Our persistent opposition to any kind of international criticism of our mishandling of domestic affairs has much to do with the inflated egos of our foreign policy handlers and politicians, than whatever those lofty claims of sovereign equality, internal sovereignty and non interference of internal affairs, and so forth. Sometimes, when those inflated egos explode, the whole affair takes a very ugly turn, like External Affairs Minister G.L Peiris’s outburst at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute last Friday, turned out to be.
Peiris exploded after the visiting Canadian Senator Hugh Segal noted, in his response to a journalist, that the Canadian Courts had given many rulings unfavourable to the government , on the ‘first nation’ which constituted four per cent of the total population, but that Toronto did not sack its Chief Justice due to those rulings.
“We have suffered as a matter from our courts but we didn’t impeach the Chief Justice as a result,” the Senator said.
That apparently struck a raw nerve in Peiris who unleashed his verbose to the discomfiture of much of the saner audience – and in doing so, he revealed to the Canadian that Sri Lanka, under the current regime, has even lost its historical touch with hospitability, something we have been proud of for centuries.
“I take exception to this remark which was the only unwarranted and inappropriate remark made. Had I not been your host I would have reacted more sharply. I would not have dreamt of making such a remark if I were visiting your country. I am appalled and taken aback by it because there is no nexus in this,” Prof. Peiris said.
Obviously, Peiris had been trying to score brownie points from the ruling cohort though the recent developments reveal that the role played by Prof. Peiris has pretty much been relegated, and some of his responsibilities as per the UNHRC were handed over to the Plantations Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. (Those who know the inside dealings of the External Affairs Ministry would explain in detail how Sajin Vas Gunawardene, the monitoring MP of the Ministry of External Affairs actually calls the shots while Peiris is regarded as ‘spineless.’)
The latest US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka, which was passed at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has surely piqued those inflated egos. But, other than challenging those egos, is this resolution as bad as it is projected to be?
Of course, it wields a distant threat of an international war crime probe, but that would materialize only if the government continues to fail to honour its commitment to conduct a credible domestic probe. So there is the carrot and the stick. And should the government conduct a credible investigation that would, in fact, empower domestic institutions.
In the immediate future, the resolution may not be worth the paper it was written on. The government would continue to flout it, like it did with the earlier resolution of 2012.
Abductions did not end with the March 2012 resolution. Even before the ink on it dried, the State apparatus abducted the leader of the JVP offshoot group, Kumar Gunaratnam. He was later released because the Australian Foreign Ministry told its Sri Lankan counterpart, in no uncertain terms, that this time around it really meant business. So strong language seemed to work with the Sri Lankan Government.
Therefore a second resolution, which was built on the 2012 resolution would send a signal to the government that the international community, or to put it bluntly, the countries that matter, do mean business.
Space is limited
The latest resolution calls upon the government to respect the rights of its citizens, including the ethnic minorities, political dissenters and the victims of the impunity of the State, who have already been abducted and have disappeared. That is a fair and legitimate demand that our foreign friends can make from the government. That matters since the citizens of the country have little or no avenues to vent their anger without being labelled as a traitor by the government, or worst still being taken for a ride by a white van. We are the victims of the prevailing culture of impunity and the erosion of democratic values and traditions. And the political system which has centralized all the powers at the hands of the Executive Presidency does not provide room for reform. Where the space is limited for domestic manoeuvering, the international involvement becomes a necessary evil.
Those who cry foul that the resolution is an interference in our domestic affairs, have however forgotten that, the ‘interference’ has been warranted by the plight of thousands of relatives of disappeared men and women who have been kept in limbo about the fate of their sons, daughters and spouses. The resolution may have also been necessitated by the fact that the government sacked the country’s lawful Chief Justice after a sham trail by a crooked Parliamentary Select Committee.
Also it may have stem from the existential reality that any one of us may be picked up by a white van, simply because we disagree with the regime. The resolution calls on the government to treat us as citizens; not as subjects. It may have piqued the egos of the ruling cohort, but the resolution is in the interest of us, the average folks.
Finally, for those who cry foul that this is interference of our sovereignty, there is a basic political science lesson: Internal sovereignty is not absolute. It has evolved to have its own limitations, having learned from the massacre of Srebrenica, the Rwandan genocide, amongst other similar situations.
The Sri Lankan experience during the concluding phase of the war was not as acute and de-humanizing as the Tiger lobbies in the West have described it. However, the problem is that the government exploited the victory over the LTTE for its political advantage, though the military victory was a result of a collective effort, including our foreign friends who helped us in intelligence sharing and weapons. The politicization of the war victory has gone beyond the point of no return, making it impossible for the government to acknowledge or investigate incidents of alleged war crimes. That also explains the government’s reluctance to appoint a Commissioner General on the disappeared, one of the recommendations of the LLRC.
Finally, of course, there is a thinly veiled threat of an international war crime investigation, tucked into the paragraphs of the resolution. However, that would be likely to materialize only if the government continues to disregard the fundamental rights of its citizens. If the government is genuine to deliver on its commitments to its people, it can easily avoid the discomfiture of seeing some of its ranks in Hague, in the distance future.