Sunday, 1 September 2013

Navineetham Pillai had learnt nothing from her visit, she goes back with the same prejudices she came with.

Navi Pillai has gone. She made a statement to the press.  But from her statement , it appears that after seven days in Sri Lanka she has learnt nothing  new. She goes back with the same notions and prejudices with which she came.

There are different ways of listening, one is  as one who knows nothing- a neutral objective listener, and the other as one who already knows, therefore listen to find evidence to confirm what one already knows. In the case of Navi pillai, she had listened only to confirm her prejudices against Sri Lanka.

After a short introduction of  who and  what she had seen,  and that she will make a further statement  later to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and  a written report in March next year, she said:

 “I will today confine myself to a few key issues that crystallized during the course of the mission. I will divide these human rights issues into two parts: those related to the vicious and debilitating 27-year conflict between the Government and the LTTE, and its aftermath; and those that relate to the whole country.2 Some media, ministers, bloggers and various propagandists in Sri Lanka have, for several years now, on the basis of my Indian Tamil heritage, described me as a tool of the LTTE. They have claimed I was in their pay, the “Tamil Tigress in the UN.” This is not only wildly incorrect, it is deeply offensive. This type of abuse has reached an extraordinary crescendo during this past week, with at least three Government Ministers joining in.”

From her first statement to the media, we may perhaps absolve her as being in the pay of the LTTE, but nevertheless we cannot completely absolve her from her sympathies to the LTTE. (She wanted to offer flowers to Prabhakaran). We see from her statement to the press that she has veered away from the Government’s points of view to accept those of  the  LTTE sympathisers who are still promoting the  agenda of the terrorists, but in a different form, and those who had been recommended  by them , and the parties opposed to the government.

Then she professed her  South African Nationality, of which the apartheid regime had tried to deprive her.  She said, “I am a South African and proud of it.”

But she should have said this to her Tamil interlocutors in the North and East of Sri Lanka who are refusing to mix with the Sinhala and Muslim Communities and say that  “they  are  Sri Lankans and proud of it”. They want to be the  Nationals of a Tamil  Eelam State they are still hoping to create.

The  message Navi Pillai should have given to TNA and others seeking separation, is that it is more important to be a part of the whole, than be a part separated from the whole. 

She  as the UN Commissioner of Human Rights  should seek to establish unity among a divided people instead of fostering it. Therefore, while seeking  evidence of violation of human rights against the government, she should have  also told the Tamil people that it is not in their interest to be separated from the other Communities in Sri Lanka,  but  they should  instead seek  integration. 

Then she says no doubt to prove that she is not the  “Tamil Tigress in the UN”, that  “…… the LTTE was a murderous organization that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives. …….. Those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organization.”

Then she paid her respect to those families which  have lost some one they can never replace. She said, “  It is important everyone realizes that, although the fighting is over, the suffering is not.” 

She should know that suffering continues because it is kept alive.  However, it is normal that those who have lost some one or other at one point of time accept the fact of loss and go on living, leaving aside the lamentation.  We cannot go on grieving for the dead, because we have to live for those who are living.

In the holocaust  millions of Jews died a cruel death , so did the Japanese in the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It did not end there but those powerful, blind to the suffering of the feeble and the  weak  killed in Vietnam, Korea, Libya and continue to kill in Iraq, Afghanistan,  and proposing to continue the same killing  in Syria. In Chile unknown numbers are still missing. Nevertheless, those “who have lost some they can never replace” all  continue to live without complaining about those who have died or gone missing. 

Nearer home in the South of Sri Lanka too there are families who have lost some one they can never replace.  But their grief is not kept alive as it is in the North by the Tamil National Alliance and the Catholic Priests. Thousands of Sinhala police officers and civilians  have been tortured and killed by the terrorists and thousands have gone missing. Navi Pillai did not have a word for them

Navi Pillai had said, “Wounds will not heal and reconciliation will not happen, without respect for those who grieve, and remembrance for the tens of thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and others who died before their time on the battlefield, in buses, on the street, or in detention. As one wife of a missing man put it poignantly: “Even when we eat, we keep a portion for him.”

There is a time for grief and lamentation, and then there is a time to  accept the reality of  impermanence and continue to live. It is only then that the  wounds will heal , and the reconciliation will happen .  Sri Lanka has come out of a thirty years of tremendous “grief”, in which practically every one of its citizens had  suffered. Should theycontinue their grief for another thirty years ?

Then she says  how she was moved by  the , “…profound trauma I have seen among the relatives of the missing and the dead, and the war survivors, in all the places I have visited, as well as by their resilience. This was particularly evident among those scratching out a living among the ghosts of burned and shelled trees, ruined houses and other debris of the final battle of the the war along the lagoon in Mullaitivu.” 

