By Tisaranee Gunasekara | Transcurrents
“You’ve made the world in to a madhouse….an enclosure in which the sane are trampled underfoot by a herd of galloping lunatics”. - Ernst Toller (Hoppla, Such is Life!)
Take, for example, the hostage-taking demonstration by Minister Weerawansa and his National Freedom Front. Until 6th June, the idea of a senior government minister (and a confidante of the President) leading a braying mob to besiege the UN complex in Colombo and turn some of its staff into hostages would have seemed preposterously impossible. On 6th June, this hitherto preposterous impossibility became a fait accompli. Until 6th June, the idea of the Defence Secretary (and Presidential sibling) giving a carte blanche to a demented mob, which was breaking both national and international law would have seemed preposterously impossible. On 6th June, this hitherto preposterous impossibility became a fait accompli.
Whenever a protest demonstration takes place in Colombo, the police turn up in full force, complete with riot gear including tear gas and water cannons. No such display of muscle was in evidence on Tuesday. Though the police did intervene to ensure the safety of the UN staff, compared to their usual response to demonstrations (including peaceful demonstrations), they acted with uncharacteristic forbearance. This different response indicates that the NFF demonstration had government sanction.
There is another piece of evidence which proves beyond reasonable doubt that the NFF siege is being carried out with the knowledge and the blessing of Presidential sibling and Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse: “After police intervened Weerawansa made a call on his mobile phone, a Reuters reporter said. The call was to Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, the President’s brother who also oversees the police, Weerawansa spokesman Mohammed Mussamil said. Weerawansa passed the phone to the commanding officer who answered: ‘The Inspector General of Police ordered me to do this, sir’. Moments later he ordered his men back and the demonstrators erupted in cheers” (Reuters – 6.7.2010). Minister Weerawansa was visible and audible on TV, demanding the identification numbers of a few policemen who entered into fisticuffs with his unruly supporters, and threatening them openly.
The inescapable conclusion is that Minister Weerawansa began his ‘hostage-taking demonstration’ with the connivance (if not at the instigation) of the Rajapakses. As Sri Lanka metamorphoses from a flawed democracy into a full fledged neptocracy, a new mode of governance, more attuned to the ruling ethos, is coming into being. It is instructive to remember that this is not the first time government backed mobs carried out virulent demonstrations against embassies of countries which had incurred the wrath of the Rajapakses; both the British and the Canadian High Commissions got a dose of this brand of ‘Chandi Malli’ diplomacy in the recent past.
Do the Rajapakses and their coterie really believe that by mounting a siege on the UN compound in Colombo or by undertaking a fast unto death they can make the UN Secretary General disband his advisory panel? Surely the Rajapakses realise that after Tuesday’s display of (government backed) hooliganism, the Secretary General cannot afford to disband the advisory panel even if, for some obscure reason, he wants to do so?
In fact this shameful outburst of officially sanctioned low-intensity violence may adversely affect our chances of obtaining the backing of the NAM against the advisory panel. Even some of our traditional friends may think twice about openly supporting us, after the ongoing disgraceful display of inane intemperance.
A Rajapakse Sri Lanka was the rewards the Ruling Family expected for defeating Vellupillai Pirapaharan. But public anywhere is fickle, and economic difficulties can make it even more so. The clear and significant bias accorded to defence over development in the first post-war, post-LTTE budget indicates that the regime has no intention of trying to win over the people by easing their economic woes and improving their economic prospects. Instead, the regime has decided to stick to what it is better at – protecting the country. And the country cannot be protected without a threat and an enemy, potent enough to strike fear into the hearts of the Southern public and to win its consent for the prioritisation of national security over and above democracy and development.
Since the LTTE is no more a new threat and a new enemy must be constructed. Without a threat and an enemy, the continuance of Rajapakse Rule cannot be justified, especially if the Rajapakses fail to deliver any economic relief. Without a threat and an enemy, the use of extraordinary measures to pre-empt or defeat the opponents of the regime cannot be justified, especially when these measures also curtail the basic democratic rights of the people and cost Sri Lanka international aid and trade privileges. Without a threat and an enemy the Rajapakses cannot claim right to immunity and impunity. Without a threat and an enemy, the very rationale for Rajapakse Rule and dynastic succession can come into question.
Therefore threats and enemies play a fundamentally vital role in the Rajapakse power project. The Rajapakses need threats and enemies to render legitimate their new brand of governance. They need threats and enemies to blame for their own economic incapacities and politico-diplomatic blunders, from price hikes to the loss of GSP+. They need to mould the public psyche to regard every misfortune which befalls the country not as outcomes of unintelligent and nepotistic governance but as results of national or international conspiracies. They need to justify their departures from democracy and the rule of law as vital necessities to safeguard the perennially endangered national security.
