A response to Basil Fernando: Sri Lanka is not a Gulag Island

I am proud of my country, Sri Lanka, which has just been able to vanquish a formidable, ferocious and fascistic foe, despite its vast global network and in the face of considerable external pressure. I am proud that my country Sri Lanka has been able to restore its territorial unity and integrity and reasssert its independence and sovereignty. I am proud of the Sri Lankan armed forces which have achieved that which the armies of major powers have been unable to in many parts of the world. I am proud that Sri Lanka has been able to defeat not one but two armed totalitarianisms, South and North, Sinhala and Tamil — the JVP and the LTTE- while maintaining at least the rudimentary foundations of an electoral democracy.

The very fact that I am able to express my criticisms on TV gives the lie to the description of Sri Lanka as a Gulag Island.

In the first place, the defining characteristic of the Gulag is that it was a system of forced labour camps. Sri Lanka is not and not even the IDP camps fit this description. The Gulags also had execution by firing squad.

In the second place there were no multi-party elections in the old USSR – the Opposition was IN the Gulag. By contrast there is an election imminent in the Southern province of Sri Lanka , which would be actually competitive if not for the present state of the Opposition, which is cannot be blamed on the Sri Lanka state or regime but on the internal supineness of the UNP itself. ( By the way my betting is that the UPFA will secure over 70% of the Southern vote).

In the third place there is nothing “totally”, or “systemically” warped in a country which can be put right by restoring a basic political equilibrium, as can Sri Lanka, by a simple substitution of the current leadershipof the opposition, which resonates more with mainstream opinion. There is nothing more irrational in this country today than the non-replacement of an individual who has caused the meltdown of the UNP’s earlier irreducible mass base to the point that the Opposition is in electoral and social free-fall, and looks like a tribe facing (peaceful) extinction.

[Editors note: This is a response by Dr. Jayatilleka, at the invitation of Groundviews, to an article by Basil Fernando that was published on Sri Lanka Guardian, titled Sri Lanka, the Gulag Island (2) – Zero Status of Citizens- Dayan’s problem. Mr. Fernando calls Sri Lanka a Gulag Island based on Alexander Solzhenitsyn's, The Gulag Archipelago and notes that in this work, "Millions of Russian citizens were turned into zeros just by somebody knocking on their doors or telling them that they were under arrest. The citizens began to expect such a call at any time".]

  • Suren

    Dear Sanjana,
    Could someone kindly explain to me whose views are these:
    ”I am proud of my country, Sri Lanka, which has just been able to vanquish a formidable, ferocious and fascistic foe, despite its vast global network and in the face of considerable external pressure. I am proud that my country Sri Lanka has been able to restore its territorial unity and integrity and reassert its independence and sovereignty. I am proud of the Sri Lankan armed forces which have achieved that which the armies of major powers have been unable to in many parts of the world. I am proud that Sri Lanka has been able to defeat not one but two armed totalitarianisms, South and North, Sinhala and Tamil — the JVP and the LTTE- while maintaining at least the rudimentary foundations of an electoral democracy.”

    Is it the collective view of the Groundviews editorial or an individual? Because I may have associated with Gvs, on a false notion of its apparent liberal politics?

    [Editors note: Dear Suren, this is a response by Dayan Jayatilleka to Basil Fernando's article cited at the latter end of the post above.]

    • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

      Dear Suren,

      The article is by Dr. Jayatilleka and has been correctly attributed now.

      GV

  • akram

    not worth trying to tell it to these NGO types, as they havent got a friend or family killed when LTTE targetted civilans in their bombing campaigns….if they did, they would have realised

  • Basil Fernando

    Dear Editor,

    I refer to the article published by you, entitled A response to Basil Fernando: Sri Lanka is not a Gulag island. This is a response to my article, Sri Lanka, the Gulag Island (2) – Zero Status of Citizens- Dayan’s problem. You will see that my article was not only about the gulag island but also about “Dayan’s problem”, although he does not refer to that in his response.

