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Human Rights and the pronouncements of Minister Mervyn Silva

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Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha M.P

by Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha M.P.

In considering again the extraordinary attack on Dayan Jayatilleka by the destructive elements in the Ministry of External Affairs, being indeed forced to do so by their gratuitous inclusion of me therein, it occurred to me that one reason for the ongoing dysfunctionality of government at present is the contradictory motivations of some of those who exercise influence with regard to not just international relations but also those subjects that are of close concern to the international community.

I refer to those who believe that they are best equipped to deal with the West, and in particular those in the Ministry who believe that Dayan and I have been too tough and that, had things been left to them, the West would be very happy with the situation in Sri Lanka. According to the incisive commentary about divisions in the delegation in Geneva, they had been engaging in discussions with the West, as it seems they had been doing for many years before.

While I am not sure that that commentary is right in seeing such individuals as traitorous, I believe that their approach was wrong on two counts. One was the belief that the West would be happy with assurances without any action with regard to matters on which they could build up feeling against us.

The second was the assumption that the West was concerned only about such matters, and that what has been going on over the last few years need not be studied, but can be dealt with by hasty reactions.

With regard to the first point, I have some sympathy with those foreign ambassadors who have made it clear that they have no faith at all in what they had initially been led to believe was the civilized face of the government. I do not share their view that this face suffers from schizophrenia, ie that it is double faced, but I do believe that it simply has no resistance when faced with different perspectives from those considered more powerful.

A stunning example of this was what occurred at a recent discussion about the pronouncements of Minister Mervyn Silva following the debacle in Geneva. I was of the view that no intelligent person could have failed to realize that such pronouncements were immensely damaging to the government, and to the President personally. The majority of those present were of the view that the intelligence I thought basic could not be expected of Minister Silva.

However one perspective put forward, and that from someone I have always believed committed to rights and the rule of law, was that the Minister was using an idiomatic expression which was not to be taken seriously. When such excuses are put forward, not only is there a failure to exercise damage control, but we fail to actually look into the possible motivations for such excesses.

Not necessarily that particular excess, but others one comes across seem to spring from a desire to polarize, to reject involvement and intercourse with the West, on the grounds that this will destroy not just our sovereignty but 2000 years of autonomous civilization. Such a perspective is of course nonsensical, and involves denial of historical reality as well as the structure of the modern world, but in some cases I believe it is held sincerely.

One cannot therefore quarrel with sincere beliefs of this sort, especially because it is clear that they are emphatically a minority viewpoint, and not shared by the vast majority of those in government.

The number of leading members of the SLFP who have made clear their moderate views on how the country should move forward makes it clear that, while the success of this government in getting rid of terrorism within Sri Lanka is appreciated, the popular view, borne out by all opinion polls, is that government should now also move forward on constructive reforms.

The minority that disagrees with this cannot, as I said, be criticized, though they should not be allowed to hinder government moves towards Reconciliation, as well as implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan.

While we can understand that scrupulous adherence to the Rule of Law was not always possible when we were under grave terrorist threat, now that that threat has been overcome, we must obviously move swiftly to re-establishing the systems that suffered under pressure. In particular we need to strengthen the Police, and develop Operational Manuals that will make clear to sll members of the public the duties as well as the responsibilities of the Police.

All this will be stymied if those who should know better continue to defend the indefensible. More importantly, their failure to give sensible advice will allow those who do not quite understand what a modern democracy needs to continue to cut corners.

One of the greatest blunders we suffered from was the failure to ensure, after the 2010 election, a Ministry dedicated to Human Rights. I was at fault myself here, for when I was told by the Secretary to the President that this would come under the Foreign Ministry, I thought that an acceptable solution since I believed the Minister had vision as well as commitment in this regard.

I hope I was not mistaken, but the excess of work thrust upon him meant that this was not fulfilled, and my suggestion that he take over all our staff at the Ministry of Human Rights was not immediately implemented by his officials. Those who were absorbed were not supported in their work, and the system we had set up of answering any inquiries promptly was totally forgotten.

