Colombo, Human Rights, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Human rights – What human rights?

By Metis


We never had human rights in the past, at least not in the sense we know it today. We probably had a better record of animal rights in our glorious past before 1505 when foreign aggressors corrupted our ancient culture. True those other countries too had practiced similar or even worse forms of torture. But the difference is that they don’t glorify their past.

The Human Rights declaration of 1948 was signed by the members of the UN. We signed it but with what commitment. Oaths, affirmations and treaties are signed to be routinely violated. The first serious violations were in the 1980s. But Human Rights- original definition which animated HR movement centered on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals find their purest expression in the belief that all human beings have the elemental rights to free speech and a free press, to worship in the manner of their choice and to associate with those of like mind, to own property and to move within and across national borders, to receive equal treatment and due process under the law, and to participate in the government. The rule of law must be distinguished from the arbitrary rule of man. Nelson Mandela said “The rule of law refers to a structural exercise of rule as opposed to the idiosyncratic will of kings and princes. Even where the latter may express itself benevolently, the former is morally & politically superior” We were used only to the arbitrary rule of our kings and nobles. Never mind the so-called ‘Dasa Panatha’ or the Ten Commandments that the ruler was supposed to follow.

We violated the rights of the Tamil people from 1956 onwards. They were “foreign guests who had exceeded their stay”. Never mind if Vijaya and his men were themselves intruders who practiced deception against Kuveni and her tribe who were foolish enough to trust them. Ever since then we as a nation have deceived and betrayed others. The British called it native cunning where the word of honor counts for nothing.

Abductions, kidnappings and extra-judicial killings – the so-called white van syndrome has engulfed us. Terrorist suspects have no human rights. The militarily organized practice of torture, the sexual abuse, and all other abuses of men and women, clandestine incarcerations and forced disappearances, are perhaps new in our history. Those lawyers who take up their cases have to be hounded out, bombed and terrorized. Terrorist suspects have no human rights. Any form of torture goes. National security is more important than their human rights. 

When are the people and their representatives going to wake up and realize that the country is governed by war criminals who are hell bent on ushering in a police state? Yeats bemoaned an era when the best lacked all conviction, while the worst were full of passionate intensity. Today, the Establishment blusters and hectors.  Gotabaya and Sarath Fonseka scold and forebodes, the President struts and smirks. Meanwhile, the giant, timid chorus listens politely to the deafening silence of the outraged-and the mad march of war goes on.

The peasants – that segment of society traditionally known to be foolish and naïve,  cheer every so-called battle victory. The middle classes and professionals through suspension of all critical faculties and indifference to the truth, defy logic and evidence by supporting the war despite 200,000 languishing in camps exposed to the elements which are presently raging and roaring.

It’s as true here in today as it was in 19th century England, and its message explains how to understand and view our affairs of state. Virtually everything we see or hear outside our own personal communications, are determined by the interests of the Government. A Sri Lankan is someone who has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. It contains a chapter on Fundamental Rights. Right now we have citizens who don’t even understand what that document is. 

Sometimes you look around and wonder how things could have gone so wrong so quickly. The militarily organized practice of torture, the sexual abuse, and all other abuses of men and women, clandestine incarcerations and forced disappearances, are new in our  history. We are purveyors of violence, torture, abductions and killings. Death and misery are our principal weapons in the war against a section of the people whom we consider our own.. Everything is for sale here, even men’s tormented souls-at least, those who still possess them.

Sri Lanka are said to be eight in the order of merit for genocide. The state of our nation is in the grip of anomie – meaning ‘a lack of the usual social or ethical standards’. This word is derived from the Greek term ‘anomos’ which means “lawless”. It is obligatory that we ask ourselves how and why we have arrived at such a state.

But who cares.

The fact of the matter is we have a government that will do what it wants to do for the next few years,” “The worst is yet to come. It’s sort of like we’re essentially powerless [and] just play it out.”

We are fast descending into a Dark Age that has engulfed many a civilization not only in the distant past but also in more recent times. Jane Jacobs describes a Dark Age as a ‘culture’s dead end’, where even the memory of what was lost was also lost. This phenomenon is fast engulfing all levels of society and unless it is stopped in its tracks and reversed forthwith we are indeed doomed.

  • Human rights-what human rights, makes pleasurable reading because of its good literary style on a very symbolic subject of our times. Sadly 60 years after the enunciation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is yet a hotly debated issue, not because of its observance, but on account of its crass non-observance by certain countries who ratified it in years gone by. Sri Lanka is surely one of them. By its actions it is no surprise that this state has fallen on its promise, and badly so.

