22 November 2021

Spit and venom in Geneva (same old, same old)

It’s Bachelet’s hour. That’s Michelle. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The second of her bi-annual Christmas-come-early party in Geneva. Time to get her kicks, probably. The grave countenance, deep tone and malice disguised as concern.  Yes, folks, it’s that time of year of regurgitating tired arguments based on tendentious claims made by unreliable sources with agendas that have little or nothing to do with human rights.  

So she’s done the usual re-hash. She’s dropped the business of the ‘Mannar Mass Graves’ which, in her lust for malicious barbs, made her look quite silly. The rest is there. The concerns, that is. Here’s the nutshell: reconciliation, accountability and militarisation.

It’s essentially an expression of angst over Sri Lanka refusing to inhabit Bachelet’s version (or rather the version touted by her bosses, primarily the USA and its allies in Europe) of Sri Lanka’s reality.

Bachelet is ‘deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.’ Death in police custody is not new. In fact there were dozens of cases in the yahapalanaya years. However, if true, these are serious issues that any citizen should be concerned about. The reports need to be tabled. They need to be investigated.

She has singled out certain things. Like the release of Duminda Silva. Yes, that was a strange decision, especially given that he could have appealed his sentence based on statements made by Hirunika Premachandra and what leaked telephone conversations involving one of the judges indicated about due process. However, it is strange isn’t it that she’s not mentioned the fact that 16 LTTE cadres convicted of serious terrorist crimes were also freed? She talks about reconciliation but says nothing of the successful completion of de-mining, the massive reconstruction and resettlement programmes that have been implemented, as was pointed out by Foreign Minister G L Peiris in Geneva.

She talks of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem. The former has been charged, not the latter. The charges are serious. The process takes time. However, justice, one way or the other, should never be delayed. These are not ideal circumstances for terrorism is not a trivial matter. Indeed, Bachelet herself has referred to the Commission of Inquiry related to the Easter Sunday attacks. The CoI is a fact-finding body. The Attorney General has to act thereafter and there’s nothing to say that things are at a standstill. Politicians and ill-informed priests have every right to demand that cases be completed immediately. Well, that could also lead to justice being compromised. Creating fairy tales about a ‘mastermind’ does not help. Anyway, all that being said, the cases against Hizbullah and Jazeem need to be concluded. Jazeem needs to be charged if indeed there’s evidence. The cases have to be heard.

What’s interesting here is that neither Bachelet nor her local minions have uttered a single word about the years long detention of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, the former Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council and the leader of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal alias Pilleyan. Well, if it is about friends and family, bedfellows of the moment, and that kind of thing, it’s best not to talk of justice and certainly not in somber tones, eh? We shouldn’t be surprised, the lady nor her organization has a horse to ride, moral or otherwise.

So yes, if we go down to the details,  this other stuff and these other people are not sexy enough for Michelle, we have to conclude. It’s not stuff her minions operating in Sri Lanka are interested in, probably. Ah yes, the minions. That’s the so-called civil society activists who went silent on rights when their political gods were in power and now, in reduced circumstances and deprived of the toys that they were showered with in the heady days of the yahapalana regime, they whine. They talk of intimidation.

Bachelet says, ‘regrettably, surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared had not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.’ Evidence? She’s short on such things. It’s easy to delete context and privilege only that which suits one’s case, but that’s easy and irresponsible. Perhaps she can give the details. Chances are she will not, because if she does, then the government can respond to each and every case cited.

Here are some of the important developments she’s missed and which the Foreign Minister has flagged: 1) The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) as its core function, is finalizing the list of missing persons in collaboration with other agencies. The Office for Reparations (OR) has processed 3,775 claims this year, 2) The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) continues its 8 point action plan, 3) The National Human Rights Commission is carrying on its mandate, 4) A steering committee on SDG 16 is working towards enhancing peace, justice and strong institutions, 5) A Cabinet Sub Committee was appointed to revisit the PTA and to bring it in line with international norms and best practices, 6) A Commission of Inquiry headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court was established to address issues on accountability and missing persons and to revisit recommendations by previous Commissions.

There’s an interesting addition to Bichele’s bi-annual litany of woes. She’s mentioned that ‘militarization and lack of accountability (can have) a corrosive impact on social cohesion and sustainable development.’ Wow! What she understands to be ‘social cohesion’ we really don’t know. Perhaps she believes ‘social cohesion’ is some kind of arrangement where all the citizens are forced to live in a state re-constituted to suit the whims and fancies of her Sri Lankan minions. However,

As for sustainable development, Sri Lanka is doing far better than most countries with respect to the goals set and agreed upon. Indeed, things are moving faster and with greater commitment in this regard. Should we applaud militarization, then?

All things considered, Prof Peiris seems to have got it right. He has rejected  the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 while domestic processes are vigorously addressing the relevant matters. He warns that this could polarize society, as we experienced with Resolution 30/1.

'The Council must adhere to its founding principles. External initiatives embarked upon without the cooperation of the country concerned cannot achieve their stated goals, and will be subject to politicization. The resources expended on this initiative are unwarranted, especially when they are urgently needed for humanitarian and other constructive purposes in many parts of the world.'

Well said.

As for Bachelet, it's a lot of spit, a lot of venom. Misdirected of course. Yes, misdirected. It's a word to ponder upon.

malindsenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]