Sunday, February 28, 2010

A New Sri Lanka?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara - Last week, in a village in Batticaloa, a nine year old girl was raped, allegedly by three soldiers attached to a nearby army camp. The manner in which the army, the government and the society deal with this case would be both symbolic and symptomatic of the Sri Lanka that is in making, post war.

Rape is a heinous crime; child rape is infinitely more so. Child rape is the sort of crime which should make us forget, at least momentarily, every other identity and affiliation and respond simply as human beings. It is the sort of crime which must be punished, irrespective of who the perpetrators and what the implications are. One swallow may not make a summer but one child rape may reveal much, if the powers that be tries to obfuscate the facts of the crime and society manages to turn a blind eye to the existence of the crime.

According to media reports, the girl, a grade five student, was on her way to school, when she was raped. The fact that the alleged perpetrators were soldiers on duty and the victim a Tamil child means that not only should justice be done justly; it should also be done expeditiously and transparently. If we fail to do so, that failure will send a potent and a deadly message to both the North-Eastern Tamils and the mainly Sinhala servicemen stationed there.

Child Rape and the Need to End Impunity

The Tamil people of the North and the East have endured decades of injustice and brutality at the hands of the LTTE, the Lankan state and armed forces and even other armed Tamil groups.

But child rape was not a common crime, even during an otherwise brutal war. That such a bestial crime should happen in a time of peace is especially insupportable. If justice is delayed or subverted, the Tamils of North and the East would see in it an indication that they are but a subject populace sans integral rights, under the jackboot of a conquering power. In such a psychological context, how can a sense of Sri Lankanness be inculcated in the minorities in general and Tamils in particular?

If justice is delayed or subverted, the troops stationed in the North and the East too will get a message – that impunity is still extant, despite the end of the war. They will conclude that they can commit crimes and misdeeds without paying a price, if the victims are Tamils. Any attempt to delay or subvert justice will thus encourage injustice. And if a minority is permitted to get away with such criminal conduct, it will do dishonour to the army as an institution, and to the majority of servicemen who have not lost their sense of humanity.

The killing of five students in Trincomalee presaged Mahinda Rajapakse’s ‘Humanitarian Operation’. Initially the government insisted that the victims were Tiger cadres who died when the bomb they were carrying exploded prematurely. Once a courageous Sinhala judicial medical officer revealed that the victims had gun shot wounds, the courts took over. But the powers that be did everything to subvert the course of justice. Witnesses were threatened and evidence suppressed; the families of the victims had to either give up their campaign for justice or leave the country. Ultimately the culprits got away scot-free. The case sent the message that violating the rights of civilian Tamils could be done with impunity, especially in the war zone. It indicated that the regime will save the uniformed perpetrators via an arsenal of tactics, from denial to counter charges, from delays to obfuscations.

The suspects in Batticaloa child rape case have been remanded by the courts. Again, according to media reports, there had been attempts to intimidate the family of the victim; soldiers from the same camp are said to have made threatening forays into the village of the victim. It is important to remember these are poor people, people without connections, people who live and die away from the limelight. Therefore they can be threatened easily, especially since they have to continue to live in their village, which is under the ‘protection’ of the army. Therefore the government has a particular responsibility to ensure that the victim and her family are protected.

It is the duty of civil society and media, especially in the South, to put as much pressure as possible on the government in order to ensure that justice is done, that the victim is not victimised even further. When the police or the army commits crimes against civilians in the South, there is a massive outcry from Southern society. Journalists write, politicians talk and people protest. Last week, a man was killed in police custody in Inginiyagala, and this crime received quite a bit of publicity nationwide while the people of area protested against the police. But in the case of the child victim of Batticaloa silence seems to be the norm. It is time we asked ourselves, as individuals and as a society, whether the ethnicity/religion of the victim has become the paramount consideration in deciding what is just and what is not.

Journalist Pradeep Ekneligoda is yet to be found. And the government seems determined to convict Sarath Fonseka, thereby making an example out of him. If a disunited and bickering opposition fails to prevent the UPFA from coming within striking reach of a two thirds majority at the parliamentary election, impunity will become even more rampant, encouraged by hubris.

The IMF has announced that it will postpone the granting of the third tranche of its $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka, until the new government presents a budget which meets its conditionality regarding the size of deficit. According to the IMF Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, “the third tranche will be delayed and completed when the budget is formulated after the election” (Reuters – 25.2.2010). And according to media reports, the IMF expects a budget with a deficit of no more than 7% of the GDP for this year. Next year, the budget deficit will have to be brought even lower, to 6%. If Sri Lanka fails to fulfil these conditionalities, the rest of the loan will not be given to us.

