Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It’s all in the family for the Rajapakses

By Suhas Chakma | Tehelka

On pril 4, 2012, Sri Lanka’s parliament concluded debate on the resolution adopted at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which asked Sri Lanka to report back on the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in March 2013. The Mahinda Rajapakse government, however, failed to inform parliament as to which recommendations of the LLRC will be implemented. Earlier on March 27, 2012, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, stated that the LLRC went beyond its mandate. India will have to take tougher decision than the controversial voting at the UNHRC to ensure the rights of the minority Tamils.

India’s vote generated controversy: The liberals lauded it as a welcome departure suiting its emerging international stature while the usual hawks have condemned the move as a mistake in the geo-politics. Neither position is absolutely true.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee may have forgotten that as the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), India was the architect of the UN Convention Against Apartheid of 1965 that established the first intrusive and investigatory mechanism into apartheid practices. India also consistently voted at the UN in favour of the resolution against occupied Arab territories, including Palestine; human rights violations in the occupied Syrian Golan and the Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories. The Arab spring did force India to take positions: voting in favour of the resolution at the UN Security Council on February 4, 2012 which could have meant the regime change in Syria while abstaining at the UNHRC a week later. Geo-politics is not a zero sum game.

Further, how is India’s bilateral intervention different from the UNHRC resolution? In the 1980s, when supporting cross-border insurgents was the part of international diplomacy, India supported Tamil insurgents. India deployed its Peace Keeping Forces.

If Sri Lanka had taken positive measures, there would not have been any need for any intervention from India or the UNHRC. After the annihilation of the LTTE, Sri Lankan government washed its hands off displaced Tamils in camps. The responsibility for their rehabilitation fell on India, which has been building 50,000 houses at the rate of Rs 3.48 lakh per house in the northern and eastern parts.

President Rajapaksa further turned increasingly vengeful, dictatorial and thuggish. General Sarath Fonseka, actual hero of the war against the LTTE was put behind barst. Devolution and national reconciliation were put on the backburner.

Taking advantage of the UNHRC resolution, Sri Lanka decided to withdraw the diplomatic missions in Europe which are not allegedly serving any purpose in obtaining support for Sri Lanka’s national issues. This isolationist approach of turning Sri Lanka into the new hermit kingdom of Asia suits the Rajapakse family that seeks to prolong family rule. After all, no other political family in recent history held such vise-grip control over any country in Asia.

• President Mahinda’s Rajapakse’s son Namal Rajapaksa was elected as a Member of Parliament from the Hambantota district.

• President’s one brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the current secretary of the Ministry of Defence and another brother Basil Rajapaksa serves as the Minister of Economic Development.

• The eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa serves as the Speaker of the current parliament.

• Other family members hold key posts. President Rajapaska’s nephew, Shashindra Rajapaksa is the Chief Minister of the Uva Province.

• Shameendra Rajapaksa, second son of Chamal Rajapaksa is the director of Sri Lankan Airlines while Rajapaksa’s brother-in-law Nishantha Wickramasinghe is the chair of Sri Lankan Airlines.

• President’s first cousin, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, a tea-businessman by profession, has been picked to become Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United States since 2008.

• The president’s other first cousin, Udayanga Weeratunga who is businessman by profession has been appointed as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Russia since 2006.

• That’s not all. Colonel (Retired) Prasanna Wickramasuriya who is also the first cousin of the president serves as the chair, Airport & Aviation Services Ltd, Sri Lanka.

• The family controls every aspect of the lives of the Sri Lankans. And the Constitution has been amended to remove two term limits for the President.

Suhas Chakma is director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights. The opinions expressed here are his own.

© Tehelka

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