Easter Sunday massacres: Will we ever know?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Two years have passed since more than 260 people were killed in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka by ruthless extremists in the name of an evil ideology, which has nothing to do with Islam. But the threat of extremism is still alive with no investigation revealing the masterminds behind the gory tragedy.
Gaining traction in the public domain is a viewpoint that there is more to the attacks than meets the eye. The theory goes that the terrorists who committed the crime were just a bunch of holy idiots brainwashed by their handlers. The bigger picture is that extremism is a tool of politics. Recently, an opposition lawmaker told parliament that in countries like India and Sri Lanka, politicians stoke the fear of extremism to win elections.
While the victims’ kith and kin call for accountability and are fast losing hope of culprits being brought to justice, the attacks’ masterminds may be beyond the reach of the long arm of the law. May be there is a foreign hand.
The failure to act on advanced information even after the terrorists had left a trail of clues about the impending attack indicates that the then authorities were buffoons incapable of ensuring public security while those tasked with the security job were either incompetent or let it happen for reasons only known to them. That the Easter Sunday carnage happened despite so many early warnings is so unbelievable that it is not difficult to find people who give such explanations.
One may dismiss such people as conspiracy theorists, but international politics is not unknown for false flag terror operations. States, especially big powers, resort to such false flag operations to achieve political goals. False flag ops, terror attacks being part of it, have become overly sophisticated today due to the advancement of science, technology and mind-control psychology. Intelligence agencies are not run by angels of mercy. A key job objective of intelligence agencies is to map out plans A, B and C to destabilize a target nation, cause a regime change, kill leaders and set up fall guys. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the United States’ Murder Incorporate made 638 attempts in 40 years to kill Cuba’s legendary leader Fidel Castro. Pakistan’s one-time military strongman Zia ul-Haq was also a victim of a terror plot scripted by the CIA, according to some Pakistani military chiefs.
In Iran in 1953, the British and American intelligence set the stage to oust the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mussadeq by getting their hirelings to plant bombs in mosques and putting the blame on Iran’s Communist Party.
No intelligence agency is more dexterous in false flag terror ops than Israel’s Mossad. One of its first false flag ops was the Lavon Affair which led to the resignation of the then Israeli Defence Minister in 1954 after the Egyptian authorities busted the plot. Six Egyptian Jews hired by Mossad were arrested. They were to set off terror attacks at US, British and Egyptian civilian targets and put the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Communists. The objective was to create chaos which in turn would weaken Egypt’s ability to fight Israel while offering an excuse for the British to stay put in the Suez region.
Since then the Mossad has grown in sophistication. The Americans to their surprise found out some years ago that Mossad agents were posing off as CIA agents and recruiting Jundullah rebels in Iran’s Baluchestan region to carry out terror operations in Iran. The sophistication of the scheme is such that in some high-octane cases, the brainwashed recruit or the Manchurian candidate will never know he is being used by a foreign intelligence unit. In some Muslim countries where poverty and illiteracy co-exist with terrorism, often the suicide bombers are innocent teenagers. In some regions of Pakistan, poverty stricken youths are paid one hundred rupees to carry a parcel from one place to another. On the way, a person who works for a foreign intelligence outfit presses the remote and makes the boy an unintentional martyr.
It is also alleged that Mossad created ISIS, just as it is alleged that the CIA created al Qaeda. It is noteworthy that the ISIS has so far not attacked Israel.
In a July 2014 interview, which Iran insists it happened but the Americans say it did not, whistleblower Edward Snowden was quoted as revealing about a joint US, British and Israeli effort to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that conducted the interview, the plan was codenamed Beehive or Hornet’s Nest and it was devised to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to the newly manufactured regional enemy: ISIS.
Although the claim was pooh-poohed by sections of the US and Israeli media, the fact remains that Snowden has not refuted the interview. Some may say this is because the former National Security Agency officer takes orders from Russia where he has found refuge after he became America’s most wanted fugitive for leaking documents to expose the CIA’s surveillance programmes that invade privacy.
