With the recent Commonwealth Summit putting a lot of media attention (mostly negative media attention) on our little island nation i’ve been hearing and watching news from both sides of the argument.
A natural defensiveness rises within me while reading or hearing the angry calls for an international inquisition into the human rights violations during the end of the civil war. It’s hard to be open minded but I try. To this point i have to say, it’s natural to be defensive and patriotic when it comes to one’s nation. The important piece here is to separate the actions of “a government” from “a nation.” The biggest lesson for me was to see that criticism wasn’t of our nation, but our government and its lack of accountability.
Listening to both sides, i’ve come to the understanding that there are too many things being jumbled beneath the banner of “War Crimes.” Some reports refer to war crimes, others to civil rights issues like Freedom of Speech, murders of anti-government journalists and the disorder of the Sri Lankan Justice system.
Let me speak first on the war crimes.
I agree with the international community, and cannot believe that our government can insist that NO civilian casualties occurred. I hope that international pressure will mobilize the country into accepting the mistakes it’s made and then moving into reformation. People need closure, and closure will come from the truth and the government accepting the truth. I think affording the simple respect of acknowledging their loss will help to move us beyond these crimes that are shifting further and further into our rearview mirrors. Let’s accept, acknowledge and then move on. (See restorative Justice in South Africa and post-civil war restoration in the United States.)
However, I stand firmly that this mobilization needs to come from within our tiny nation. It will not do to have international forces, with their own pasts, hypocrisies, political agendas and mistakes attempting to make an example of us, by use of their economic power and political prowess on the World Stage. I don’t believe we should be bullied into this- if true healing is to happen, it needs to come from within. Further more, with the civil war over, this is the perfect time for us to mobilize real change in our country. I wish our government would use this time of transition not in selfish acts of power and wealth, but for the greater good of our nation.
It is hard for me not to believe that there is some truth to our government’s response that the “vitriolic diatribe” comes from nations where the Tamil diaspora is the largest. What the Diaspora has to say is also important, in the context of flagrant rights violations in the country. It’s just hard to swallow.
The land i grew up in isn’t a place of hate. I’ve seen equality and tolerance and respect- and I saw it in my town, my community,with my neighbours and my friends. Sri Lanka taught me what it means to be tolerant. Not the faux color-blind, religion-blind tolerance popularized in the West (and failing in my opinion, but that’s a discussion for another time.) For me tolerance was in school assembly separating to say our prayers- Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Hindus separated- and then come together to sing the national anthem and hear the school announcements together. It’s a simple example, but this is what it was for me. Being free and encouraged to practice, and learn our respective religions and cultures- but ultimately being united in our Nationality, our “Sri Lankan-ness.”
On the question of our failing justice system, our freedom of speech, our endangered unbiased journalism there is no argument. I believe these human rights violations are of a major concern, and will have long-standing effects on our nation. I think the biggest mistake we are making is lumping these with the war crimes. While they may be linked, it is important for our people to see that while it is one thing to stand up for our country against accusations of war crimes, we should not be blind to these fundamental rights that are being taken away from us, in the mess of things.
If we are not allowed to be critical of our government, our nation, how will we make it better? It is impossible to deny these incursions on our rights and our freedoms. the government needs to hire good publicists to handle criticism, and not allow but ENCOURAGE criticism. With smooth talkers like Chris Nonis on their payroll the fight could be much more fair. The government of his excellency needs to PLAY the game of politics- that is their right. But cheating people out of their rights, in a cloud of “We won the war!” will not do for us.
Our people need to rise up against this- not wait for public humiliation on the International front. The selfish, apathetic continuance (for they are merely continuing, and not living at all) of our middle-class needs to end.They may haul 1, 2, 9 individuals in their white vans, but how will they silence angry mobs of their own people seeking change? (This is the optimist in me, hoping for the kind of change that will affect the course of our country.) We may yet have hope for a nation with more public moral prosperity, than prosperity purely in the economic sense.
I can already see the cynics shaking their heads at my optimism. But if we don’t have hope for a better Sri Lanka… then what do we have but a pathetic acceptance of our individual weakness? More importantly our acceptance only lends more power to the likes of these political scoundrels bent on self-improvement and ultimate destruction of our beautiful Sri Lanka.