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Belarus and Sri Lanka: birds of a feather

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(September 4, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Both Belarus and Sri Lanka share some commonalities in the field of governance, press freedom and human rights. These do not exist in the two countries and their respective presidents truly and sincerely believe their countries are their own fiefdom and not a democracy as many of us would want to believe.

It may not be common knowledge that as President of Belarus since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko, brazenly extended his term through constitutional amendments to fit in to secure unlimited presidency not unlike our own authoritarian president of two tenures to infinitive thus appropriating himself the leadership of Belarus against the will of his people and against democracy.

Belarus is a one party democracy and it does not tolerate dissent. It declared independence on August 25, 1990 and it is a battered nation successively ruled by invaders.

EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) in UK organised the Press Freedom Forum on Belarus, an annual event examining press freedom in under-reported countries, at the House of Commons in 2007. The event coincided with the visit of Lukashenko to UK where this writer and a Belarusian exiled journalist went to cover the press conference in London. Access was denied to us by the black-suited bodyguards of the president.

On a tip-off the president would be staying in Mayfair that night and hosting a dinner reception, we hot-footed it to the hotel in the biting November cold and stood for hours at the door handing out leaflets outlining the many human rights violations including curtailment of press freedom to the dignitaries arriving to welcome him.

Some of them hissed profane words according to my Belarusian colleague and others simply refused to take our leaflets. Anyhow, we left a bundle at the reception and left another lot at Frontline, the war correspondents’ club in London.

Mahinda Rajapakse decamped to Belarus of all places to visit his counterpart last week as the UNHRC chief was in Sri Lanka on her fact-finding mission. He probably was seeking sagely advice on how to thwart UN scrutiny on his abysmal performance in annihilating a terrorist outfit aka the Tamil Tigers along with 40,000 or more Tamil civilians.

The ending of the 30 or more year long protracted war between the governments and the LTTE is certainly a victory for the whole country. But it did not result in the peace envisaged.

Dirt-poor army recruits from villages who thought they were protecting a Sinhala Buddhist nation from the clutches of terrorism and more importantly for the price of a few lakhs of rupees bestowed on their surviving family members in case they die a heroic death in the cause of their motherland returned in body bags. ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) which ordered them pre-emptively will vouch for this.

What price patriotism?

UNHRC chief Navi Pillay arrived last week in Sri Lanka to probe war crimes among other matters, which if her dossier she had gathered since the end of war in May 2009 and earlier investigations of the 30 or more years of war against Tamil Tigers and the systematic undermining of the rights of ethnic Tamils by successive governments proved correct, then President Mahinda Rajapakse who hammered the last nail in the coffin during his tenure since 2004 to stamp out Tamils has a very good chance to be despatched to Hague along with his cohorts as war criminals alongside Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Cambodia leaders and other war criminals such as leaders of Rwanda and Congo among others.

Hague prison for war criminal leaders has good facilities including TV and internet access as befits world leaders who had hitherto enjoyed their VVIP status. This is a fate neither disinformation campaigns nor diplomacy can thwart. The president’s destiny is sealed and his days are numbered.

Ms Pillay is someone who brooks no nonsense when it comes to human rights violations. Salvos thrown in her direction that she is a Tamil is no excuse; she stands for justice for the oppressed and she has a proven track record of judging for herself the atrocities leaders committed against dissenters and minorities. UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) which metamorphosed from commission which did not have much clout takes her submissions very seriously.

Tamils in Sri Lanka have waited for far too long since independence to gain parity and they have endured decades of suppression all in the name of Sinhala Buddhist hegemony contrary to the teachings of their Guru Lord Buddha who chose the middle path and showed all humans are equal and showed compassion towards his enemies and revered even the lowliest forms of life.

Buddhism is now a chauvinistic and self-serving philosophy where its followers choose to oppress other religions as we see in Burma and our own island. Buddhism is now pitting against Islam now that its focus has shifted away from Hindu Tamils. And they have the support of the West for whatever reasons. Justice has been delayed and justice needs to come fast and full. The government should be prepared for its destiny.

(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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