Given these few examples from a huge trove of false flag terror ops, closer home we are being told that India’s intelligence agency also creates ‘ISIS terrorists’ to identify potential terrorists in keeping with the adage that we need to set a thief to catch a thief.
The Presidential Commission that probed the Easter Sunday attacks in its report has included the testimony of an international terrorism expert under the chapter titled ‘Foreign Involvement’. According to the testimony, the expert has said a character called Abu Hind was created by a section of a provincial intelligence apparatus. Now Abu Hind was Easter Sunday attack terror chief Zahran Hashim’s contact in India. The duo had exchanged voice messages and sermons.
The expert told the commission that on April 4, 20 and 21, 2019, the information the then State Intelligence Service director received was from the Indian intelligence outfit after it had obtained it from the operative pretending to be Abu Hind. “Operatives of this outfit operate in social media pretending to be Islamic State (ISIS) figures. They are trained to run virtual persona.”
“The testimony was that Zahran believed Abu Hind was the Islamic State regional representative. Abu Hind was in touch with both Zahran and his brother Rilwan and had spoken to Naufer…” the report notes.
The commission report has been criticised for not providing answers to key questions. Probably none will find the answers for eons to come, given the hidden agendas. Even Colombo’s Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith thinks so. Extremism is evil. But to eliminate extremism is intricate and no easy task.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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UNHRC: Let’s defend human rights and learn lessons from political and diplomatic blunders

By Ameen Izzadeen
“Britain will not be able to have its own way in the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) as there are other influential countries such as Russia, China and Cuba at the UNHRC,” said the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2013. He was responding to the then British Prime Minister David Cameron’s March 2014 deadline for Sri Lanka to improve its human rights situation and the warning that Britain would have no choice but to move a resolution against Sri Lankan the following year at the UNHRC if Sri Lanka did not oblige.
His comment came at a time when Sri Lanka was embroiled in what could be its worst foreign policy embarrassment while it was hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2013, with several countries deciding not to send heads of government to the meeting.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now the President of Sri Lanka, was in a way right. On Tuesday, at the UNHRC’s 46th sessions, big powers China and Russia, and Lanka’s all-weather friend Pakistan together with eight other nations defended the government when the council took up the resolution co-sponsored by Britain, Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Malawi.
The manner in which member states exercised their vote on Tuesday once again proved that the UNHRC was politically charged.
If the United Nations Commission on Human Rights was dissolved, and, in its stead, the UNHRC was set up in 2006 was to depoliticize human rights, then the very purpose has been defeated. When it is politics which decides a member-state’s stance on a resolution, then the UNHRC is not morally equipped to deal with human rights violations. It needs urgent reforms aimed at depoliticizing the council to nullify allegations that it was — as the previous US President Donald Trump’s administration called — a ‘cesspool of political biases’.
But this does not mean the UNHRC should be wound up and states should be allowed to go unpunished for violating human rights. Part of these reforms should include educating and empowering people on human rights. People should be made aware that every democracy worth its salt is duty bound to uphold human rights. No nation can call itself a member of the community of civilized nations and at the same time violate human rights with impunity.
Human rights do not belong to the state; it belongs to people while the state remains the custodian of human rights. If a state fails in its human rights duty, democracy demands that there should be a domestic mechanism for redress through the judiciary.
If there is a serious erosion of the independence of the judiciary and if judges, cowing down to political pressure, fail to deliver pro-human rights judgments, then the state becomes a failed state. Such a situation allows other countries to intervene in a target nation under the guise of the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect.
States should not only promote human rights but seen to be promoting human rights by strengthening mechanisms to help aggrieved citizens to find redress. The previous Sri Lankan government was somewhat doing exactly that with its ‘good governance’ charade. Britain recently escaped International Criminal Court prosecution because the ICC prosecutors concluded that it was satisfied with Britain’s domestic mechanism to address human rights violations.
