How Mahinda Rajapaksa Justified Complaining to UNHRC in Geneva in 1990 About Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka

Upul Joseph Fernando

(This is an article in “Ceylon Today”recalling the time When Mahinda Rajapaksa was detained at the Katunayaka Airport en route to Geneva to attend special meeting at the UNHRC in 1990 and its aftermath)

MP’s protest at seizing of documents at Airport

“Police seized over five hundred photographs of missing persons, burning human bodies and other documents from SLFP MP Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday night at the Katunayaka International Airport, a senior police officer said yesterday.

Two opposition members of Parliament yesterday protested to President R. Premadasa over the incident.

Mr. Rajapaksa, the Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee on human rights was on his way to attend a special meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission, the two MPs Messrs Jeyaraj Fernandopulle (SLFP) and Vasudeva Nanayakkara (NSSP) had said in their telegram to the President.

The two MPs while demanding an immediate inquiry into the incident had alleged that the police seizure of documents proved a direct official involvement in human rights violations.

They have said that the detention and search of a Member of Parliament without the permission of the Speaker are violations of Parliamentary privilege.

But, the senior police officer maintained that there was no violation of parliamentary privilege by the action of the police, which involved questioning of the MP and seizure of the documents.

He said they expected to record a statement from Mr. Rajapaksa regarding the documents he possessed.” (The Island 13.09.1990).

Detained with evidence

The above is a news report of how Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was on his way to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, carrying photographs and documents pertaining to missing persons in the 1988-1989 period, was detained at the Katunayake International Airport. The police searched him and seized all the photographs and documents in his bag. The then Opposition Leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike called it a blatant violation of parliamentary privileges of a Member of Parliament and condemned the high-handed action, allegedly instigated by the government.

Subsequently, when the incident was brought up in Parliament, an interesting and lively argument developed between John Amaratunga a minister of the then Premadasa Government who is now Chief Opposition Whip and the then opposition parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa, as quoted below.

J.A.E. Amaratunga: You were secretly carrying certain things to give them to the suddhas.

Mahinda Rajapaksa: Yes we did so and we will do so again quite openly. Hon. Deputy Chairman they are accusing us of carrying things to be given to the suddhas, but when they go begging aid from them, it is right. To them nothing is wrong in feeding on suddhas’ handouts. When they demanded the withdrawal of rice-ration coupons, you did it. Not only that, as the World Bank demanded you privatised the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) and all public ventures and corporations. Can anyone deny that?

An Hon. Member: Casinos?

Mahinda Rajapaksa: When the privatization of public enterprises came up in Parliament, you voted for it quite willingly. If you can comply with the demands of your foreign aid givers, why can’t we ask them to make protection of human rights, a sine qua non for their aid grants?

J.A.E. Amaratunga: That is treachery against the country.

Mahinda Rajapaksa: Treachery? You must remember we are Southerners. They have never betrayed their country. Time and again they have sacrificed their life for the country. We have a right to tell this to the world. Tears of innocent grieving mothers compel us to tell their story of pain and sorrow to the world. We will do it today, tomorrow and always. Remember that. – (Hansard report 25.01.1991)

Third party intervention

What stands out from the assertions Mahinda Rajapaksa had made is his steadfast and unequivocal belief then, was that when the country is faced with the perilous situation of human rights being trampled under the iron feet of the political authority of a government, it is neither treacherous nor unpatriotic to seek third party intervention to restore democratic ideals.

Mahawansa, the historical source book of the nation has recorded innumerable instances when ancient kings sought, obtained and used help from foreign powers to help solve problems confronted by the people under repressive governments. In the more recent history of the country, there is a perfect example of foreign intervention, albeit by invitation, to intervene in the internecine clash of highly charged passions of two powerful men, King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe (circa AD 1814) and his first Adigar Ehelepola. Personal animosities among adigars were prevalent at the time and some of them had fed King Rajasinghe with tales of the alleged treacherous activities of Ehelepola, creating suspicions in the mind of the King.

As a result, the King sent Ehelepola to Sabaragamuwa as a Regional Chieftain. King Rajasinghe’s suspicions were stoked by more anti-Ehelepola stories reaching him through his cohorts. It was during this time that King Rajasinghe heard about secret moves by Ehelepola to contact John Doyle and offer his help to the British to capture the Kandyan kingdom. When King Rajasinghe learnt of Ehelepola’s betrayal, he ordered the annihilation of the entire family of Ehelepola.

At the moment of her death, Ehelepola Kumarihami cried out to her husband, calling upon him to destroy Rajasinghe and capture the kingdom or else to help foreign forces – Portuguese, Dutch or the British – to capture the country deposing the king. Ultimately she had her revenge when the British, with the help of Ehelepola captured the Kandyan Kingdom. The 1815 Kandyan Agreement was a result of that assistance. If one was to look at it another way, it was the result of a ruler’s unfair and unjust treatment of his adigar that led to the adigar siding with the enemies.

In 1991 Mahinda Rajapaksa challenged the Premadasa Government’s human rights violations by seeking assistance from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to defeat it. Today, those who are victims of human rights violations under the Rajapaksa Government are in turn, appealing to the Human Rights Commission to relieve them from their suffering.

If it was not a betrayal of the country then; how could it be now? In this context, one is reminded of the pithy saying ‘sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’.COURTESY:CEYLON TODAY