by Jude Fernando
“Dangerous pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless cavalries; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” Martin Luther King Jr.
The enthusiastic celebration of the Sri Lankan government’s determination to withstand international pressures to investigate the human rights abuses during the last phase of war is misplaced, and its refusal to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is sadly self-destructive. The controversy over the UNHRC exposed the failure and limitations of both the government and the global human rights community to effectively address human rights issues and to bring those responsible for human rights abuses to justice.
The government performance, in particular, casts serious doubts about its political will and ability to create inclusive sovereignty meaningful to all Sri Lankans and protect it from those seek to destabilize it. The government seeks to hide its proactive complicity with the international forces it claims are neocolonial and imperialist under a cascade of flags and banners. Government may be reinforcing the very structures of domination that it ostensibly claims to defeat. But it is imperative that those interested in post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka stand apart from the celebration and take a critical look at implications of government’s actions for country’s sovereignty, development and diplomatic relations from a perspective that places justice and responsibility at its center.
The government’s case against the UNHCR resolution relied on its interpretation of rather fuzzy operative clauses found in the UN General Assembly Resolution A/60/251, adopted on 15th March 2006. Devoid of substance, diplomatic sophistication, and focus, the Sri Lankan performance at the Assembly amounted to a semantic war with the UN. The government took great pains to interpret certain terms found in Operative Clause 5 as biased (e.g. “alleged” “address” “encourages” “calls upon” etc.) and claimed that the UNHCR has coercive intent, alleging that the clause undermines the country’s sovereignty. Sri Lanka claimed that the UNHCR has ignored, and is endangering, the progress the government has so far made in development, peace and reconciliation. The government seeks popular legitimacy by associating its claims with resistance to the neocolonial, imperial and separatist agendas of the Western nations. But this lacks substance as a defense, and serves only to draw attention away from the lack of diplomatic acumen in Sri Lanka’s sad attempt to influence the international conversation on human rights.
A moral issue lies at the core of the current controversy over the UNHCR resolution. The controversy is over justice and responsibility, implicit in international human rights and humanitarian laws. Justice and responsibility are above politics. By this, I do not mean to claim that justice is apolitical, or we can think about it outside the context of politics. Rather, I posit that the moral complacency, and mindless materialism and nationalism that seem to be indispensable to the consolidation of public opinion cannot suppress justice for ever. Justice stands alone and it derives its power from morality; justice and morality are inseparable. Denial of justice inevitably politicizes a situation. But justice and responsibility are elusive goals if one is unwilling to take risks, and if a nation does not have the humility to learn from failures as well as successes. When a generation ignores or suppresses justice, or exploits the law to serve unjust ends, it abrogates essential responsibilities, and shifts the burden to subsequent generations, with unpredictable consequences.
This is the danger that Sri Lanka now faces. Effective responses to this danger are a multifaceted and multilayer process that need to begin with developing a ‘radical consciousness’ about the status quo. We need to reexamine and challenge the notions of sovereignty, development, reconciliation, peace, neo-colonialism, and imperialism that inform the popular understanding of and the government’s interpretation of the UN resolution, as well as its conduct at the United Nations. Without a historically informed, critical understanding of these notions, we cannot explain or work to relieve the tensions between the Sri Lankan government and the UN over the LLRC. We must not forget that the government are elected and maintained by society’s conscious of social, political and economic realities!
Without critical perspective we are blind to the devices the state uses to mobilize and manufacture public opinion in support of its defense, and to encroach on our objectivity. It is intellectually and morally irresponsible to relinquish critical inquiry under the pressure of inherited knowledge. It is only our ‘will’ to develop an alternative conscious will give us “hope of making a difference.” For Gary Haugen it is the lack of hope that explains Edmund Burke’s fundamental issue of human history: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” An approach centered on justice and responsibility is a fruitful way of framing an alternate conscious. Despite all our past frustrations to have hope is reasonable because although “the arc of history is too long, it bends towards justice.”
The search for a good definition of justice will plunge us deep into a hornet’s nest of controversy. Yet to say we are helpless because justice lacks a simple formula is self-destructive and dishonest. It is also an insult to human agency because this excuse does not acknowledge the history of remarkable achievements in the realm of law, including some successes in Sri Lanka.
Justice is a form of power and authority that protects life, dignity, liberty and the fruits of the love and labor of all of humanity. Injustice is abuse of power, and authority that is forcefully imposed, which extends to misinformation and subtle control of our thought processes so that we think and act according to the wishes of outside forces, rather than of our own conscience. Oppressors acquire power by isolating “the weaker individuals from the protection of law or from those who might be able to bring power to bear on the victim’s behalf.”
Justice requires that authority be exercised according to “standards of moral purity”; in fact, in many religious texts, justice and righteousness are interchangeable. The justice to which I refer is not equivalent to “rights” in the liberal sense. It is a freedom to enjoy rights with responsibility. The assumption of responsibility is based on this fundamental principal: love your neighbor as you love yourself. The underlying principle here is equality. It invites us not to think of ourselves as sovereign individuals, “encouraged by the possessive atomism of the capitalist economy and the liberal polity,” (Nicholas Wolterstorff, 2008) but as relational beings caring for others as they would like to be cared for themselves. It is not a product of the highly individualist and possessive notion of rights that is so commonly promoted by one branch of post-Enlightenment thought.
I am suggesting a notion of justice based on cooperation and the principle of equality, in which responsibility for equality is shared, rather than leaving everyone to look out for them. Justice is political intervention as it involves exercise of power and authority on behalf of the powerless. Justice is not the same as compassion and charity, though both are also important. But, for example, no amount of humanitarian and development assistance by well-meaning people is sufficient to end the political disenfranchisement and economic subordination of the Palestinian people. Something more, something greater, is required.
The core issue at the heart of the UNHCR resolution is the abuse of power and authority by both majority and minority political parties in the areas of sovereignty, development and diplomacy since independence. Right now, Sri Lanka has an historic opportunity to forge inclusive and equitable models of sovereignty, development, and diplomacy. This is a responsibility that no civilized human being can ignore. Adam Taylor, in his Mobilizing Hope, argues that “in responsibility we refuse to scapegoat the “other” or the “outcaste” in order to exonerate ourselves from responsibility.” It is about moving beyond the unproductive debates about culpability and blame. Such debates only increase the public visibility and accountability of those who neglect justice and accountability.
Sovereignty: For Whom?
The UNHCR resolution demonstrated Sri Lankan government’s failure since independence to create conditions for inclusive sovereignty with equality and justice for all communities, or to protect sovereignty of the country, which has been manipulated by neocolonial and imperialist forces. Now public anxiety is growing over the complicity of the state with the very forces from which the state claims to protect us. ‘Internationalization’ of concerns over Sri Lankas’ sovereignty and domestic contests over its ‘nationalization’ since independence is two sides of the same coin. The international community questions and interferes with the practices and consequences of sovereignty though internationalization. The citizens of Sri Lanka compete to frame and resist these practices by contesting them with nationalization. This paradox cannot be resolved by altering only the practices of the state. Tensions between ‘nationalization’ and ‘internationalization’ are the products of this neoliberal moment of global capitalism, and the United Nations is a participant.
Sovereignty is a nebulous concept. It is vulnerable to manipulations and exploits. But we often take for granted the meaning of sovereignty and the state’s apparent monopoly on protecting it. We seldom ask whose sovereignty we are talking about. Who is protecting what, and for whom? What are the costs and benefits of this protection, and who bears them? What are the limits of sovereignty? Can it create conditions for reconciliation with justice and equality? Our failure to constructively engage with these questions will make us complicit with protecting a type of sovereignty that do more harm than good.