These traumas she has evidenced may be several fold in places she had not visited,  like those civilian men women and children being killed by constant drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, killed by  bombardments in Libya, Syria and Iraq.  Because in those places there is not even a Government to look after them, and they continue to live in the debris left after bombardments.

In Vietnam after the use of Agent Orange by the US Armed Forces, 400,000  Vietnamese were killed or maimed, 500,000 children born with birth defects. According to the Red Cross of Vietnam 1 million people are disabled  or have health problems due to Agent Orange. (Wikipedia)

This is not to minimise the suffering of the people in Sri Lanka, but to point out that  in Sri Lanka the Government is making an effort to lessen the suffering that had been caused to them, showing that they are not alone handicapped by their loss, but there is a government to listen to them and make amends as far as it can, and make the life agreeable for those who are living. 

Sri Lanka is after all just four years after eliminating terrorism.  In order to overcome grief and for progress and development every one- the Sinhala , the Tamil, the Muslims and the rest  have to close ranks with each other  and unite to build peace and make Sri Lanka a better place to live together.

Then Navi Pillai says with a touch of sarcasm, “ Throughout my visit, the authorities, at all levels, have been keen to demonstrate to me how much has been achieved in terms of resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation in the relatively short period since the conflict with the LTTE ended in 2009. ”
That was in fact why Navi Pillai was invited.  It was for her to see for herself that Sri Lanka government not only eliminated terrorism, but it also  resettled  the displaced  providing them with an  environment far more developed and comfortable than what it had been before,  giving them  renewed hopes of  a future for their children  and peace and security for themselves.

That “ keenness of authorities every where to demonstrate the achievements” was not to distract Navi Pillai from what she had been claiming for the last four years  that Sri Lanka violates human rights and the Armed Forces have committed war crimes without even seeing the reality of Sri Lanka, but to make her understand that  image she had formed of Sri Lanka from what she had heard from others is different from the ground reality.

It appears Navi Pillai grudges saying this, but she had nevertheless said, “And the reconstruction achievements, made with the help of donor countries, UN agencies and NGOs, are indeed impressive…………As a result, the great majority of the more than 450,000 people who were internally displaced at the end of the conflict have now gone home.”

But she adds, “These are important achievements, and I understand the Government’s concern that they have perhaps not been sufficiently recognized. However, physical reconstruction alone will not bring reconciliation, dignity, or lasting peace. Clearly, a more holistic approach is needed, and I have repeated my previous offer of OHCHR’s assistance in these areas. ”

Does Sri Lanka really need assistance from OHCHR , “ to provide truth, justice and reparations for people’s suffering during the war” ?

Navi Pillai had failed to see what exactly the  Government is trying  its best to do. The Government is making all efforts  to bring the Tamil people into the main stream of  politics in Sri Lanka, without  a concept of a majority and a minority, but just a nation of Sri Lankans, just like  the Tamils of South Africa are no more a minority but a part of the Nation of South Africa.  What more holistic could it be ? 

It is the Tamils, the TNA MPs and the Catholic Priests in the North that obstruct a holistic approach to a genuine reconciliation of Communities.

Since the elimination of terrorism much progress has been made in Sri Lanka in many field, and the people are benefiting from  those developments to  improve their standard of living . Perhaps Navi Pillai did not pay adequate attention to that fact when she says:

“ There are a number of specific factors impeding normalization, which – if not quickly rectified – may sow the seeds of future discord. These are by and large to do with the curtailment or denial of personal freedoms and human rights, or linked to persistent impunity and the failure of rule of law. From the very beginning, I have placed great hopes in Sri Lanka achieving true peace and reconciliation after the war.”

In reality  the desire for  true peace should come from the people themselves,  and it is with that desire for peace, that  the desire for   reconciliation would arise.

She did not hesitate to repeat her oft repeated  accusation about war crimes, while she was  welcoming the LLRC report, though  criticising it  for  side stepping  transparent impartial investigation  of “ a conflict that  saw numerous war crimes and  other violations….”

She could take credit for all that if it is only Sri Lanka that is committing all the violations and war crimes, but unfortunately  she is blind to real war crimes in the other parts of the world committed by “ intruding” forces coming from the USA and the West.

She of course has consulted the likes of the Tamil diaspora  who are the first hand informants to form her prejudicial image of Sri Lanka.

“ I was concerned to hear about the degree to which the military appears to be putting down roots and becoming involved in what should be civilian activities, for instance education, agriculture and even tourism. I also heard complaints about the acquisition of private land to build military camps and installations, including a holiday resort. ………… Clearly, the army needs some camps, but the prevalence and level of involvement of soldiers in the community seem much greater than is needed for strictly military or reconstruction purposes four years after the end of the war.”