The implications for the future are obvious. The government will have to reduce expenditure and increase taxes, if it is to meet with the IMF conditionality’s. But this sort of drastic belt tightening cannot be imposed on the electorate until the election is over. In fact, until the election is over the government will lower taxes and grant subsidies, in order to keep cost of living under control. But once the election is ended, the regime will implement drastic cost-cutting measures, especially if the ruling party has a solid majority. Those who oppose such anti-people measures will be branded ‘anti-patriots, and dealt with severely. The PTA and the Emergency will be used liberally for this purpose. And the South will feel the full impact of the cancer of impunity.

Monarchical Delusions

Indulging in delusions of grandeur is an essentially harmless human foible. But when this malady affects powerful political leaders, the consequences can be both dangerous and far reaching.

Vellupillai Pirapaharan was hailed as the Sun God and the Leader of the World, and these delusions became acute enough to impact on this thinking and actions. After he was elevated President, Mahinda Rajapakse told the country that he was not its ruler but its custodian.

When the Fourth Eelam War was won, Mr. Rajapakse became ‘king’. When this pretentious elevation was ridiculed by some and criticised by still more, the President declared, once again, that he was but the chief custodian of the land. With the outstanding victory at the Presidential election, the ‘king’ is back, on posters and songs, in speeches and discussions.

Mahinda Rajapakse would not be called king, against his wishes; the state media and ruling party politicians persist with this practice obviously because it pleases him (and thus helps their career). He did look happy, when he got his crown (which the state media assured us was made of solid gold with jewels encrusted). It was presented to President Mahinda Rajapakse by the Peoples Friendship University of Russia “as a token reminiscent of Russian Monarchy and in consideration of the President’s role also as a king who brought about peace to the world” (Daily News– 10.2.2010). This latest accolade would be an apposite addition to the President’s already formidable arsenal of illustrious titles (which includes such nonpareils as ‘Universally Glorious Overlord of the Sinhalese’; ‘Heroic Warrior Overlord of Sri Lanka’; and ‘Monarchical Emperor of the Glorious Land of Buddhism’); The minaret shaped crown could adorn the stage when the ‘Musical Concert to Honour the President’ takes wing on February 28th at the BMICH.

And when a man who plays at being a king asks the country to give his party a two thirds majority in parliament to enable him to create his own constitution, it cannot but ring alarm bells about the future of democracy. A Rajapakse constitution will not turn Sri Lanka into a de jure monarchy. But it will introduce an executive presidency or a premiership sans term limits, thereby enabling Mahinda Rajapakse to remain at the helm of the country beyond 2017. From November 2005, the Rajapakse family has moved relentlessly to establish a stranglehold on the Lankan state and the government. The formal entry of First Son Namal into politics has provided this Rajapakse octopus with yet another far reaching tentacle. This, together with the pervious elevation of another political neophyte, Presidential nephew Shashindra Rajapakse as the Chief Minister of Uva, marks the reconstitution of the Rajapakse Brothers Inc. as the Rajapakse Brothers and Sons Inc. Sri Lanka’s newest arriviste Dynasty has arrived.

So Lankan democracy is peril, but not from corrupt politicians, nor from inept policies, nor even from a gargantuan cabinet, but from the insatiable ambitions of the Rajapakses, from their obvious desire to install dynastic rule behind a democratic façade. It is this Rajapakse factor which has turned the upcoming election into our political Rubicon. If the UPFA manages to obtain a two thirds majority (or thereabouts), a Rajapakse constitution will empty Lankan democracy of its content, keeping the shell as a convenient cover for dynastic rule.(Incidentally, when the ruler is ‘king’, citizens become subjects. The state sanctioned de facto anointment of President Rajapakse as ‘King’ may perform the useful ideological function of encouraging Sri Lankans to see themselves not as citizens with rights but as subjects with duties, the foremost of which is obedience).

The President’s antipathy to the 17th Amendment (aimed at reducing the excessive powers of the Executive) is no secret. In his Feb. 24th interview with the ITN’s ‘Ethulanthaya’, Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapakse decried media freedom and human rights as foreign concepts and opined that media organisations and judges who succumb to such foreign concepts retard the forward march of the country. A constitution prepared by such minds is unlikely to emphasise either media freedom or human rights. At the end of a Rajapakse constitution-making process, Sri Lankans may find themselves with rather fewer rights than they enjoy currently, with patriotic jargon covering up (and glorifying) the democratic lacunae. The new Sri Lanka is likely to be a more unjust and less democratic place than the old one.

© Asian Tribuna

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment

© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP