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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 79

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo – UNHRC counts Sri Lanka out

By Shenali Waduge

Interestingly enough this age old counting system was responsible for the elimination of Sri Lanka from re-election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Yet, there were many others who thought it was their internationalized anti-Sri Lanka campaigns that triggered the loss of votes to Sri Lanka.

Some of those happy faces are Desmond Tutu, former US President Carter & Argentinean Aldolfo Perez Esquivel & how could we not miss the NGO coalition. So proud are they of their fete accompli vis a vis Sri Lanka that they seem not to care that States with more questionable human rights abuses have found their way to the UNHRC & they in fact out number the democracies on the 47 member Council.

Yet, isn’t it wonderful news to have Sri Lanka’s Health Minister unanimously elected as the WHO Chairman – the first Asian to receive this fete.

It is extremely interesting to note how Rev. Tutu, former President Carter & Aldolfo Perez Esquivel could make judgment on Sri Lanka without setting a foot in Sri Lanka? From nowhere they seem to surface & issue statements as if Sri Lanka is a nation in anarchy. They may well argue that they have public opinion or perhaps enough of international reports to base their conclusions but is this acceptable? While the anti-Sri Lanka lobbyists rejoice over Sri Lanka’s omission they remain quite silent over the questionable entry of the other States. One would have thought that a country whose human rights are a questionable feature would have been better monitored while on the Human Rights Council rather than out of it. If the criterion for selection was a country’s record of good human rights policies & practices then those states with questionable records should not have made it to the voting arena at all & the voting structure itself should have been changed.

Who says there are human rights abuses in Sri Lanka?

In a relatively small country as Sri Lanka rumors are bound to pass in leaps & bounds. We have heard of white vans, kidnappings, assaults, disappearances, etc over the past few years so much so that it is pictured to be a daily occurrence. It makes a great news story.

The media thinks itself a sacrilegious entity & even a request to produce their National Identity Cards by security personnel is taken as an abuse to their freedom of movement. Though at the same time we are asked to be vigilant of LTTE bombers & suicide cadres in disguise as member of the public. Then we have the Opposition of Sri Lanka whose pastime is to endlessly find fault with the ruling Government.

Had the present Government being in the reverse role, it would be doing the same thing. There is no consensus even in times of national interest. A few of these supposed kidnappings have actually resulted in a reappearance & then application for foreign asylum. Some cases have taken a personal nature & nothing to do with the ethnicities that are being projected. It certainly does raise a few eyebrows. Sri Lanka is guilty for detaining men & women for questioning while in the UK it is accepted that under their terror laws they can keep any without being produced to trial.

We have also the Colombo-based Tamil leaders who bemoan the fate of the Tamils & the harsh climate in which they live with looming threats – mind you in Colombo where the Tamils have very lucrative businesses, own property & are holding top posts in both the State & private sectors. These Tamil leaders cry foul whenever the Government reduces their security retinue & are so dependent on the Government to provide them with additional security & once again we wonder who they want protection from. They rarely make visits to the Northern part of the country where the supposed liberator of the Tamil people are fighting the armed forces to create an Eelam for the Tamil people & we wonder if ever an Eelam is created whether any Tamil presently living amongst the Sinhalese will ever take up residence up North.

The obvious crook to all the above crimes invariably ends up – the Government, it has been extremely easy to pin down all the blame on the Government. Whatever scenario being projected internationally the crux of the matter still remains that Sri Lanka has never gone through a period that the blacks suffered in the US as well as in South Africa where despite the abolition of apartheid it is today a country in riot – thousands of immigrants are homeless, their property destroyed, they are being attacked & even killed.

While the NGO coalition has been documenting reports to showcase Sri Lanka’s dire status with regard to human rights these reports itself are questionable – they do not cover proper details of complaints not even record cases where the missing have in fact returned.. Human Rights Watch has listed 498 cases of “abductions / missing” in Sri Lanka. Into that list are two boys aged 5 years & 8 years. Would the Government or the army abduct children as small as 5 & 8 or is it really the work of the LTTE which even the UN accepts as recruiting child soldiers. Does the world know that for any Tamil family to leave the North to come to the South even for an interview they must sacrifice a child to the LTTE before making their journey?

