Photograph by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images via Al Jazeera
Post- Geneva and post- PC elections, some clarifications are in order because the resolution, locally, came to be obscured by the fog of elections and the scare stories that were put out about sanctions and the electric chair, not to mention the absurdity of the arithmetic of the Geneva vote propounded by no less a personage than the Minister of External Affairs.
The regime clearly intended to scare the electorate into voting for them. First came the ridiculous rhetoric about the electric chair which resulted in a queue to qualify for it from the President to Sarath Fonseka, with the Leader of the Opposition assuring all who cared to listen, that since he did not, when Prime Minister, sign the Rome Treaty setting up the International Criminal Court, all can sleep safely at night. He is correct in that we are not signatories to the Rome Treaty. Consequently, it is only the UN Security Council that can refer the issue of Sri Lanka to Rome via a resolution and in any event there is no capital punishment at this level.
It is only the UN Security Council too, that can impose sanctions against a country. All members of the UN have to comply with a resolution to such an effect. To cut a long and misleading story short, the UN Human Rights Council cannot impose mandatory sanctions on Sri Lanka or any other member state -the sponsors of the current resolution on Sri Lanka made very clear at the outset that sanctions were not being contemplated. Of course individual countries could decide to impose sanctions- however, there seems to be no likelihood of this happening in the near future. And as far as the Security Council is concerned, the regime is insured against any punitive action by the Chinese and Russian vetoes.
The issue now remains that of the High Commissioner identifying the precise modalities for such an investigation and setting it up. It is clear that the regime will not allow any international commission to visit Sri Lanka. The commission will have to work with information already available outside of Sri Lanka and with any evidence supplied by anyone in Sri Lanka who dare communicate with the commission.
On further clarification on the resolution -regime propaganda, the contortions and distortions of the Minister and various other acolytes aside, the point that needs to be borne in mind and the lesson that needs to be learned in respect of foreign policy is that, notwithstanding their dislike of single-country resolutions and whatever other misgivings they might have had with regard to the resolution on Sri Lanka, 12 countries from the global South abstained – yes, they did not vote with the US; more importantly they did not vote with the Rajapaksa regime. All these countries surely know that a resolution in the UNHRC is passed with a simple majority. Therefore, abstention facilitates rather than impedes the passage of a resolution. Regime foreign policy makers should take serious note of this instead of indulging in such ridiculous casuistry. It is an insult to the polity.
The prospect of policy revision by the regime is dim and distant. We were treated to a foretaste of the regime’s response even before the vote was taken in Geneva. Human rights defenders Jeyakumari and her daughter, Father Praveen and Ruki were detained – the latter two subsequently released. We are told that the LTTE is re-grouping even within Sri Lanka and that an individual named Gobi has been tasked with the responsibility for this. Jeyakumari and her daughter are supposed to have given sanctuary to this individual; yet in the highly militarized Vanni, Gobi is yet to be found. These incidents have been followed by further detentions and search operations in the north – according to some accounts between 30-40 have been taken in. Finally, there is the ban on 15 diaspora Tamil organisations, pursuant to the UN anti-terrorism resolution and under our PTA, on the grounds that they have LTTE links. Any contact here or abroad with these organisations is prohibited and carries severe penalties.
The priority of the regime appears to be to stop the flow of information from the ground, nationally and internationally, so that the civil society counter-narrative to its propaganda can be challenged on the grounds of being woefully deficient in terms of hard facts and dismissed, therefore, as largely accusatory and fabricated. The banning of the diaspora organizations also serves the purpose of restricting the flow of funds to the north and east and to the TNA for developmental work and social welfare, in addition to attempting to de-legitimise the international investigation on the grounds of the engagement of these organisations with it. The regime will argue that the investigation is based on information provided by pro-LTTE sources.
Then lumping together of a number of diverse organisations and tarnishing them with the same secessionist brush is probably no accident. Anyone with a smattering of information and knowledge of Tamil diaspora politics would not lump all these organisations together unless the objective is to paint them all as extremists and thereby marginalize them. Are there not moderates amongst them? Is the TNA to be banned next? What of reconciliation? Is it to be achieved only through engagement with KP and Karuna and no one else? Who in the diaspora can participate in the South African initiative for truth and reconciliation? Wasn’t the diaspora supposed to be a key stakeholder in this and one the regime was especially interested in engaging?
The question then arises as to why such action is being taken. Is it necessary? Is it disproportionate? What signals does it send, nationally and internationally? As for the former, available evidence suggests that the detentions, searches and the ban are having a chilling effect on life in the north – again, probably as intended. Internationally, the message conveyed could well be of a country not quite as yet at peace as trumpeted, but rather of one in danger of reverting back to the future? Is this intended, as well?
The answer probably lies in the investigation and the sustenance of a rationale for maintaining the high level of militarization and draconian anti-terror legislation. Furthermore, there are the political benefits to the regime from its self-portrayal as the defenders of the nation against a resurgent LTTE.
Given the sound and fury unleashed by the regime at the recent provincial elections over the Geneva resolution and its threat to sovereignty, a much higher turn out in its favour could have been expected at the polls. That this did not materialise clearly indicates that it is a card of diminishing returns. Two caveats are in order though, a presidential election may be a different story and their best efforts to put the best face on the elections results notwithstanding, it is clear that the main opposition party is yet to convince that it is a convincing alternative to the current disposition.
Politically, the country is in a sense, in limbo. The regime’s popularity is decreasing; that of the opposition is not increasing anywhere near what is required to win elections.
Changes are in the making though in terms of truth and accountability. Gradually, may not be to the satisfaction of most, but it may be the only way for change at present.