While the UN is obliged to uphold the sovereignty of the state, the moral basis of its obligations does not lie protecting sovereignty per se, but emanates from the imperative to secure justice and equality for human beings. When the state’s legitimacy is predicated on political and economic inequality, its sovereignty cannot be claimed on a moral basis. Trying to separate sovereignty from concerns for justice and equality (in short, to nationalize it) turns the justice system into a political battleground on which those with power and authority set the rules. Whether a country is a signatory to the United Nations or not, its citizens will always finds ways to protest injustice, and justice will always refuse to be colonized by sovereignty.
The so-called sovereignty that we claim to safeguard today is a colonial imposition. It has been contested since its inception and will continue to be as long as it remains meaningless to the people. In a rapidly globalizing world like ours, the substantive attributes of sovereignty are frequently negotiated to the extent making its formal attributes meaningless. Despite these contestations and negotiations, sovereignty endows the nation state with the monopoly over legitimate use of force. Even as economic and political equality prolong could make a given form of sovereignty stable, the identity politics could easily override such. The bipolar division of the world in the Cold War appeared to allow nations far more autonomous sovereignty than they enjoy in today’s multipolar world.
During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union disagreed on issues of economic equality and on non-alignment. Many post-colonial states showed greater openness to debate and to enact policies to address social, economic and political equality. The legitimacy of the post-colonial state’s opposition to oppressive colonial states depended upon them. Even at that time, however, some states pursued a policy of simultaneously working towards equality and encouraging forces that worked against it—a contradiction that continued to widen after independence. In particular state formation in multiethnic society’s state took conscious efforts to foster ethnic inequality.
By the end of the Cold War, the autonomy of the state was under stress. It was challenged by those who viewed sovereignty in terms of justice and equality, rather than as a simple judicial exercise. State autonomy has been subverted by capitalist economic forces, which obstruct its imperial mission. Many states signed international treaties relating to human rights and free trade because formal commitment to these conventions, though not binding, became an important part of proving their legitimacy to the world.
State sovereignty did not entirely lose its central place in the global political economy and UN system. Washington consensus-based neoliberal economic policies pressured states to become more autonomous so that they could more effectively manage and discipline their respective citizens to serve global capital. But the UN system also holds states, rather than the global capital accountable for inequalities arising from an economy dominated by the dictates of developed countries. There has been an increase in demands on the state to secure economic and political equality, but at the same time neoliberal economic policies have deprived states of resources and capacity to grant those equalities.
In the wake of events in Kosovo, Rwanda, East Timor, and Sudan, the usefulness of the Westphalian idea of sovereignty is in doubt. Rising popular interest in the individual rights enshrined in the charter of the UN, and subsequent international treaties have encouraged various parties to attempt to override the sovereignty of states. People have become less willing to accept human rights abuses for the sake of national sovereignty. When sovereignty is imagined in terms of rights, equality and justice, it improve the wellbeing of citizens, rather than reduce them to mere supporters of the state. The demand for inclusive sovereignty has gained momentum, and has resulted in initiatives like Responsibility to Protect, which transgresses the conventional boundaries of sovereignty.
Electoral and military power no longer enables governments to escape accountability for their conduct or gain immunity from international law. Global citizens think it is their fundamental right to take refuge under The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that proclaims “everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized,” granting the people moral entitlement to human rights uncompromised by the powers acquired in the name of sovereignty.
The foundation of inclusive sovereignty is justice, not merely jurisdiction. Professor Lepart writes that in human rights and humanitarian law, the “preeminent ethical principle is the unity of all human beings as equally dignified members of one human family, who in turn can, within a framework of unity, develop and take pride in individual, national, ethnic, or religious identities.” Governments that seek to nationalize sovereignty at the expense of justice and equality violate the expectations embodied in these laws.
Post-independence Sri Lanka, a home of many nationalities, has a long record of missing opportunities to become a model state for inclusive sovereignty—one that can withstand the tests of the international treaties that it has signed. All successive governments since independence have recognized that the colonial ideal of sovereignty—a mutually beneficial collaborative project of colonial powers and local elites—is undemocratic and unfair to the Tamil minority. All have argued that devolution of political power will open the way for inclusive sovereignty (e.g., Federalism demanded the Kandyans (1920s) and Tamils (1950s), the pacts of Bandaranaike, Dudley Senanayake, and Chelvanayagam, Kumaranathuga’s package and the notion of Union of regions, , 17th Amendment, 13th Amendment and 13 Amendment plus, and many Conferences and Committees, lately the ‘home grown solution’).
But all have failed to such an extent that few trust any political party to make a difference.
None of the documents relating to devolution efforts were translated into all languages accessible to the majority of the population nor did the authorities made any conscious effort to educate the population about their contents. Attributing the failure of these proposals to public protests against them, made the majority of the Sri Lankans looks like nationalists and racists, although these protests were manufactured by selective reading and interpretations of these documents by those who sought to exploit them to serve their parochial interests.
Support for and opposition to devolution has been motivated more by political expediency than by the political will to create conditions for inclusive sovereignty. Interest in a political solution lasts only for a short time, until the government stabilizes its power, or international pressure subsides. The extent and quality of the devolution that governments offered progressively declined. The state has been complicit in creating conditions that increased rioting and hardships among the minority Tamils, and it has ignored its accountability. Instead it has embraced the idea of success through military means as the only viable option. Despite many warnings, the state failed to create an institutional environment (e.g. education, national history, national symbols, and language policy) conducive to an inclusive sovereignty. The state has been complicit with or encouraged parochial nationalism, bigoted religious extremism, and partisan politics–creating an institutional environment that makes justice and equality irrelevant to Sri Lanka’s imagined sovereignty.
The Tamil militants themselves violated principals of justice and equality, and committed the same crimes of which they accused the government. Militancy took on a life of its own, counter to the interests of community it claimed to represent. The government justified the war at international forums by pointing to LTTE abuses, and claimed that ending the war was a necessary precondition for a political solution. The LTTE drew legitimacy for its demand for Elam based on the government’s fifty years miserable failure to create inclusive sovereignty. But the LTTE’s own behavior (e.g. massacre of the civilians, politicians, and expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna) cast doubt on its ability to create inclusive sovereignty within a separate state. The widening gap between government and LTTE rhetoric and their actions at home clearly demonstrated that pleasing the ‘international community’ was far more important to either of them than addressing the interests of Sri Lankans. (Ironically, now both parties feel betrayed by the international community!)
The conduct of the LTTE does not serve as an excuse for the government’s failures. Throughout the war, the government tried to equate the demand for devolution with the LTTE’s demand for a separate state. But the international community resisted that connection and continued to pressurize the Sri Lankan government to agree to a political settlement. Although the government did not reject international demands outright, it procrastinated while demanding an end to LTTE terrorism. Cynically, however, the government collaborated with the LTTE whenever it was politically expedient
After 9/11, the government mustered considerable international support for the war by capitalizing on the preoccupation of international states with the “war against terrorism”. Using the human rights abuses of the LTTE as an excuse, it suppressed activist NGOs and alternative media by aligning them with the LTTE, and maintained hard-line nationalist control over political processes. At this time, the government oversaw a historically unprecedented centralization of state power with the backing of the transnational capital. Exclusive sovereignty was not the issue at the heart of the conflict, which was framed entirely in terms of terrorism: elimination of terrorism was widely accepted as a precondition for justice.
