| by Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

( July 27, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) For most of the post-war years, the Rajapaksa Government’s actions have been informed by a strange and intensely contradictory mixture of the classic classroom bully as well as its exact opposite, the sniveling skinny kid who gets picked on in the playground.

Devastating consequences of blatant lying
So on the one hand, it blustered and roared to the world that its handling of the Wanni war was beyond reproach. Unbelievably we were told very early on that there were ‘zero’ civilian casualties. Civilized engagement with the global community (earlier evidenced by Sri Lankan governments even at the height of civil conflict), deteriorated to unimaginable levels.

Officers of the United Nations and high-level diplomats were grossly insulted. Blatant falsehoods were uttered before international committees. One particularly striking example was when the incumbent in the office of Chief Justice appeared before the Committee against Torture in an earlier avatar as advisor to the Rajapaksa Cabinet and claimed that the ‘disappeared’ web journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda was safe and sound after seeking asylum overseas. Later, when questioned by a local court on this claim during the hearing of a habeas corpus application into Ekneligoda’s disappearance, all that he could say was that only God knew Ekneligoda’s whereabouts.

The point is not that previous administrations did not lie. The point is that such utter disregard for convention and indeed, basic decency was not shown. The image of Sri Lanka as a rogue nation defiantly thumbing its nose at all and sundry emerged with devastating consequences. Inept and politically appointed loyalists manning overseas missions excelled only in fattening themselves and their disreputable families. Each week, a different scandal surfaced regarding these so-called ambassadors of the nation.

Hugely damaging Government strategies
Even as this out-of-control post-war juggernaut smashed a democratic system into smithereens, Sri Lankans were being told that the country had become a victim of Western conspiracies due to anger over not halting the war effort. Eerily reminiscent of the child who complains of classroom bullying, we heard the constant refrain that Sri Lanka is being picked on because it is a small country.

Yet the truth is that much of our current woes have been a direct result of hugely damaging strategies of this Government alone. If a judicious inquiry into the deaths and disappearances of civilians had been conducted, if the integrity of the judiciary had not been so terribly undermined in pursuance of political greed and if pure common sense had informed government policy, all the alleged international conspiracies taken together would not have sufficed to put us into this unhappy position.

Even at the very late stage of the 2011 Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, Sri Lanka might have drawn back from the brink. But this Government chose to continue on its ruinous way. Hence last week’s announcement that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has expanded the mandate of a local commission of inquiry to include investigation into war crimes and appointed three international advisors needs to be taken with more than a proverbial pinch of salt.

Deliberate suppression of the Udalagama report
This move is stamped with the markers of an exercise aimed at deflecting international pressure. This Government’s record in appointing international advisors to local bodies has scarcely been encouraging. In 2007, well known names in international law tasked to ‘advise’ the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry departed after being accused by the Government of ‘interfering’ in the commission process. The Udalagama Commission itself wound up in disarray after it was prematurely dissolved by the Government. A key recommendation by the LLRC that the Udalagama report should be published remains ignored.

The logical inference therein is that the Udalagama findings pinpoint state responsibility in regard to the 2007 killings of Tamils and Muslims in Trincomalee and possibly Mutur. These two crimes formed a backdrop to the present cry for accountability. Indeed, a private media newspaper attempted to pass off the submissions of defence counsel appearing before the Udalagama Commission as a ‘leaked’ excerpt from the Commission report, after the Commission was disbanded. The Government’s hysterical over-reaction following the exposure of this despicable ‘planted’ story was a good indication. These are, of course, old tricks of the trade.

In fact, the implication of state agents in the Trincomalee incident in particular was indicated by a separate fact finding report of the National Human Rights Commission when it was independently constituted unlike now.

Do we deserve this?
Regardless, these theatrical ‘commission exercises’ prove nothing. However high profile and solid the academic and professional credentials of the ‘advisors’ may be, the point is that if they lean the Government’s way, even ever so slightly, this ‘advice’ will merely be used as a delaying tactic. This appears to be the strategy being contemplated. On the off-chance meanwhile that the ‘advisors’ may openly clash with government politicians and the Department of the Attorney General on direct issues of state responsibility, they will doubtless be summarily packed off with insults. This is the fate that was meted out to the international experts who assisted the Udalagama Commission.

But the larger issue is not about the country. Rather, it is about raw political power. This desperate wriggling now as the Government resorts to appointing ‘international experts’ amounts to locking the stable door after the horses have bolted. It is as simple as that.

And the question is not merely that Sri Lanka need not worry about international intervention. This is also about the quality of citizenship that we demand. True enough, bombs do not go off on the streets and the casualty lists do not come in. Yet as opposed to deaths from conflict, Sri Lanka has been relegated to a virtual pariah nation in the international sphere, there is a catastrophic collapse in law enforcement and a clear militarization of the State framed by militant Sinhala-Buddhism putting the enlightened teachings of the Gautama Buddha to shame.

Is this truly what post-war Sri Lanka deserves?

Excerpted from the ‘Focus on Rights’ column in The Sunday Times, 27th July 2014 for which newspaper, the writer is a legal consultant/columnist.

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