The sad thing was that no one in authority seemed to care. I kept suggesting that the Action Plan we had drafted should be taken forward, but though in time the Attorney General assured me that he was putting to Cabinet what he described as ‘your Action Plan’, the lack of specific responsibility meant that it took another year to be finalized. Then it took six months for a system to be set up to ensure action but the necessary instructions have still not gone out formally to all Ministries.

I can see then why those genuinely committed to Human Rights are suspicious about our intentions. But at the same time we need also to examine the other reasons for critiques of this country. We should avoid inadequacies that can be taken advantage of, while ensuring relations based on mutual respect with those who do not play games in this regard.

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  1. I see a new chapter in political discourse within the Sinhala polity, with positive implications for the whole nation. The fact that this discourse is being led by men within the government circle- Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinhe- is heartening. The limits to which this discourse will be tolerated and the extent to which it influences affairs, will be determined by the wisdom of President Mahinda Rajapakse. This discourse is one of the benefits arising from the end of war. Democracy is raising its head. I pray this trend is encouraged and nurtured. It is a fragile plant that should be protected and fertilized. We also should not go for an over kill prematurely. I am glad this discourse is led by intelligent, learned and thoughtful men. This is a turning point in the Mahinda Rajapakse presidency and hopefully a turning point in our history.

    I hope the Sinhala and Tamil print media and websites, will translate and publish such fare.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  2. Rajiva has lived up to his upbringing and has stated something that his own family can be proud of. Reading his articles in the past, I feared that he has sold his soul to the devil for positions of importance, but releived to know that something favourable achieved in Oxford Uni and STC are still present.

    Good article Rajiva

  3. Great Article Professor. It looks like some idiots in the government think all the diplomatic wars were just to get thro’ to where they want and afterwards they can conveniently divert from what you guys promised on behlaf of the country’s governance. Even President Rajapakse seems use all the diplomats and their intelligence to pass thro’ difficult hurdles, but I can’t believe how stupid he is to turn the blind eye on what was undertaken to do, forgetting what you guys did.

    This looks for me either utter stupidity, arrogance or ‘modaya’s chandi’ behaviour. How many months/years can they go like this is a real question. Do they think they can hire diplomats, lobby groups to represent them whenever there’s a need and this can go on and on until the Int’l community is fed up and silenced..?? If you think you’re the smartest ass in this whole planet using ‘Beliatta’ sort tactics to buy time and do nothing, oh dear… you haven’t learnt your lessons yet. God bless you and us in Sri Lanka.

    Underestimating everyone else assuming you’re the smartest fellow and your country is the smartest, are what our modayas continue to think with the blessing of maha sangha which is good at only further spoiling what we have gone through.

  4. Good stuff Rajiva, keep up the good work! However, you should call for the resignation of Marvyn Silva and other goons and fools in the Rajapakse cabinet openly and work to ensure this happens.
    Indeed, as an educated man you would know that the Rajapakse Jumbo Cabinet is full of goons, fools and geriatrics, who lack the education, technical and technological skill sot hold port folios and ensure sector development plans in a highly globalized world where capable, talented and technically and technologically competent and younger people are required for national development. The Minister of Education Banduala Gunawardena is an insult to the intelligence of students in Lanka having lied that a persons may live on 2500 a day and so too is S.B Dissanaiyake who knows noting about the research process and the investment required for intellectual output, or the value of knowledge. They should also be asked to resign for lying and thus abominable role models to students. The so-called Minister of Economic Development has no degree and knows nothing about development or economics – hence all the Chinese debt and white elephant infrastructure in Hambantota with the rupee dropping to lows unknown in the worst days of the war! Then there is the geriatric Left – Vasu, Tissa Vitarana and Dew Gunasekere – who constantly talk about nanotechnology as if all knolwedge production should be for gadgets.. These guys are also clueless about research and knowledge generation in the modern world.. what an awful knowledge hub is Rajapakse’s Lanka! As for Weeravansa and Champika Ranawaka they are the pits!

