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.