When the government sensed immanent victory over the LTTE, its interest in devolution declined even further. Differences over a political solution to the ethnic conflict, within the ruling party, intensified and some went so far as to insist than an “ethnic problem” didn’t even exist. Instead, they claimed they faced a “terrorist problem” sustained by foreign governments, diaspora and NGOs. The state tolerated extreme nationalist claims by its own ministers, leading citizens and military officials, who made inflammatory public statements like this: ‘Sri Lanka as a country belongs to the majority Sinhalese and others as foreigners!’ The opponents of devolution embraced both the modern and colonial ideal of ‘national sovereignty,’ and asserted that Sri Lanka, from Vijaya’s time until today, has been able to maintain its territorial integrity. These nationalists equate any form of devolution with separatism. The government neither attempted to counter these claims, nor convince its citizens that devolution should take place within a unitary state. Instead, it penalized anyone who looked for a middle path.
By the time the war ended, the government had abandoned the recommendations of the All Party Representative Committee. After the defeat of the LTTE, government policy reframed “peace” and “justice,” twisting them until they became synonyms of development, integration, rehabilitation, and resettlement, collectively known as ‘nation-building efforts.’ The government was preoccupied with building a ‘Sri Lankan identity’ and bypassed or procrastinated on the issue of devolution. The complex relationships between ‘peace-making,’ ‘peace-building,’ ‘development, and other humanitarian interventions and devolution were ignored, despite the fact that they were—and are—matters of great interest to the people.
Even the international community shifted its focus from devolution to human rights issues and accountability during the final phase of war. The government won the first battle by rejecting calls from the UN and the international community for war crimes investigations, stating that it was capable of addressing human rights issues domestically.
The LLRC report was celebrated as a ‘home grown’ solution and a step forward in nation building. Tamil parties and human rights groups, however, saw the LLRC as far less aggressive than the first resolution demanding war crimes investigations. The second UNHCR resolution was made in response to the government’s failure to implement the LLRC. It was an attempt to stem the rising tide of human rights abuses and media restrictions in Sri Lanka. The government rejected that resolution as well, claiming that its sinister agenda was to destabilize the country and undermine nation building efforts.
The government’s weak line of defence at the UNHCR Assembly—its failures, procrastination, contradictions, and failed promises that it would create conditions for inclusive sovereignty—became even more strident, despite the fact that they could no longer be defended in the name of the war against terrorism. The international community was coming to understand that “national security” was not limited to physical security; its definition needed to be expanded to include ‘human security,’ including that of material needs and freedoms, and they were insisting that Sri Lanka embrace the new definition. But it refused, and instead embraced the tactic of bashing “the West.”
The economy of post-war Sri Lanka is outward-looking. The nation has welcomed Western economic and cultural forces. In fact, the preferred lifestyles and the destinations of many Sri Lankans is not India, China and Russia, but the West. At the same time, politically, Sri Lanka is still looking very inward. Nationalism, allied with anti-Western and anti-foreign ideologies, has gained historically unprecedented force in mobilizing rejection of national and international calls for investigations into war crimes and human rights abuses. The apparent distinction between outward-looking economic policies and inward-looking politics is deceptive because they both serve the function of securing the legitimacy of the state.
But the critical interests of the neoliberal economy and the particularistic interests of the regime are served by creating a false distinction.
In Sri Lanka, everything from the West is welcome and assimilated, except pressures to be accountable for human rights abuses. The contest between Western and non-Western is ideological and a critical look easily reveals the double standards and lack of sincere political will of many Western and non-Western countries to support inclusive sovereignty. Foreign countries (both Western and non-Western), the IMF, and the World Bank are bank-rolling our outward-looking economy.
But, strangely, only Western countries are vilified as imperialist, neo-colonialist and supporters of separatists. Non-Western countries are treated as friends even when they intrude with far more vigour into the domestic affairs of the country.
Anti-Western rhetoric is bought and paid for by India, China, and other non-Western countries, and Sri Lanka favours them when, in return, they provide political support for the Sri Lankan government at the UN. And anti-Western rhetoric is easy to generate because, since 9/11, Western countries have followed a dual policy of demanding protection for human rights on the one hand, and supporting the war against terror on the other. The government of Sri Lanka has taken advantage of that. It publicly underplayed, or outright denied Western support for its war against the LTTE, and in funding reconstruction. At the same time, the government wails aloud that the Western demand for human rights investigations will undermine its nation building efforts.
The government faces a dilemma as it struggles to resolve the contradiction between ‘inward looking politics’ and ‘outward looking economic policies’. Inward looking policies ostensibly intended to safeguard the country’s sovereignty, but in fact they have resulted in drastic restructuring of the country’s social, cultural and political landscapes. Jingoistic nationalism and xenophobia, revisionist ‘national’ history, nationalist interpretations of archaeology, have all been institutionalized. These policies lend support to the forces that militate against devolution of power and reduce the possibilities of inclusive sovereignty.
They have made it impossible to discuss peace and reconciliation without acknowledging their connections to development. When religion, history and education are colonized in such a fashion, society is deprived of its moral base, and it become difficult to imagine an alternative sovereignty that is not at odds with justice and accountability.
When protest against the West became a propaganda tool in support of policy, it resulted in the rapid compromise of sovereignty with non-Western powers and increased the country’s vulnerability to geopolitical struggles between Western and non-Western powers.
India’s support for the UN resolution makes it clear that Sri Lanka cannot rely on the support of its non-Western “friends” even when their good-will has been bought and paid for. The Indian government served its own political interests, but it was able to claim the moral high ground since the Sri Lankan government has so obviously failed to honour its promises to respect human rights. That failure placed India in an embarrassing position since India was the chief architect of the anti-apartheid resolutions (1965), and India has consistently voted in favour of pro-Palestinian resolutions. India did what was good for India. Perhaps India’s support for the Resolution is a warning it cannot be bullied with the ‘China card.’ And Sri Lanka now finds itself in the position of rapidly losing the support of even non-Western allies.
The sad truth is that the more Sri Lanka opposes the resolution, the more dependent it will be on its decreasing number of allies. Dependence, in turn, reduces the autonomy of the state and its ability to safeguard sovereignty vis-à-vis external powers. This places any future Sri Lankan government in a highly vulnerable position. The irony of this is bitter: the state resists ceding even the smallest amount of sovereignty when the Tamils demand any autonomy. But it willingly sacrifices a large portion of its autonomy to external powers in order to deny a pittance to the minority
The same forces the state mobilizes to deny Western requests for human rights investigations are also employed to effect the historically unprecedented concentration of political power, nepotism, and the legitimation of extensive security and surveillance systems, which were developed to fight terrorism but have been extended to suppress any form of defiance.
The politicization and securitization of human rights watchdogs (justice system, religion, education, intelligentsia, media, and law enforcement) leaves no path by which dissenting groups may seek to address their grievances. These watchdogs are coming to understand that they have betrayed their own principals and integrity in service of a regime that considers them easily dispensable.
As the international media and organizations like WikiLeaks expose Sri Lankan human rights abuses and the contradictory policies of the government, civilian discontent increases. The economic crisis undercuts the popular legitimacy of the government, and the population is less likely to react favourably to fear-mongering about external threats.
In the face of broadening domestic and international dissent, the government’s line of defence against fulfilling its human rights obligations is ineffective. In the eyes of the public, the ability of the state to defend sovereignty is in doubt, no matter whether they define that sovereignty as exclusive or inclusive
Resident Sri Lankans have joined the expanding human rights community (diaspora, exile journalists and academics) and are successfully mobilizing international forces against the government. Even those states with a history of human rights abuses and imperialism are now under pressure by their own citizens, and domestic activism forces them to critique human rights abuses in other countries. Former friends of the government have turned into whistleblowers and enemies, and the entire system of governance is beginning to give way to chaos. As the state loses the battle for control over the forces that oppose it, the winter of discontent bloom into the spring of hope.
LLRC and the UN resolution place sovereignty on trial in a global court of justice. It is a court without a specific geographic location: its jurisdiction is wherever human rights are violated. The verdict of the court is that justice requires the political will to negotiate sovereignty when it infringes human rights. That the government appears to lack this political will insults Sri Lanka’s rich religious traditions and their moral teachings. In the final analysis, we are human beings before we become citizens of a sovereign state. Moral citizenship will always take precedence over political citizenship. Whatever governments might think, morality is not a prisoner of sovereignty: sovereignty is subject of morality.
The LLRC and UN resolutions are the result of government failure to promote inclusive sovereignty. A prudent government would realize that implementing LLRC would, in the long run, protect Sri Lanka’s status as a sovereign nation. The friends and true patriots of the nation (and of the regime) are not who those invoke nationalism, xenophobia and external conspiracy theories to avoid facing the past, but those who demand justice with accountability. An honest inquiry would restore the belief of Sri Lanka’s citizens, and the world’s citizens, in the national government, and win their trust. And trust is a necessary precondition for inclusive sovereignty.
Development and Reconciliation
The defeat of the LTTE and government’s extensive development projects in the north and east failed to convince the majority of the nations that supported the UN resolution because development projects do not automatically create the conditions for peace with justice and accountability. The government was viewed as depoliticizing and marginalizing the root cause of the conflict, and its avowed development “successes” entrenched the forces that stand against a political solution and meaningful reconciliation. This display of Cold war-style theoretical sophistry at the UN demonstrated the gap between the way Sri Lanka and much of the rest of the world has come to view the relationship between development and reconciliation.
But the resolution also illustrated the contradictions between the international community’s rights-based approach to development, and its relationship with reconciliation. On the one hand, the international community demands the Sri Lankan state investigate human rights abuses and take measures to redress and prevent them. On the other hand, the international community provides almost uniform support for neoliberal development in collaboration with transnational capitalist forces. While they claim development must respect human rights, they avoid confronting the overwhelming evidence of conflict and human rights abuses that are produced by development. They maintain a clear distinction between civic rights and economic rights/equality, and wish to punish Sri Lanka for the former, while patronizing and rewarding the country for promoting development policies that produce economic inequality. Both the government and the UN are committed to this artificial separation because it is essential for the expansion of development: a commitment that maintains the stability of the UN system.
From a social justice perspective, development should create opportunities to expand human capabilities and freedoms, and it should reduce vulnerability and inequality.
As Amartya Sen argues:
Development requires the removal of major sources of freedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overcapacity of repressive state what people can positively achieve is influenced by economic opportunities, political liberties, social powers and the enabling conditions of good health, basic education, and the encouragement and cultivation of initiatives.
Sen defines development as freedom, meaning that the goal of development is freedom and that without freedom meaningful development cannot be undertaken. Peace is a means towards such freedom, and therefore the goals of peace building and development are intertwined. The UNHCR resolution should be seen as an opportunity to create these freedoms.
In post-war Sri Lanka, peace is widely accepted as the absence of war and there’s belief in the idea that development with “trickle down” to create peace. The war might be over, but Sri Lanka is far from ‘post-conflict’, and ignoring continuing conflict is counterproductive for both peace and development. Conflicts do not always involve war; in fact, they predate the war and will persist until their root causes are addressed. Lack of development is not the only root cause of conflict, and so far “successful” development has done little to bring peace and reconciliation. This raises two questions: Can peace-building begin with development? And what type of development will bring peace?
The mere absence of war creates what we call “negative peace”—no one is shooting anymore. In a “positive peace,” we see an end, also, to structural violence based on economic, cultural, and political deprivations. A meaningful reconciliation requires both negative and positive peace. Negative peace does not necessarily lead to positive peace, especially when the conditions of the peace favor and entrench the forces responsible for the conflict. Positive peace is difficult to attain, especially when those in power refuse to address the root causes of inequality and injustice, and marginalize those who seek positive change.
After thirty years of war, addressing the root cause is impossible if there is no trust between the stakeholders. Trust is the basis for reconciliation, and the path to building trust is mutual acknowledgement of truth and accountability. Behavioral changes that would make reconciliation sustainable must be observed. Mutuality leads to accountability, and then to forgiveness, in which restorative justice overrides retributive justice. Reconciliation must be considered separately from development, to the extent that it requires mutual acknowledgment of responsibility—a prerequisite for changing attitudes and behaviors, and finding a balance between retributive and restorative justice, without which the negative past is become immortalized and vulnerable to political exploits.
Peace as trickle down-reconciliation is the worst sort of moral economics. It is as offensive as it is ineffective. Reconciliation exposes past wounds so they can heal, acknowledges broken promises, and is primarily a psychological process that cannot be reduced to the economics of development. Without psychological reconciliation the population cannot build the positive social capital required for sustainable development. The forces that resist truth and accountability traumatize a population that needs psychological healing and do not provide an incentive for the people to meaningfully participate in the development process.
After eight episodes of ethnic riots and long water, it is tragic that Sri Lankan authorities have not even half-heartedly set about pursuing the truth behind these events, let alone seeking restorative and retributive justice. Instead, they have followed a policy of neglect, voluntary and opportunistic amnesia, and manipulation of the international judicial process for reasons other than finding truth and justice. This refusal to confront the past has also presented opportunities for external forces to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.
At no point has the government acknowledged or issued a public apology for the systemic violence and injustices perpetrated against Tamils. Demands for truth and justice are presented to the public as foreign conspiracies against reconciliation, even when these demands are made by its own citizens. While the government berates the international community for intervening, they are far quicker to invest resources and energy in response to international pressures, than in response to domestic demands.
Nor has the Diaspora ever issued a public apology for the crimes committed by the LTTE. Some simply refer to these crimes simply as “mistakes.” Yet the failure of the Diaspora is no excuse for the government to reject its own accountability, because conflict the conflict long predates the emergence of the LTTE, and their participation in crimes against humanity. The injustices experienced by the Tamils cannot be explained away by the crimes of the LTTE. The government is not responsible for the failings of the Diaspora, but it is accountable to the people. If the government hadn’t neglected justice and accountability, the Diaspora wouldn’t have been able to muster so much political power.
The government’s interest in the pursuit of truth and accountability is selective, manipulative and filled with contradictions. It wasted no time to pursuing “justice” in the cases of General Fonseka and the journalists imprisoned on trumped-up charges of creating ethnic tensions and communal disharmony. Yet it failed to act against those who should have been charged for the crime of making racist statements threatening to the harmony of the community, instead, it rewarded with ministerial positions those who spewed racial hatred.
The government also loses credibility when its ministers contradict its own claims about the war and, when media exposes those contradictions. Without justice and accountability there can be no trust between the security forces and the Tamil population. If that trust was gained, there would be far fewer threats to peaceful development, and subsequently the nation could finally begin to demilitarize, instead of constantly increasing the number and presence of security forces.
