07 October 2013

If moral high ground is to be recovered…

There are no ‘okay’ words for the belligerent and influential few of the international community when it comes to nations, regimes and other entities they are at odds with.  There are no ‘okay’ deeds either.  The only thing that is ‘okay’ in such cases is submitting to agenda; in other words, compliance with rules they set.  This is why there was so much pooh-poohing of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission when the idea was mooted and embracing of consequent recommendations in a ‘pick and choose, in and out of context’ manner, followed by the natural ‘implement the darn thing right now!’

The international community, so-called, will do their thing.  Their machinations must be called out and so too their selectivity, myopia and ignorance of the idea of proportionality.  That’s in the national interest.  The national interest, however, cannot be limited to countering external enemies; it requires a deep and meaningful engagement with domestic issues that a) compromise democracy and the rule of law, and b) feed ammunition to external enemies. 

Unsolved murders and attacks where senior (and favored) politicians are implicated, political crossovers to circumvent adverse decisions in court cases which compromise integrity of politician and the judicial system, incidents whose investigation are shoved under a carpet of convenience called ‘Commission of Inquiry’  help regimes tide over difficult times.  They also deepen the confidence-lack in regimes in the eyes of the general public. 

It is in this context that a different postscript to an ‘incident’ warrants comment.  This is about Weliveriya.  A water contamination issue sparked a protest.  There may have been agent provocateurs at work, but that’s not the issue.  An errant corporate entity controlled by a staunch supporter of the Government got away unscathed while 3 young men died in an unnecessary shooting.  If the past is anything to go by, then condolences and compensation done this would be end-of-story. 

Last week, however, it was reported that a Court of Inquiry appointed by Army Commander Lt. General Daya Ratnayake had found that the Army, deployed to bring things under control, had exceeded legal duties.  A ‘summary of evidence’ is being put together in anticipation of a court martial.  The Army Commander has said that all necessary support will be given to the magisterial inquiry and the police inquiry with regard to the shootings.  Those in charge of troops on that day have been posted to their regiments to ensure a free and transparent inquiry, he said.

The question then is, ‘why this and not other incidents that warrant in the very least a proper investigation?’  We are not talking about the fantasies concocted by third rate journalists seeking to make a name for themselves or the gripes of displaced Tigers and misnamed political commentators, but specific incidents referred to in the LLRC report.  There are those who out of hand reject any inquiry into anything to do with the security forces.  The assumption is that security forces are saints or arahats and beyond reproach and worse, above the law.  A secondary objection is ‘they are heroes!’  Well, heroism in one context does not imply divinity. Neither is it a license to do the as-I-please thereafter.  Heroes turn into zeroes or are turned into zeroes, after all.  The people don’t have illusions about divinity and the political and military leadership should not assume that they do. 

‘There is a zero tolerance policy on anything that is illegal and the maximum punishment will be meted out to anyone found guilty of violations,’ the Army Commander has pledged.  He has clearly understood the importance of recovering the moral high ground and that humility is a necessary ingredient in that exercise.  It won’t stop the likes of Navi Pillay un-closing her mind, sure, but it strengthens the Army, the Government, the state and most of all allows people to start believing in justice once again.  As far as post-war recovery and reconciliation are concerned, this is clearly the right way to go.  It is an important first step and it is imperative that further steps are taken so word matches deed and people get to ‘okay’, regardless of whether or not the thugs in the international community are impressed. 

 [Malinda Seneviratne can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com]