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Human Rights :: Sri Lanka :A Real Story of an innocent Couple

By Qadri Ismail

Human rights is the last resort of the hopeless.

Its liberal advocates do not  see it that way. They find it heroic, the foundation of a new international order that will, when established universally,  guarantee secure lives for everyone, everywhere – from Tibet to Timbuktu. But would the subaltern, the oppressed – the target of human rights – necessarily agree?

Take the following story. (Its details have been fudged to protect the innocent from the brutality of the Rajapakse regime and its paramilitary partners.)

A Tamil man was abducted by the military, at a checkpoint, somewhere in northeastern Sri Lanka recently, witnessed by many civilians. His wife inquired at every nearby military camp, but they denied having or ever detaining him. Someone advised her to contact a paramilitary group. They work closely with the government, she was told, and so could help. Desperate, she did. (This would be the EPDP or TMVP.) They noted her details and promised to investigate.

A few days later, members of this group abducted the woman and raped her.

Her husband is still missing, presumed killed by the military.

Seeing no other option, she told her story to a human rights organization.

The point should be obvious. The western powers and their human rights groups would have nothing to complain about if the Rajapakse regime did not treat its citizens – mostly the Tamils, but also Muslims and, increasingly, Sinhalese who resist – with systematic brutality. For the case of this woman and her husband is not isolated. It is not something  ‘collateral’ that occurs, inevitably, regrettably, in the course of fighting a war on terror.

Her rape, if not her husband’s murder, was planned, deliberate. As was the mass expulsion of Tamils from Colombo last year, a move the odious defense secretary advocated and defended publicly. As were the killings of Franklin Raviraj and T. Maheswaran – both MPs who spoke eloquently, often in Sinhala, in the Sinhala media, against the horrors of this government.

As is the ongoing expropriation of Muslim land in Amparai district by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources the legalized violence against Muslims is not the unintended consequence of the war against the LTTE. Neither is the recent spate of attacks against Rupavahini employees.

The counter-argument that the LTTE does similar things, while true, is an incredible response. Is the government’s best defense that it is like a terrorist group?

The Rajapakse regime understands its mandate as promoting the greed and bloodlust of its thugs – whether in the cabinet or defence establishment – not the welfare of its citizens. Indeed, it has demonstrated that Mahinda Chinthanaya could be reduced to just one idea: if the people are not  quiet while we pillage the south, bombard the north and pacify the east, our thugs will terrorize them.

If our people, then, with nowhere else to turn, take these matters up with – to put it bluntly – white people, are we to blame them?

Space for the intervention of western human rights groups in Sri Lanka only becomes open in a political vacuum. This space should have been occupied by political resistance, the left. But, quite apart from the ineptitude of the current UNP, our left parties have, over the last forty years, largely surrendered to Sinhala nationalism.

For, despite the valiant efforts of the LSSP to remind us recently, through the republication of old speeches, that comrade Colvin warned, in 1956, that one language (‘Sinhala only’) would lead to two nations, the same Colvin also said, opposing the DC Pact in 1965: “Dudleyge badey masala vadey.” The same Colvin, in 1972, authored a constitution making Buddhism effectively the state religion. Our left never recovered from such surrender. Indeed, in asserting that one could sell out the minorities and still call oneself left, it only made itself an example for the JVP to emulate.

I do not hold the left responsible for the horrors of the Rajapakse presidency. But what is it doing abetting them? Whose good is served by D. E. W. Gunasekera and Tissa Vitharana sitting with the government?

The complicity of the left, the lethargy of the UNP, helps justify the western human rights argument that, in the absence of the space for resistance in Sri Lanka, they must intervene. Since we cannot save ourselves, the west will save us.

This is a version, a revision, as my teacher Gayatri Spivak argues in her new book, Other Asias, of the old colonial notion, “the white man’s burden.” Read any classic work of liberalism – John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, for instance – and you will see that civil society, as a concept, is inseparable from civilization. To Locke, the savage – that’s us – was incapable of instituting civil society because she lacked the capacity to civilize herself. That is how civilization, the establishment of civil society for the savage, became the justification for colonialism, an alibi for political domination and economic exploitation. In that precise sense, Sri Lankan ‘civil society’ groups are the consequence, continuation, of colonialism.

Things are not quite the same today. The white man, and woman, is still on a mission to save us. This time, however, a lot of us – whether in Sri Lanka or the west – are actively helping them. Some do so sincerely, enthusiastically, convinced that the west is right, that human rights is an unqualified good thing. (Before we rush to criticize this position, we should remember that Marxism also came from the west. The famous opening line of The Communist Manifesto exclusively addresses Europe.) Some do so for the perks, the money. (But then we should not  forget, as Rajan Phillips reminded Sumanasiri Liyanage on this very question: people who take money to wage peace are infinitely preferable to those who make money from war.)