The government’s refusal of accountability also misleads the world community into thinking that everyone in Sri Lanka is as unprepared to know and accept the truth, or to hold those responsible for injustice accountable. The various communities have shown remarkable restraint and not being vindictive, despite fact they all have experienced violence perpetrated by members of other groups. Everyone experienced the excesses of the security forces and paramilitary groups. The government owes it to the people to recognize or give tribute to the potential and willingness of the people and their religious traditions to recognize injustices and pursue justice.
Accountability is an issue of justice required by people who are victimized even if they are too frightened or disaffected to demand it. To neglect justice is to discredit the entire justice system. One does not call off a murder trial just because the family of the victim is not demanding the punishment of the perpetrator. The absence of animosity does not imply that they have overcome the prejudices that obstruct meaningful reconciliation. Similarly, successful development projects do not mean prejudices will disappear. It is easier for the victors to reject accountability than for the victims. But in the long run, absence of accountability wounds both victor and victims when society stagnates for lack of meaningful reconciliation
The demand for justice emerged first from Sri Lanka’s own resident citizens, rather than from some shadowy external source. Politicians have chosen to avoid justice and accountability, not the public. They have chosen to confuse and frustrate the public rather than to address issues in a straightforward manner, and have also manipulated the public to serve the multiple interests of the regime. Resistance to truth and accountability is used as a justification to vilify critics of human rights abuses as collaborators with external powers. These actions reinforce the divisions within the society and destabilize the country.
When truth and accountability are represented as defenses of neocolonialism and imperialism, this serves the ideological interest of the regime and bolsters those who obstruct a political settlement to the conflict. This ideology is separatist: it does not foster conditions for integration and makes future relations between the two communities highly uncertain.
It attempts to bury the suspicion, anger and animosity between the two communities instead of addressing them directly. It allows resentments to build and fester, and imprisons the victims in permanent state of trauma without giving them opportunity for closure. The government has the naïve hope that these abscesses will never surface or will be somehow “cured” by development. Such a belief is an insult to the victims whose demand for accountability is rarely driven by materialistic goals.
Political solutions—an important aspect of reconciliation—should not be pushed off to some future point of development. Delaying political devolution for the sake of development is anti-democratic. People should participate in development by exercising their political voice, and the goal of development should be freedom, rather its denial. The government’s delay will only reinforces the impression that it is not serious about a political settlement, and encourage those feel victimized to look for external assistance to address their grievances.
When the government fails to anchor its legitimacy in public trust and support, it resorts to militarism and compromises with external and internal forces that have no regard for human rights and justice. This not only forces locals to address their grievances internationally, but makes the country vulnerable to exploits of external forces. When the reasons for the neglect of government’s accountability is driven more by its particularistic interests than protecting the country from very forces, the stability of the regime is threatened. And the situation is made worse when the forces threatening sovereignty are the very forces that bankrolled the stability of the government.
Just as these forces would like, the post-war development project in Sri Lanka is proceeding at a historically unprecedented pace. During the past thirty years, terrorism was given as the main reason for both the failure of development and for human rights violations. Now that the war is over, the government has still treats development as if it were a prerequisite for peace building and reconciliation, and as if the latter were merely a derivative of the latter. Protection of sovereignty is linked to development and both are projects of the state. From this perspective, international demands for accountability in human rights enforcement are a threat to the development. Locals who demand accountability are automatically derogated as allies of international powers and anti-development forces.
Does the current model of development promise to create opportunities to expand human capacity and freedom, and reduce vulnerability and inequality? Is the state free and flexible enough to navigate development while maintaining its focus on the interests of the people? Are the people stakeholders in development process? What is the link between development, state sovereignty, and dominant culture?
How does the cultural framing of development affect the reconciliation process? Does it create social and economic conditions for a political settlement, or does it entrench those forces against it? Does development alter the demographic and social space, increase the vulnerability of the population, and make political freedoms meaningless? What is the basis and what are the implications of the government’s claim that international demands for justice are a foreign conspiracy against postwar national development?
From Welfare state to Neoliberal State
During the Cold War, goals and outcomes of development in Sri Lanka made it more a ‘national’ project because it focused on social welfare across the ethnic groups of the country. But since inception, development has always been a ‘foreign project,’ to the extent that its theoretical underpinnings and policy support came from outside Sri Lanka. In those years, the state embraced the idea that the well-being of citizens was the primary source of its popular legitimacy.
The state was more respectful of people’s entitlement to well-being without regard to their economic and social status. The socialist ethic of equality in development, and an embrace of welfare-driven equality were widespread, and even capitalist countries accepted a version of this because they feared that otherwise they would “lose” countries that became members of the socialist camp.
During this period, development policies neglected the north and eastern regions. Development was framed mainly in terms of the interests of dominant culture. Politicians found this frame was useful for capturing political power. It allowed them to distract the masses, who might otherwise have held the elites responsible for the inequalities inherent in the development. But these inequalities lead to youth uprisings in 1971 and 1988, and has encouraged Tamil militancy since late 1980s. Those who still embrace this frame are obstructing the post-war reconciliation process.
After the Cold war, the rapid blurring of differences between development and capitalism began eroding any semblance of ‘national character’ in development. Capitalism represents development as “humanizing” in order to depolarize and distance it from its detractors. The neo-liberal development project is highly intrusive, and does not consider any aspect of social, political or cultural life and institutions to be outside its disciplinary and surveillance boundaries. All must follow the logic of the markets. At the same time, the state also takes extraordinary measures to represent development in terms of local culture, traditions, religion, national security, and so on.
The entire project is bankrolled by transnational capital and guided by neoliberal institutions: the World Bank; IMF; and, the World Trade Organization. Under the tight control of these foreign institutions, mainstream neoclassical economic provides the intellectual and ideological backbone for development. They monopolize knowledge production and strategies for development and leave no room for alternatives.
The academic discipline of economics in Sri Lanka has been completely and deliberately purged of welfare- and political economy-minded thinkers, who have been replaced by number-crunching neoclassical economists whose abstract methodologies do not disguise their servitude to capitalist economy. To them, justice and human rights are derivatives of capitalist economics. These neoliberal institutions and their ideologies are the allies of neocolonialism and imperialism, but those who demand international human rights investigations never brand them so.
The neoliberal project ended social welfare. Social services and social safety networks are privatized, or neglected when privatization is politically unpopular. Only transnational capitalists enjoy entitlements from the state. The people’s welfare is supposed to simply trickle-down from capitalist development—an economic model that has time and time again been proven a failure in providing opportunity and fairness, but a huge success in transferring and concentrating wealth in the hands of the few. Inequalities are blamed on “bad governance,” while “good governance” is that which does not lead to ‘market failures.’
Neoliberal development weakens the fiscal capacity of the state. The capitalist project is designed to strengthen the hold of the state over its own citizens, and has endowed it with historically unprecedented powers to prepare the wealth and people of the nation for capitalist expansion. But the post-Cold War state is an instrument of transnational capital, and its “sovereignty” is not evident in its economic dealings with the international powers that can undermine its stability
The success of neoliberal development is also predicated on the transformation of the individual behavior according to capitalist rationality. Neoliberalism views human beings as individualistic and competitive consumers, tempting them with the promise of material betterment. Individuals internalize capitalist rationality and philosophy, but they are often blind to the ways capitalism undermines their freedom and well-being. In its most extreme cases they uncritically embrace xenophobic conspiracy theories, jingoistic nationalism and the war against terror as explanations for the failures of development. Neoliberal development transforms the social relations in many ways detrimental to reconciliation with justice. We see this in the political landscape of Sri Lanka, today.
Sri Lankan economy is showing signs of profound multiple economic crises.
