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

Terror is spreading in the South

Abductions continue
Abductions continue unabated and last week five persons all of Tamil identity were abducted from the Kotahena area. Meanwhile threats to abduct and kill intellectuals seem to have started as well. During the Qing dynasty in ancient China all intellectuals were either killed or exiled since they were considered to be a threat to the Emperor’s dictatorial rule. Theodore Roosevelt at the beginning of the last century said “Behind the ostensible government sits an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.” They targeted citizens who were accused of displaying ‘unpatriotic behavior’ and identified as a threat to the security of the state. The National Intelligence Agency detained and tortured citizens holding them in over-crowded cells for about 3 months, without producing them in courts. The rules of natural justice and the observance of human rights were disregarded. It was in the background of the ethnic conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. The ethnic dimensions of the leadership of the security forces created a situation where serious human rights violations in the form of arbitrary arrests, disappearances, summary executions and torture took place with impunity. All this was documented in the reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Congo Kinshasa. It is not surprising that the Government refuses to allow UN Human Rights observers to the country.

How does one deal with this invisible government?
One thing that should not be done and which happened in the Congo and several other states in Africa and Latin America was to resort to vigilante counter action. The vigilantes did the same things as the security Forces. They too resorted to violence and dispensed rough justice. They justified their actions on the basis that the government had failed to enforce the Rule of Law and that they had to deal with all criminals be they from the security forces or common criminals. Groups such as People against Terrorism and Drugs declared war on criminals whoever they were. On August 25th 1996 after burying the eighth businessman killed in a period of one month in the Northern Province, a number of business people took a vow to bring an end to the murders. The Group called themselves Mapogo-Matamaga which means “if you conduct yourself like a leopard remember the victim can change into a tiger”. The group was formed following frustration with what they perceived as the failure by the police force and ultimately the Government to curb the escalating crime levels. The Group was financed through membership fees payable on a monthly basis. In the year following their establishment it claimed that no businessman who was a member of Mapogo the Group name – was murdered.

Human Rights and a dirty war
Condemning the LTTE and their brutality is necessary. But these complaints of human rights violations of ordinary citizens cannot be swept aside. The LTTE has a local not an international agenda of terrorism. So repeating the mantra of President Bush’s war on terror can take us only thus far and no further. It cannot be used to justify human rights violations of citizens. It is the nature of war that it brutalizes both warring parties. The good war sooner or later turns into a dirty war. It happened in Argentine, in Chile and in Columbia not to mention the terrible things that happened in the Congo and are now happening in Sudan. The Sudanese government should be referred to the international criminal court for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur, a United Nations-commissioned report has concluded. In Columbia the government used to say that there are no laws against media freedom and that the media could publish anything. But they hasten to add that the government too has the freedom to kill those whose views they don’t like. Such is media freedom in terror ridden states.

Well meaning people are misled by the cry of so-called ‘patriots’. As Erich From stated “just as love for one individual which excludes love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not love for humanity is not love but idolatrous worship. “ No individual with any conscience shaped by any religion can subscribe to such idolatrous worship of the State. It spells the end of the liberties of the subject. The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power is the doctrine of despotism and ought to have no place among democratic people who believe in moral values.

The Leader of the Opposition has realized the threat to the civil liberties of the citizens and has mobilized the public to protest although not on issues of citizen’s liberties but on mundane issues of the cost of living. More and more losers will reach the limit of what they will pay to win the war. Sooner or later the point will be reached when the losers’ losses will reach excessive levels outweighing completely the gains of those who want to continue the war. At that stage people’s patience will snap and all hell may well break lose imperiling our democracy and social stability? One does not know when such a stage will be reached. But one thing is certain; such a stage is inevitably reached. Even in Nazi Germany such a stage was reached and a group of German patriots conspired to assassinate Hitler. In the case of Japan the stage was reached only after the fall of atomic bombs. The Government does of course say it is interested in peace but on its own terms. Some well-meaning but naïve people are suggesting that the two main parties should get together. But there is no mutual trust between the two main parties and now even the former coalition partners have fallen apart. The Opposition has grievances regarding unfair recruiting of their party members by offers of Ministerial portfolios and other carrots by the Government. They allege that violence is unleashed against them by para-militaries and vigilantes with the covert support of the government. The Government has a duty to ensure the safety of life and property of the Opposition politicians. There are allegations now being made by the JVP- the erstwhile coalition partner.

Real democracy
Democracy and liberty are not the same. There can be democratically elected governments which curtail freedom and resorts o a vicious dictatorship. It has been so even in the Periclean slave owning society of ancient Athens. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Democracy in the sense of elected governments is meaningless without liberty. For much of the 19th century America and Britain had a good deal of liberty but not much democracy. It took two centuries to combine the two- liberty and democracy into the constitutional liberal states of today. In the West it was liberty that led to democracy. We now have the hallmarks of a failed state. Would it be followed by chaos? It is unlikely that the world will bother with what happens to us. Our fate lies in our own hands this is despite the fears created by war mongers of foreign intervention to justify their own campaign of terror against the ordinary citizens who speak out.