is done to us unless we consciously calculate and use merit basis. The choice for the Sri Lankan Government in this instance was to use merit basis and ‘show’ that they have contributed to eliminating terrorism. By failing to do so, the Sri Lankan Government is confessing to not believing that they eliminated terrorism. Truth eventually manifests Itself one way or the other. Sri Lankan Government’s participation in CHOGM is the parallel of ‘class attendance’. Class attendance by itself does not get the grades. We need Performance!