Foreign Media associations in their list of media personnel killed in 2007 has listed 6 cases in Sri Lanka amongst the 95 or so total cases & their conclusion is that Sri Lanka is a country that no press freedom or freedom of speech prevails. Incidentally, 3 of the 6 journalists are from the Voice of Tigers the LTTE radio channel & these international entities have made a folly to include them when the LTTE is a proscribed entity & their operations regarded as illegal. So does the world have any grounds to view three deaths as evidence that there is no freedom of speech in Sri Lanka? The most recent case of an associate editor being roughed up is certainly to be deplored.

No one has any right to physically harm another. It is said that his column criticizing the Governments’ military actions is likely to be the reason. This is somewhat hard to fathom. The particular paper that this associate editor writes to does not receive wide circulation even in Colombo. It is a weekend newspaper & the English reading population compared to the total population is rather small & thus an insignificant feature for a Government vis a vis their national projection & desire for public approval for the military onslaughts. The Government’s move to attack the LTTE has been accepted not for anything else but the public’s realization of the failure of previous Governments whose strategy was purely to appease the LTTE.

Whatever faults associated with the ruling Government that it cares not to be on the defensive to the LTTE is widely accepted by the public. There were even some supposed attacks on journalists timed with the UNHRC election but then it was revealed that it was merely staged play!

The Government of course must realize that even bombs exploding in the high security zones eventually become its accountability. For bombs that pass security checks the Government is still to blame. Are soldiers to be regarded as human detonators? Do they not deserve some sort of respect & empathy? Rarely do we see the NGO coalition take on the LTTE for their ruthless attacks on civilians. Then again it would not effect the LTTE either for they are simply not concerned what the international community or Sri Lanka thinks of them. If they were men & women who had hearts would they kill innocent men, women, children & even religious heads? Their killing of Rajiv Gandhi & President Premadasa was a perfect example of their ruthlessness - not caring an iota for any assistance rendered to them – Rajiv Gandhi who continued to train, supply arms & provide Tamil Nadu as a shelter for the LTTE & for President Ranatunga Premadasa who also supplied weapons to the LTTE & even put them up in a 5 star hotel in Colombo. Many are critical of Premadasa for supplying weapons to the LTTE to make the IPKF return to India, but in hindsight some view it has perhaps a wise move in the light of Sri Lanka not turning into a Vietnam.

It is obvious how strategic objectives take a prima facie role in global politics. During the 1980s President Carter may care to remember his role in the coalition that did not care whether Governments were Marxists, democratic or imperialists because it had one single objective – that being to defeat Russia in Afghanistan for this purpose US, China, UK, Israel, Egypt, France & Pakistan & even Boris Yeltsin their agent all came together as silent coalition partners. Likewise, we can but explore who the silent partners are in their designs for Sri Lanka?

What is the problem we have in Sri Lanka?

Packaged terminologies like minority, majority & other such ethnic labels were all coined by the West & it is these terminologies that they are being using today upon the colonies to accuse it of the same biases they created. In the colonial system that prevailed the divide & rule policy was effective in destabilizing the peaceful harmony that existed between the Sinhalese, Muslims & the Tamils. To be fair by Prabakaran the seeds of separatism vis a vis a need for self-determination did not start with him. Leaders like Chelvanayagam & other high caste Tamils did court such fancies for the Tamil people; failing its realization they thought a “struggle” would easily realize their goal. With Prabakaran not a member of that Vellara caste it was a fatal error by these high class Tamils to think that Prabakaran would realize their objective & he would return to his role as a low-caste Tamil – the power of the gun would eventually turn Prabakaran into a sun god & far above any Vellara caste. This was exactly what happened & the down-trodden Tamils were quick to join the other militant groups until such time Parakaran saw fit to eliminate them & their leaders to make him the “sole representative”. Returning to the argument that the LTTE has succeeded internationally in the promotion of abuses & discrimination of Tamil people – obviously when Government mechanisms cannot match the propaganda machinery of the LTTE it is only time when foreigner begin to “believe the projected status quo”.

With the negative outlook given of the Sinhalese it is only with time that organizations start to take a similar overview for it feeds into their agenda to enter a country & kick start their programs of “change”. Thus, we have NGOs who have been accused of changing religions of innocent Tamils & Sinhalese, adding fuel to fire, supplying arms to the LTTE, indulging in pornography, sex scandals & the list is likely to continue with even the UN party to most of these scandals.

