The Sunday Leader

A Few Thoughts For Navi Pillay

By Kath Noble

Navi Pillay, Manmohan Singh AND David Cameron

As the Commonwealth Summit draws closer, the world is going to turn its attention to the situation in Sri Lanka. It is a major international event, and people will want to know what is happening in the host country.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa stands up to welcome his fellow heads of government, talking about their shared values and vision, he will give them the perfect opportunity to ask questions – principally, do we really have anything in common with this administration?

Some campaigners have already decided on the answer. They want a boycott, and in the next few months they will be working hard to persuade key individuals – in particular David Cameron and Manmohan Singh – to stay away. Whether or not they succeed is not very important. What matters is the issues that they raise in the process.

Navi Pillay’s visit will set the tone. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is due to arrive in Colombo this weekend, has had plenty to say about Sri Lanka since she was appointed back in 2008. But this is her first trip to the island.

She will spend a week here, meeting various officials, politicians and activists, and her report will form the basis of the next round of discussions in Geneva, as well as informing the positions of the Secretary General and member states. It is also to her opinion that the international media will turn for an assessment of how the Government should be treated – like a naughty child or like an armed and dangerous criminal. And she has a decision to make.

She can continue to focus on allegations of war crimes, in step with the Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam, which last week renewed its call for an investigation in a letter to the new United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.

But that would be ethnically polarising. Sinhalese overwhelmingly reject the idea of international oversight of the way the war was fought, many of them believing that such intervention would not be honest or reasonable. There is a feeling that Sri Lanka is being singled out, and that sense is strengthened by the memory of what most people regard as a much worse episode in the country’s history – the response to the JVP uprising in the late 1980s, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Sinhalese – that did not generate anywhere near as much of a reaction.

In any case, Navi Pillay getting involved in efforts to seek justice for war victims only makes them less likely to succeed, by pushing Sinhalese back into their narrow conception of nationalism, which is most ably represented by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The other option would be for her to stress issues of concern to everybody. At the moment, the vast majority of people in Sri Lanka could agree on two points with regard to human rights. First is the need for the authorities to crack down on crime and in particular on politically connected criminals, or in other words to depoliticise the legal system. Sri Lankans from all communities are fed up with selective policing.

They have been appalled by the revelations from Deraniyagala – the latest example of politicians abusing their power, with villagers describing the situation in recent years as a ‘reign of terror’ by the Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman. Most of them are also disgusted by Sinhalese extremist organisations, whose attacks on Muslims have been allowed to go on for several months now. They would feel the same about politically connected criminals from the Tamil community if they had heard about them.

The second point on which there is consensus is the need for the authorities to go easy on protests and dissent. The killings in Weliweriya shocked the nation in a way that no other excess by the Security Forces has done in a very long time. Delivering a strong message on these issues would show that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is on the side of the majority of the population.

Majority does not mean the majority community. It means looking after the interests of the powerless, whether they be Sinhalese, Muslim or Tamil. International solidarity with or support for struggles against the powerful cannot help if it does not take account of the context in which they are going on.

It has to respond to the prevailing attitudes in the society, working intelligently to change them over time, acknowledging that it is not just a matter of telling people what to do – they have to be convinced. The Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam is the perfect example of how to fail.

One of its other demands is a referendum in the North and East on the establishment of a separate state. It says that Tamils should be free to decide their own destiny, just as the Scottish will do next year when they vote on whether or not to leave the UK.

But it is not that simple. The Scottish have persuaded the English to accept it. And this effort was needed, because our people could never be completely apart from each other and would not want to be – our lives are intertwined through centuries of sharing the same small island.

We have to get along. Likewise, the Tamils of Sri Lanka have to live with Sinhalese and Muslims. Of course things can be imposed on small countries from outside, but history shows that this does not tend to work out as intended. Navi Pillay must concern herself with both means and ends. Pressing the Government to act on the two points referred to above can open space for others to work, including representatives of the Tamil community. One person who now seems to have grasped the importance of such an approach is Karunanidhi.

The DMK chief is not known for his measured approach to Sri Lankan issues.

But despite the fact that India is fast approaching a parliamentary election, which generally encourages parties in Tamil Nadu to issue ever more radical statements on Sri Lanka in competition with each other – being a matter of foreign policy, they know that they do not have the power to actually do anything, so they can say whatever they like – Karunanidhi has chosen to stress entirely sensible demands of late.