The TNA, the Catholic Priests of the North and even the Civil society  in Jaffna may be concerned about the presence of the Armed Forces in the North and the East.  But it is the government that has to face the ruthless terrorists and sacrifice large numbers of its youth –the soldiers, maim many others, if there were to be a recurrence of terrorism once again in the North. The government has the duty to protect and provide security for  its people, even if the Tamils of the North do not seem to realise it.

Therefore,  it is the Government that has to decide whether or not to maintain military camps in the North and East. Neither Navi Pillai nor the International Community was their to help the government end that cancer of terrorism.

The Tamil people may have forgotten that period of suffering but the Government and the Sinhala people who made the major sacrifice cannot and will not forget it. 

Navi Pillay says that the, “ presence of the military and other security forces is seen by many as oppressive and intrusive, with the continuing high level of surveillance of former combatants and returnees at times verging on harassment.”  It is like some prisoners released from prisons in the West, with an electronic band  placed round their ankles, for the authorities to keep check of their whereabouts .   It is a safety measure. The government of Sri Lanka is not resorting to such an electronic devise in the case of “former combatants and returnees”.

Those Tamils who have complained to her are those who have already forgotten what it was to live under the constant surveillance and the dictates of the terrorists.  They should be thankful that the Soldiers are protecting them and keeping them safe, and make sure that their children are not kidnapped to make suicide bombers, or child soldiers.

Sexual harassment against women is an oft made accusation , but where such reports have been made the Government had taken legal action against those concerned.  Any responsible  Government and  an Armed Force  have to be aware of that necessity, without a high level official from the UN comes to point it out.

The NGOs had been  causing immense damage to Sri Lanka during the period of  terrorism and interference after terrorism levelling accusations of violation of human rights against the government and the Armed Forces. Navi Pillai says:

“Because of the legacy of massive trauma, there is a desperate need for counselling and psychosocial support in the North, and I was surprised and disappointed to learn that the authorities have restricted NGO activity in this sector. I hope the Government can relax controls on this type of assistance.”

The Government cannot allow access to NGO’s to please Navy Pillai or the International Community.  NGOs may be allowed but there should be strict control of the type of activities in which they engage.  They come for supposed humanitarian services but engage themselves in activities against the Government. Should that be tolerated ?

Sri Lanka is suitably equipped for counselling and psychological support in the North.  But the hitch about the North is the non-cooperation of the Tamils with the government sponsored aid due to the constant interference of the Tamil politicians with their separatist agenda.

She spoke about religious violence as one of her concerns.  This is some thing that the government is unable to suppress as the understanding the  reasons for religious violence  and need to resort to peaceful means of resisting such violence,  has to come from the people concerned.  It is not unique to Sri Lanka.  It is happening in UK, France, Germany, and USA itself.  It is also the  new forms of religious fundamentalism such as Wahabism coming from outside.

If there is extremism coming from one group of religious believers,  it is normal that there is  resistance  from the other.  It is not a human rights violation by the government, but perhaps it may be the failure on the part of the government to take a  firm decision  for political reasons that  aggravates such situations. The Government has a Ministry of Religious Affairs  which has to settle some of these problems but for the moment there is a marked inaction by the Ministry which the Government may take into account.

Then she has spoken of the disturbing  aspect of her visit where, “I have received reports that people in villages and settlements in the Mullaitivu area were visited by police or military officers both before and after I arrived there. In Trincomalee, several people I met were subsequently questioned about the content of our conversation. This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced…….”

Navi Pillai should not come to hasty conclusion on what she had heard, because many things are said by interested parties to discredit the government and the Armed Forces and  these information are not always correct and cannot be relied upon.  Some of these accusations of “permanently silencing the critics” have not been confirmed and a finger of accusation cannot be directed at the government.

After  speaking of several such concerns of hers, she sadly made a statement  which  can hardly be expected to come from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as she knows well the difference between democracy and  dictatorship ( increasingly authoritarian direction). 

She  said, “ I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”

But Sri Lanka is far from being a democracy “showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction,” as she puts it.  This shows to what extent she  is determined to maintain her prejudiced image of Sri Lanka. 

There is no sign what so ever that justifies her statement, and her being the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights does not give her the privilege of making statement without sound reason against a country, which invited her to see for her self at her own convenience what is going on inside the Country.  

If this is what she is capable of stating  to the media before leaving the country which received her, we can imagine what her statement to the UN Human Rights Council is likely to be.

Navi Pillai  came to Sri Lanka with plenty of prejudices having learnt about the country from the Darusman Report,  and listening to the pro terrorist Diaspora. She goes back with those same prejudices with which she came, confirmed by selective evidence she may have collected.  

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