    I congratulate you for publishing this response which gives an opportunity for a discussion on several important issues which are very essential on all matters of public interest in Sri Lanka. These are: what is a gulag state, is it just a collection of labour camps? Does the fact that Dayan Jayatilaka is able to have his interview published an indication that Sri Lanka is not a gulag state? Does the holding of elections make it less of a gulag state and most importantly, is there something totally and systematically warped in the country that makes it not impossible for it to be a democracy and a rule of law state? I hope to write on these matters purely with a view to engage on them as matters of very grave importance.

    However, before that since you have published Dayan Jayatilaka’s response I would be grateful if you would kindly reproduce for the benefit of your readers my two articles, Sri Lanka: a gulag island parts one and two. I am sending you the text of these articles herewith.

    Basil Fernando

    Sri Lanka, the Gulag Island (2) – Zero Status of Citizens- Dayan’s problem
    SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009

    “The issue that concerns me is something a little different. Why is it that many people still do not grasp that the system in this country has gotten so warped that it is not capable of what is normally known as rational behavior?”
    ___________

    By Basil Fernando

    (September 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There are several video clips of Dayan Jayatilaka, a former ambassador to Geneva, talking about his removal from his post. He talks about the removal as a virtual dismissal. Further, he points out that the manner in which it was done was irrational.

    Why should he find an act of irrationality in the treatment of people in Sri Lanka a matter of surprise? In fact, everyone is treated irrationally all the time. The very concept of merit in the making of decisions about people is alien. This was what the whole debate about the implementation of the 17th Amendment was all about. The parliament made an attempt to introduce some form of recognition of merit in appointments, dismissals, transfers and disciplinary process of all civil servants. The implementation of this amendment was abandoned. The principle now is that irrationality in appointments, dismissals and all such matters is the normal course of treatment for anybody.

    Such irrational treatment is not only towards civil servants. Surely there was nothing rational in the assassination of Lasantha Wickrametunge, the brutal attack on Poddala Jayantha, or the 20 years of imprisonment given to J.S. Tissainayagam, just to mention a few cases. As compared to the consequences of such irrational treatment of these persons, the former ambassador has only lost his job. For virtually tens of thousands of others, and over a quarter of a million people in camps for Internally Displace Persons, the treatment is much worse.

    The issue that concerns me is something a little different. Why is it that many people still do not grasp that the system in this country has gotten so warped that it is not capable of what is normally known as rational behavior? (Of course there is some rationality in irrational behavior too, a method in madness, but that is not what we are talking about here.)

    The related issue is that the downgrading of a person into zero status without any ceremony is very much a part of the system within Sri Lanka. I use the word zero in the sense that Alexander Solzhenitsyn uses it in his masterpiece on repression, The Gulag Archipelago. Millions of Russian citizens were turned into zeros just by somebody knocking on their doors or telling them that they were under arrest. The citizens began to expect such a call at any time.

    However, the group that was surprised when such a call came and would never understand it, even after being brought into prisons, were the privileged sector that belonged to the party. Solzhenitsyn devotes an entire chapter to describe the plight of these people who simply could not understand how the system could so irrationally treat them. They never thought about the fact that the rest of the country was treated far more irrationally all the time.

    It is the totality of irrationality that the entire country is being caught in that escapes the attention and comprehension of those from the more privileged sections of the Sri Lankan society. For example, Dayan Jayatilaka states that there is no foreign policy in Sri Lanka. Is there any policy about any matter at all except the policy of repression and abuse of power? All the public institutions have been reduced to zero. Can there be public policy without public institutions?
    -Sri Lanka Guardian

    The Gulag Island
    Friday, September 25, 2009 Leave a Comment
    “CID officers are law enforcement officers and their activities must be defined within the framework of the law.”
    _______