His revival of the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation last year did not bode well, but in the protests that he led a few weeks ago calling for India to boycott the Commonwealth Summit, it was a political solution and the full implementation of the 13th Amendment that was stressed. This is good news for Sri Lanka.
These are things that the Government can and must agree to, and the extra pressure that it is going to be subject to in November if applied in the right direction has a chance of bringing results.
- Colombo Telegraph

Majority Agree On 2 Points

At the moment, the vast majority of people in Sri Lanka could agree on two points with regard to human rights. First is the need for the authorities to crack down on crime and in particular on politically connected criminals, or in other words to depoliticise the legal system. Sri Lankans from all communities are fed up with selective policing.

They have been appalled by the revelations from Deraniyagala – the latest example of politicians abusing their power, with villagers describing the situation in recent years as a ‘reign of terror’ by the Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman. Most of them are also disgusted by Sinhalese extremist organisations, whose attacks on Muslims have been allowed to go on for several months now.

They would feel the same about politically connected criminals from the Tamil community if they had heard about them.
The second point on which there is consensus is the need for the authorities to go easy on protests and dissent. The killings in Weliweriya shocked the nation in a way that no other excess by the Security Forces has done in a very long time. Delivering a strong message on these issues would show that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is on the side of the majority of the population.

Majority does not mean the majority community. It means looking after the interests of the powerless, whether they be Sinhalese, Muslim or Tamil. International solidarity with or support for struggles against the powerful cannot help if it does not take account of the context in which they are going on. It has to respond to the prevailing attitudes in the society, working intelligently to change them over time, acknowledging that it is not just a matter of telling people what to do – they have to be convinced.

5 Comments for “A Few Thoughts For Navi Pillay”

  1. lionel

    During the July 1983 riots properties,vehicles, lives, jobs, businesses,documents and many others belonging to innocent Tamils who had no connection with the separatist and living peacefully with the Sinhalese were destroyed. US or the UN did not bother to find anything during that time as it is today , whilst India capitalized on this.

    I think the UN High Commissioner for HR must consider this first before listening to the Diaspora most of them not effected at any time in Sri Lanka and happily living in convenient countries.

  2. The silence from the patriotic front is deafening meanwhile the scribes have nothing sensational to report and the poor Muslims can take breather from the Bodu Bala Brigade

    I wish to reminisce on Saddam Hussein he was the US pet, when they wanted him to attack Iran he attacked then he decided to think on his own and do things on his own Killing civilians and gassing them and what happened to him is history

    Any body can serve the US the day they decide to do things on their own then their days are numbered Tick Tock goes the clock

    It will be coming soon very soon

    Nathen

  3. One thing that absolutely surprised me is how the Sri Lankan government deals with public protests and journalists, while the UN High Commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay about to visit the country, and being the host country for the CHOGM. It shows the government’s madness. As a political writer, I never seen, heard or read such a blindness due to bloody arrogance or stupidity.

  4. Antany Peter

    Sri Lankans came out of the Westerners’ trick after four hundred and forty three years. Sri Lanlkans came out of India’s trick after thirty years. The billion dollar question is, can the Sri Lankans come out from the dragon’s trick in the foreseeable future? Or suffering is the middle name of every Sri Lankan? According to my calculation China got a firm grip on the Rajapaksa brothers. The Rajapaksa brothers are enjoying all the perks and benefits came from China’s investments, they are not going to let it go. Not only the investments, controlling the media and controlling the people by the SL Army all are China’s ideas.In fact China will push the Rajapksa brothers all the way through as much as it can. Just protects and elections will not help the UNP to win the general election govern the country. It may get uglier than any Sri Lankan’s prediction, unless the Rajapaksa brothers understand what China is doing and decided to take a U turn for sake of their people and motherland. India can use Navi Pillay’s visit, UN Human Rights Council meeting in September and the CHOGM, to push the Rajapaka brothers to make a U turn. If Rajapaksa brothers decided ignore the world, but decided to go North Korea style, country will end up as Libya. I honestly hope it will not go that far.

  5. Saro

    Looking after the interests of the powerless – yes, who are powerless? The army, navy and their henchmen have been kidnapping, attacking, torturing and killing suspects and jounalists in the north and east which the Colombo media except perhaps The Sunday Leader, care to pulish. Kath Noble has not heard or listened to the grievances of the mothers and wives whose sons and husbands were abducted without any trace. UN HRC Chief Navy Pillai listened to the ordinary people whom this government never notices except for ill treatment and reported what she heard – shocking, yes, because they are treated as colonists by the army who cannot even speak their laguage properly.

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