by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“Whatever I have to do to have my way, I will have my way”. Hitler (quoted in ‘The Germans: 1933-45: They Thought They Were Free – Milton Mayer)
There is an unbroken thread linking the Rajapaksas’ ‘humanitarian operation’ with the Rajapaksas’ impeachment assault, the asphyxiation of the 17th Amendment with the planned throttling of the 13th Amendment, the advent of the 18th Amendment with the impending arrival of the 19th Amendment.
That thread is made of impunity – the Rajapaksa belief that they have the right to do whatever they need or want to do and the Rajapaksa conviction that with the proper combination of lies and threats, they can get away with anything.
Like Vellupillai Pirapaharan the Rajapaksas believe in not just absolute power, but also cost-free power, power without controls or limits and power without a price.
The Rajapaksa administration became addicted to impunity in the Northern war. Now the regime is applying some of the very same practices in the South. The manner in which the Welikada prison riot was suppressed is an ideal case in point.
According to reports, most of the inmates who died were not killed during the riot, but murdered in cold blood after the riot had been suppressed: “‘The army took control of the prison around 2-3 am on Saturday. After the riot was quelled, prisoners had reportedly gone to their cells. Later the STF came with a list of names and some inmates were asked to come out of their cells’, said an official. Well placed sources alleged that 11 bodies which were taken to the Colombo National Hospital were of the victims who had been summarily executed” (Lakbima News – 18.11.2012).
If true, this incident is indicative of the regime’s absolute contempt for the rule of law, its limitless capacity to take the law into its hands and its obvious willingness to break the law with total impunity (it is illegal to murder, non-judicially, even convicted murderers). It is also a warning that what happened in the North can happen in the South.
The Rajapaksas have become habituated into having their way, using whatever means necessary, and they think they can get away with it. The South and the Sinhalese – including peaceful, law-abiding ones, will be at the receiving end of this attitude and the policies which result form it for decades to come.
A belief in their own absolute and eternal impunity is a quality the victorious Rajapaksas share with the vanquished Tigers.
Vellupillai Pirapaharan believed that sympathy for Tamils and outrage at Sinhala supremacism would suffice to ensure Western neutrality and Indian inaction, as he breached every boundary and broke every rule. Matters did proceed the way he calculated, for a very long while. But in the end, the Tigers’ accumulated outrages became too much for the world to swallow.
A world weary of the LTTE’s intransigence looked the other way as the Fourth Eelam War escalated.
As the recent UN Internal Report on the UN’s actions and inactions in Sri Lanka observes, “UNHQ (United Nations Head Quarters) engagement with Member States regarding Sri Lanka was ineffective and heavily influenced by what UNHQ perceived Member States wanted to hear, rather than by what States needed to know if they were to respond.
Reflection on Sri Lanka by UNHQ and States at the UN was conducted on the basis of a mosaic of considerations among which the grave situation of civilians in Sri Lanka competed with extraneous factors such as inconclusive discussions on the concept of the ‘responsibility to protect’ and Security Council ambivalence on its role in such situations. In the absence of clear Security Council support, the UN’s actions lacked adequate purpose and direction….” (from the Executive Summary – dbsjeyraj.com).
This near-total global indifference to the obvious plight of the Tamil people cannot be understood without considering the pre-history of the Fourth Eelam War in general and the manner in which the Tigers conducted themselves during the Third Peace Process in particular. By the time the Tigers’ precipitated the Fourth Eelam War, the world – including that part of the world which sympathised with the Tamil people and supported Tamil rights – had become weary of the LTTE. The Tigers had broken too many rules, norms and promises.
The manner in which the LTTE provoked the Fourth Eelam War (just as it did the Second and the Third Eelam Wars), over a trivial issue, would have been the final straw to an international community appalled by the Tigers’ anti-civilisational conduct such as murdering unarmed political opponents and conscripting children. By the time the Fourth Eelam War reached its crucial final stage, the world (including those countries which had supported the LTTE earlier, out of sympathy for and solidarity with the Tamil people), had come to see the Tigers as a part of the problem and an impediment to any solution.