    By AHRC

    (September 25, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) Aleksandr Solzhenisyn added the word ‘gulag’ to the human rights vocabulary to describe a type of experience that is being repeated in many parts of the world. His own three volume study was the experience of Russia from 1918 to 1956. Today, in Sri Lanka this same horror is being experienced by the entire population. The dreaded Cheka, the security organisation created in Russia exercised the function of being the informer, the arresting authority, the interrogator, the authority that decided on guilt or innocence and the authority that carried out the death sentences and disposed of bodies or decided terms of imprisonment or any other punishment. And all these functions were exercised in complete secrecy with whatever procedures it chose to adopt. What the law in the country was and how it was implemented was almost completely left to the Cheka, perhaps only with the possibility of a few interventions by the highest authority, the general secretary of the Communist Party who, for the most part, was Joseph Stalin. Within this system the decisions on life and liberty were casual decisions of individuals who answered to no one. There was no transparency or accountability.

    The insurgencies which took place in Sri Lanka from 1971 allowed the emergence of such an authority within the country. The lives of tens of thousands of people from all parts of the country have ended up in disappearances through a process where the informer, the arresting and interrogating and adjudicating authority and finally the executioner and grave digger has been the security apparatus.

    The earlier systems of the criminal procedure and the judicial authority which intervenes from the moment of arrest through all the stages of adjudication has been replaced by this new system which is not under any of the controls that exist within a rule of law system.

    The story of how the process of justice has been taken into the hands of the Sri Lankan Gulag is a long one. What we note in this article is that, by now, this gulag is not merely using its powers on insurgents but on anyone it chooses. The recent investigations into a letter signed by 133 well known Sri Lankan citizens is a demonstration of the way in which any activity can be brought under the gulag and be taken out of the judicial process.

    What the gulag does is basically to turn the normal judicial process in the country into a phantom limb. Like in the case of many amputees who continue to feel that they still have the use of the limbs they have lost, most Sri Lankans still believe that their justice system still exists. The investigation into this solidarity letter should be an eye opener for all to realise what has been lost by way of justice in Sri Lanka.

    The President of Sri Lanka instructed the Defense Secretary to verify the facts stated in a newspaper advertised petition published in several papers, condemning the death threat to Dr. P. Saravanamuttu a well known civil society activist who received the threat by way of a letter that he would be killed if Sri Lanka does not get the GSP+.

    The Defense Secretary was asked to verify as to whether there was such a threat stating that there is some international conspiracy against Sri Lanka.

    Following the report of the instructions of the president, officers from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) visited and questioned many signatories to this advertisement. They were asked; how they know of Dr. P. Saravanamuttu; whether there was any meeting for all signatories of the advertised petition; have they in fact seen the threatening letter, and who had sent the threatening letter?

    There is apprehension that perhaps another kind of political prosecution may be on the way. In any case the visits by the CID and the questions are without any basis in law and are direct interference into the basic rights of citizens to engage in any kind of solidarity work within the framework of the law.

    The Defense Secretary has no authority to direct inquiries into acts which are entirely legal and are within the rights of citizens. The basis of any inquiry is the allegation of a criminal act. In this instance the engagement of acts of solidarity by a group of citizens are not criminal acts. The CID officers do not have the duty to obey any orders which are not based in law. They particularly do not have any obligation to carry out political work aimed at suppressing those that the government considers their political opponents.

    CID officers are law enforcement officers and their activities must be defined within the framework of the law. It is the duty of the director of the CID to ensure that his officers are not being directed or used for purposes of political activities and particularly for activities directed towards intimidation.

    Under Sri Lanka¡¦s fundamental rights laws, any directions given to engage in purely political activities done under the pretext of investigations are a violation of the rights of citizens for security, which is a violation of article 13 of the Constitution and article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka is a party.

    It is the duty of any investigating officer to explain to anyone who is being questioned as to what crime he or she is being charged with. Engaging in an act of solidarity on behalf of a fellow citizen is not a crime. In fact, it is one of the most honorable duties that a citizen owes to his fellows.

    In the past human rights organisations have warned that a political police and a political prosecution system are emerging in Sri Lanka. Several previous cases indicate an attempt to give the pretext of investigations and prosecutions on the basis of criminal charges while, in fact, the purpose of such investigations and prosecutions are entirely political.

