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AHCR: Louise Arbour's Visit a Test for Political Leadership of Sri Lanka

by Asian Human Rights Commission, October 12, 2007

[I]t highlights one of the recurrent experiences faced in countries which have allowed themselves to slip into lawlessness such as Burma, Cambodia and even some parts of India like the state of Bihar; that is when the rule of law collapses, human rights make little sense.

October 12, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: Louise Arbour’s visit is a test for political leadership of the country

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is currently in Sri Lanka having arrived for a country visit for a period of five days. In September Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur against torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment was also in Sri Lanka for about ten days. Both visits highlight one of the major problems in dealing with the rule of law and human rights in Sri Lanka; that is the complete unwillingness of the Sri Lankan state to come to terms with the magnitude of the breakdown of law and the resulting gross abuses of human rights. It is also completely unwilling to take any decisive steps to resolve the abysmal situation that the citizens face. Furthermore it highlights one of the recurrent experiences faced in countries which have allowed themselves to slip into lawlessness such as Burma, Cambodia and even some parts of India like the state of Bihar; that is when the rule of law collapses, human rights make little sense.

The senselessness that the Sri Lankan people are now confronted with was starkly manifest in many of the reactions of the government as well as some ultra nationalist elements to the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The government spokesmen are constantly telling the press that they will say no to the High Commissioner’s request for the establishment of a human rights monitoring mission to investigate gross abuses of human rights by all parties to the present conflict. Such a request, the government spokesmen told the press, would be resisted as this would be an attack on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. Some others supporting the same view went on to describe the High Commissioner’s efforts as being diabolical and that she is nothing more than an agent of American and Western imperialism. All such surrealistic comments, bordering on political lunacy are nothing more than attempts to hide the complete lawlessness that is prevalent throughout the entirety of the country. However, the reality of this lawlessness and the resulting gross abuses of human rights is no secret to the ordinary citizens of the country who today endure utter helplessness in the face of the conditions of society which have made their lives miserable.

The High Commissioner’s visit should be an eye opener to the local population as well as international community of the problems faced in dealing with human rights in countries where the ruling regimes and even some political groupings claim the denial of the rule of law as an attribute of sovereignty. All the experiences gained from the past in dealing with human rights problems are based on the premise of the willingness of the political authority of a country to accept external assistance to get out of a very bad situation it faces from within. In 2005 the Nepalese government accepted the assistance of the United Nations to establish a High Commissioner’s office to monitor human rights in order to deal with the conflict that existed between the authoritarian regime of the king and the Maoist rebels who were locked in a prolonged and bitter crisis that lead to the collapse of the state and society in the country. In the late eighties Cambodia faced a devastating crisis as four factions were engaged in an armed struggle which lead to the collapse of Cambodian society. By 1989 all the parties had come to the realisation that without the mediation of the United Nations they would not be able to normalize the situation in the country. The signing of the Paris agreements which was following by the establishment of the UN Transitional Authority was a result of the political realisation of the leaders of the country that there was no other way to return to normalcy. In the same way, it was the realisation of the East Timorese leaders and also the Indonesian leaders that ending the prolonged civil war in East Timor required some form of mediation from the United Nations that lead to the UN mission for that purpose.

Dealing with situations of acute crisis requires political realism. Why under certain circumstances some nations look for the support of the international community is because that is the most realistic option in trying to make a beginning to resolve the problems that exist due to the impasse within the local political situation. Like in physical disasters, for example a tsunami, flooding or other natural disasters that make one nation seek the help of others, sometimes the only way out of political disasters that destroys the living conditions of a people is to seek assistance. Like a sinking ship that has to call for assistance from others nations facing serious crises have to find assistance if they are not to perish.

At a time when what is required is political realism what the people of Sri Lanka are getting is only romantic rhetoric and the denial of the crisis situation itself. Sri Lanka’s crisis is essentially a crisis of a political leadership that is unwilling and incapable of dealing with the situation realistically. The political intellect of the country has sunk to its lowest depths. Whatever might happen to the lives of the people or to the local institutions already suffering from a major collapse, and the economy itself that is sinking, the political intellect remains in a state of stupor and continues to talk nonsense quite oblivious of the political situation and its consequences to society.

Obviously, the High Commissioner has reason to be upset and unhappy. However, the United Nations and the international community as well as the politically sensible elements of the local population cannot afford to resign themselves to the situation or to be demoralized. It is time for both the locally politically enlightened and the international community to assess the situation realistically and find ways to deal with the political impasse created by the utterly irresponsible political attitudes represented by the ruling regime and its supporters. The quality of the local enlightenment and the caliber of the international leadership is tested in situations such as the ones faced in Sri Lanka. It is this test that they need to face now and to fail in this test is to fail the people of Sri Lanka.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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