02 March 2020

Taking ownership of reconciliation: truths, half-truths and humbuggery

Nothing 'general' about these assemblies, nice visual notwithstanding

Reconciliation. That’s a word that’s been abused much. Just like ‘peace,’ in the heady days of the ‘Ceasefire Agreement’ (CFA) signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Velupillai Prabhakaran. The main problem of such terms is that they are open to multiple interpretation. 

What ‘peace’ meant for the LTTE and of course its mouthpieces, including the TNA at the time, was ‘Eelam’. What it meant for the United National Party was ‘space to implement a pro-USA neoliberal agenda.’ Reconciliation is similar. A vague term. Describable in multiple ways. Ideology-framed. Veer from what YOU think it means, and immediately you can say ‘he/she is against peace, is a warmonger,’ or ‘he/she doesn’t want reconciliation.’ 

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet exploits this definitional vagueness well. She’s unhappy that Sri Lanka withdrew from the ill-conceived and pernicious Resolution 30/1. She says she’s not convinced that yet another commission of inquiry would deliver. Commissions haven’t really delivered, this is true. On the other hand, non-delivery of one commission doesn’t mean another wouldn’t deliver either. Thirdly, what is the ‘deliverable’ here? Bachelet’s understanding of what ‘reconciliation’ means?  

What does she want, really? She has said she’s troubled by a recent trend towards moving civilian functions under the Ministry of Defense or retired military officers. Such trends are certainly a concern, but then again, in a situation where civil administration in certain spheres is at a standstill if not collapsed, that’s a reasonable interim remedy. 

She’s also upset by ‘reports’ of surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and victims. She knows that we’ve had terrorist sympathizers masquerading as rights defenders and journalists. As for victims, she probably doesn’t know that every citizen was a victim of terrorism and there’s nothing wrong in a country subject to terrorism from being alert to possible victimization of the same kind. Take context out and she has a point. On the hand, take context out, and it’s a caricatured and even shady narrative that emerges. Use that as foundation and you can extrapolate in any direction you want, naturally framed by your outcome preferences. 

Anyway, none of these ‘reports’ are substantiated. The ‘sources' at best are unreliable. We’ve had a lot of that in the past and that’s what went into the substance of the infamous Darusman Report, based on which the UNHRC needled Sri Lanka at every turn. Eventually, the movers and shakers, principally the USA (which called the UNHRC ‘a cesspool of bias’), got a pliant government to co-sponsor and anti-Sri Lanka resolution (30/1) in 2015.

So she’s upset. She regrets the fact that the new government ‘has announced a very different approach to the commitments previously made in the resolution which risks setting back efforts to advance reconciliation, accountability and human rights.’

Lovely play with words! What ‘reconciliation’? What kind of ‘accountability’? Does throwing in ‘human rights’ purify a cesspool? Why hasn’t she come clean on the utter lack of accountability on the part of the UNHRC with regard to all the falsehoods in the Darusman report? Has she ever asked who fed that ill-willed panel to advise Ban-ki Moon? If she did, was she appalled to find out that the feeders of misinformation happened to be wearing journalistic and rights advocacy garb? 

Bachelet believes that Sri Lanka’s ‘independent institutions’ were strengthened under the 19th Constitutional Amendment and that they are key pillars in its democratic structure. What utter ignorance! Has she read the 19th or is she taking the word of ill-willed, politically and ideologically compromised ‘human rights activists’ and ‘journalists’? The 19th was a piece of trash. It was pushed through ignoring a Supreme Court observation that certain sections were unconstitutional and would require a referendum. The composition of the all important Constitutional Council (which plays a key role in setting up these independent institutions) is so politician-heavy and, given context, was scripted to constitution institutions that were heavily pro-Government. The lady needs to do a bit of reading, obvious. 

Not unexpectedly, the UNHRC’s and USA’s point-man in Colombo, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera has chirped an echo.

His missive, on the same subject (of withdrawal), is different only in terms of lament-volume. 

He brags about how the then President, Prime Minister, Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and himself discussed over telephone and decided to go along with the US-scripted (sure, sure, they didn’t sign it — Montenegro, the UK and Macedonia did, but who’s fooling whom here?) Resolution 30/1. He brags that thanks to this move, Sri Lanka obtained ownership of all related processes. What unadulterated rubbish! Sri Lanka tied itself to the agenda of the bullies in Geneva, Sri Lanka ceded in part her sovereignty, Sri Lanka offered co-ownership (that’s sanitized, mind you) of local affairs to outsiders, and that’s obtaining ownership? 