    This is even more alarming in a situation where assassinations and threats of assassinations are not being investigated by the authorities who have the responsibility to investigate them. In this instance the letter containing the death threat was brought to the notice of the government and it was very widely publicized. Like in the earlier cases of such deaths threats no investigation was carried out. In fact, some who work for the propaganda machinery of repression tried to ridicule the complaint regarding the threat.

    Now instead of investigating into those who issued the threat investigations are being carried out against those who expressed concern and wanted protection for the threatened person. This is no different, for example, to conducting enquiries against the parents of the recent assassinations at the Angulana police station instead of the officers who carried out the killings. It was due to the popular uproar that such an occurrence did not happen and that, in fact, the actual perpetrators were investigated and prosecuted. However, what happens most of the time is the protection of the actual perpetrators of the crime and the suppression of those who complain about harassment. in this column the author has repeatedly warned that the entire legal process in the country has been turned upside down and the justice process is being deliberately subverted for political purposes.

    There must be an end to the harassment of Dr. P. Saravanamuttu and his organisation and also the persecution of Sri Lankan citizens who have engaged in acts of solidarity relating to a fellow citizen. The Director of the CID must inquire as to how the officers working under him are being utilised for such political activities. The director must issue instructions to his officers to clarify the position of the law that they are under no obligation to obey illegal orders. Civil society must be urged to follow the courageous lead of the signatories to this petition and to act in solidarity for the defense of their rights. The international community should support the Sri Lankan people in their struggle for a return to a society based on the rule of law and their attempt to prevent the emergence and continuation of a gulag in Sri Lanka.

  • President Bean

    Dayan…at least the Russians had the decency to tap at their doors before they were arrested…that’s a far cry from what has happened and is still happening in ‘The Utopian Paradise of Sri Lanka.’
    In ‘The Utopian Paradise of Sri Lanka,’ Tamils are simply bundled into ‘Unidentified Four wheeled Objects’ before they are spirited away to ‘Gulag Holiday Resorts!’

  • President Bean

    What we have today in Sri Lanka is a new form of McCarthyism.

    McCarthyism is the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism

    also… The mass pressure, harassment, and/or blacklisting used to pressure people to follow popular political beliefs
    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/McCarthyism

    …maybe we should coin a new word for ‘McCarthyism’ to suit Sri Lanka, and call it ‘Chinthanaism,’ or ‘Brotherhoodism’ or maybe even ‘Blindpatriotism.’ Take your pick!

  • billy

    this a Gulag Island to all those terrorists and their bootlickers, not for the ordinary sri lankas…

  • bottle

    perfect gulag state mentality billy. everyone’s a “terrorist” if they don’t sieg heil right?

  • In Your Face

    Botte et. al,

    Sri-Lanka might have become a gulag island if the terrorists had their way. Whew! Thank God that never happend!

  • Das

    The prime minister said recently “We are nourished by buddhism” Hence a ‘gulag’ cannot exist in this thrice blessed isle.
    What of “disappearances,assaults,abductions,dead bodies – some without heads, deaths in custody, police killings of allegged killings, arrests & killings of journalists, disappearances of IDPs from camps, torching of rival election offices, non disclosure of presidential commision reports,non inquiry into COPE revealations etc. etc. ?
    These are all propaganda by traitors !

  • bottle

    In your face. it IS a gulag island and everyone who doesn’t toe the line is a called a terrorist and robbed of their rights. thankfully you’re on the side of the oppressors, journalist murderers, and concentration-camp guards so you can sleep tight at night knowing a white van isn’t going to pick you up. phew and god bless sri lanka!

  • http://srilanka-lawlessness.com/ Basil Fernando

    Defending Gulag-type repression and denying it are two different approaches. Dayan, during the Premadasa regime, wrote an article to the Daily News defending Stalinist repression. There were other people, too, who had defended Stalinist repression and condemned all opponents as idealists, while Stalin was the great revolutionary. Among such admirers of Stalin were Pol Pot of Cambodia and also General Ne Win or Burma.