  5. Yes Dr Narendran. You are correct in recognising the new political discourse of the Sinhala polity that is going to be led by the intellectuals like Dr Dayan Jeyatilleke and Prof Rajiv Wijesinghae. I am not an intellect, but common sense alerts me that the History will remain the best judge.

  6. In place of declaring that there is a gross lapse of law and Order with the
    Police not serving the Public, the Writer speaks of developing Operational
    Manuals to guide the public!!

  7. Not to repeat what is said by Dr. Narendran I agree with him in all excepting what is said in the last sentence of the first paragraph referring to Mahinda Rjapakse presidency, as the Mahinda Rajapakse presidency will not welcome a turning point being a prisoner of Sinhala Extreme forces within the Govt.

  8. Rajasingham Narendran,

    While I agree that people like Dayan and Rajiva are the more sensible ones within the government fold ( I think I voted for the liberal party of Rajiva many moons ago) , I doubt that your hope would be realised.
    Already Dayan is being targeted, and I am sure Rajiva is next for people like Sajin Vaas !

  9. Prof. Wijesinghe’s excuses for the diatribe of Mervyn Silva, Wimal Weerawansa or any other jokers in the inner circle of the Rajapakse cronies is a continuation of such cavalier governance. Did the government expel these jokers from their portfolios as ministers? Didn’t the government send a good squad of about 70 so called delegates to intimidate and harrass NGO representatives in Geneva? A good and a wanted criminal like Douglas Devananda sitting next to G.L. Pieris (who bolted from the UNP to become a Minister). What is the message the the SL Government was trying to send to the International community.

    How can anyone trust a government that has totally ignored the wishes of the minorities. Mr. Wijesinghe, for starters why not pull out all the High Security Zones in the North and East? Why not stop the land grab of the Tamil Land? why not stop making the North and East people to sing the national anthem in TAMIL. Why not give police and land powers to the Tamil people in the North and East? Why not build homes for the poor tamils who are living in squalor, while developing the sinhala king Rajapakse’s fortress Hambantota (Airport, Cricket Stadium, Port. Why not appoint qualified personnel to jobs on merit, rather than based on who licks Rajapakse’s feet to be able to land those jobs. Mr. Wijesinghe, Your words are not enough anymore, but deeds are. You maybe considered an honourable person once we could see those changes mentioned above, not NOW.

    It’s been 60 years of oppression and subjucation of the minorities. Words have no meaning anymore Mr. Wijesinghe. If the ministries or the personnel who are entrusted to govern and are not performing – they should be out of the door. Let us see some worthwhile progress taking place in the land that we were born and unfortunately had to escape the madness of rape, involuntary disappearances, torture, white van abductions, burning of family homes, army occupation, language barrier, standardization, etc.,

    Three years have gone by since the final massacre of over 40,000 tamils. All of you are living with blood in your hands and still giving excuses. Mr. Wijesinghe, please do not justify why this is not done, or being dragged on. You are a Minister, let us see if you can back it back up with real progress. You folks have hoodwinked us for too long.

  10. Good on on you Professor Rajiva,while I have not agreed to some of what you have said in the past I doff my hat to you on this stand of yours

    The colours of good background and upbringing will always show in the end

    Esto Perpetua!