He talks of lost respect and dignity. As though such things figure in the way nations think of one another. They don’t frame not mark multilateral affairs. Just rhetoric. Perhaps for Samaraweera, being in the good books of the USA, UK and EU is what matters most, but that's got nothing to do with sovereignty except conceding it to such global thugs!

He says ‘Resolution 30/1 (helped bring) back home all relevant issues from the international arena.’ Which planet has he been inhabiting all these years? If that was the case, why did the Yahapalana Government get so excited and anxious just before all UNHRC sessions, doing this and that, saying this and that, so Sri Lanka could say ‘said this, did that’ in Geneva? 

The Resolution was tabled in Parliament AFTER it was passed at the UN. Samaraweera's government agreed to stuff without consulting the people or their representatives. It did so knowing well that certain things agreed to were unconstitutional. And now he laments that the then Joint Opposition didn’t provide ideas about how to implement the Resolution! That Joint Opposition was not consulted. Indeed no one was consulted. The opinion of the Permanent Representative in Geneva was unceremoniously brushed aside! And this man calls it a ‘consensus resolution’. Consensus among whom? Anti-Sri Lankan elements in the USA, UK and EU on the one hand, and their local slaves?

Samaraweera goes on to brag about how the Resolution facilitated the USA to ‘support’ Sri Lanka’s military in terms of training, joint-exercises. Clearly he has absolutely no idea about the history of the US military. ‘Normalizing relations with the international community,’ is what it produced.

Normalizing! Another word like ‘reconciliation’ and ‘peace’. What’s normal? For Mangala, ‘friendship with the USA’ (read, submission to US will on all matters, including SOFA and MCC). ‘International Community’ is essential shorthand for NATO and its allies. Indeed, as was aptly put in a Facebook comment, ‘the whole UN and its agencies are Trojan horses deployed post WW2 by NATO and its western allied partners to enable, install and keep intact a mechanism of “systemic barriers (and intrusions)” against a rising Russian and Chinese threat.’

That’s what Resolution 30/1 was all about. A part of THAT story. Bachelet’s and Samaraweera’s ‘disappointments’ and ‘worries’ relate to THAT agenda being derailed somewhat.

Samaraweera believes that a signal has been sent by ‘backtracking on the resolution’.  Now ‘backtracking’ is all about perceptions of direction. Such things are not ideology-free. He believes that it means ‘Sri Lanka cares not for reconciliation, accountability or even democracy.’ Those words again. What’s reconciliation? What’s accountability? What’s democracy? Well, in the Yahapalanists’ lexicon there’s no ‘sovereignty’. As for reconciliation, it’s about pandering to the demands of a particularly pernicious segment of the international community and to communalists back home who, after their masters’ military adventure ended and finding themselves in reduced circumstances, would leverage a spineless government to deliver what terrorism could not. Sorry.  

As for accountability, that government was not accountable to the people, not accountable to the Supreme Court and cared not a hoot for constitutionality. It was undemocratic in the way it went about with respect to Resolution 30/1. Consensus without the citizenry is not consensus, it is subversion of democracy. Such machinations do not produce reconciliation. They subvert reconciliation. 

He is upset that the ‘toil’ has come to naught. Well, that’s understandable. He must be upset. He cannot expect others to be upset too and certainly not people whose opinions were shoved aside to accommodate those of individuals and institutions that obviously knew nothing of Sri Lanka, her people, her history and the context relevant to these machinations. 

Sri Lanka has, it can be argued, rolled back the obstacles to reconciliation, simply by creating room for debate that is not framed by arbitrary and silly understanding of context and definitions of key terms. The people are back in the equation which was under Yahapalanists dominated by the arrogant and stupid.

Any discourse that can yield something positive cannot happen in an environment where outsiders demand that Sri Lankans inhabit their version of Sri Lanka’s reality. It has to happen the other way about. We create room for our story, with all its complexities, contradictions, trauma, despair and hope. That’s something that was ruled out by the Yahapalanists and Resolution 30/1. 

Peddlers of half-truth and humbuggery were voted out. No conspiracy there. That was voice replacing “his/her master’s/mistress’ voice.” 

Consequences! That’s the warning end-note of Samaraweera’s missive and it’s all there in Bachelet’s diplo-speak. Sure. Then again, it’s better not to sweep things under the carpet for that could trip us, and better not to genuflect and get kicked in the teeth for the effort.  

This article was first published in the SUNDAY OBSERVER [March 1, 2020]

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