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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Topsy-turvy human rights in Sri Lanka

H. L. D. Mahindapala

This Sunday morning the readers are presented with the following list for digestion before breakfast:

* Imagine for a moment the Government of Sri Lankan (GOSL), which is accused of being Sinhala-dominated, going all out to decimate the cream of the Tamil leadership and succeeding.

* Imagine for a moment, GOSL sending out letters to all Tamil families with names of Tamil youth who must join in the on-going war whether they like it or not.

* Imagine for a moment the helpless Tamil parents and their children cowering in fear of the next knock on the door by GOSL agents to drag their children into an unwanted war.

* Imagine if in the government-controlled areas the NGO staff are being abducted and forced to join the military to fight its battles. "All the NGOs in the area have great concerns towards (Tiger) recruitment policy. We do experience that staff of all the different NGOs are getting abducted or have tremendous pressure towards them because they want to recruit them," said Arne Bangstad, programme manager of Nordic aid agency FORUT.

* Imagine if the GOSL is accused of killing more Tamils than any other force. (S. Chandrahasan, son of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, accused the Tamil Tigers of killing more Tamils than any other force.)

* Imagine if the GOSL was guilty of ethnic cleansing of Muslims who were driven out of Jaffna within 48 hours after grabbing all their jewelry, money and even raping some women.

* Imagine if the GOSL suppressed the free media brutally and jailed or executed all dissidents refusing to toe its political line.

* Imagine for a moment the GOSL spending all its resources in purchasing arms and armaments in the global black market without spending a cent on an aspirin for its patients or providing a loaf of bread.

* Imagine for a moment the GOSL sending its military to grab under aged children from schools and from the bosom of their parents and throwing them into the battle field – a war crime according to international law.

* Imagine if the GOSL held “hundreds of thousands of Tamils as prisoners in the squalid and worm-infested cells (as) in the LTTE controlled areas.” (Source: London-based Tamil website, The Independent.)

* Imagine if the GOSL meted out “inhuman treatment to the Tamil civilian population for petty parochial reasons,” according to the same website.

* Imagine if you can’t crack a joke against the President of Sri Lanka without looking over your shoulder as to who is listening. (Source: the New York Times, James Burns, 25 June, 1995).

* Imagine the GOSL siphoning off the food and other essentials sent to the people to feed its forces.

* Imagine if food ships sent by official sources to the people of Sri Lanka are sunk by the Sri Lankan Navy.

* Imagine the Sri Lankans being forced to pay an additional tax on top of the one paid to the government.

* Imagine if the GOSL had no other rationale except to survive on a futile war to prop up its leader promising an unattainable goal.

* Imagine… the list of violations of human rights, war crimes and brutalities committed in the name of a “Sun God”.

* Imagine etc., etc., etc.

Of course, the readers don’t have to use their imagination to figure out who is doing all this. The international community knows it. The moral merchants in the NGOs know it. The Churches, particularly the Catholic Church, know it. The local media and the wire service know it. Prof. S. J. Tambiah of Harvard University, H. L Seneviratne of Virginia University, Godfrey (globe-trotting-with-family) Goonetilleke, of MARGA, Poi-kiya-sothy Saravanamuttu, another fat cat in NGO circuit, Jehan (Pacha) Perera, Kumar (shy-to-tell-salary) Rupesinghe, Jayadeva (hiding-under-temple--bed) Uyangoda, know it. They all know it. But their focus has been on successive GOSLs. They have consistently and deliberately refused to look at the cruel perversions of the Jaffna Tamil society because any such scrutiny will weaken their accusations against the Sinhala society.

They focus on the south essentially to divert attention away from a political criminal banned by the international community, wanted by Interpol, and despised by the Tamil people whom he oppresses. Blaming the “Sinhala chauvinists” is the one way of legitimizing brutal Tamil violence. This also exonerates the Tamils from any blame for originating and pursing political violence. Above all, it is the ideological myth which enables the Tamil propagandists to project them as victims of the Sinhala majority. Victimology has become their best marketing strategy. They have perfected the art of presenting the top dogs of Sri Lanka as the under dog.