  11. The attempt of learned individuals within the government to assert themselves and question the government on issues that matter, also provides an alternative to the traditional human rights cum good governance lobby, that is NGO supported. While the motivation of the latter may be above board, they have operated out of the “Context’ of the war and turmoil in Sri Lanka. They have been absolutists and hence have been outside the perimeters acceptable to most Sri Lankans during the long years of war and turmoil. Many, hence did not pay heed to their words. The time has come for the views of these traditional ‘Conscience keepers’ and the new ones emerging from within the government to converge. A more acceptable viewpoint can now be presented to the people who are ready to see things other than in a context of war and turmoil. However, this should be calibrated and nuanced. It should be a slow and step-by-step process and not a stampede. A stampede will produce disastrous and counter-productive results.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  12. For people who are looking for a silver lining in the dark clouds over Sri Lanka an article by a Rajapaksa fan-boy appearing to not to praise the “King” might seem tremendous progress. But here is what I see.

    Recently, Wijesinghe has tried a couple of times to make the President “the victim” in articles

    Seeing how some prominent personalities (including DBS) have come to the defense of Dayan Jayatilake, Rajiva Wijesinghe also has decided to play victim of his own government attacks, hoping to garner sympathy. If Wijesinghe was genuine about his opinions on Mervyn Silva and Wimal Weerawansa he would have said so at that time, not now. But, at this juncture, he is just trying to find support for his “victim act” by appearing to sound forthright. Looking at some of the comments I am starting to wonder if his cunning is working.

    So, why this sudden urge to look like the “good guy”. My guess is that for a few in the Rajapaksa gravy train (including Jayatilake), they no longer can afford to ignore the writings on the wall. They are starting to load up their wagons getting ready to move on to the next gig. You will see more and more of these opportunists looking to appear as criticizing the government to get on the good books of those at their next stop. In fact, what they are doing is to beat up the Pinatas-of-excrement in the government and at the same time subtly supporting the Rajapaksas; in case the Rajapaksas bounce back these people don’t want to be caught with their pants down.


    Thoroughly wrong assessment of both Dayan and Rajiva and totally erroneous misconception of what is currently going on.

  13. hey its a bit rich to suggest that Mahinda Rajapakse who has presidential impunity is a “victim” of his own cronies@

    I guess you are trying to score brownie points Still perhaps Dayan Jauatilleke could be made Sri Lankan foreign minister and you Rajiva be made Minister of Higher Education and HR since SB Dissanayhake is both a goon and a fool who is an insult to the teaching profession and the academy.

  14. Katmai
    ….Seeing how some prominent personalities (including DBS)
    you made it DBSJ 🙂


  15. I have to agree with some of Katmai’s sentiments however I dont believe DJ and RW are packing their bags and preparing to join the next gig. As much as I detest their serial vindications and apoligies for Rajapakse mayhem I dont believe they are in it for the money. The most I’ll concede is that they enjoy the perceived influence they have with the govt and media. Not the money and privileges that comes with the offices they keep assuming and losing under this govt.

    I also find it a bit pathetic how both RW and DJ take pains to pointedly absolve MR whenever they criticise the system. Opting to go for Mervyn or Weerawansa instead. They dont appear to be capable of questioning why MR appointed these embarrassments, Mervyn and Weerawansa, to cabinet positions overlooking more able and decent men. RW laments that the President’s orders are not being followed by those below him. Why then, I ask does the President not replace these “renegades” as he replaced other dissenters like Mangala and Karu? The answer I believe is because they are not really renegades, they are in fact 100% on script and are merely doing their jobs as lightning rods for MR to divert criticism away from him.

    If they are at all serious about changing the current system I think the best strategy to follow is for GL, DJ and RW to threaten to resign if progress on a whole raft of issues is not made within some defined deadline. Like the Geneva ultimatum, it would be good to have a GL, RW and DJ ultimatum as well. I think this will put some real pressure on Rajapakse from within. A public resignation of these three with media interviews would really put the cat among the pigeons and hopefully result in some action on human rights and devolution. I live in hope but I wont hold my breath.

  16. Katmai
    ….Seeing how some prominent personalities (including DBS)
    you made it DBSJ 🙂

    I mean you made it to Katmai’s list of prominent personalities
    I was trying for a long time without success 🙂

    Is getting on that list a plus or minus for me?…………DBSJ

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