Cutting off the nose to spite the face

Former chief justice of the Supreme Court of India J. S. Varma | Photo by  Jitender Gupta
( February 5, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In what is becoming a habitual 'look up and spit in your face' gesture, the government last week blocked entry of a group of lawyers from the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), who had planned on assessing Sri Lanka's rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary. The group, led by retired Chief Justice of India, J. S. Varma, was due to visit Colombo for 10 days starting last Friday (1).

The revoking of the visas saw the government's paranoia reaching another milestone. Cause for the now familiar, albeit irrational behaviour, was maintaining the country's sovereignty. Case in point was the probe initiated by United Nations on human rights violations and accountability issues at the closing stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The government might consider the move as having scored another political victory, albeit a short-sighted one. And the issue of the country's sovereignty would no doubt be argued and debated by legal pundits and political propagandists alike, in the days and weeks ahead. No doubt the local issues, and indigenous character of these issues, would ultimately colour the debates. When such issues are placed before the masses, their usual gullibility would be taken into consideration by the Goebbels of Sri Lanka.

The technicalities of issuance of visas to foreigners, whether they are professionals who might perform a private probe into a very vital issue that played so prominent a part in the socio-political field in the past few months or not, would be a handy tool in the government's tool-kit.

But a harsher reality is that an independent assessment of highly volatile issues, such as the supremacy of Parliament over the Judiciary, Parliamentary Standing Orders taking precedence over judgments arrived at and issued by the Supreme Court, the ambiguity of certain clauses in the Constitution and the remedial measures that should be put in place to prevent such a contentious scenario recurring in future, could have been immensely useful in the long-term interests of the country.

It has been reported that Justice Varma, who was to arrive in the country on Friday, had been issued with a valid visa by the Government of Sri Lanka on 18 January. However, the visa had been revoked on 29 January, and the approval to enter the country had been suspended to the other members of the delegation on 29 and 30 January.

It is believed the government's decision, described by many as 'shooting itself on the foot' had stemmed from a late realization that the team headed by Justice Varma, would be studying the impeachment procedure against Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake and would also submit a comprehensive report on the matter to the international body. The International Bar Association in the past few months has been critical about the entire impeachment process. It has also been very critical of the procedure followed in the impeachment process.

The government's response to an assessment by a legal team is the only logical step a cowardly regime would adopt in the face of vigorous agitation by those who inquire into violations of human rights of a subject people, and vital safeguards that are enshrined in the Constitution of the country. But cowardly actions also often have serious reactions, and lest one forgets, Sri Lanka won't be able to bury its head in the sand and deny reality, nor ban the upcoming UNHRC sessions, when not only the country's failures are set to be exposed, but a new resolution proposed against it as well.

The ruling hierarchy may be lulled into believing that the propagandizing of pseudo-patriotism and claiming credit for the soldiers' selfless sacrifices might take the attention away from the real violations and desecrations they commit. And certainly, the public needs to be more sensitive to issues that are of significance for the development of the country as a true democracy. But oppressive and dictatorial actions such as revoking visas only give credence to resolutions such as the one being proposed by the United States of America.

'Cutting off the nose to spite the face' is an expression that is used to describe a needlessly self-destructive, over-reaction to a problem. The phrase is used as a warning against acting out of pique, or against pursuing revenge in a way that would damage oneself more than the object of one's anger. In revoking the visas, we might have done just that.
-The Ceylon Today Editorial
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