Protests. I am hesitant to weave through the crowds at Town Hall after work, but I am curious. Patriotic music echoes. Head aches. Black and white corporates assembled. Signage in English, a language that a fraction of the population speaks. Who are these signs intended for?
No War Crimes in Sri Lanka, Look Elsewhere
Don’t Be Mislead by Terrorists, Listen to the People
All Sri Lankans Hate Violence.
Help Sri Lankans Live As One Nation
They are mostly young. Women in sunglasses fan themselves, shading their faces from the evening sun. Men in ties tote corporate banners photographing. They link arms and grin for photo after photo. Amateur photographers armed with camera phones click. Pose. Click. Pose. Click. New profile pictures are buzzed off into cyberspace. Such amusement, it could have been a cricket match. A confusion of slogans and Sri Lankan flags wrapped on their heads or shoulders as a sign of respect, perhaps?
A mockery of the three decades of life that was lost to the island unfolds. Its suffering reduced down to an ideological pissing contest between geopolitical overlords and Third World underlings. These puppets revel, they cry ‘NO to war crimes and NO to Western Conspiracies’. I wish I could ask them to define both.
Estimates of the war’s casualties range from 80,000-100,000. The numbers from its later phase remain hotly contested. Ranging from 40,000 as suggested by international observers to the government’s ever-fluctuating numbers between 0 – 1,400 – 3,500 – 5000. Perhaps, we will never know save for those of us who knew real loss then, of family or friends. Real people with names and faces, who were loved and mourned for.
In May 2009, when the government confirmed its military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) following months of intense fighting, it also left an estimated 300,000 civilians displaced. Housed in welfare camps, Sri Lanka‟s internally displaced population faced a devastating humanitarian crisis riddled with critical predicaments of nutrition and sanitation. According to the United Nations’ Joint Humanitarian and Early Recovery Update as late as September 2011 (well over 2 years after the end of the armed conflict), 7534 internally displaced persons remained in camps waiting to return to their areas of origin, while 384, 401 people returned to the Northern Province (UNOCHA, 2011). A few thousand still remain suspended in the limbo of internal displacement. A bloodied past, a purgatorial present and an uncertain future.
They protest in vehement denial, so unabashed about their heritage, their pride, their arrogant patriotism. Sri Lankans, they roar! Yet I wonder what they have done to earn this glory besides hold up a placard, wrapping a flag around their heads and choosing sides in a game they have not even bothered to understand.
By denying the realities of the war they deny the existence, the humanity of those victims whose lives will forever be shaken in ways they cannot ever comprehend. They forget or ignore the uphill battle left in revising policy and discriminatory practices so deeply engrained in Sri Lanka’s social fabric. They deny thousands of fellow Sri Lankans equality of citizenship by decrying their tenuous present and horrific experiences are fictions concocted by the international humanitarian apparatus.
I wonder why such public gusto, such concern has not been channelled towards pressuring an internal mechanism for fostering reconciliation, to push through necessary policy documents that still stutter between ministries and attitudes towards inclusion, integration and the sustainable peace we as a nation owe to those civilians who fought and survived three decades of war.Not just those of us who were touched by a history of bleak news reports and the lurking fear of a bomb blast in the city, but those who have lost far too much for words or tears.
The LLRC even with its apologist contradictory wording and repetitive lip-service calls for changes that need speedy implementation. In the very words of the polemic resolution there exists,
‘.. The need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms..’
Are these protestors denying the existence of these realities and the interlinked need for changes? How many of them even bothered read the LLRC, or even this resolution they are so opposed to?
The resolution passes and the sentiments pendulum between unapologetic apathy and ignorant rage. I am disgusted, as hate is spewed towards the United States and India. A cricketing rivalry with the latter turned vitriolic against its supportive stance on the resolution. India raised the LTTE, someone announces to cyberspace. Or perhaps it was such anger and ignorance directed at a section of our own people.
Implementation with technical assistance, the resolution calls. Sri Lanka is indignant, bitter, even. Its pissing contest against the galactic empire lost, even with the support of China’s rebel force.
The rage, the ignorance the horrific claims that clutter my virtual world sadden and disgust me as I see more protesters still uncertainly lurking at Town Hall.The conflation of anti-US sentiment with the purpose of the resolution thickens.
G.L Peiris states,
‘The most distressing feature of this experience is the obvious reality that voting at the Human Rights Council is now determined not by the merits of a particular issue but by strategic alliances and domestic political issues in other countries which have nothing to do with the subject matter of a Resolution or the best interests of the country to which the Resolution relates. This is a cynical negation of the purposes for which the Human Rights Council was established.
Many countries which voted with Sri Lanka were acutely conscious of the danger of setting a precedent which enables ad hoc intervention by powerful countries in the internal affairs of other nations. This is a highly selective and arbitrary process not governed by objective norms or criteria of any kind. The implications of this were not lost on many countries.
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, our policy in respect of all matters will continue to be guided by the vital interests and wellbeing of the people of our country. It hardly requires emphasis that this cannot yield place to any other consideration.’
Perhaps what we as a Nation, should be concerned with instead is our grave need for introspection and realising what passive crimes occur each day through our own choice of ignorance, apathy and prejudice in the name of a misguided patriotism.
Knowing that I am not alone in my sentiments however, comforts me.
Perhaps there is hope? Perhaps.