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.

  • I agree with Lionel Bopage that the fundamental human rights should be safeguarded in any democratic society. because the safety of any individual rests upon the granting of fundamental human rights to him.

    We all know that a safe city is a just city. A safe country is a just country. And a safee world is a just world. When fundamental human rights are violated, all the safety is lost and justice is trampled upon..

    There is unbelievable unsafety for the Tamils from the North and East of the former island of Ceylon. Yesterday, a Tamil law maker was murdered in a temple in cold blood.This is the third such murder within two years.

    Though another law maker was murdered two years ago inside a cathedral in Batticaloa, within the high security military zone, none of the murderers, dressed in military attire, have been brought to justice. Soldiers are believed to have carried out the murder. Justice is not even attempted.

    The governments of Sri Lanka have always been “eliminating the means”, political or otherwise, of repeated Tamil requests for their legitimate right to sovereignly rule themselves…The murders of Tamil law makers and many Tamil journalists are to intimidate, terrorise and decapitate any Tamil representations and views respectively. Complaints and even shouts about lack of functioning justice system for the Tamils and gross human rights violations from either the UN or the International Community never yield results. Inaction is deliberate and intentional.

    Britain and the International community knew well of this but expected to achieve, at least to some extent, the end result of decolonisation through the Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2002 and anticipated final peace agreements. But they totally failed to understand that dishonouring and jumping away from any agreement with ethnic Tamils is a part of the Sinhalese culture. It is in the DNA of most Sinhalese. Therefore, positive and meaningful action is needed now to rectify the situation than ever before.

    Britain, which believes in human rights and freedoms, is yet to completely carry out its obligation to the UN, to decolonise its forner island called Ceylon. It should call the present elected representatives from the North East, at least now, and make them draft and agree on a workable constitution for Tamil Eelam and help the people declare their country a republic within the Commonwealth. Such an action would be an exemplification of the practice of democracy and human rights from the seat of democracy. It is the only action that can ensure safety and justice to Tamils.

    The people of Tamil Eelam could then be asked to accept the constitution by a referendum and elect their own law makers to the legislature. Tamil diaspora, LTTE combatants and other militants could register as voters and participate in the referendum and the elections.

    Methods of avoidance of human tragedy than “punishment afterwards” is something the UN is yet to learn to make this world a safe and just place for all its inhabitants.

    Violations of human rights and denial of legitimate rights of people, if timeously attended, would have averted human tragedy in Bosnia, Rwanda and Liberia.
    Sixty years of trampling of human rights of Tamils is too much. At least now the world should work for a safe and just country for Tamils in the North and East.

  • Habibi

    Lionel Bopage has a point in saying that the expatriate community has a role to play in assisting the course of democracy within Sri Lanka. There are many people of Sri Lankan origin living in relatively developed democracies. Oftentimes these democracies – particularly the US, Australia, Britain, Canada – are willing to listen and assist their citizens wherever possible. I know that part of the reason why the LTTE was shown so much leniency in Australia was because their supporters exercised some degree of influence over local MPs. Maybe the same mechanism can be used to champion democracy in Sri Lanka.

    As an Australian resident, I haven’t seen any such action been taken yet. Unfortunately, the framework from which this action should be taken hasn’t been assembled as yet. Or if it has, the ideological slant that the group takes marginalises the role of democracy!

  • Sam

    “But they totally failed to understand that dishonouring and jumping away from any agreement with ethnic Tamils is a part of the Sinhalese culture. It is in the DNA of most Sinhalese. ”

    That’s a very racist claim. I am surprised it has been allowed here at groundviews.

  • Lionel Bopage

    It is true that some agreements made with the Tamil political parties were unilaterally abrogated. Some other agreements were made to fail. The political leaders of the government and the opposition, and Sinhala and Tamil nationalist groups have contributed to this situation. The statement that the majority of Sinhala people is responsible for the abrogation of agreements cannot be substantiated historically or factually. I tend to believe that the majority of the Sinhalese did not play any active role in these abrogations. Politicians of all hues across the political spectrum used nationality, language and culture as tools to divide people in order to win over or safeguard their power interests and privileges.