05 December 2011

Accountability queries: legitimate and laughable*

Accountability is an issue that’s talked about a lot with respect to Sri Lanka’s efforts to eliminate the terrorist menace.  There’s been a lot of self-righteousness in the demands.  A lot of double-tongue too.  The entire discourse of accusation, sadly, has been marked by the word ‘allegation’, which in turn appears, again sadly, to have been constructed from claims made by the most dubious of sources.
It is in this context that one has to consider the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister’s comments to MPs recently.  Minister John Baird stated, ‘Sri Lanka needs to take accountability for the serious allegations of war crimes committed’.  One notes that it is downright silly to ask anyone to account for ‘allegations’, except of course the accusers whose burden it is to offer tangible proof of systemic and unacceptable levels of transgressions that warrant the use of the terms ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’. 
Baird offers by way of rant-justification a report put together by a panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, a report fraught with inaccuracies, heavily reliant on claims made by people whose integrity is questionable and woefully lacking in substantiation. 
Any member of the international community (with all its many flaws and crimes of myopia and selective vilification) has the moral right to call out nations with respect to rights abuse and other transgressions, such umbrage should be founded on hard evidence and not conjecture.  If this were not the case, the UN would have nothing else to do than investigate each and every member state because some ill-intentioned members level charges, using the correct language of indignation.
It is strange that neither Baird nor the man whose words he echoes, Prime Minster Stephen Harper, have thought fit to castigate Canada’s neighbor, the United States of America for proven (not alleged) crimes against humanity. They have not found it disturbing when top US officials routinely brush aside accountability queries with ‘had to be done, did it, let’s not talk about it’. 
More disturbing however is Canada’s own ‘human rights’ track record and not just in the matter of routinely endorsing US aggression in all parts of the word and indeed acting like international cheer-leaders at these global power games that have nothing to do with democracy or civilization.
There’s worse to come.  Prime Minister Harper, even as he harps on alleged Canadian values (freedom, democracy and human rights), insisting that those who do not share these values are considered a threat and adding for good measure that Canada ‘will have no truck with dictators’, seeing nothing wrong with making deals with a man who carried out a coup.  As for ‘freedom’, it is strange that Baird does not object to Canada’s new electronic surveillance laws which according to Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada ‘substantially diminish the privacy rights of Canadians by enhancing the capacity of the state to conduct surveillance and access private information while reducing the frequency and vigour of judicial scrutiny’. Just to keep thing in perspective and domestic, the life expectancy of those who belong to the first nations in Canada, i.e. descendants of those whose lands were robbed by ‘settlers’ and were massacred brutally (some by way of the ‘gift’ of Smallpox), is just 27.  Canada is not a democracy, technically, but a constitutional monarchy, a fact which makes these noises even more odious. 
Baird may have forgotten that Tom Flanagan, one of Harper’s senior advisor and strategists, called for the assassination of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. He even wanted Obama to put out a (murder) contract on Assange and said he would not be unhappy if Assange ‘disappeared’. This too is relevant.
Accountability queries from Canada or other locations and polities which have sad track records of self-accounting can therefore be dismissed as the utterances of international bullies.  If Canada does boycott the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka, sad to say, that country will hardly be missed. 
Accountability, however, remains on the Sri Lankan political table for reasons other than those enumerated by the myopic and mischievous Baird.  It is an integral element of good governance, corporate and public and a vital aspect of political wellbeing. 
With respect to the conflict, the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) has concluded sittings and compiled a comprehensive report.  While it is ridiculous for US Ambassador Patricia Butenis to demand a ‘preview’, it is imperative that the citizens of the country get to view the contents at the earliest.  The findings and recommendations can only boost the process of reconciliation that began with the defeat of the LTTE, rescuing of some 300,000 Tamil civilians held hostage by that organization (whose foreign representatives are routinely sought by the likes of Baird for comment), release of all child combatants (some 500 plus) and rehabilitation and reintegration of thousands of ex-LTTE cadres (a ‘favour’ that the US, for instance, has not granted to hundreds if not thousands of captured Al Qaeda and Taliban ‘suspects’). 
Accountability has other dimensions.  It is very clear that constitutional provisions for accountability and transparency are woefully inadequate.  It is also known that the absence of checks and balances have made for political interference that compromises the rule of law.  The recent controversies regarding share market regulations also indicate that accountability queries are as relevant to the private sector as to the public.  A lot of people appear to have been consuming free lunches for years and years.  
The conspicuous sloth in the matter of correcting these flaws in fact empowers those mischief-makers who demand accountability in matters where none are warranted.  It is easy to mutter ‘double-standards’ and ‘tendentious’ when someone like Baird does the foot-in-mouth number, but these dismissives do not work or else should not be expected to work forever when it comes to the citizens of this country. 
In other words, Baird (and Harper) are eminently ‘forgettable; not so the people of this country.