It is a simple politico-psychological universe – there are the Rajapakses who embody and epitomise patriotism; without them the country will not be safe and will fall pray to traitors from within and marauders from without. Then there are the enemies; and since nation and the Rajapakses are one, the enemies of the Rajapakses are also national enemies (and vice versa). This recasting of politics is necessary to justify those radical departures from democracy, rationality and decency, so essential for a Rajapakse future. The siege of the UN complex fits in well in this mental universe.
Minister Weerawansa has begun a fast unto death demanding the disbanding of the UN advisor panel on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is now firmly embroiled in a a no-holds barred political war against the United Nations and the West. This is a path which would lead us into that international wilderness occupied by countries such as Zimbabwe and Myanmar. Hannah Arendt warned that irrational extremism can make countries act with “supreme disregard for immediate consequences rather than ruthlessness and neglect of national interest rather than nationalism” (The Origins of Totalitarianism).
She called this condition ‘a radical loss of self-interest’. Such states (or entities) act counter to their own interests, the best case in point being the LTTE. If the Tigers did not kill political opponents or terrorise civilians, if they did not conscript children or practice suicide killings, they would not have been abandoned by India and ostracized by the West as terrorists. By resorting to such illegal and anti-civilisational responses as hostage taking, and by launching a farcical fast unto death, the Rajapakses are undermining the cause of Sri Lanka they claim to espouse. And the political and economic cost of the resultant stigmatisation and isolation will have to be paid by the people, as the loss of GSP+ facility demonstrates.
Moral-ethical common sense is not a constant; it changes over time. Richard Dawkins calls this the ‘shifting moral zeitgeist’: “There seems to be a steadily shifting standard of what is morally acceptable. Donald Rumsfeld, who sounds so callous and odious today, would have sounded like a bleeding heart liberal if he had said the same things during the Second World War” (The God Delusion). In Rajapakse Sri Lanka the change in the moral climate can be best judged by the public indifference to the still ongoing spate of brutal murders of beggars, most of them handicapped men and women. To use a sound-bite from Lee Iacocca, “Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder” (Where have all the Leaders gone?).
If, as the President says, no civilian died as a result of the war (except, of course, those killed by the Tigers), then the government has no reason to fear any inquiry, national or international, by the UN or by any other organisation. If the zero-civilian casualty assertion is true, there is no need to make such an almighty fuss about a panel which is not a war crimes tribunal but a body tasked with advising the UN Secretary General on whether ‘war crimes’ happened in Sri Lanka. But if, on the other hand, war crimes did happen, then, the perpetrators must be brought to justice, irrespective of their race or political adherences.
This is particularly so since genuine reconciliation (as distinct from sullen passivity) requires some degree of accountability. Let us remember that war crimes are crimes according to the Lankan law, as well as according to international law. And how can a country remain democratic or law abiding, if it strives to condone war crimes by its own while condemning war crimes by others?
The regime cannot have it both ways. Either there were no war crimes, in which case we have no reason to fear the advisory panel or there were war crimes in which case the perpetrators must be brought before justice, especially since the victims would have been civilian Tamils who are our own people. (Incidentally, as the Sudanese example shows, reluctant Third World leaders are not dragged physically before war crimes tribunals; nor do they lose their jobs as a result)though found guilty of war crimes, the President of Sudan remains the President of Sudan.
Therefore even in the virtually impossible event of some of the Rajapakses being tried and convicted in The Hague, in absentia, they can continue to rule Sri Lanka. The only price they will have to pay in reality would be a mere inconvenience – not being able to travel, especially to the West).
Must one suspend all one’s critical faculties and intelligence in order to be considered a patriot?
Are inanity, gullibility and thinly veiled racism the necessary ingredients in the making of a patriot?
We, as a society, are becoming tolerant of what should not be tolerated, from the undermining of democracy by the rulers to gross violation of the rule of law and the growth of a corrosive culture of impunity. We are indifferent to developments and trends which not only violate every notion of justice and decency but also undermine systemic stability, from proposed constitutional amendments which openly serve the interests of the Ruling Family to economic policies which rob the poor to keep the rich and the powerful in clover.