An increase in GDP and the visibility of infrastructure mega-projects are highly misleading indicators of success in development. These megaprojects are rarely owned by nationals. Instead they are controlled by the transnational capitalist class and the benefits they produce are unlikely to trickle down to locals in the foreseeable future. These projects are funded with borrowed money, frequently taken from social welfare and social safety nets. Farmers are not paid their pensions for months.
Many future generations will carry the debt burden from an economy that they do not control from which they do not benefit. Most are simply laborers of translational capitalist enterprises, who are paid far less than the value of their works. When the debt-driven economy fails to produce equitable growth, it is inevitably followed by inflation. Prices increases adversely impact majority of the people who are fixed earners, who now are faced with insecurities of relating to food, water, health care etc. Yet colossal amounts of public funds are waster on public events that bring ad nothing to the economy, but only provide superficial legitimacy for the regime, which is important for the neoliberal project to distract public dissent against it. At this point, as we have seen even in the highly developed EU, the solution prescribed by the transnational capitalists is only greater austerity for the people, and greater concentration of wealth among the elites. Neoliberal institutions accept ‘regime change’ as an option when the government becomes unpopular.
The economistic analysis of economic crises often fails to recognize the broader sociological, political and cultural implications that matters for ‘human security.’ The tensions between different member states of the United Nations regarding the UNHCR resolution are indicative of the difficulties that the Sri Lankan government faces in terms safeguarding broad goals of human security.
Dispossession and Vulnerability
Human security combines the protection of physical life and social, economic and political aspects of people’s wellbeing together. The Ramesh Thakur of the United Nations University defines human security as “quality of human life of the people of a society or polity.
Anything which degrades their quality of life-demographic pressures, diminished access to or stock or resources, and so on-is a security threat. Conversely anything which can upgrade their quality of life-economic growth, improved access to resources, social and political empowerment, and son on-is an enhancement of human activity.” Here the noteworthy elements in this definition are dispossession and vulnerability resulting from economic development.
In the post-war period, non-Western capitalist countries are more aggressively competing for Sri Lanka’s resources and markets than Western countries did. They support or complicity with merging security with development, and also traded their support for the Sri Lankan government’s defiance of international demands to investigate human rights abuses. These countries see opportunities lucrative investments and extending their geopolitical influence in Sri Lanka’s endemic corruption and in the fiscal bankruptcy of the state. The state, in turn, finds them appealing partners because they offer development packages without restrictive human rights conditions.
Those radical who employ Cold War style theoretical sophistry to defend the Sri Lanka see transnational capitalism exclusively as a Western phenomenon, rather than as an expansionary economic system, fail to grasp the economic basis of imperialism, which is, in fact, transnational. The popular representation of capitalist expansion spearheaded by the Western countries masks the fact that non-Western nations are as capable of rapacious capitalist behavior as the West.
It also makes the public oblivious to the fact that these non-western countries produce for the Western markets. The popular claims about the geopolitical contest between India and China do not recognize the fact that India is fast becoming an important trading partner of China. The primary motive of both Western and non-Western countries is to win the competition for economic and political power, rather than safeguarding the national interests of countries where they fund development projects. The Western and non-Western binary completely mystifies Sri Lankan governments collaboration between Western and non-Western capital.
Large scale commercial agriculture, mineral extraction and fishing deprive local populations of their livelihoods and turn them into wage laborers on their own land. The gains realized do not compensate those who have lost their livelihoods and who suffer from drastic state cuts in social welfare. Security of basic needs (food, water, and sanitation) is all at the mercy of the markets.
Neoliberal institutions rationalize the inevitable development-induced displacement and deprivation of citizens in the name of economic efficiency and national sovereignty, using the same terminology they employ in the war against terror. But not all citizens will suffer equally— the experiences of displacement and deprivation are unevenly distributed across the nation and between ethnic groups.
Dispossession of land and livelihood are intimately related to issues of identity and to political power. In the context of Sri Lanka, minority Tamils may not realize gains from development that sufficient to compensate them for loss of political power vis-à-vis the Sri Lankan state
The political and cultural vulnerabilities that result from deprivation and displacement place more obstacles in the way of a genuine political solution. They disrupt the people’s symbiotic relations with the land, impinge on their identities, and limit their freedoms. Perhaps this is the reason that anti-government Eelamist media and Diaspora portray development as yet another form of colonization aimed at sabotaging a political solution to the crisis.
The colonial governments once produced material and social advancements in the colonies, but they disenfranchised colonial subjects by denying them land rights and inclusive citizenship. The heart of colonialism is the political subjugation of the colonial subject. But liberation from colonialism and postcolonial economic nationalism may stop short of the solving the problem, distributing the experience of subjugation unevenly across social groups. It is not surprising that those who remain subjugated even after “freedom” would perceive the systems which oppress them as internal colonialism.
Post-war development is a complex project that is also aggressively restructuring the nation’s social and cultural landscapes, just as it is changing Sri Lanka’s physical landscape. It is justified by a government that appeals to the logic of national security. Only when the cloak of indigenous culture is applied to militarism in the service of transnational capitalism, can development be sold to Sri Lankans as a ‘national project,’ devoid of ethnic or class favoritism. But that is an illusion, and not the truth.
The development process in Sri Lanka continues to face manifold obstacles, many of which are beyond the control of the government.
Developing countries, like Sri Lanka does, not enjoy the freedom to navigate country’s development process. Despite all constraints, we must recognize country’s remarkable achievement of development. These achievements, however, are no excuse to be complacent with the militarization of development in post-war Sri Lanka not only threatens to erode our gains but also has serious implications the human rights and freedoms, in general, and post-war reconciliation, political settlement to the ethnic conflict and safeguarding of the country’s sovereignty, in particular. The opposition to and international politics of the UNHCR resolution are mostly about preserving this militarization of development, which is now a global phenomenon.
Militarization of Development
It is simplistic and misleading to explain the allegations of human rights abuses committed by the Sri Lankan military purely in terms of its conduct during the final phase of the war. These allegations and the Sri Lankan governments’ opposition to the UNHCR declaration need to be understood in relation to the militarization of development.
Blaming the Sri Lankan government and its military for human rights abuses as if they represent a special case distracts our attention from the role played by all militarized development in human rights abuses, and the international community’s complicity militarism. Instead, should examine the implications of development for reconciliation with justice in relation to the rationale and consequences of militarized development.
A country is militarized when military participation is routinized and institutionalized in development thinking and practices and legitimized through social, economic, and cultural forces and in daily life. Militarism is not a direct product of the military establishment; it’s a socially produced strategy to gain and hold power. “National security” opened the space for militarism when it was is invoked to combat existential threats. National security is a rationale for implementing emergency measures and justifying actions outside the civilian bounds of rules and regulations. “Development” is used as a similar excuse. Militarism depoliticizes questions about the social, political and environmental consequences of development.
Parliamentary democracy exists only for name sake, as the freedom in the parliament is subject to disciplinary mechanisms of the national security
The “emergency measures” demanded for development also transform and discipline social, economic, and cultural relations according to the dictates of the capitalism. This discipline manages both threats external to capitalism and responds to demands to redress the inequalities and dispossession that inevitably result from concentration of wealth, drastic cuts in social expenditure, gutting social safety regulations, income inequality and the corresponding increase in crime and violence. It would be wrong to say that militarism in Sri Lanka is simply an extension of the same military apparatus that was used during the war against the LTTE.
Militarism began with post-1977 neoliberal economic policies and was independent of the war against the LTTE. The progress of militarization after the war is also independent of the government’s claims about alleged threats to national security.
