International preoccupation

Wednesday, 5 February 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Just days after the visit of a high-level official from the United States raised concerns about the human rights situation in the country, eroding democracy and rising corruption, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has used his Independence Day speech to change the narrative. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal said the US was concerned about the worsening situation with respect to human rights, including continued attacks against religious minorities, as well as the weakening of the rule of law and an increase in the levels of corruption and impunity. In a reflection of the current preoccupation for his Government, the President’s Independence Day speech was dominated by events unfolding in the international arena. True to the dominant narrative of the ruling administration, President Rajapaksa attributed the current challenges internationally to his administration’s defeat of terrorism. “The invaders always came to our country shedding oceans of crocodile tears. They interfered in these countries, putting forward claims to protect human rights, establish democracy and the rule of law,” he said in the speech that was telecast live yesterday from Kegalle. It would be a mistake to merely define the call for justice and accountability for the alleged incidents that occurred during the last phase of the conflict to “foreign forces attempting to use the northern populace as human shields”. The solution that the President is offering the people of the north seems to be to forget the past and move on with their lives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many who have suffered the brutality of conflict and loss for nearly 30 years are unable to do so. The success of conflict resolution is not to ignore a gory past, but to confront it, truthfully, acknowledge it and put it behind. That remains true, in both the north and the south of the country. The country celebrated Independence Day yesterday in the keen awareness that it is facing a hailstorm of controversy across its shores beginning at the end of this month. Certainly, those countries that cast blame and point fingers at Sri Lanka’s rights record are no paragons of virtue. But it is not enough to keep clinging to the dictum that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Not if Sri Lanka understands its global positioning and how badly it needs its international allies in order to survive in the modern world. The trouble with the current political leadership is that it refuses to bend, on any issue, if it finds it to be in conflict with the ideologies of its choosing. If the Government stands ready to deal with our collective tragedies, our inglorious past and fallibility truthfully, to stretch out a hand to its countrymen in the north and offer a viable political solution that is inclusive and non-discriminatory, it will find the international pressure dissipating in a heartbeat. Nobody is better positioned to make the international conspirators disappear than President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, not with mere speeches, but with deeds that resonate with the entirety of the populace.