    This is the eternal question. The moment of truth has to dawn that the state has yet to rise to its primary responsibilities, after 60 years of independence, that racsim, theocratism and land grabbing however much they may be cloaked under the words of "democracy, socialism and Buddhism" by which it calls itself ring hollow indeed. The time has come, even if is long past, to hold the government leaders to public account under international humanitarian and human rights laws. Only an International Tribunal will be able to do that.

  • punitham

    Thank you for the timely piece.
    But some correction:__
    i.''The peasants – that segment of society traditionally known to be foolish and naïve,..''. They may be naive, but they are not foolish exactly -they are only cheated by politicians – politicians have been maliciously hiding the truth from them and telling them utter lies. Add to that all the periods of press censure, most of them at critical times. The South has not been making INFORMED choices of their rulers.
    ii. ''We violated the rights of the Tamil people from 1956 onwards.''
    No, from end of 1948 onwards. All over the world people enjoy Ceylon Tea but…..
    iii.''…200,000 languishing in camps…''
    No, many, many more than that: all over the Northeast. But residents or IDPs – there is not much difference in the Northeast with NO journalists and such concentration of government troops with such impunity. Refer the reports by ''fact-finding missions'' .

  • Human rights could have never been practiced in Sri Lanka because of the fundamentals enshrined in the philosophy of Buddhist cult in Sri Lanka.

    Buddhism believes that a person is born into a low caste because of "Karma in his last birth". He is born into a good caste because of the "good" he did "in his last birth. There is discrimination even before birth !!

    Whereas, human rights believe in equality, freedom and justice for all. All persons are born equal and should be equal.

    Buddhism can never accept human rights, a disgrace.

    • Sanath Kodikara

      Many people critisize Buddhism due to lack of knowldge of it. Justin, you are just one of those!
      Also, if you don't know about Buddhism, you know nothing about human rights.

  • Human rights are a collective issue for all the people in this world. At least when you speak in the context of Sri Lanka why not include all the ethnicities that are victims of human rights? I cannot stress enough to say that it is not just Tamils that are victims of this. It is not just the government that perpetrates human rights abuses.

    They include business men, law enforces, terrorists, thugs, ordinary people. Without race nor creed. People who have power essentially look down upon and abuse people of lesser-no power. Not all but some. Believe me Sinhalese and Muslims in this country are victims of human rights as much as Tamils. They suffer collectively!

    Why is the author not even mentioning human rights abuses by the LTTE on Tamil people? Why only hold the government as a villain? Why are you missing private sector corporate thugs that treat people like expendable slaves?

    Whenever you see an article that goes Racist Evil Sinhala Gov -> Kills innocent Tamils you know that there’s an agenda! Speak out for all of us Sri Lankans if you truly care for human rights. Expose all that violate human rights. Most of all present evidence. It’s not hard to whip up an article like this using that standard propaganda template.

  • punitham

    Buddhism professes the righteous goal as ''achieving freedom without frustrating the freedom of his fellow-beings and winning happiness without inflicting more suffering on the world. Otherwise, the struggle to secure the human rights for some can become an act of appropriating the human rights of others.''
    The Buddha's standpoint is that good life is open to everyone and the highest truth is the common treasure claimable by everybody; irrespective of castes or classes.

  • Lucian

    The author is referring to the Sinhalese Governments since independence. There has never been a Tamil Government. The people have been electing governments based on racism, starting from Bandaranayake who screamed "Sinhala only in 24 hours". It is Mahinda Rajapakse's War mongering that gets him elected purely based on racism barring all economic ills and the country's downgrading internationally. You are writing of LTTE's human rights violations. Whether it is true or not, a democratic government is for all the people. We are not living in the times of Dutu Gemunu and Elara. See who is the President Elect of America. See how democracy is functioning in Canada. Certainly not on majority of any race but majority of what is good for the country.

  • Lucian

    Majority was never meant to be based on race. In that sense, Sinhalese are not the majority. When the author is referring to the Sinhalese, he is only referring to the Governments since independence. I can vouch for many Sinhalese for their jewel qualities. I could even say they are the best, but can you say this of the Governments elected by the majority based on racism. Can you say this of the budhist monks who preach hate. This is unacceptable. This Government has gone to the extremism of genocide of the Tamils such that the opposition has now gone bankrupt to go beyond genocide to outwit the Government, so they are joining them in war mongering lest they get completely ousted in the next elections.

