By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“The bamboozle has captured us”. – Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)
The Rajapaksa administration’s tryst with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is just two months away. India, Spain and Benin are assigned to review the Lankan case; indubitably, Delhi’s will be the decisive voice.
The UPR report will be submitted to the next UNHRC session. That session will also review the progress made by the Rajapaksa administration in implementing its own LLRC Report, since the one year grace-period accorded to Colombo under the UNHRC Resolution will end in March 2013. An unfavourable UPR report is bound to colour the way the UNHRC will view and judge Colombo’s record.
A negative outcome in Geneva will not cause an international tsunami; NATO forces will not swoop on the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port; nor will the UN impose sanctions. But a second Geneva debacle can produce some serious international irritants. For instance, it will impact adversely on the 2013 Commonwealth Summit in Hambantota by strengthening boycott calls and igniting diplomatic efforts for a venue-change.
A über-successful Hambantota Summit is a Rajapaksa desideratum. President Rajapaksa’s unquenchable yearning to rub shoulders with Western leaders is no secret; and he must be imagining so many ‘The Queen and I’ moments – Lankan dinners and English teas, many a têta-à-tête and innumerable photo-opportunities. Mahinda Rajapaksa clearly intends to be the ‘Belle’ of the ‘Hambantota 2012’ Ball and he would not want anything to mar this gala he is giving himself, at an enormous cost to the nation.
So Colombo will go the extra mile to ensure a favourable UPR Report.
The question is what will that extra mile consist of? Will it consist of real improvements in the observance of human rights and the protection of democratic freedoms? Or will it consist of lies and deceptions?
Last month, in response to an outbreak of child abuse by politicos, the UPFA decided to sack those of its elected representatives implicated in serious crimes.
Sampath Chandrapushpa, the Chairman of the Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha, is the key suspect in the Christmas Eve-murder of a British tourist and rape of a Russian tourist. His letter of dismissal was sent by the UPFA General Secretary on July 25th. Just four days later, on July 29th, the same General Secretary sent a second letter to Mr. Chandrapushpa informing him that “the previous letter is invalid and he has been reinstated as PS Chairman and that his party membership has been restored” (The Sunday Leader – 12.8.2012).
Tangalle is the Rajapaksa-heartland; the Ruling Family would have handpicked the man to Chair the Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha. That man was Sampath Chandrapushpa. The on-high mandated political-reincarnation of this alleged murderer-cum-rapist reinforces a familiar lesson: Rajapaksa favourites are above the law. Under Rajapaksa Rule, absolute impunity is the reward for total fealty to Rajapaksa-interests.
The Sampath Chandrapushpa tale is also indicative of the course the regime will take to evade a second Geneva debacle.
Lies and deceptions are indispensable weapons in the Rajapaksa arsenal. The Siblings know that in politics it is not necessary to deceive all the people all the time; deceiving the target audience of the moment, for the moment, would more than suffice.
When Indian Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj visited Colombo, President Rajapaksa informed her of his willingness to implement the 13th Amendment in full. Less than a week later he denied that he even discussed the 13th Amendment with Ms. Swaraj.
After the Geneva debacle, Minister G. L. Peiris trekked to Washington and presented to Hilary Clinton a human rights plan, a document so comprehensive as to win the unqualified approval of that exacting lady. Within days, the Rajapaksa regime denied the very existence of the plan.
When a controversy arises, and a national or international uproar ensues, the Rajapaksas adopt a conciliatory mien. They make the right noises, offer extravagant promises, appoint commissions and occasionally sacrifice a few foot-soldiers. They buy time by creating the impression of compliancy and reasonableness. Once the looming danger becomes less immediate, the undertakings are contradicted, commissions consigned to oblivion and it is back to ‘ruling as usual’ for the Siblings.
That, for instance, was how the Tigers dealt with the issue of child conscription during the Third Peace Process. Their first recourse was Denial: ‘We don’t have a single child soldier’; then came Reality-Distortion via Language Rules: ‘We have a few child soldiers because some war-orphans absolutely insisted on joining’. Next came the Undertakings: ‘We will release all child soldiers by…’ followed by ‘Stage-managed visits’: ‘Come and see for yourselves’. Off and on, the Tigers would ‘demobilise’ a handful of child soldiers with much fanfare, while hiking up conscription, away from the public eye.
The Rajapaksas resorted to the same smoke-and-mirror method on innumerable occasions, their clever use of the IIGEP to deflect international pressure on human rights during a crucial period in the Fourth Eelam War being an ideal case in point. A tome would be necessary to do justice to the dexterous manner in which the Siblings confounded India on the devolution issue. When the Rajapaksas re-enthroned the unitary-state concept, they silenced India by supporting a political solution based on 13+. As the war entered its final phase, they did another pole-vault and rejected 13+ while lauding the 13th Amendment and promising to implement it fully. Once the war was won, the full implementation of the 13th Amendment was replaced with 13- (no land or police powers). The current position is a ‘home-grown solution’ in place of the Indian-imposed 13th Amendment.
Last week, the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo advocated the expeditious implementation of the LLRC plus a political solution to the ethnic problem.
He was clearly hinting as to what Colombo needed to do to obtain Indian backing in Geneva. According to media reports, before the March 2012 vote in Geneva, India asked the Rajapaksas to agree to the 13th Amendment. The Siblings refused (probably under the misconception that Beijing could deliver); India voted against Sri Lanka.
To avoid a repeat, the Rajapaksas may promise Delhi 13 or even 13+. Basil Rajapaksa might deliver the undertaking personally, coupled with a confidential plea for Indian forbearance, until he and his ‘moderate’ brothers can rein in the Sinhala hardliners. (Today the JHU is a mere Rajapaksa creature but will Delhi remember that?). Since the Siblings would know that behind the grand political rhetoric, Delhi’s truest concern is for rupees and cents, they might buy some credibility with a few sweetheart land-deals plus promise to sign the free-trade agreement.
It might work because Washington and Delhi, despite manifold evidence to the contrary, seem to believe that the President of little Sri Lanka would not really lie to them. Lie to Sinhalese and Tamils – yes; lie to the Global or Regional superpower – absolutely not.Human rights and democratic freedoms, including devolution, are anathema to the Rajapaksas.
Their real nature can be best understood by little incidents such as the unnecessary defacing of the road-mural commemorating Neelan Tiruchelvam. That churlish act was not motivated by political need. They did it because they can do anything. Absolute and arbitrary power is what the Siblings want. That is why they will promise heaven and earth, and deliver purgatory.