Will com­ply­ing with UNHCR set­tle our woes?

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT - By Upali Cooray

Hu­man rights groups in Latin Amer­ica have filed law­suits against a for­mer Sri Lankan gen­eral who was the am­bas­sador to Brazil and ac­cred­ited to Peru, Chile, Ar­gentina and Suri­name.

Carlos Cas­tre­sana Fernán­dez, the lawyer co­or­di­nat­ing the ef­fort has said “This is one geno­cide that has been for­got­ten, but this will force demo­cratic coun­tries to do some­thing. The lawyer co­or­di­nat­ing the law­suit against Jaya­suriya, has worked on in­ter­na­tional cases against war crim­i­nals in Gutemala, Ar­gentina and Chile.

In the case of Chilean Gen­eral Au­gusto Pinochet he ended up be­ing ar­rested and held for a time in Eng­land be­cause of in­ter­na­tional law­suits filed against him.

The pre­vi­ous govern­ment of Sri Lanka which ended the al­most thirty year old war against separatist in 2009 was re-elected by the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple as grat­i­tude in lib­er­at­ing the coun­try. How­ever the post war govern­ment com­menced vi­o­lat­ing civil rights of the peo­ple by ab­duc­tions of op­po­nents, hu­man rights ac­tivists, jour­nal­ists and oth­ers with im­punity. Thus the hu­man rights lob­bies spe­cially in Europe in­clud­ing LTTE diaspora cam­paigned to en­force sanc­tions against Sri Lanka. The govern­ment’s ef­forts such as as­sign­ing US lobby firms to counter the al­le­ga­tions by spend­ing more than five bil­lion US dol­lars could have been done by the Sri Lankan em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton DC at no ex­tra cost. Thus sanc­tions were be­ing im­posed ac­cord­ing to the UNHCR res­o­lu­tion passed; spear headed by the US.

In 2015 the new Sirise­naWick­remesinghe govern­ment cospon­sored a res­o­lu­tion (30/1) with US and other mem­ber coun­tries to ad­dress the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the coun­try dur­ing the in­ter­nal war and there­after. It con­tains 25 key un­der­tak­ings by the Sri Lankan Govern­ment across a range of hu­man rights is­sues. Now the UNHCR has ex­pressed its con­cern about the ac­tual will­ing­ness of the govern­ment to fully im­ple­ment all as­pects of the res­o­lu­tion 30/1. A key el­e­ment of the res­o­lu­tion con­sists of tran­si­tional jus­tice prom­ises: a spe­cial court in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional judges and pros­e­cu­tors to try all par­ties to the con­flict, an of­fice on miss­ing and dis­ap­peared per­sons, a truth seek­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion mech­a­nism and a repa­ra­tions mech­a­nism. The govern­ment has made only halt­ing progress in ful­fill­ing these com­mit­ments. The of­fice on miss­ing and dis­ap­peared per­sons is yet to be es­tab­lished. The on­go­ing re­sis­tance to any for­eign in­volve­ment in the four mech­a­nisms is com­ing not only from of­fi­cials but also from the pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter. The will to im­ple­ment any of the pro­pos­als is dwin­dling.

In an eval­u­a­tion of the di­ag­no­sis for a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment of the Sri Lankan con­flict one needs to recog­nise cer­tain other ob­sta­cles such as the in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal un­rest en­gen­dered by po­lit­i­cal volatil­ity and eco­nomic slug­gish­ness to a re­sump­tion of the re­lated ef­forts. The up­surge of or­gan­ised crime in its branched con­nec­tions could be con­sid­ered as rep­re­sent­ing the most pro­nounced el­e­ments in the pre­vail­ing trend of in­creas­ing so­cial un­rest. The de­val­u­a­tion of life and the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of moral val­ues re­sult­ing from more than three decades of al­most cease­less civil war, the heart­lessly com­pet­i­tive cul­ture cre­ated by the ori­en­ta­tion of econ­omy to­wards un­hin­dered mar­ket forces, and the so­cial iso­la­tion of youth caused by poverty and un­em­ploy­ment could all be con­sid­ered as pro­vid­ing the gen­eral con­text of this phe­nom­e­non. Its spe­cific causes in­clude large scale de­ser­tions from the armed forces, es­ti­mated in ex­cess of 40,000, along­side the ac­com­pa­ny­ing in­fil­tra­tion of small arms to the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, and the ad­vent of Sri Lanka as an tran­sit point in the in­ter­na­tional trade in nar­cotics. It has thus been pos­si­ble for groups of per­sons, de­hu­man­ised by their mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ences and trained in the use of modern weaponry, to en­gage in highly prof­itable crime such as traf­fick­ing of peo­ple, drugs and arms, money laun­der­ing and or­gan­ised vice, and thus ob­tain am­ple wealth and promi­nence to wield con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence in po­lit­i­cal af­fairs of the coun­try through in­ter-sym­bi­otic net­works of con­tact with politi­cians, trade union lead­ers, me­dia per­son­nel and the po­lice. Again army de­sert­ers who have found a safe haven in the un­der­world, have been ob­served to work as body­guards of politi­cians. The un­der­world links which politi­cians so forge have con­trib­uted to a phe­nom­e­non which many ob­servers have re­ferred to as ‘crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of pol­i­tics’.

The other prom­i­nent el­e­ments of so­cial un­rest in the coun­try are the high rates of sui­cide, the high in­ci­dence of drug ad­dic­tion, the en­demic­ity of trade union un­rest, es­pe­cially govern­ment con­trolled ser­vices such as those of the health sec­tor and pub­lic trans­port, the re­peated dis­rup­tion of state sec­tor higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions through clashes among stu­dent groups, and fre­quent har­tals and fasts staged by alien­ated seg­ments of so­ci­ety such as un­em­ployed youth. These prob­lems co­ex­ist with ram­pant vi­o­la­tions of civil rights. The ef­fec­tive­ness of le­gal safe­guards against such vi­o­la­tions varies widely both with tem­po­ral changes in po­lit­i­cal scene as well as with sta­tus vari­a­tions of in­di­vid­u­als in so­ci­ety. Even in times of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity vi­o­la­tions of rights oc­cur par­tic­u­larly in the course of law en­force­ment. Inof­fen­sively called “ex­cesses of the se­cu­rity forces” these take the form of co­er­cion, use of ex­ces­sive force, ex­trac- tion of in­for­ma­tion and con­fes­sions through tor­ture and the ad­min­is­tra­tion of sum­mary pun­ish­ment on those deemed to have com­mit­ted a crime. Typ­i­cally it is the poor who are more vul­ner­a­ble to such vi­o­la­tions, and also fail to ob­tain le­gal re­dress when rights are de­nied. When po­lit­i­cal up­heavals oc­cur, there is in­vari­ably an ex­ten­sion of civil rights vi­o­la­tions to­wards the higher so­cial strata, even the elite do not re­main en­tirely im­mune.

Thus one can cat­e­gor­i­cally say that the panacea that is be­ing pre­scribed by the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) and the west is not a so­lu­tion for all our ills.

As the Sin­hala id­iom goes “Vatath Ni­yarath Goyam ka nam, kata kiyamida me amaruwa?” (To whom should I tell this woe, if the fence and ridge of the paddy field meant for the safety of the field: is eat­ing the paddy?)

In 2015 the new Sirisena -Wick­remesinghe govern­ment cospon­sored a res­o­lu­tion (30/1) with US and other mem­ber coun­tries to ad­dress the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the coun­try dur­ing the in­ter­nal war and there­after.

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