Advocacy, Colombo, Human Rights, Human Security, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Lionel Bopage: Protection of fundamental human rights is a responsibility of a democratic government

by Lionel Bopage

Lionel Bopage was a former General Secretary of the JVP. He was involved with the JVP since 1968 and resigned in 1984.

Any government genuinely looking after the interests of its people would stand for pluralism and the fundamental democratic and human rights of its people. Thus that government will be obliged to take all the necessary steps to uphold the rule of law and to establish and maintain appropriate mechanisms to prevent the abuse of power and protect the life and liberty of every individual. This includes the right to life, freedom of movement, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom from torture, arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention.

In the recent past, the human and democratic rights of the people of Sri Lanka have continued to deteriorate to an alarming degree due to human rights violations committed by the successive governments and all the parties to the conflict including the LTTE. Many interested parties have made conscious efforts to escalate the armed conflict using the current prevalent climate of war euphoria. The parties to the conflict have escalated their military action not only against each other’s armed might but also by targeting civilians including media personnel and members of parliament. This is done by means of fragmented carpet bombings, use of bunker buster bombs, mines, suicide bombings, extra legal and extra judicial riddance of people of interest. The long term effects of the military tactics of the current phase of the war such as toxic effects of bunker buster bombs and casualty tolls of claymore mines on the local populations are yet to be seen and discussed.

The vast majority of the people of Sri Lanka do not condone the current assassinations, disappearances, abductions, illegal detentions, torture, child conscriptions and repeated internal displacements which have become the norm today. The people are also exasperated by the continuously escalating cost of living, the ever increasing bribery and corruption, the mounting death toll and the seemingless destruction engendered by the war.

The government has openly repudiated its desire to peacefully and politically resolve the national question in Sri Lanka prior to its attempt in achieving a military victory. The repetitively talked about and elastically dead-lined devolution package is increasingly seen as a smokescreen intended to conceal this military agenda. Armed force is used to manipulate civilians including members of parliament and journalists. Targeted killings are nothing new to the Sri Lankan conflict. No investigation by the security forces or the government appointed commissions has yielded any meaningful legal or judicial outcomes. Political and military interference, destruction of evidence, manipulation of witnesses in such matters are well-known in similar situations.

The manipulation of the government’s security apparatus to get rid of its ‘perceived enemies’ including members of parliament and journalists who are critical of its conduct has become increasingly evident. The removal of security from the area where the target of an assassination is located or from an individual is a precursor to assassination. It happened with many journalists and members of parliament. This scenario is repeating in Sri Lanka now. The latest victim of this scenario is Mr Mano Ganesan, MP, the convenor of Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC). His predecessor and one of the co-founders of the CMC, late Mr Nadaraja Raviraj MP was assassinated through a similar process.

Mr Ganesan states that the police intelligence division has repeatedly informed him that his life is under constant threat. This is a direct result of his human rights activities. At his request, Mr Ganesan had been provided with additional security. However, recently the police have withdrawn most of his security retinue, apparently due to ‘certain political decisions’ made by the government. This sadly is not a new phenomenon as the security of several members of parliament who voted against the budget has been withdrawn or drastically reduced. The government has made it clear that the protection of those MPs and media personnel who work for the protection of human rights is not its responsibility.

Successive governments in Sri Lanka and the parties to the conflict including the LTTE have abrogated their responsibilities for upholding the civil and human rights of any one who opposes its militaristic ambitions. When the state only protects its own supporters, others then start looking for alternative means for their protection. In 1971 and 1983 this was the situation in the south and during the last three decades this was and continues to be the situation with the Tamil population. The recent events, for example a government minister allegedly breaking into the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation premises and physically assaulting members of its staff, validate this point further and are testing the characteristics of good governance and responsible behaviour of the government.

It will be a constructive dialogue with all the groups concerned and involved in the current conflict that would ultimately lead to its solution. The Sinhalese side needs to look at the ways in which they could constructively help to unite and keep the Tamil, Muslim and other nationalities of the island together by addressing the legitimate grievances affecting them. The Tamil side needs to look at the ways to concretely address the anxieties and concerns raised by the Sinhala side.

A constructive dialogue on the national question and the current predicament of Sri Lanka needs to take place at all levels of the society not limiting it to a few people at the top. The people at all levels need to understand each other’s concerns and anxieties. We may also acknowledge the importance of India in achieving and maintaining a solution to the current conflict as it is the only country which could decisively determine what happens in the island, unless we ourselves sort out the mess we are in through dialogue. The situation is becoming more complex and spinning out of control with each passing day. Sri Lanka is becoming the latest venue where global capitalist forces led by the US and Russia compete with each others capabilities while testing their military technologies and equipment. India, Pakistan, China and Iran have also become complicit in this process. This conflicting situation will continue until all sides get exhausted economically, militarily and morally.

Fellow expatriates, the international community and most importantly, governments of countries which value democracy should not ignore the situation in Sri Lanka any further but exert whatever diplomatic pressure is necessary to ensure the government of Sri Lanka take the steps necessary to uphold the rule of law, establish and maintain appropriate mechanisms to prevent abuse of power and protect the life and liberty of every individual. We expatriates need to specifically urge for the protection of the fundamental right to life and the right to receive protection for all parties and individuals regardless of their ethnicity, religion and political persuasions and urge all parties to the conflict to immediately stop the abductions, the killing of innocent civilians and violation of their human rights.