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      Speech made in parliament by Mangala Samaraweera, MP on September 22

Which devil’s law is this? —
Mangala Samaraweera, MP

Reliving the Orwellian nightmare 

In 1949, the English author George Orwell published 1984, a novel destined to become the classic dystopian novel of the 20th century. The story, set in a future England, was, according to the author, “intended as a show- up of the perversions which have already been partly realised in Communism and Fascism” as experienced in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Orwell also described his novel as a warning to the British that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.

Had Orwell been alive today, he would have been relieved and happy that most of the world has moved away from fascist and communist forms of government to firmly entrenched forms of democratic governance – including Germany and Russia. However, I am sure he would have been shocked to see the little island paradise called Ceylon, which gained independence from the British Empire in 1948, only a year before he released his novel, become the setting for a real-life Orwellian nightmare 59 years later.

Our  own Big Brother

In 1984, pictures of the dictator ‘Big Brother’ are everywhere, much like the giant cutouts of our own “Maha Rajathuma.” As the London Guardian wrote on September 14, “Colombo’s streets are littered with so many pictures of President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brothers that the incipient personality cult would shame a Chinese Communist.”

Actually, the giant cutouts of the President and his brothers in every possible nook and corner of our island would have even shamed Hitler and Stalin. To be fair to the Chinese, the modern Chinese leadership thankfully no longer indulges in this display of hubris.

However, what is distinctly and disturbingly ‘Orwellian’ today is the ‘newspeak’ of the Rajapkse regime, which deliberately twists words to say the opposite of what they truly mean. In 1984, the “Ministry of Peace” actually deals with war and the “Ministry of Love” actually tortures people. In the Chintana Lanka of Maha Rajathuma, the Peace Secretariat actually became the chief apologist for the atrocities and human rights violations committed in the name of fighting terrorism.

These include the murder of Members of Parliament and journalists, extra-judicial killings and white van abductions during the last two years. Today, barbed-wire internment camps are euphemistically called “Welfare Villages” and the 280,000-plus people incarcerated there are called IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) while in actual fact these people should be called FDDPs (Forcibly Displaced and Detained Persons).

IDP a misnomer

Nearly 300,000 people were uprooted and displaced from the conflict zone, and four months after the government officially announced the defeat of the LTTE over 280,000 are still held in closed camps in one of the most serious human rights crises in 21st century Asia. The only ‘crime’ these unfortunate people have committed is to have been born in an area which was under LTTE control for nearly two decades. Previously, they suffered under the brutal and tyrannical rule of the Tigers; today they continue to suffer untold hardships and humiliations under their own government,  which promised them ‘liberation’ after the LTTE was defeated.

Facing the proverbial ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ situation, the people in these camps have been denied their most basic human rights: freedom of movement,  speech, assembly, livelihood and the addressing of grievances. There are also allegations that 30-40 people disappear daily from these camps. According to the District Secretary of Kilinochchi, over 10,000 people have disappeared since these camps were established. 

Like the conflict which preceded these crises – ‘the war without witnesses’ – local and international organisations have limited access to these camps, and local and international media are selectively taken to only the showcase areas of the camps. Members of Parliament are also barred from visiting these camps.

Bad conditions

Because of the limited time given to me, I will not take your time to talk about the atrocious conditions of these barbed-wire prisons. Many of my fellow members have done so and will be doing so during the course of this debate.

However, Sri Lankans, as well as our friends abroad, must realise that the people held in these camps are not refugees in the normal sense of the word. The majority of the detainees have their own homes to go back to or have kith and kin in different parts of the country who are willing to put them up.

They are not economic refugees either, since many of them have livelihoods as teachers, government servants, farmers, land owners, etc. Many have kinsfolk abroad who are remitting money to them. According to a report in the Daily News of August 15, 2009, I.D.Weerawansa, the Deputy General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon, said that 500 million rupees have been deposited by the FDDPs over the last four to five months. ATM facilities have been opened in the camps with 21,000 new account holders.

Unlike the tsunami victims of 2004, the FDDPs do not need the handouts of well-meaning people, and if they are allowed to go home they do not need the large amounts of humanitarian aid collected on their behalf by the government and other agencies. If given the freedom to choose where they want to live, the government would not need to pass this supplementary estimate for their upkeep either.

“LET US GO HOME.” That is their only request at the moment. The President must recognise the right of the people to return, and the people must be allowed to go to their home or the place of their choice. The resettlement must start immediately and it must be done under the supervision of an all-party committee of parliament. This is especially important in the face of allegations that the government is merely relocating people from these camps to similar camps elsewhere to stave off mounting local and international pressure.

Government excuses

In response, the government says that the FDDPs cannot be allowed to return until the areas are cleared of land mines. Of course, many respond by saying that they have been living with land mines for many years. But if the presence of civilians obstructs de-mining operations, most people have kinsfolk with whom they could live until the areas are cleared.

The defence authorities also repeat ad nauseum their other standard excuse of having 20,000 LTTE suspects yet to be identified amongst the 280,000 FDDPs. This often-repeated excuse raises two interesting questions.

Firstly, it raises the question of the credibility and veracity of figures released by top defence officials. On February 10, 2008 the Army Commander said that the LTTE had around 5,000 fighters remaining, and on September 12, 2008 the Commander said that “11,000 Tigers have been killed since July 2006. Only 4,000 remain.” Having decimated the LTTE in May of this year, it would be interesting to find out how the LTTE, even in defeat, has increased its numbers to 20,000 in such a short period of time! It is obvious that the number of LTTE cadres fluctuates according to the whims and fancies of the Defence Ministry.

Second, this claim also raises a question about the legality of incarcerating 280,000 people because of the inability of the authorities to identify 20,000 LTTE suspects. This form of collective punishment for the misdeeds of a few is illegal and totally unacceptable in a democracy.

The President’s words

In fact, when an ageing father was taken into custody in lieu of his son, who was suspected of DJVP activity in the south in 1991, this is how my friend and joint convenor of Mother’s Front, Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse, responded in Parliament. Hansard, 21st May 21, 1991, p. 427 (translation):

“Listen to this, Mr. Deputy Chairman: the son has done the wrong, the complaint is against the son. They have taken the ageing father from home and kept him at the police station in lieu of the son. Which devil’s law is this? What is this law? What is the result of this? Is this democracy? Are these human rights? Is this the five-star democracy you are talking about? Is this the dhamma we hear on the radio daily? Is this the sermon preached on Saturdays?”

Here is the original Sinhala transcript:

The devil wears maroon

Eighteen years later, when 280,000 people are being held captive in lieu of 20,000 terrorist suspects, we too are compelled to ask who the devil is behind this great human tragedy. The devil in question does not wear Prada but a maroon ‘satakaya’!

And to the devil I repeat the words of Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse from the Hansard of May 21, 1991:

“Resign in the name of God, in order to protect democracy in our country and the human rights of our people.”







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