    Pol Pot’s ardent beliefs led to a complete imitation of Stalin and the result was one of the greatest catastrophes in human history. I have lived in Cambodia for three years at the time when Cambodia was trying to recover from that catastrophe. However, that process of recovery, if it is to succeed at all, will take fifty years or more, even to come back to the level of development Cambodia had achieved prior to Pol Pot’s regime. All the basic infrastructure of public institutions have been destroyed. There is no idea of administration of justice in Cambodia. The police have become completely subordinated to the ruling party. There were no people qualified to the judges and the so-called judiciary was purely a rubber stamping agency for the executive. People who had grievances, in fact almost everybody had grievances, had no place to make their complaints. Even now citizens are being reduced to the status of a zero.

    The other consequences are as drastic on economy, politics, society and culture. However, this is not the place to talk about that for lack of space.

    Ne Win was only a pseudo-admirer of Stalin. He also introduced a complete state of repression into this country, justifying it National Socialism, while in fact he was in fact amassing wealth and power for himself. Today, Burma has been reduced to a primitive place and achieving any kind of order or development in that country is next to impossible. There, too, the administration of justice does not exist even as a concept. There are doctoral studies being conducted on the manner in which Cambodian police, prosecution and judiciary were completely transformed to serve the interest of the few in power. Here, too, the citizens are reduced to zero.

    Those who admire Stalin have already led this country in the same path. But there’s a difference now. They pretend that there is no such repression in Sri Lanka. To defend such repression during the time of President Premadasa and to deny now, during the time of President Rajapaksha is to say that the rule of law and democracy has improved from the time of President Premadasa. Whether from the point of view of law, meaning absence of law, and destruction of institutions, things have degenerated further. From the point of view of arbitrariness into criminal investigations, into violations of human rights, things at an all-time worst now.

    Anyway, if someone defends these things openly, that’s a more honest approach than to state that no such repression exists now.

  • President Bean

    …can any academic chap or retired ambassador please enlighten us on the ‘Cult of Stalin’….’Cult of Mao Tse-tung’…’Cult of Mahinda Rajapaksa’ etc?

  • bottle

    I think any retired ambassadorial-types with delusions to academic greatness (based on the merit-only career propulsion tactics of this fine and hugely intellectual incumbent administration, famously known for its attention to hiring and retaining only the greatest minds and finest characters) may greet your query with a stony silence.

  • smoulderingjin

    @President Bean and bottle

    I would actually be interested in reading a piece on the ‘Cult of Stalin’….’Cult of Mao Tse-tung’…’Cult of Mahinda Rajapaksa’! It would, in fact make either a fascinating thriller type best seller, or a widely read academic piece of writing that acquires intellectual fame. After all it has a kind of international appeal!

    Surely bottle, there must be someone out there who will not “greet our query with a stony silence.”. (Actually coming to think of it, any such enterprise, published and unfortunately famous, might generate a response that reduces the author to a stony cold eternal silence)

    That “fine and hugely intellectual incumbent administration”…

  • President Bean

    Smoulderingjin…got to the British Council or browse the web to read about ‘The Cult of Stalin’ and The Cult of Mao Tse-tung.’…’The Cult of Mahinda Rajapaksa’ is there to be seen all around our ‘Utopian Paradise’ for anybody who is not blind or pretending to be blind…all the best with the cult watching!

  • smoulderingjin

    President Bean…I shall do that. What I was referring to was a good academically sounds book or a piece of fiction that collates the three cults. Titles could be the “Cult Trinity” or “Re-examining the Cults of Mao, Stalin and Mahinda: A analysis of the socio-linguistic trends and image formations of two recent centuries, with special reference to the most recent”…that sort of thing!

    Cult-watching – now that smacks of “Train-spotting” and could very well become a cult occupation of our time. Viva la cults! And the Cult Coutre.