In post-conflict societies, the relationship between security and reconciliation is complex and must be approached pragmatically. Security is important for development and peace in post-conflict societies. Without security neither development not peace initiatives can be carried out. The official convergence of development and defense in Sri Lanka, however, cannot be entirely explained purely in terms of indispensable security imperatives. The goals of the transnational capitalist class, the ruling regime, and a variety of cultural forces frame these interests.
The post-LTTE development project is not a civilian project carried out according to either the rule of democracy or the formal rules of the market: it is a top-down militarized project. The society experiences these impacts of militarized development on their economic, political and cultural well being and freedoms in many different ways.
The role of the military has been transformed in development, from providing security and stability to becoming an active buyer of military goods and services and a player in post-war economic development. These new roles normalize the continuation of military presence in post-conflict areas. The mobilization of military services to suppress dissent is now justified in terms of national development.
This is of critical importance for aid agencies, which are reducing humanitarian aid and increasing development aid. This is why none of the neoliberal development agencies protested against the official convergence of the Ministry of Defense and Development. In fact, the same countries that that supported the UNHCR resolution against Sri Lanka continues to provide military assistance. Militarism creates the value system and provides the stability to carry out neoliberal economic policies. The true intellectual arm of militarism is not the military or the state, but neoclassical economics. These institutions and economists escape from their responsibility for militarization by presenting it simply as a result of bad governance and blaming it on the state or militant non-state actors.
Neoliberal development strengthens the military capabilities of the state and ensures that no other institution has the authority to use force. Political sovereignty of the state is critical, because the alone is responsible for managing the inequalities of transnational capital. Military capabilities are critical because the neoliberalism bankrupt the capacity of the state to address economic inequalities.
As we have seen in the case of Libya, when the state has become unpopular and unable to maintain the conditions for capitalist expansion, capitalist nations will provide military support for paramilitary and militant groups. This is not typical of Sri Lanka.
Capitalism is incomprehensible without militarism. The claims about militarism free capitalism or withering away of militarism under capitalism are a liberal fantasy.
The implications of militarization are economic, ideological, cultural, and political. Militarization constrains the resources available for development because the military budget increases even in the post-war period. In militarized development, resources are misallocated when they are utilized for economically non-contributive activity. Even if the resources allocated to the military increase the overall GDP because they result in production of goods and services for the military, they still may not contribute to overall economic wellbeing. From an economic point of view, non-contributive economic activity is resource sink, absorbing economic resources while creating nothing of value. The real cost of these allocations is in opportunity, measured by the growth that the same investments in education, health, water and sanitation would have spurred.
In militarized development military directly controls economic enterprises which the government viewed in terms of national security and fiscal self-sufficiency of the military establishment. Retired military officers are portioned with access to these economic ventures. This directly displaces people from their livelihoods and makes them less competitive in the market place because the military has many advantages to reduce their costs of production and gain access to markets. This militarized displacement does not leave much room for people to question the links between displacement and their security and political and cultural aspirations.
Economic and political dominance in the current global economy rests on speedy access to and control of natural resources and markets. Militarism in neoliberal model of development is about rapid commodification of natural resources and social relations.
Militarism facilitates forceful acquisition of resources and quick displacement of people from their livelihoods and cultural habitat. It speeds up investment decisions by allowing them to bypass established bureaucratic rules, and social and environmental constraints. It reduces economic and political transaction costs associate with property acquisition. From a neoliberal economy perspective, all of a countries country’s physical and material wealth should be transferred to the market forces, and the majority of the population is transferred transformed into wage earning as now they are depriveders—stripped of wealth that they owned for generations.
Economic well-being and justice now depends on market forces. The security of basic needs is also at the mercy of a market controlled by shifting capitalist interests whose whims are protected by the state and the security establishment.
Particularly in post-conflict societies militarized and speedy acquisition of property provides less time and flexibility for displaced population to make claims of their property and find capital to develop them. People’s mobility severely restricted and they have less incentive to start their livelihoods, particularly when their lands are in close proximity to military establishments.
The success of militarism requires obedient, law, and disciplined individual as opposed one who think freely and critically, willing to disobey laws and break disciplinary code of conduct when they are unjust. This new citizenship military thrives to develop in many ways in identical or serves the interests of self-interested and autonomous ‘self’ that the neoliberal economic policies and their intellectual the neoclassical economics aspire to create. Here in lies in the reason for mandatory leadership for university students in military camps (which might be followed with mandatory military training for all) and absence direct opposition to training by the World Bank that spends millions to improve country’s higher education system. Militarized and autonomous neoliberal self is incapable of functioning within or contributing to a culture of peace, but a culture of security.
Although from fiscal and political points of view militarization of development appear as an attractive means of managing an oversized military, the social reality it creates has far reaching consequences. The top down decision making of militarized development constrains the space available for institutions of democracy in decision-making about development. Civilian institutions have to operate within the authoritarian structures of military and paramilitary organizations.
The civil service in Sri Lanka today has lost its autonomy, and in preferred credentials for development administration are military credentials rather than conventional training of civil servants.
Neoliberal institutions accommodate historically unprecedented blurring of boundaries between defense and politics as it promises to overcome so called ‘government failures’ and the transnational capitalist class exploit the same to fight competition between them for resources and markets.
Complete control over knowledge production and information flows are critical to the stability of information It takes extensive measures to prevent the explosion of information (symetrification of information) from instigating dissent against neoliberalism. Under militarism the flow of information and freedom to express alternate viewpoints is severely constrained because they are filtered by state security apparatus in accordance with the interests of transnational corporations. The constraints on economic freedom are in turn exploited by transnational economic powers which acquire property and resources at below-market prices and hide illegal compensation.
The official convergence of the security establishment and development, where development is bankrolled by transnational corporations, can easily transform the military’s mission from providing national security to serving transnational interests.
Uniting national security and national development permits the state to speed up the process of making land and resources available for transnational capital. If this maneuver was above-board, the nation’s citizens would object the transfer of national wealth to foreign agents, so the state takes extraordinary measures to cloak the foreign character of development, cloaking it with the trapping of indigenous culture and framing it to appeal to both ethnonationalists and those preoccupied with national security.
The military becomes proactive in restructuring archeological, religious and social sites, enforcing the meaning of cultural and religious symbols according to the aspirations of the dominant culture and the revisionist history that undergirds it.
Today religious and cultural symbolisms are an important part of military establishment. This military-culture-religious convergence threatens to undermine the inclusive national identity of the military. The convergence normalizes the militarization of development and even makes it appear as a humanitarian and sacred mission, makes people oblivious or desensitized to how impacts of development discriminate across the ethnic divide and entrenched the very forces that are obstruct peace with justice.
Religion and culture become complicit with militarization and deprives the society of peaceful means of conflict resolution available in culture and religion. When the convergence is an important source of legitimacy of the state, it becomes indifferent or complicit with the involvement of religious and security forces in violence against marginalized cultural groups. For minorities trends are evidence of exclusive nationalism and alienation from national culture and reasons to become anxious about the possibility of a political settlement to the conflict.
Militarization thrives on the culture of fear and breeds mistrust, which in turn leads to further militarization and concentration of power in the hands of a like-minded and trusted few. The concentration of economic and political power leaves little space for social forces to organize and counter the concentration of economic and political power.
This is not only because military personnel prevent it, but also because the cultural logic of militarization brands such forces as inherently destructive. While the Western countries accuse the Sri Lankan government of the suppression of these social forces, as violation of human’s rights, they avoid acknowledging the economic basis of the suppression, which they patronize. When will global human rights industries focus on the connection between the capitalist rationality of development and systematic violations of human rights?
The paramilitary activities intensify when the international pressure mounts on the military to address the human rights abuses. Now they are increasingly interfering with administration of justice at all levels of the society and stealing our national treasures. The ‘culture of fear’ resulting from the direct presence of the military in civilian institutions of justice further deprives human rights victims means for the affected people to address their grievances. The fiscal and political vulnerability of the state makes it indifferent or incapable of responding to the people and the underworld taking justice into their own hands.
Militarized societies are never stable because stability requires frequent reconfiguration and legitimization of military and political establishment, and most militarized states are stagnant. In the long run, militarization is a drain on a country’s resources and a recipe for fiscal and economic bankruptcy. Discontent within the military grows when the distribution of benefits of militarized development within the military is uneven and unsustainable.
Sri Lanka is not a post-Conflict society in any meaningful sense. It shows all symptoms of profound economic, political and social crises.
The very notion of the post-conflict is misleading and normalizes the neoliberal development project development project that is fundamentally responsible for these crises. In the long run the project is betrayed by the very forces (e.g. military, nationalism, nepotism etc.) that safeguarded its legitimacy.
We need to assess the tensions between the Sri Lankan government and the United Nations in the light how the Sri Lankan government manage these multiple economic crises and therein the role of international community.
Enter the UN
The neoliberal response to economic failures is even more austerity and introduction of even more pro-neoliberal economic policies. The political response to the crisis is to represent the development as an essential prerequisite for reconciliation, increase the role of the military to discipline the society to function in compliance of the market forces, and to justify the role of the militarization of development in terms of protecting the country’s sovereignty.
The response to social crises is to continue to transform the social relations according to imperatives of the neoliberal economic institutions and legitimacy of the ruling regime. The transnational capitalist class avoids responsibility for human rights abuses stemming from militarized development because it separates economic rights and equality from political rights and equality and attributes abuses exclusively to the political failure of bad governance or the military.
As the public realizes the injustices and anti-national character of militarized development, the state takes even stronger measures to represent the military as indigenous and give civilian look to development projects by appealing to dominant cultural forces and making compromises even with so-called enemies. The culture of fear and increasing episodes of abductions and disappearances leaves no option for dissenting voices except to seek international assistance to address their grievances.
Internationalization of human rights issues directly results from the militarization of development, which creates the conditions for the expansion of transitional capital within the bounds of the nation state. Although, the United Nations by its very structure could deliberate these issues only as ‘abstractions’ independent of their links with the transnational capital interests, it gain wide support because these issues has to do with fundamental universal freedoms that have to guarded irrespective of their economic determinants, because these freedoms are prerequisites even to against the economic injustices
The UNHCR overstepped its mandate and bowed to pressure from the anti-Sri Lankan Western countries to pass the resolution demanding the implementation of the LLRC, argued the Sri Lankan government. But this provides us with a limited perspective of the resolution and the protests against it. Implicit in this perspective is the misleading assumption that the actions of the UN and the Sri Lankan government were determined by their opposing interests and agendas. The politics that transpired from this assumption is counterproductive to safeguarding of human rights.
The debate over the UNHCR resolution was not primarily about human rights. It was also a response to structural crises in UN system brought about by this particular neoliberal moment of capitalist development. The UN was not created to prevent human rights abuses or to create peace with justice, but to prevent wars between major powers and to maintain the stability of the world system of nation states.
Since its inception, the UN systems has developed elaborate mechanisms to safeguard human rights and even seeks to sometimes bypass the sovereignty of the state, when the state is responsible for human rights abuses.
The UN system, however, was built on a culture of security, not a culture of peace. United Nations continue to ignore the action plan on ‘Culture of Peace’ (David Adams), despite the fact that it was endorsed by millions of people and endorsed by the General Assembly The reason is that the culture of peace requires direct formal and substantive engagement with injustices and inequalities at many different levels of the society and non-violent means of resolving them. The current UN system is incapable for creating conditions for such a culture of peace because it is now subsumed by the war against terror and neoliberal ‘human security paradigm’ of development, which is primarily operationalized within the system of sovereign states. The capacity of international organizations (e.g. the United Nations) to provide effective response is limited, because their ideological and operational underpinnings are not radically different from those they critique.
The UN’s role in human rights protection is under severe stress because accumulation and legitimization crises of transitional capital continues to undermine the logic of inter-state system, and at the same time seeks UN assistance to mobilize the same system to create resources and institutional conditions for transnationalization of capital. States too are under stress as crises generated by transnational capital limits their control over the local and domestic institutions that they use to maintain their dominant role and to prevent internationalization of the dissent against the against the state and demands for their resolution.
The attempts by the UN to hold states accountable for human rights abuses, and protest by those states against those attempts, are a cycle that will continue until the UN and its member states officially recognize the historically-proven impossibility of transnational capital to create environments in which human rights take priority.
The neoliberal moment of global capitalism continues to erode the ability of the United Nations to hold governments accountable for human rights abuses.
The UN and many of human rights groups avoid this quandary by separating of political equality and freedom from economic equality and freedom. The assumption is that political (formal) equalities will automatically translate into economic equalities (substantive equalities), if the former contributes to the development of efficient markets. The UN and its member states punish governments for abuses of political rather than economic rights.
At the same time, violations of political rights are tolerated when they are necessary for the survival of the capitalist system and for an individual state’s quest for economic dominance. If the UN took on the global capitalist system it would undermine its own existence. In fact, the United Nations; exclusive focus on political sovereignty and its hesitancy to challenge the principal of sovereignty are both a result of its commitment to maintain the power of the nation state to guard the global capitalist system. Putting capitalism at the center in its dialogues would undermine the economic basis of modern states and the entire UN system. We cannot look to the UN to resolve this problem.
An individual state’s service to the capitalist system relies on its ability to deflect dissent against about the inequality that capitalism requires. To this end the state invokes culture, territoriality, and national security. The UN plays its part by ignoring human rights violations that result from development so that it can protect the state’s role in mobilizing culturally determined exclusive nationalism to further capitalist development.
Sri Lanka denies the UNHCR resolution because the state must be the sole guardian of the global capitalist project. If Sri Lanka complies with the UNHCR resolution, the state will have to admit its responsibility for human rights abuses in the name of development. The people will see that the state has allied itself with development in a gross abuse of power, and will question its complicity with capital. The government would rather the nation suffer a political implosion, than reveal the truth of its dealings. The capitalist class changes political regimes as a temporary solution for dissent against inequalities and injustices, and the government of Sri Lanka knows this very well.
From the perspective of social justice, the opposition to the UNHCR resolution is about protecting transnational capital from the consequences of development, which have harmed the entire nation. Sri Lanka’s opposition pushes back against the declining economic and political power of the state due to the colonization development by neocolonial and imperialist forces.
Western governments support for, and the Sri Lankan government’s opposition to the resolution are two sides of the same coin. Both support the extension of capitalist development by deflecting dissent. The UN’s respect for state sovereignty protects the capitalist economies of the states that constitute its membership. The extent to which the UN effectively responds to human rights violations by its member states depends on the how well the transnational capitalist class negotiates the sovereignty of a given country to further its interests.
Whether this generation will push back hard enough to shake the hold of transnational capital on Sri Lanka is in question. The moral imperative, however, is certain. In, the end, and despite the forces ranged against it, the LLRC must be implemented because it promises to contribute to broader social movements committed to inclusive sovereignty and justice with equality.