Some of us do so critically, sometimes stifling ironic smiles. For the self-righteousness, tone-deafness, of human rights folks – whites usually, but not exclusively – in the west can be quite amusing. Not to mention the hypocrisy of western diplomats. Do we need mention, once again, that the Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act was modeled on the British – who were oppressing the Northern Irish at the time? And what gives any U.S. ambassador, anywhere, the balls to lecture anybody on human rights or democracy – when its own president was first elected by the Supreme Court and it continues to hold prisoners, in Guantanamo, without due process? When George W. Bush, in speech after speech, justifies torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”). And still supports perverse Pervez Musharraf.

The west needs to be educated. That the history of human rights is intertwined with colonialism. That their credibility will decline further every time they continue to use a double standard. For, surely, no U.S. backer of human rights could be taken seriously if they are also – like just about every senator and congressperson – unreconstructed supporters of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. That they need to acknowledge, and legislate, social and economic rights as equally important as political rights.

At the same time, the non-west needs to change, too. China is the first example that comes to mind. But the Indian treatment of Kashmiris is not very different from the Sri Lankan treatment of Tamils. Muslims in Gujarat and elsewhere live in as much fear as Tamils in Colombo.

But it does not follow, while we wait for these things to happen, that we shut up and let the Rajapakse regime wage a war against the Tamils and, more generally, democracy. I mean: what plausible argument can the president fabricate to justify his continued violation of the 17th amendment? In his insistence that he, as president, is above the law, Mahinda Percy Rajapakse sounds exactly like George Walker Bush.

In its undisguised racism, its brazen brutality, its pathetically insecure inability to take even the mildest criticism, the sheer volume of its corruption, its utter ineptitude, its intimidation of the population at large, the Rajapakse regime is approaching the J. R. Jayewardene as the worst in our history. It is a sad feature of our moment that, like the SLFP then, the southern political opposition now is virtually non-existent. It is, if anything, even sadder that the Tamil opposition, today, has taken the monolithic, viciously murderous, exclusivist form of the LTTE. No one has let the Tamil people down more than they. 

In this context, the only ethically effective space of resistance to the Rajapakses has, for better and worse, become that of human rights activists; and I do not  just mean folks in Colombo. In Mannar, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mutur and Batticaloa, ordinary people resist the Rajapakse ruffians and its paramilitary predators daily – in the name of human rights. We know their efforts count because the government screams hysterically in response. Or arrests those who publicize their work, like J. S. Tissainayagam, guilty only of the crime of expressing his opinion.

I am not an uncritical supporter of human rights. But if given a choice between just two alternatives – the Rajapakse regime and human rights activists – I will back the latter any day. They are in the business of tending lives. The Rajapakses, of destroying them. They are the human wrongs of Sri Lanka.


March 23, 2008 Posted by | Latest killings of innocent | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

17 Innocent Tamils Killed by Army and the reaction of Sinhalese

marry.jpgAt least 11 school children, principal of the displaced Chinna Pa’ndivirichchaan school and two teachers were killed and 17 wounded when a Deep Penetration Unit of Sri Lanka Army triggered a Claymore mine targeting the bus carrying school children in Madu division of the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam controlled territory Tuesday at 2:25 p.m. Pa’l’lamadu hospital authorities told TamilNet that 11 of 17 killed in the attack were school children. The bus was 1 km away from Madu church, after having picked up the children at Thadcha’naamaruthamadu and was on its way to Pa’l’lamadu from Madu.The principal was among the dead. 7 children were critically wounded. 12 of the 17 wounded were in critical state.Officials at the Mannaar Operations Command of the LTTE said they had spoiled a number of attempts by the SLA DPU teams to infiltrate and place Claymore mines along the roads within the past 3 months.This is the News from Tamil Net.Observations and justice : I visited to (Sri Lankan Daily news paper online ) every few hours to see the comments of the readers for this incident. no one comment against this not any sinhalese condonm this. after three days i could see only 3 comments. one saying “this can be a work of LTTE” second Saying” no sinhalese talk about this ,so we can see the justice in sri lanka”, third one saying” who ever did it is wrong”

SO SEE, when a clymore hit and killed 17 sinhalese at puttala , all the nation cried in the comments section of the paper, but now see how the mentality of the majority sinhalease…

this is the reason behind the crisis. The sinhalese mentality cannot be changed. From Duduly Selva agreenmnet , this people dis obey and di honor the agreenments ,always act against Tamils.

70 Percent of the Sinhalse are racisits , only the 40% are  and not communal.I felt very bad when i see their views. mm

January 31, 2008 Posted by | Latest killings of innocent | Leave a comment