BY RAJPAL ABEYNAYAKE
While an economy is impacted by perception — global politics and international geopolitics is perceived through narrative.
It is true that what happens in Geneva at the Human Rights Council impacts us — but if the history of the post 2009 UNHRC issues connected to this country are to be dealt with, what’s obvious is that it’s the narrative that’s more important than the conference-room reality.
This article will not dwell on the minutiae of the current Geneva sessions, but would try to see the woods from the trees. After all, it’s not human rights per se that’s in issue at the UNHRC sessions. Countries have strategic interests. Western countries that promote institutionalised good governance have varied interests.
“Both foreign aid and human rights enforcement can be corrupted or undermined because Western countries have strategic interests that are not always aligned with the missions of those institutions”. That’s Eric Posner, writing to the British Guardian.
There was a time when the narrative against this country reached an unholy climax and this was particularly when the countries with strategic interests felt Sri Lanka had never been given the deserved “treatment.” So, in 2010 and 11 and thereabout the narrative build-up against the country was a pile on. The avowed intention was to “teach this uppity nation” a lesson.
But to some extent this zest for narrative creation was a mission that with extremely slow despatch, imploded on itself. Why so?
It has much to do with the way events unfolded. After 2015 in the immediate afterglow of the defeat of the then regime which had much to do with the success on the war front, Ministers such as the late Mangala Samaraweera decided to go so out of the way as to exceed the Prime Minister’s brief, and collaborate with the interests that moved Resolutions against us.
But having gone thus far, Samaraweera himself could not ensure delivery. Though the Resolutions of the immediate post 2015 period called for some extreme measures regarding missing persons and so on Samaraweera could not possibly get the domestic mechanisms to go out on limb to persecute ex-soldiers and so on.
This seeming lethargy on the part of a collaborationist Sri Lankan Government had the net effect of blunting the narrative force of the anti Sri Lanka campaign in Geneva. “Following its establishment in February 2018, progress towards operationalising the OMP was slow, hampered by a lack of political support and inadequate funding.” This was how the Campaign for Peace and Justice showed its frustration over what was termed the slow progress in Sri Lanka in 2018, despite the fact that there was a Government that had promised to align itself with the sponsors of the Resolution against this country co-signed in Geneva.
All this served to accomplish the gradual undoing of the narrative. This contrasts for example with the narrative against the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar gaining attraction even as the conversation against Sri Lanka lost momentum.
In Myanmar there was no state aided rehabilitation of the Rohingya. There was no “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” appointed by the Aung San Suu Kyi Government. How could the UN countenance a campaign against Sri Lanka when there were countries that were by contrast getting away with much more?
To some extent the backers of the negative narrative against Sri Lanka began losing ground too. They had complained that the victims of the war had no agency, but found they had so much agency all of a sudden because through their Tamil politician proxies they were playing a major part in the running of the post 2015 Sri Lankan Government.
So, there has been a slow implosion of the narrative of the more extreme sections of the Tamil Diaspora for instance, and this seemed rather inevitable after the victim in a sense turned aggressor after the Tamil Diaspora allied elements played a frontline role in forming and sustaining the Wickremesinghe-Samaraweera Government.
In these circumstances there are persons awaiting a sea change in the way Tamil politics would evolve. Mano Ganeshan who is in a category by himself as a pro Tamil political operative, had stated recently that if the SJB fails them, he would ally himself with other parties.
Which other parties are there? There aren’t any. Is he going to ally himself with independent groups that get close to zero votes, and generate some comic relief during the campaign season? Obviously not.
In which case, perhaps Mano Ganeshan was talking about allying himself with the Government. Such an alliance seems impossible at the moment, but those who know history say that the Tamils in Jaffna had a greater ally in Sirimavo Bandaranaike than in the Senanayake led UNP of the 70s. Think about it, this was SWRD Bandaranaike’s wife.
With J. R. Jayewardene all hell broke loose against the Tamils and Bandaranaike turned out to be a saint by comparison. Jayewardene was yapping away like some madman sounding more insane by the hour.
His rhetoric against the TULF after the massive 77 victory was bizarre especially when seen in retrospect.
He said Napoleon would have been foolish to say that Trincomalee was the key to the Indian Ocean and that it would be the capital of a new Indian state. Apparently some Tamil politician made these references to Trincomalee (and Napoleon of all persons) and though much hilarity should have ensued, J. R. Jayewardene made the reference a new pivot for a bizarre rant against Tamil politicians.
He then, as if that was not enough, said that if you want a fight we will give you a fight. Let there be a fight, he thundered.
Talk about framing a narrative. The UNP has always been the type that turned the narrative against the country and in 2015 the party inadvertently turned a negative narrative into a positive one by being inept in everything they did.
May be it was sheer incompetence that caused the backers of the Geneva Resolution to lose faith in the Wickremesinghe leadership, but whatever it was the UNP was able to blunt the formidable negative narrative force against the Government.
However while on the subject, though it’s a matter that’s collateral to what’s going in in Geneva, it’s time the old UNP was brought to account for the riots that were promoted by the then J. R. J. Government. How a political party is able to get away with all this is a story of a modern day failure of colossal promotions.
Any Commission should have, the first thing, exposed thoroughly the hand the official UNP had in organising the 83 riots with Cyril Matthew and so on at the helm of that deadly campaign.
The UNP may have tried to erase its sins by opposing the war winning Rajapaksa Government but the party’s original sin is grievous.
This is a fine howdy-do that there were so many truth commissions and so on that followed the events of 2009 and the defeat of the LTTE, but that none of these though it fit to come clean on the original sin of the J. R. J. Government and the egregious sins committed. The list is almost endless.
There was the burning of the Jaffna library. Even the so-called intellectual Lalith Athulathmudali came on TV and rejoiced about how he managed to keep the CWC open during the riots, no mean achievement, he exulted.
This black-mark and dark chapter in our governance can never be removed, but at the very least there should be some reckoning which the UNP managed to escape by turning anti Rajapaksa and taking cudgels against the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa Government in Geneva.
That’s ironic. But now that there seems to be some space created for talking to the Tamil diaspora and so on as the President has said recently, it’s good to enlist the folk in that community to expose the dastardly original sin of the UNP — the 83 riots.