President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vow this week that he would not ‘bend to international pressure’ and that Sri Lanka would not become the victim of big power rivalry in the Indian Ocean hides an ominous fallacy. Karmic cause and effect It is precisely due to acts of the State under his watch that the country has [...]

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The catastrophic cause and effect of a presidential fallacy

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vow this week that he would not ‘bend to international pressure’ and that Sri Lanka would not become the victim of big power rivalry in the Indian Ocean hides an ominous fallacy.

Karmic cause and effect

It is precisely due to acts of the State under his watch that the country has become exposed to the very evils that the President pledges to protect the country from. This is a beautifully circuitous illustration of karmic cause and effect if there ever was one. In fact, the immediate factors that propelled this gathering international storm with potentially catastrophic political, social and economic effect have absolutely no relationship to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, national security or for that matter, the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lanka Government which ended more than a decade ago. Let that be clear.

Formerly friendly nations abstained or voted against Sri Lanka on Resolution 46/1 at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) not due to pressure by one geo-political block or the other as propaganda mouthpieces would have us simplistically believe. Rather, this was owing to one grievous folly after another by this Government which quite deliberately informed the world that the Sri Lanka State did not give a tuppence or rather, the spectacularly devalued rupee, for democracy. We had the (later abandoned) needlessly cruel policy prohibiting cremation of the Muslim covid-dead and the relentless persecution of criminal investigators handling deeply troubling cases on corruption and gross human rights abuses.

These cases included the abduction and killing of Tamil and Muslim children and teenagers for ransom money by criminal elements in the state security system, long after the drums of war had ceased to roll. To that list must be added the harassment of activists protesting on issues ranging from disappearances to the environment. Let me repeat. There is no relationship to national security in all of this. Rather, in appearance and in substance, this speaks to a consolidation of autocracy and racism egged on by monks who demand their pound of flesh by bringing a ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ President to power and want to rename the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka as ‘Sinhale.’

Bat crazy xenophobia as state policy

Ministers meanwhile made no pretence for translating bat crazy xenophobia into state policy. Politically appointed ‘bulls in a china shop’ rampage in the guise of diplomatic representatives in Geneva and New York and retired soldiers who have no understanding of diplomacy front Sri Lanka’s foreign policy response to the world. With ‘friends’ like these in our ranks, Sri Lanka has no need of enemies that the President must bestir himself to protect the country from, as he pledges to do in uneasily angry monologues. True, the motives and motivations of nation states talking down on human rights to others are dubious.

As pointed out in these column spaces last week, States who voted against Sri Lanka have considerable skeletons in their national cupboards. The United Kingdom (UK) is undoubtedly remarkable in this regard. Whilst spearheading Resolution 46/1 on Sri Lanka with all pompous sound and fury in the Council, the UK Government is simultaneously pushing legislation in the Houses of Parliament that runs directly contrary to universal principles of international criminal law. If enacted, the law would throw a protective ‘special’ shield over the British military from prosecutions for human rights abuses committed during overseas operations, which the Government sees as ‘vexatious.’ Regardless, Resolution 46/1 is a direct result of extraordinarily deliberate racist state policy aimed at Sri Lanka’s minorities post 2019.

And let us be frank, the Government grandly mistook the historical moment. After years (it seems an eon) of Trumpian disdain for human rights, the mood is now different. We failed to realise this but strutted and strode on the international stage with all the misplaced bravado of a petulant infant. Indeed, Sri Lanka lost the moral high ground to the extent that Fiji, once expelled from the Commonwealth when a military coup replaced a democratically elected Government, voted against Sri Lanka. Thus, the President’s articulation of why and how he will protect the motherland is unconvincing.

A Government at sixes and sevens

The litany of grievances that we hear in choreographed events of ‘the President to the village’ is beginning to sound uncannily like Donald Trump’s bitter rants on ‘liberal conspiracies.’ Sri Lankans may have had some consolation if the lot of citizens had improved as a result of purportedly hard nosed leadership by a President whose electoral message was ‘action and not words.’ But what we have is a Government at sixes and sevens, with one corrupt scandal succeeding another, whether it be deals on sugar, coconut oil or rice all benefitting big business interests cosying up to ruling politicians.

The 20th Amendment concentrating all powers in the Office of the Presidency coupled with the superimposing of military officers at all levels of governance has only resulted in confusion worse confounded. Key state entities with retired military men as secretaries replacing public service officials have run aground, including the Ministry of Health which keeps changing its policies day or by day and the Sri Lanka Customs embroiled in poisonous coconut oil invading the market. Meanwhile so-called ‘deradicalisation’ regulations have been gazetted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA, 1979) creating new categories of persons assessed as needing ‘rehabilitation’ and treated completely outside judicial scrutiny.

To add insult to injury, a harebrained proposal has also been mooted to add the ‘protection of human dignity’ as a criminal offence in the Penal Code. The noted criminal law reformer Thomas Babington Macaulay whose proposals formed the Penal Codes of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh must surely be turning indignantly in his grave at this affront to commonsense. What is ‘human dignity”, pray?? In what manner can such an undefined notion give rise to criminal consequences, fundamentally premised on legal concepts of mens rea (criminal intent) and actus reus (a specific guilty act)?

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Corruption and militarization running like a dirty thread

This proposal and the reference to causing ‘religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility’ prohibited in the deradicalisation regulations are equally problematic, reflecting the nonsensical draft Counter Terror Act of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition (2015-2019) which made, inter alia, writings offending ‘unity’ being formulated as terrorist offences. But the point is that by hastening the ‘Myanmar-isation’ of the Sri Lankan State, national security is directly undermined.

Myanmar’s military leadership embodies contempt towards the very notion of democracy and governance institutions. Military leaders are linked to multinational corporates with corruption running like a dirty thread through the regime even as the military turns against the entire people. That trajectory is inevitable, let me add, if this path that the Sri Lankan Government is on, continues without substantive correction. There are precedents from the past, when communities asking for water were shot at in Rathupaswela and free trade zone workers in Katunayaka were hunted down and killed for protesting.

In that final deadly clash, the distinction between the majority and the minorities becomes a distinction without a difference. As bodies pile up on the streets of Yangon and Mandalay with the army randomly shooting anything that moves, we find the Myanmar youth apologising to the Rohingya population for not speaking out on their behalf, once upon a time.

These are illustrative lessons for Sri Lankans still inclined, like the proverbial ostrich, to bury their heads in the sand.

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