The US policy is somewhat hard to read – they don’t negotiate with terrorists but then they insist the Sri Lankan Government negotiate a settlement with the LTTE. A settlement is possible but can any foreign nation explain why a country should have to get into negotiations with a terrorist group that not only kills Sinhalese but also their own people. Yet, the Sri Lankan Government has negotiated unlike the US did with Iraq or Afghanistan, we have had talks in Thimpu, Thailand, Norway but all to no avail. Even Tamil leaders like Anandasangaree, Minister Douglas Devananda has to be given 24x7 security though the tigers succeeded in eliminating Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Mr. Kadiragamar during the famed ceasefire agreement as well as Minister Jeyraj Fernandopulle early this year. If the world raises the question of genocide it must first examine how the thousands of Muslims & Sinhalese were chased out of the North by the LTTE while others were mercifully hacked to death.

So are the Sinhalese & Tamils in a stage where they cannot live together as they did so thousands of years ago?

Certainly not, that would explain why over 55% of the 1.6 Tamil population (total population is 2.4milion & of this 600,000 are living in foreign shores) in Sri Lanka are actually living amongst the Sinhalese & not amongst the LTTE.

The 600,000 or so cases of Tamils living abroad make up the famed Tamil Diaspora who are keen on promoting a “discrimination theme” so that the conflict prevails leaving them more time to gain permanent residency in the countries they are presently living as refugees. The Government managed to liberate the East of LTTE rule (over 600,000 of Tamils make up 60% of the Eastern population) It is also prudent to note that the Karuna faction which broke away from the LTTE was partly because the Eastern Tamils are looked down upon by the Northern Tamils & the LTTE, considered the Eastern tigers as merely a group to realize its objectives. It then begs to ask whether the international community should accept the LTTE’s “liberation” theory on the 300,000 or so Tamils that are forced to stay in the North? These people are used as human shields; their children are forcibly taken away & denied their youth & made into child soldiers.

"Tamils are living in Colombo peacefully with their Sinhalese and Muslim friends. So there is no ethnic conflict here. And certainly the government is defending itself against terrorism," so said Robert Blake, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka. Coming from a man much criticized for interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs it is most welcome. Speaking further Ambassador Blake goes on to say "...I think it would be very useful for Prabhakaran to give up this idea of seeking an independent Tamil state and agreeing to negotiate with a united Sri Lanka," This perhaps aligns to President Bush’s most recent comment made in Israel that a country shouldn’t have to negotiate with terrorists.

Coming to the question of communities living together – there is enough evidence to prove & negate the theory that the Sinhalese & Tamils cannot live together. Countries that have no cultures cannot understand how close these two communities are especially in times of festivities & how we share amongst our neighbors the good will of cultures. It is pointless dwelling on this issue as the US Ambassador himself vouches for the fact.

However, we have had a recent history of attacks not by the public but staged by politicians of the present Opposition party. The 1983 riots remains the curse with which the Sinhalese have to silently accept admonishes by the international community. It is a price that the ordinary Sinhalese end up having to pay for which they were not party to. Yet, the Tamils have forgiven the very party that was instrumental in taking the riots to such diabolical levels. The UNP whatever their policy never looses its Colombo votes base that the Tamils are great influencers off. The Opposition Leaders votes come mostly from the minority groups & not the majority as evident in practically all the elections he has lost.

There are presently hundreds of unresolved conflicts the world over for some UN intervention & troop deployment has helped little to ease matters, in some cases it has only added more misery. Sri Lanka too had its experience with foreign troops that came in the form of the IPKF – with little knowledge of the political scenario in Sri Lanka, not knowing a single word or any idea of the cultures that existed it was only a matter of time that the garlands given by the Tamil people on arrival would soon turn sour & thus the calls for their return to India. It is likely to be the same scenario for any other such troop deployment.

In the present context of the situation in Sri Lanka the country is divided. Can the citizens of Sri Lanka travel to see the North of their country. Can those in the North travel to see the South of their country?