  • Lucian

    Majority was never meant to be based on race. In that sense, Sinhalese are not the majority. When the author is referring to the Sinhalese, he is only referring to the Governments since independence. I can vouch for many Sinhalese for their jewel qualities. I could even say they are the best, but can you say this of the Governments elected by the majority based on racism. Can you say this of the budhist monks who preach hate. This is unacceptable. This Government has gone to the extremism of genocide of the Tamils such that the opposition has now gone bankrupt to go beyond genocide to outwit the Government, so they are joining them in war mongering lest they get completely ousted in the next elections.

  • Lucian

    Sinhalese are not abducted and killed on a daily basis, they are not bombed by kfir jets on a daily basis, their schools and places of worship are not bombed out by the Government. Some Sinhalese are killed or jailed because they are journalists who are trying to write the truth of what is happening in the Government today but the Tamils are subject to true Genocide supported by the majorrity. The international community was with the Government ever since independence believing in them. But now, after so many years, they are convinced of their own, probably hearing from the many foreigners who had the real opportunity to see in person what was happening there, has concluded itself that Government of Sri Lanka has approached the brink of a mass genocide and ranked them in the 8th place for now. I think you are a reasonable person and among the best Sinhalese there it is in Sri Lanka. Please educate me if I am wrong.

  • Michael

    Justin's post is horrifyingly uneducated and misguided. I think maybe he is simply 'trolling' for responses.

    Buddhism was born out of the frustration of the rigid caste system was integral to Hindu society. This is still largely true outside the major metropolitan centres of India today. That is why many Hindu's who fall into the untouchable caste are converting to Buddhism to escape this fate.

    While Buddhist believe that you maybe born into the lower end of the socio-economic ladder due to the principle of Karma, they don't believe that your predicament is inescapable. The Buddhist belief is that through right speech, right action and right mind, one can achieve true freedom – which is not simply escaping caste or class, but escaping all suffering.

    In no way is Buddhism and the principles of Human Rights mutually exclusive. In fact the concept of 'Human Rights' in the west and its Abrahamic faiths are fairly new revelation, whereas in Buddhism, the ideas of equality, non-violence and egalitarianism, have been commonplace since the 6th century BCE.

  • dayan jayatilleka

    "The peasants – that segment of society traditionally known to be foolish and naïve…" proclaims Metis snidely. Well, not according to Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, so one has a really tough intellectual choice to make here, I suppose: Metis or Che?

  • Sri lanka has surpassed from mere human rights violations level to a highe and dangerous level of Tamil genocide. We should worry about it than mere violations of HR

  • Genocide is, I believe, the result of human rights gone terribly awry and dealt with under both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions, falling under the ambit of both international humanitarian law and international human rights law. More light is shed in the latest Genocide Report published by an independent NY based NGO authored by two former US Secretaries Madelein Allbrght and Willaim Cohen. The Report can be down loaded on the internet under any scearch engine. Sri Lanka has been identified as one of 8 'red alert' countries in genocide mode. The time for reckoning is finally drawing nigh! It is about high time too.

  • Human Rights-what human rights for even Human Rights watch is what I often ask myself. Do they know to identify and report? I was reading a report by HRW recently on forced recruitments by LTTE.I do not support at all any forced recruitment of combatants, even when force is indirectly applied with very high and unrealistic salaries to poor villagers as an "incentive to kill others and get killed" as being done by the Sri Lankan state. Such recruits are mercenaries who fight for money.

    Compulsory military service to defend America is considered correct and prestigious, though America is not threatened with invasion or genocide.

    Tamils of NE are facing a genocidal war by the government. Is it not more necessary for them to be compulsorily trained to defend themselves against the present brutal genocide and survive as a people, when the international community is unable to stop the defiant and arrogant Sri Lankan state? Should the use of cluster bombs on IDP camps, aerial bombings of civilian areas receive mere mention by HRW? Surely, the seriousness of them deserve in depth reports and analyses than reports criticising recruitment of combatants?

  • punitham

    I am a bit, just a bit, pleased for Palestinians in a way because of the following:

    The Shministim – all about ages 16, 17, 18 and in the 12th grade – are a new breed of conscientious objectors in Israel and right now they are taking a stand. They believe in a better, more peaceful future for themselves and for Israelis and Palestinians, and they are refusing to join the Israeli army. They're in jail, holding strong against immense pressure from family, friends and the Israeli government. But they need our support.

    Hope young Sinhalese will do the same in Sri Lanka. There is not much hope otherwise.

    • Are you still pleased for Palestine? It's funny how less than 2 weeks after this comment Israel unleashed all hell on Palestine. Air strikes that claimed over 380 casualties! Not just that they’re willing for a ground assault as well. All to defend them selves from terrorist attacks. I haven’t heard a single news channel call that genocide.

