Human Rights, Credibility and Accountability

Chennai, 27 May 2011

The decision of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to have veteran members of the higher judiciary to probe specific cases of violations in the war-ravaged North-East may have been an after-thought on the Government’s part. It may have even come a day too late in the context of the Darusman Report. If taken to the logical conclusion it can still provide a basis for Colombo to address the genuine and not-so-genuine concerns of the international community on this score.

The current decision, announced by HRC Chairman and retired Supreme Court Judge, Priyantha Perera, seems to be addressing friends of Sri Lanka in the global sphere. If nothing else, the Government needs to help friends in the global South to help it, at UN and elsewhere, whenever allegations of human rights violations, based particularly on the Darusman Report are thrown at it.

The ‘flawed’ nature of the Report, as outlined by Colombo, owes mostly to procedural aspects. It has not contested the contents. It is possible that the Government did not want to confer respectability on the report by going into the details. It may not have helped but it kept the focus of the Government reaction on what it said – and not what it did not want to say, but has found a place in the Report.

The Government would still have to prove to the international community, particularly its friends that it meant business this time. In the past, where it had not prevaricated, Colombo had given the impression that panels were being appointed only to buy time, for the world to pass on to another crisis situation — either in the country or elsewhere. The Justice Bhagwati panel was/is one example. 

The Government cannot tire its friends, too. It needs to look inwards and decide what all about the final stages of the war it would have wanted the international community not to embarrass/harass it with. The Government did not do adequate homework. Instead, it went into a denial mode from day one.

The Darusman Report lacked credibility from day one, in a different way, too. It is inconceivable that the backers of the move had thought that it would pass muster in the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, when friends of Sri Lanka like China and Russia are well-embedded as ‘veto powers’. Today, the only achievement of the Report is to force the TNA to take to the Government’s path and knock at the doors of China and Russia.

In intervening the Sri Lanka visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has only softened the nuanced Chinese reaction to the Darusman Report. Blake’s conciliatory concessions to the Government meant that China went all out on the Government’s side when External Affairs Minister G L Peiris visited Beijing.

In the final analysis, the three-member Darusman panel, appointed to advise UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has ended up becoming a prosecutor of sorts. Like external facilitators of the peace process in the past, the panel seems to have equated the Sri Lankan and the non-State actor, post-war. If China and Russia were expected to oppose the Report, whenever submitted and in whatever form, what did the UN chief hope to achieve by naming an advisory panel in the first place?

Sure enough, the Report embarrassed the Sri Lankan State, Government and President Rajapaksa, as could have been pre-judged. The UN may need to examine if the Report could form an FIR (First Information Report) of sorts from someone to charge the Sri Lankan Government in some criminal court or the other – and if it was an intended outcome, if it came to that.

In political terms, the report may have also given false hopes to Diaspora groups, who have been using the international community to score debating points vis a vis the Colombo dispensation for decades now. In their hour of revived hope, when everything else had been lost, some among them could still lay faith in the future.

In this context, the arrest of Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan in Norway, at the instance of Dutch authorities wanting to come down on LTTE fund-raising, falls between two stools. It should not be confused with media reports that the  Norwegian Embassy in Colombo had helped Tamil elements to find their way to Oslo in the past.

Instead, the Nediyavan arrest is a strong message to the Sri Lankan Government that the international community was still on its side in putting down LTTE terrorism with an iron-hand. Colombo’s response to allow the Dutch authorities to meet with Kumaran Pathmanathan or KP, the one-time LTTE arms procurer, is reflective of the shared concerns that continue till date.

Yet, KP’s handlers in Colombo still need to learn more about politics in the Indian neighbourhood before letting him talk about the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and the ideological sustenance that LTTE’s Prabhakaran had purportedly derived from the defeated DMK in southern Tamil Nadu elections. It’s again about credibility as KP had not apologised to India for the assassination all these months when he was in Government custody in Sri Lanka.Western initiatives such as Nediyavan’s arrest also delineate Diaspora moderates from militants, and confer legitimacy of operations, if not of cause, on the former. The inexplicable existence of the ‘Trans-national Government of Tamil Eelam (TNGTE)’ in the virtual world with a ‘prime minister’ based in the US is a cause for concern in Colombo, and confusion otherwise. Post-LTTE, the Diaspora groups have changed their tactics, not their strategy or goal. Or, so it seems.

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