However, civilization has not reached the advanced level required for nations to defend human rights devoid of politics. Just as courts are expected to dispense justice impartially and apolitically, international bodies dealing with human rights should also act in a similar manner. When a nation is accused of committing human rights and other nations are asked to be jurors in the UNHRC, the juror nations are expected to vote not on the basis of their feuds or strategic, political, economic or cultural relations with the accused nation. They should be true to their conscience that they are acting in the interest of human rights. But in reality, every nation’s vote on Tuesday was connected with its national interest or local political exigencies.
Take, for instance, India. During the UNHRC vote on the Sri Lanka resolution, its abstention largely reflected the ruling Bharatiya Janatha Party’s efforts to become a political force in the southern Tamil Nadu state which goes to the state assembly polls on April 6, with the UNHRC vote being a hot political issue. To some degree, India’s abstention can also be seen as a retaliatory measure for Sri Lanka’s decision to renege on an agreement with regard to the Colombo Port’s East Container Terminal and also due to Colombo’s tilt towards China at the expense of India.
India also abstained from the vote on the resolution targeting Israel. India was once a champion of Palestinian freedom struggle. On Tuesday, India abandoned the Palestinians, one of the most oppressed people in the world. But India had no qualms in binning human rights in favour of its ally Israel with whom it is maintaining strong defence and intelligence ties.
Then take Malawi, one of the sponsors of the resolution on Sri Lanka — just as Argentina was when the South American nation presented a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Commission on Human Rights in the 1980s. Malawi has its own problems with human rights. According to the 2018 United States State Department report, Malawi’s human rights issues included extrajudicial killings; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life threatening prison and detention center conditions; criminal libel; corruption; and lack of investigation. The report says though in some cases the government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, impunity remained a problem.
A resource rich, poor country, Malawi depends on foreign aid and much of it is coming from the UK, Canada and Germany – the nations that sponsored the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. During the 2013 controversy ridden Commonwealth Summit in Colombo, Malawi joined Canada, Mauritius, India and other nations that sent lower level representation in what was seen as a protest against Sri Lanka’s alleged human rights violations. To assume that Malawi’s ‘yes’ vote for the resolution on Sri Lanka stemmed from its commitment to human rights is an insult to intelligence. The country simply followed instructions from its donor nations, just as it became a sycophant of apartheid South Africa in the past.
Besides politics, nations also talk big about human rights in an effort to increase their soft power or to provide a fig leaf to cover their own human rights shame.
Tuesday’s vote also exposed Sri Lanka’s foreign policy defects, many of which have been caused by politics. The government’s politically driven stubbornness with regard to Muslims’ demand that they be allowed to bury Covid victims cost it the votes of Bahrain and Indonesia, which once strongly backed Sri Lanka.
Also when SAARC member Nepal abstained from voting, there is something seriously wrong with our diplomacy. If the country had exercised a balanced foreign policy and exercised prudence, especially with regard to India and the Islamic nations, there would have been a better face-saving option.
It is not too late to learn lessons from mistakes.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Burqa ban: Security, human rights and male chauvinism

By Ameen Izzadeen
A few years ago, on a Turkish beach exclusively for women, a bikini-clad woman offered her prayers. The video clip of the woman going through the postures of the Muslim prayer went viral and created a major debate among the Muslims. Some censured her for not adhering to the dress code for prayers, but others said what mattered was her piety and not the dress.
Following the release of the Easter Sunday terror attack commission report, Sri Lanka is mulling whether to ban burqa – the Muslim dress that covers a female body from head to toe – and niqab, which only shows the eyes of the wearer, but the issue needs to be looked at from human rights, security and spiritual angles to come to a right decision.
If at the one end of the spectrum is public nudity, burqa will be at the other end. As civilized people, we denounce public nudity as indecent. But neither do we depict burqa as the highest form of modesty. Both extremes need to be shunned.
We are born naked but soon we are clothed by our parents or caregivers to protect ourselves from the elements and also as an adornment. As we grow up, we wear clothes also to cover our private parts. Scriptures tell us that Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover their nudity after they disobeyed God and discovered their shame.