It is in the interests of the regime, to ignore these signs of neglect, abuse, ill-governance and dissolution, because it is the Ruling Family and their allies who are predominantly responsible for these crimes, outrages and misdeeds, as the disgraceful drama that is being played out in front of the UN complex in Colombo clearly demonstrates. But we, as a society, should be cognisant of this disturbing undergrowth before it consumes us because, “in the body politic as in the body personal, non-resistance to the milder indulgences pave the way for non-resistance to the deadlier” (They thought They were Free: The Germans 1933-1945 – Milton Meyer).
Friday, July 09, 2010
Friday, July 09, 2010
The Sunday Leader
The protest has government support. The UN is not actually pulling out. The media has simply run press release headlines without analysis while the reality is far different.
This is the most recent UN press release from the Secretary General:
"In light of the evolving situation, he is recalling the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, to New York for consultations. He has also decided that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Centre in Colombo will be closed."
This has been reported by outlets like the Daily Mirror to read that Buhne recalled, UNDP shut. But this is not entirely correct. Neil Buhne has been called back to New York for a meeting, he is not leaving his job. The UNDP office they refer to is actually a regional office on Independence Square, entirely removed from the main compound. According to a UNDP source:
“The UNDP Regional Centre is not in the compound, it serviced South East Asia on a few particular issues like gender and human development, it did no actual work here [in Sri Lanka]. The office is on Independence Avenue near 80 Club. They’ve been closing that one for a year because it’s not economically viable. Most staff have been moved to bangkok, only six are left. They’re housed in part of the building, rest is rented out. Those five or six are being moved to the compound.”
Reading the press release, however, it sounds like the UNDP office is being closed as a direct response to the protests when in fact it’s just being thrown in for effect. Closing the main UNDP office would have huge repercussions on Sri Lankan development, but that is not happening, nor is it on the cards, nor is it possible without input from the host country.
According to the same internal source, “Before they pull out there are all these phases, has to be together with the host government. If they’re closing a UN office it takes at least a year.”
“It has to go through the process with the member state. Sri Lanka has to push it through. The UN is here at their invitation, the UN can’t just pull out.”
The UN statement is worded to be reported without scrutiny by the media making things out to be worse than they are. On a second reading outlets like Ada Derana have caught that the UNDP office mentioned in the press release is a bit of a ruse, but it’s already too late. The news has already broke.
In the same note, most news outlets have uncritically reported statements from various governments and ministers, including the Sri Lanka government’s statement that the government will not ban peaceful protest.
Yes, but the government does not extend the same support to student protesters who were recently blocked from get anywhere near the University Grants Commission by barricades on Ward Place, a hundred cops in buses and water bowsers at the ready. In contrast, the UN protesters have hung propaganda on barricades, spray painted cameras at the compound and set flags up along the Thumulla junction. In a most obvious display, Wimal Weerawansa reportedly called the powerful Defense Secretary and put him on speaker phone. The call was recorded and it shows Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordering the cops to stand down.
Even more obviously, the protest is led by a government minister. Despite the assurance of another minister (G.L. Peiris), those in their position do not hold entirely personal views. This is a government supported protest and they are playing their own games to get their point across.
Both sides are playing games. The media is playing along and people are getting played. These protests are not spontaneous and grass-roots, but neither is the UN actually so intimidated that they close major offices. Their motivations are more opaque and for that the reader may have to decide (or wait till Sunday’s paper for more analysis). One hopes people understand, however, that the UN office is now a stage and both the government and the UN are merely actors.
© The Sunday Leader
Friday, July 09, 2010
The Official Government News Portal
The Minister said that even the United Nations has upheld the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and those rights have been enshrined in the Constitution of the country.
Sri Lanka government dealt with protest outside the UN office in Colombo in compliance with both domestic as well as international obligations.The government Information Director General Professor Ariyiaratna Athugala had said in a Statement on Monday. He said that the Government is duty-bound to protect and provide security to diplomats in the country.
When asked to comment on the protest issue in front of the UN complex in Colombo External Affairs Minister Prof G.L.Peiris said any person of the country had a right to express an opinion, demonstrate or protest against any matter absolutely in a peaceful manner. He said it was the Government’s obligation to ensure the safety of all diplomatic missions and premises and allow the free movement under the international law and we have discharged our obligation.
The gates to UN complex is open.The demonstration did not block the entrances to the UN offices and the staff, the Minister said. Answering a question about the protest by a Cabinet minister, Wimal Weerawansa opposite the UN office, he said government ministers too have their individual right as a member of the society and it is known world over that in a coalition government there are different parties with different ideas.
Friday, July 09, 2010
"The government has nothing to do with this," said Prime Minister DM Jayaratne in an exclusive interview with BBC Sandesaya.