      When Sri Lankan air strikes take far far less civilian casualties (even with primitive technology compared to Israel) commenters here use the word genoiced willy nilly. Propaganda I say!

  • sham

    latest report from HRW on LTTE Human rights –

    "Last year they were taking the people born in 1990; now [they are
    taking] those born in 1991. They look at the family identity cards and
    take the young ones. If people of military age go into hiding, they will
    take younger children or the father, until they get the boys or girls they

    Before this time, you could hand over all your assets to the LTTE and
    you were free to go. But now they stop everyone, saying, “We are
    fighting for the people, but the people have to stay with us.”

    In research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Sri Lanka from October through December 2008—including 35 interviews with eyewitnesses and humanitarian aid workers working in the north—we found extensive evidence of ongoing LTTE forced recruitment of civilians, widespread use of abusive forced labor, and improper and unjustified restrictions on civilians’ freedom of movement.

  • sham

    Comment continued

    Through village-level officials, the LTTE closely monitors families. As soon as a boy or girl turns 17, they are forced to join the LTTE for military training. According to a humanitarian official from the Vanni:

    NGO ????
    Humanitarian workers have not been exempt from LTTE recruitment, despite
    promises by the LTTE that they would refrain from harassing or recruiting NGO and humanitarian workers. During the government-ordered withdrawal from the Vanni, many NGOs and UN agencies had to leave local staff behind.26 Some are known to have been forcibly recruited for service in the LTTE. One female humanitarian worker in her mid-20s was ordered to report for military service by the LTTE the day before she was scheduled to depart from the Vanni. Several others who had prior LTTE military experience from when they had themselves been recruited as child soldiers
    were also not allowed to leave the Vanni by the LTTE, probably so they could be called up for military service in case of need.

    i was hoping someone at GV coul give a summary of this as article – so that others also understand

  • No need for a summary. Anyone at groundviews should take the time to read the whole thing if they do care about human rights in Sri Lanka. Shame on LTTE mouth pieces here who white wash these crimes under “human rights”. As for the article highlighted by Sarvan which I haven’t come across, from what I read about it on the news media it doesn’t point the finger at who perpetrates human rights violations. So if anyone says the article suggests the government is at fault then they’re lying and twisting facts. It is most likely anyway that LTTE is responsible for the majority of it as well. Considering there is a full blown out war it is not unusual to have the country on a concerned list. Hypocrisy of that US document is that they fail to put the Iraq on that list which I personally think is in a worse situation than Sri Lanka on the so called ‘red alert’ list. Catch my drift?

    And then there are weak arguments equating LTTE efforts to conscription. They just fail to mention that the LTTE is a violent dictatorship which has no authority over Tamil people. I.e. NOT a democratic choice. A militia dictatorship that brutally forces its people. The torture camps found in Mulaitivu jungle of which I posted videos here before are the perfect examples how the LTTE breaks down young women and children through despicable physical and psychological violence. This is exactly the reason eastern Tamils finally took the courage and defected from the LTTE. It is unfortunate the Northern people are still suffering under their brutal clutches. Tamil racist nationalists are still shouting for racist exclusively Tamil state called eelam after much of it was ethnically cleansed by the LTTE. This is the definition of evil – racial segregation. You wonder why the government fights these animals?

  • punitham

    It is outrageous and disgusting to see the successive governments (as well as many commentators in columns of many media including websites) keep harping about the LTTE. When we get a bacterial attack we're given antibiotic that killsthe population of bacteria that produced the phlegm or whatever. The population of bacteria will be killed by the antibiotic and the phlegm or whatever produced by the population of bacteria will go away in a few days.
    The structural violence that produced the conflict hasn't changed at all. if that's changed, the LTTE will 'evaporate' or rather transform. Many international observers have said that whereas seismic changes in the government institutions are expected as a result of 'peace talks' nothing like that has been happening in Sri Lanka. As long as there is structural violence(bacteria) there will be LTTE or similar(phlegm or whatever) because there has never been a reasonble offer of power devilution.

  • punitham

    The damage control exercise at the UN by successive governments in the last forty years has its counterparts in these columns arguing about the LTTE.
    From what SWRD Bandaranaike and Srimavo Bandaranaike did from 1956-1962, B.H.Farmer rightly guessed that '' The truth, though unpalatable may be to some, is simply that nobody unacceptable to the present Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has any chance of constitutional power in contemporary Ceylon'' in his book, CEYLON : A DIVIDED NATION(1963).

    Barring journalists and humanitarian agents from Northeast is putting it into death. As so many international agents have been vilified, the near-silence of the international community is almost closing the coffin.

    Sinhalese, have gala fireworks