But there are tribes who wear no clothes. They are not ashamed of their nakedness. But such indigenous people live in isolation and remain deprived of the benefits of the civilization-building process.
The general understanding is that as human beings, we wear clothes to protect ourselves from the elements, as an adornment and to cover parts of our bodies which are sexually attractive to the opposite sex, depending on one’s threshold of modesty. The consensus is that we should be clothed in public. As to how much to cover is a matter that is diversely defined, depending on culture, social norms and individuality. In South Asia, saree is regarded as a form of modest clothing for women as it covers much of their torsos and the legs, but in the Middle East, saree is seen as not-so-modest as it exposes the midriff.
Just as the choice of clothes is our right, one may argue that the freedom to be nude or the freedom to be scantily clad — depending on one’s interpretation of modesty — is also a human right.
However, even in liberal societies, where shortness is promoted by men as women empowerment after the miniskirt revolution of the 1960s, the freedom to be nude is curtailed. In those countries, although courts have recognised nudity as freedom of expression, they also recognise that nudity should be regulated through legislation as it causes public disorder. The consensus is that nudity should be disallowed unless it is the norm.
Whether burqa, niqab or hijab – the scarf that covers the head and the chest — is worn due to choice or coercion, human rights jurists have defended a person’s right to wear them. This was confirmed in the 2018 ruling of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The Committee ruled that France had violated the human rights of two women by fining them for wearing niqab.
It found that the French niqab ban disproportionately harmed the petitioners’ right to manifest their religious beliefs, and that France had not adequately explained why it was necessary to prohibit this clothing. The Committee said it was not convinced by France’s claim that the ban was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of “living together” in society.
The Committee acknowledged that States could require that individuals show their faces in specific circumstances for identification purposes, but considered that a general niqab ban was too sweeping for this purpose.
The Committee also concluded that the ban, rather than protecting fully veiled women, could have the opposite effect of confining them to their homes, impeding their access to public services and marginalising them.
Recently, in Switzerland, people voted in a referendum in favour of a niqab ban, though the Government said it was not for the ban but would prefer a mechanism whereby the wearers would be required to reveal their facial identity on request for security purposes.
The ban on burqa and niqab in many countries is justified on the basis of public security, with these clothing types being seen as symbols of extremism and oppression or enslavement of women rather than expression of spirituality. On security grounds, even several Muslim countries have banned burqa and niqab. They include Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In Muslim Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, even hijab is banned. In secular Turkey, hijab had been banned in public institutions until Islamic-leaning Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan lifted the restriction in 2013.
While burqa and niqab have become serious human rights and security topics, there is a perennial debate among Muslims on whether Islam really pushes for burqa and niqab. Islam accords prime importance to modesty and bashfulness — known as Haya in Arabic – and it is part of faith.
Although from a security perspective, the full covering of the female body is being seen as a threat, the spiritually inclined in all major religions may say the more we make ourselves sexually less attractive to others with our clothing and behaviour the more righteous will be our conduct. Look at the nuns and the Bhikkunis.
Interpreting the Quran and the prophet’s tradition, some scholars, especially those of the hardline Salafi and Wahhabi order, say rather unconvincingly that niqab or burqa is wajib or a must. They believe the entire body of a woman, including her shape, is her private part and therefore should be covered, lest she becomes an object of lust to be ogled by men.
But those who say niqab or burqa is not compulsory also put forward Quranic verses and prophet’s sayings. They insist a woman needs to cover her head and the bosom, but her face and hands could be exposed. Some progressive scholars point out that the problem is not with women but with men, for the Quranic command to ‘lower thy gaze’ or be chaste in thoughts and action is addressed first to men and then to women. Did not Jesus Christ ask men not to look at a woman lustfully, for if they do they have already committed adultery with her in their hearts?
There is much male chauvinism in the pro-niqab/burqa camp, with male scholars trying to impose their hardline interpretations on the females whose views are rarely sought or respected.