However, he accepted that the government had withdrawn police from the scene of the protest against the panel appointed by the UN secretary general to advise him on alleged war crimes.
"They have a right to protest according to the constitution," added the PM.
"Not for opposition"
Nevertheless, the opposition led by Sri Lanka's former military chief expressed doubts about the government's motives.
Speaking to journalists, Democratic National Alliance (DNA) parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that the democratic right to protest is not open for the opposition.
The hunger strike launched by the housing minister was described by MP Dissanayake as a 'drama' enacted by the government.
"President Rajapaksa is the scriptwriter while Wimal Weerawansa is the main comedian, he added.
Meanwhile, naming the protest by Minister Weerawansa, a "clown's act," the Left Liberation Front had called upon the minister to "beg forgiveness from the Tamil people," for the war crimes committed.
© BBC Sinhala
Friday, July 09, 2010
By Colum Lynch | Foreign Policy
The protesters want to pressure Ban to reverse a decision he made last month to investigate the U.N.'s response to alleged war crimes during Sri Lanka's victorious, but bloody, final offensive against the country's rebel Tamil Tigers. Adopting a little-used tactic of international diplomacy, Weerawansa vowed today to begin a hunger strike until Ban backs down.
Ban initially backed a request last year by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to carry out his own investigation into alleged war crimes during the conflict. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Ban established a three-member panel in June to advise him on how to ensure accountability for the possible war crimes.
The panel is chaired by Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner, an American lawyer. But Sri Lanka's government has accused Ban of exceeding his authority and refused to provide the panel members with visas to enter the country.
Ban has insisted that the panel will press ahead with its work. Today, he issued a statement saying that Sri Lanka's failure to "prevent the disruption of the normal functioning of the United Nations offices in Colombo was as result of unruly protests organized and led by a cabinet minister of the government" is "unacceptable." Ban recalled the top U.N.'s official in Sri Lanka for consultations in New York and ordered the U.N. office in Colombo shuttered.
But very little was heard from the broader U.N. membership, particularly developing countries like China, Egypt, and India, which have effectively blocked condemnation of Sri Lanka and served as enablers of Colombo's defiant behavior. Last week, Egypt, the chair of the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), circulated a letter, first published by Inner City Press, calling on Ban to back down from his plan to probe atrocities.
The non-aligned countries expressed "serious concern about the selective targeting of individual countries which it deems contrary to the founding principles of the movement," according to the letter. "In this context, the movement firmly opposed the unilateral evaluation and certification of the conduct of states as a means of exerting pressure on non aligned countries and developing countries."
The statement was scheduled to be adopted on Friday. But some NAM members, including Pakistan and Malaysia, objected to the letter, not because of concerns over Sri Lanka's conduct, but because its message might undermine their efforts to press Ban to carry out an investigation into the Israel's Memorial Day commando raid against a flotilla of aid activists. Egypt has asked Sri Lanka to revise the statement to address those concerns.
The Sri Lankan authorities mounted a massive offensive last year against the country's rebel Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Ealam, a ruthless separatist movement that used tens of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians to defend its fighters, killing those who sought to flee the war zone. But human rights groups claim that government forces may have killed tens of thousands of unarmed civilians in the course of the conflict, primarily through the indiscriminate bombing of civilian enclaves.
The U.N. membership's response has been particularly mild when compared to their reaction to alleged Israel excesses in Gaza and in the flotilla raid, where Israeli commandos killed nine aid activists that resisted the seizure of their ship. In those cases, the U.N. Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and the U.N. Security Council have all pressed for independent investigations into alleged Israeli crimes.
But there has been little action on Sri Lanka, where the loss of civilian lives was exponentially higher. Last May, Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to launch a commission of inquiry to probe potential war crimes by Sri Lanka's government and rebel forces. Instead, the council adopted a statement congratulating Sri Lanka for prosecuting a successful military offensive against the Tamil Tigers. The statement welcomed Sri Lanka's "liberation" of tens of thousands of its citizens that held by rebels "against their will as hostages."
In a recent interview with Turtle Bay, Louise Arbour, the U.N.'s former High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the rights council "completely misapprehended the magnitude of the civilian casualties" in Sri Lanka, urging it to reconsider its position. Arbour, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor who now heads the International Crisis Group, maintains that at least 30,000 civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka's 2009 offensive against the Tamil Tigers. Most of them, she said, were likely killed as a result of indiscriminate bombing of civilian enclaves by Sri Lanka military forces.