Obviously not, the reason of course is the existence of a brutal terrorist movement calling itself a liberation movement. They have singlehandedly being responsible for the depreciating status of the Tamil people – instead of development in the North there are ruins, instead of enterprises there is destruction, instead of infrastructure there are hundred of bunkers & tiger training camps which only trail the path of taking the Tamil people further & further away from any solution. The present day Tamil youth are not interested in the LTTE they are more concerned about their youth & making a career. The LTTE has taken the country through 25 years of misery; its cadres have aged & died doing nothing but handling a gun & living in the jungles as fugitives. They have sacrificed a life for what? The East has a Chief Minister who was once a child soldier – those critical opine that he is nothing but a killer, if this be the argument why have we wasted time all these years in encouraging Prabakaran to enter a democratic framework of existence giving up guerilla warfare. It is these hypocrisies that prevent Sri Lanka coming out of the present predicament.

We cannot forget that conflicts are really a means of profit for an industry that is thriving because of terrorism – it is the arms & ammunition industry controlled by the superpowers in whose interests a climate of strife is required to prevail so that their arms flow would reap benefits to them financially. It is these scenarios that Governments like Sri Lanka end up having to tackle diplomatically. The push & pull effects have left a small country such as ours with little or no choice in matters that could have been resolved much earlier. We have had two former leaders practically offering Sri Lanka’s north to the LTTE but we also have a man whose interests is known only to him… our guesses are worth nothing.

In India the Gujjar tribe has been waging attacks on the Government not for anything but to appeal to the Government to regard them at least as a Schedule Tribe. Surprisingly, 83% of those sending their opinions on whether the Gujjars should be accepted as a scheduled tribe say a firm “NO” – this is racism & discrimination when SC & ST account for 24% of the total population of India. Or perhaps Article 153 of the Malaysian constitution that provides privileges to the Malays above other ethnic groups.

Leaving aside the 1983 debacle the Sinhalese however provoked into attacking the Tamil community by the LTTE has remained steadfast that it would not bow down to the same levels of the tigers. The LTTE has practically eliminated the Sinhalese leadership, the LTTE has killed hundred of Sinhalese men, women & children, it has attacked economic structures & caused pandemonium, it has struck trains & buses & places of worship, killed Buddhist monks & children in cold blood but for none of these instances has a Sinhalese raised a single hand upon a Tamil for more than 25 years – it shows some resilience amongst the Sinhalese does it not? In countries where the food crisis & escalation of prices has caused riots & uproar Sri Lanka besides the whimper amongst family & friends has not raised a voice or damaged a single state property.

Why do the Sinhalese feel that the Tamils do not suffer from injustices?

When more than half of the Tamil population lives outside of Tamil dominated areas & invariably amongst Sinhalese it becomes hard to imagine what type of discrimination the LTTE & other interested parties are trying to project. In the State sector there are Tamils & some of them hold very important positions – the two slain Tamil Ministers by the LTTE were the Foreign Minister & the Chief Government Whip. There are Tamils who are members of both the SLFP & UNP & they too command respect of the public. There are many Tamils holding top posts in the Private Sector – they own property & are holding portfolios in professional organizations as well. Even in the police force, there are Tamils – if they aren’t it is not because they are denied a place but because they prefer other occupational roles.

Yet there are areas that could do with improvement & a starter is of course Government circulars. Predominately Tamil populated areas must have circulars in Tamil – it only makes sense. These are simple administrative solutions for which a small population should not have to ask for a separate state. Presently, schools have the option of studying in Sinhala, Tamil or English mediums – we need to include more schools, more universities & of course encourage foreign universities to set up in Sri Lanka & take our universities from the slumber it is presently in. We have the present provincial council system which is adequate to cater to these sensitive areas while the central government can concentrate on policies.

It has been pettiness on the part of past politicians aggravated by fanatical religious heads that have aggravated the situation in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala Only policy, Buddhism as state religion does little to advance their status quo in society. It is these mistimed & uncalled for actions for political mileages that provide food for the tigers & the foundation to argue a case that should not have been allowed to raise its ugly head – reversal of past mistakes have been made complicated leaving too many stakeholders & problems that have given birth to countless more problems. The public comprising the Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims care only to live in peaceful coexistence, educate their children & live according to their means.

- Asian Tribune -

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