Amidst views and counterviews between the human rights and security schools of thought, the golden means, perhaps, is to impose a temporary restriction based on the security threat which needs to be assessed from time to time with a view to lifting the ban.
Ironically, at a time when we struggle to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the facemasks we wear to protect ourselves from the virus have made us — women and men — niqabis or niqab wearers. Hence the move to ban niqab may appear ridiculous.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Human rights: Can Biden be different?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Still in its first one hundred-day probation period, the Joe Biden administration has let the world stop and take note of the shift in the US foreign policy.
Last month, in a major foreign policy speech designed to restore order and global faith in the US, President Biden sent a strong signal to the international community that they would see a different America on his watch. His message was “America is back” with you.
It certainly does appear in stark contrast to the foreign policy of the previous Trump administration which followed an America-First foreign policy and ditched multilateralism.
Under the Trump administration, the US abandoned its allies and asked them to pay more for the protection the US granted them through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It withdrew from the Paris Climate Change Accord, the United Nations Human Rights Council and distanced itself from the World Health Organisation while millions across the world were being afflicted with the COVID-19 pandemic. The US also withdrew from humanitarian relief programmes such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that is taking care of the displaced Palestinian people.
Not only that. In defiance of international opinion and international law, the Trump administration recognised Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and Syria’s Golan Heights as part of Israel. Disregarding pleas from allies, the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Then in a preposterous move, the Trump administration slapped sanction on International Criminal Court prosecutors, for they had decided to pursue war crimes US soldiers are said to have committed in Afghanistan. The Trump administration’s wrongdoings and bad policy decisions are too many to list.
The new president has already proved that he is different. He is not an isolationist to abandon America’s allies. Human Rights are once again part of the US foreign policy. Climate Change, which Trump denied as a Chinese hoax, is now a specialised subject with Cabinet status, while the WHO is being assured of US cooperation in its effort to eliminate the pandemic. There is some movement in finding a face-saving entry for the US to return to the Iran nuclear deal.
With regard to the Myanmar crisis, regarded as the Biden administration’s first foreign policy challenge, the US has imposed sanctions on the military leaders. Last month, in an address to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expounded the administration’s human rights policy, announcing that the US wanted to return to the council and declaring that the US “encourages the Council to support resolutions addressing issues of concern…, including ongoing human rights violations in Syria and North Korea, the lack of accountability for past atrocities in Sri Lanka, and the need for further investigation into the situation in South Sudan.”
Yesterday, at the behest of the US, the United Nations Security Council was to take up war crimes in the Tigray region in Ethiopia following a CNN investigation.
The Biden administration has also become highly vocal about Russia’s persecution of opposition politicians and China’s inhuman treatment of its Uighur population in the Xinjiang province.
Commendable indeed. But it is not a big deal if the US takes to task or shames a rival power or a weak nation on human rights. The real litmus test will be in areas where human rights issues are in conflict with the US political agenda. Two such areas are the US stance on Israel’s human rights violations and the US policy towards the ICC. Signs have already emerged that the Biden administration has compromised its policy with regard to the two areas of concern. The Biden administration has indicated that it is unlikely to digress from the Trump administration’s egregious policy of further victimizing the Palestinian people and it would not attempt to undo Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
The Biden administration’s Israeli policy is an area of concern for the human rights community. If, just as the previous US administrations, the present administration tolerates, encourages or defends Israel’s human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, then its human rights commitment is politically coated. We saw this political bias when on Wednesday the State Department made its position clear with regard to ICC’s decision to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel.
Secretary of State Blinken tweeted, “The United States firmly opposes an @IntlCrimCourt investigation into the Palestinian Situation. We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”
Commenting on the ICC’s Israeli move, the State Department revealed that it was still weighing whether to maintain the Trump administration’s sanctions against the ICC. These are not good signs.
It may appear as a human rights course correction when the Biden administration this week released a highly classified US intelligence report that implicated Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in the gruesome killing and disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist was killed when he came to obtain consular services at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in 2018.