But even if their accusation is accepted for the sake of argument, does it give them the right to pursue politics of violence, violating al known canons of human rights? Which state – de jure or de facto – that commits such crimes against humanity and war crimes should be legimitised by any self-respecting individual who genuinely care for human rights? A common ploy has been to accuse successive elected states of “oppressing the minorities”. They go even further and brand the majority community as “Sinhala chauvinists”. In this tactic of demonizing the majority, going back to July 1983” is a common ritual. For instance, of all the gory and major events unfolding daily the BBC (sometimes known as the British Bulldust Corporation) focuses on an obscure woman hired by NGOs making a big fuss about another “Black July”, as if it’s going to happen again tomorrow. In fact, the Sinhala community has not reacted to the provocative acts of the Tamil Tigers since 1983. BBC ignores this reality and goes for this kind of NGO bunkum, telling the world that the next communal holocaust is waiting to happen. It is the professional competence and standards of BBC that comes into question when these Sinhala employees of BBC become willing tools of agents stoking the fires of communal tensions. If BBC is genuinely concerned about reconciliation then it should balance its reporting and focus on all events that have sent communal relations into a bloody spin.

Of course, broadcasting two-bit superficialities as earth-shattering news serves the anti-government propaganda peddled by the BBC Sinhala program. This is typical of BBC faking news from trivia. Not surprisingly BBC has now admitted faking results of a phone-in contests and reworking the footage of Queen Elizabeth to make it look like her storming out of a photo-shoot. If BBC can do that to the Queen and doctor results of competitions what wouldn’t piddling media puppets of the Sinhala section do to distort Sri Lankan news?

Now this BBC bias should not be considered as isolated event. It is a part of the general pattern of ignoring the major crimes, some of which are listed above. No doubt, the Sri Lankan governments have been guilty of many sins of omission and commission. The major accusation is that successive Sri Lankan governments have discriminated against “the minorities” (which in reality boils down to the common accusation leveled exclusively by the Jaffna Tamils, the most privileged community in Sri Lanka, against the Sinhalese).

But a close scrutiny of the history of Jaffna Tamils will reveal that at no time in their history have they suffered as under the one-man regime that came out of mono-ethnic extremism. Besides, the accusation of “discrimination” against the Jaffna Tamils has been challenged by commentators who believe that there is no substance to it. On the contrary, it is the history of the indigenous that records the most demeaning social discrimination that dehumanized a section of Tamil population. The oppressive discrimination enforced by the vellahla upper caste in Jaffna against the lower caste Tamils and also the Jaffna Tamil discrimination against the Batticoloa Tamils have been some of the darkest chapters in Sri Lankan history. Karuna broke away from the LTTE controlled by the Jaffna Tamils because the eastern were exploited by the northern leadership without any commensurate benefit flowing
to the eastern Tamils. No Sri Lankan government or the majority community has degraded and abused the Tamils as the Tamils themselves.

Dealing with the recent developments, V. Anandasangaree, the UN award-winning peace activist and leader of the TULF, for instance, has appealed to India “to take into serious consideration the immense hardships caused by them to the Tamils in several ways for well over 23 years.” He added: “The LTTE is the main force that deprived the democratic and fundamental rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and considerably eroded into their human rights also.”

Neither the BBC nor the female NGO hack, hyping the rhetoric against the government, has paid due attention to the concerns of the voice of Anandasangaree that is far more authentic and respected than the hired NGO activist singing for her supper.
In Sri Lanka heavily politicized human rights campaigns – including peace marchers -- tend to serve inhuman rights more than human rights. Since there is a mighty rush on the part of the media, political pundits, NGO mudalalis, academics, Church groups and misleaders of public opinion to be the prime proprietors of human rights on what criteria should they pass judgment on the two political entities run on two diametrically opposed political systems? Neither party should be exempted but given the imperfections of human institutions who deserves the most favoured treatment? Is it the fascist Vanni or the democratic south with all its defects? More importantly, those who value human rights must seriously ask: what right has the Vanni regime to exist when it commits unrelentingly war crimes and crimes against humanity, as an official policy dismissing world opinion and civilized norms?

How long will the international community tolerate this? Will they tolerate within their territorial borders a fascist pocket that threatens not only their state but even the security and the future of their citizens? Can peace be won by appeasing the Vanni regime? Or is liberating those imprisoned in the Vanni gulag the most effective and enduring way to peace and security? Anandasangaree has openly called for the liberation of the Vanni people. Common sense would dictate that no amount of theoretical punditry proposing constitutional re-arrangements would pave the way to peace. Did the Allies win the hearts and mind of the Germans by appeasing Hitler with constitutional reforms? Or did the Germans and the Allies win their freedom and peace by eliminating Hitler? There is a lesson in World War II for peace and human rights activists.

These days, for instance, there is an overabundance of human rights in Tamil websites. That is a sure sign of the Tamil Tigers not winning militarily. On the days they score military victories they crow from roof tops about their killings and the general mayhem they have caused. On those days human rights go out of the window. But on the days they lose human rights are invoked as another weapon to win back what they have lost, or to tie the hands of the advancing Sri Lankan forces.

The cynicism of those who seek the protection of human rights only when they lose depicts the tragic plight of human rights. In the hands of racist criminals like Velupillai Prabhakaran and his apologists it is primarily a tool for political survival. In the hands of hired NGOs agents it is primarily a tool for economic survival. The competition among the NGO rivals for the limited dollar from foreign sources is as pathetic and fierce as Prabhakaran’s blood-letting competition with his Tamil rivals for his own survival.

Some of the abusers of human rights are the NGO mudalalis. Consider, for instance, Poi-kiya-sothy Saravanamuttu’s legal move to bring back the Tamils evicted from their lodges in Colombo. He should be given hundred marks for it. But how many marks should he be given for not taking legal action against Velupillai Prabhakaran, the fascist ethnic cleanser who drove Muslims and Sinhalese out of Jaffna? After Saravanamuttu’s victory in courts, he would no doubt be filling out forms in triplicate for more funds from his foreign donors claiming reimbursement of legal expenses. His victory also ensures more funding for his Center for Policy Alternative. Well, good luck to him! In one sense, it can be seen as a clever move for his survival and that of Rohan Edrisinghe, his in-house legal-beagle. In another sense, he went all out to save his Tamil brethren. But why hasn’t he shown the same concern for the Muslims and Sinhalese driven out at the point of a gun by “the sole representative of the Tamils”?

If he is genuinely concerned about human rights shouldn’t he initiate legal action against Prabhakaran, either locally or internationally? Why hasn’t he, or any other NGO, had the courage to file a case against Prabhakaran for crimes against humanity and war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC)? The ICC will certainly entertain his case if it is filed. So why hasn’t this champion of human rights who filed a case to protect 300 Tamils not filed a case against the eviction of 75,000 Muslims and 25,000 Sinhalese from Jaffna?

Considering these facts, is Poi-kiya-sothy Saravanamuttu protecting the rights of only his tribe and that of Prabhakaran, “the sole representative of the Tamils”? His legal pundit, Rohan Edirisinghe should have told him that there is an open-and-shut case against Prabhakaran if he is charged before ICC with proper documentation and evidence. Besides, he has considerable financial resources and research talent to build up a case if he taps into the wide spread net work of interlocking NGO directorates. What then is holding him back? Is he there to sue only what he and his fellow-propagandists say, “the Sinhala-dominated government” ?

Time and again, the University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna, has accused the Colombo-based NGOs of “pussyfooting” around the human rights violations of Prabhakaran. Saravanamuttu and his “chuck-golaya”, Edirisinghe should know, after being so long in this game of exploiting human rights for personal and political gains, that no one should be allowed to go scot free for crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is time for Saravanamuttu-Edrisinghe combination to declare whether they are for human rights, which applies right across the board without exception, or only for the rights of one community and its “sole representative”

- Asian Tribune -

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