Arbour said Sri Lanka and its supporters have frequently protested that Colombo is the target of unfair political pressure from powerful western governments. But she pointed out that many of the same governments have not hesitated to call for Israeli war crimes probes, citing the Human Rights Council's decision to set up a commission headed by the South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, to probe war crimes during the Gaza.
"They are always complaining about double standards and look at how quickly they acted on Gaza, where according to the Goldstone report, casualties were somewhere in the range of 1,500," Arbour said. "In Sri Lanka, we believe on the basis of evidence we have so far, 30,000 is probably in the right range. So, for the Human Rights Council to have been very quick to launch an investigation in Gaza, which led to a 500 page report, knowing ahead of time that they would not have the cooperation of Israel, you know where the double standards are."
Sri Lanka's charge d'affaires, Bandula Jayasekara, did not respond to a request for comment.
© Foreign Policy
Friday, July 09, 2010
People's Daily Online | Xinhua
"There will be a loss of 12 to 15 percent," A. Sukumaran, the chief of the Joint Apparel Exports Association told reporters here Thursday.
Sukumaran said the exports affected by the loss of the EU's General Systems Preferences (GSP+) facility amounts to around 500 million U.S. dollars.
The EU would withdraw the facility which provided Sri Lankan exports preferred tariff treatment from Aug. 15 this year.
The EU linked Sri Lanka's honoring of 15 conditions to do with civil and political rights if the EU were to extend the facility which Sri Lanka has enjoyed since 2005.
The Sri Lankan government has rejected the conditions claiming they impinge on the island's sovereignty.
© People's Daily Online
Friday, July 09, 2010
“The Secretary-General finds it unacceptable that the Sri Lankan authorities have failed to prevent the disruption of the normal functioning of the United Nations offices in Colombo as a result of unruly protests organized and led by a cabinet minister of the Government,” a statement issued by his spokesperson said.
The protests in the capital, in which hundreds of people took part, were led by Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who reportedly said today he will not eat until the UN disbands the advisory panel it set up last month.
Mr. Ban set up the three-member panel to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict that ended last year between the Government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“The Secretary-General calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to live up to its responsibilities towards the United Nations as host country, so as to ensure continuation of the vital work of the Organization to assist the people of Sri Lanka without any further hindrance,” said the statement.
It added that in light of the evolving situation, Mr. Ban is recalling the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, to New York for consultations.
He has also decided to close the Regional Centre in Colombo of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
© Eurasia Review
Friday, July 09, 2010
By John Heilprin | Associated Press
The U.N. chief decided to close the U.N. Development Program's regional center in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo and recall Neil Buhne, the U.N.'s resident coordinator for Sri Lanka, for private consultations at headquarters in New York, the U.N. said Thursday.
The UNDP's regional center houses the other U.N. agencies that operate in Sri Lanka and also coordinate U.N. development programs in 37 nations in Asia and the Pacific region.
Ban found it "unacceptable that the Sri Lankan authorities have failed to prevent the disruption of the normal functioning of the United Nations offices in Colombo as a result of unruly protests organized and led by a cabinet minister of the government," said U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq.
Ban called on Sri Lanka's government "to live up to its responsibilities towards the United Nations as host country, so as to ensure continuation of the vital work of the organization to assist the people of Sri Lanka without any further hindrance," Haq said.
He added, however, that "everyone is entitled to peaceful protest."
The U.N. has estimated that more than 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last five months of the fighting, which drew to a close last year, ending a 25-year war against the Sinhalese majority on the island. Human rights groups accused government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels of deliberately targeting civilians.
Ban has appointed a three-member panel to advise him on the alleged atrocities, and Haq said its work will continue. But protesters say the U.N. will unfairly prosecute Sri Lankan armed forces and political leaders for war crimes.
On Tuesday, Sri Lanka's housing minister, Wimal Weerawansa, led a protest that drew hundreds of people, trapping U.N employees inside their office. Weerawansa, part of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, leads the ultranationalist National Freedom Front. The employees were freed after the country's foreign secretary got involved.
The protesters then held a smaller sit-in starting Wednesday, but U.N. employees were able to keep working in the office or from home. Then on Thursday, Weerawansa started a hunger strike in front of the U.N. office.
Buddhist monks chanted blessings and some 100 national flag-waving supporters cheered as Weerawansa got onto a stage and accused the U.N. of "hunting down" Sri Lankan soldiers.
He called on other nations to stop the U.N. investigation and vowed to fast - even if it killed him - until Ban "gives an assurance that he will not label the soldiers and political leaders who brought peace to Sri Lanka as war criminals."
© The Washington Post
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