And the Rajapaksas were prodigious in promising devolution. Many undertakings were given to India and the West, about the regime’s determination to implement a political solution to the ethnic problem, as soon as the war ended and the obstructionist Tiger was removed from the political scene.
The LTTE’s abhorrent record, the Rajapaksas’ seeming moderation and the permissive climate created by the ‘War on Terror” would have been key factors which made the UN Secretary General and the Security Council look the other way, as the Fourth Eelam War reached its bloody conclusion.
The Tigers had dug their grave. Unfortunately the grave was for the Tamil people as well.
Had the Rajapaksas followed a more tolerant and democratic policy after defeating the Tigers, the world would not be talking of ‘war crimes’ and the UN would have allowed the ‘humanitarian operation’ to become submerged in the mire of things forgotten. But for the Rajapaksas pursuing a Lankan peace is impossible, because a Lankan peace does not fit in with their agenda of Familial Rule and dynastic succession.
The Rajapaksas want to concentrate all power in their hands. Sharing power with anyone – minorities or fellow SLFPers – is thus contradictory to the Rajapaksa purpose. And in the absence of a consensual peace based on genuine reconciliation and a political solution, the only way to keep the North quiescent is through force, fear and demographic re-engineering.
That is why almost the entire population of the Tiger controlled-North was incarcerated in open prison camps, post-war. That is why three years after decimating the Tigers, North and parts of the East remain occupied territories. That is why the plans to dot the North not just with military camps but also with military cantonments, plus supportive-services, from army shops to Buddhist temples.
The Rajapaksa plan is clear: not only will there not be a new and a better political solution; even the 13th Amendment will be abolished. It is now virtually certain that a 19th Amendment, which will further empower the Rajapaksas via the Janasabha system, will be implemented.
At the end of his Budget Speech President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, “A change in the prevailing Provincial Council system is necessary to make devolution more meaningful to our people. Devolution should not be a political reform that will lead us to separation….” Brother Gotabhaya has already declared his visceral opposition to the 13th Amendment. According to Brother Basil, “The Janasabha system is the unit of devolution. It is similar to old Gamsabha system. The political empowerment of people at grass roots level through Janasaba’s on similar line with Panchayat System in India is an ideal solution. It will be successful when the new electoral system is implemented soon….. It is a new village concept…. Now, we have amended the Constitution for the 18th time. We will now do so for the 19th time” (Daily Mirror – 7.11.2012).
With the three Siblings ranged against it, the 13th Amendment’s chances of survival are worse than that of a snowball in hell.
One of the main reasons for the impeachment of the CJ is the Rajapaksa ire at her decisions on the Divineguma Bill and the consequent Rajapaksa fear that she will stand in the way of the 19th Amendment.
The Rajapaksas may try to assure the rest of the judiciary that the impeachment targets Ms. Bandaranaike and only Ms. Bandaranaike. But those assurances are of as little real value as their uncountable undertakings to protect human rights or promote devolution. The Rajapaksas will not tolerate any limit on their power, be it via devolution or judicial independence.
If the impeachment succeeds without wounding the Rajapaksas, that will become the judicial norm in Sri Lanka. Once the judiciary is turned invertebrate, it too will begin to act like the current AG’s Department (which was taken over by the President in 2010), all the time. And instead of a magistrate issuing an arrest order against Duminda Silva, a magistrate will declare him innocent, on the orders of the Family. The Siblings and their kith and kin will decide who are guilty and who are innocent. The courts will be reduced to pronouncing Rajapaksa judgements and Rajapaksa sentences.
Once the judiciary is broken, the Rajapaksas will use the courts to destroy every remaining right and freedom, from habeas corpus to limited devolution, from independent websites to autonomous civil society organisations, from free ground water to a pension scheme which does not rob the pensioners to enrich the rulers.
In the end, justice will become a comedy. In its place, power abuse by the powerful and mob-rule by the powerless will prevail.