The release of the report is indeed a welcome move, for it happened despite Saudi Arabia being a staunch US ally, despite the US facing the risk of losing Saudi contracts worth 450 billion dollars and despite the fears that US rivals Russia and China and even allies such as Britain and France could take advantage of the dispute and grab the contracts.
But only if the report’s release is followed up with punitive sanctions against those involved in the Khashoggi murder, can the human rights community conclude that the Biden administration is serious about its human rights commitments.
If a country approaches human rights issues on a selective basis, then its commitment to human rights is largely an image boosting exercise. Judging by the US foreign policy in the past one hundred years or so, the US is unlikely to sacrifice its national interest goals at the altar of human rights. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous remark, apocryphal or otherwise, aptly describes the US human rights policy throughout the years irrespective of whether Democrats or Republicans were in control. When in 1939, Roosevelt was asked for a policy response to human rights violations being committed by Nicaragua’s ruthless dictator Anastasio Somoza, especially targeting the communists, the US president is said to have remarked, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”
Whether Roosevelt really made this statement or not, the undeniable truth is that US governments have been supporting big-time human rights violators across the world to protect and promote its national-interest-driven agendas aimed at establishing its military dominance of the world and enabling Corporate America to plunder the resources that belong to the people of other countries. Will Biden be different?

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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UNHRC sessions: What Lanka should have done

The United Nations Human Rights Council is in session and Sri Lanka is among the countries that have come before its scanner. It is a slur on Sri Lanka’s reputation when it is being lumped together with big time human rights violators such as Israel, Syria and North Korea, with member-state after member-state taking the floor to act like prosecutor, the jury and the judge. They do so as though they have not done any sins.
There is no motto to adore the UNHRC’s dove and olive branch logo, which, together with the colors used, signifies, among other things, the peaceful intention of the council, the universality of human rights and the urgency and the attention human rights deserve. Given the duplicitous nature of world politics and the reality that most nations have politicized human rights as a tool to demonize countries they hate, perhaps the motto should be the New Testament saying, “Let the one among you who has not sinned throw the first stone.” To use another Biblical term, the UNHRC is a forum where some nations, while carrying huge beams in their eyes, look at the speck in the eyes of other nations.
If Britain, which is leading the charge against Sri Lanka at the ongoing UNHRC sessions, is squeaky clean with its human rights record, can it say aloud that its soldiers did not commit war crimes in Iraq?
Is it not a huge human rights violation when Britain drove away the indigenous people from the Chagos Island and gave the Indian ocean atoll to the United States for it to set up a military base? What about the 1917 Balfour Declaration that let the European Zionists to set up a state in Palestine? By this declaration, Britain committed the original sin that fathered Israel’s multiple sins against the Palestinian people.
At the UNHRC, should there be a core group of countries bringing a charge sheet against Britain until it rights its wrongs? One can write volumes about the human rights violations of every big power, starting from the United States. Russia, China and France are no better. As a result of the crimes these big powers have committed and continue to commit, millions have suffered and died without justice being meted out to them. Millions are suffering even today.
The criticism is not aimed at calls to wind up the UNHRC or to dismiss its service to humanity. Rather it is to call for sweeping reforms whereby membership will be determined by a state’s human rights credibility and commitment, with Lady Justice’s international avatar holding the scales even. War or peace, every nation will respect human rights and bring perpetrators to justice. But given the nature of politics, such idealistic reforms will not see the light of the day until the wolf lives with the lamb. UN Human Rights Chief Micehelle Bachelet is not unaware of this.
She should know that if large scale human rights violations take place in a conflict zone, those who should be held accountable are not only those who commit such violations but also those who sit idle and do nothing to prevent the crimes against humanity.
In Sri Lanka, when the conflict escalated and the Sri Lankan forces zeroed in on terrorist targets, the UN fled the war zone and shirked its responsibility to protect the war zone civilians who, according to the then Sri Lankan government, were being used as human shields by the separatist rebel leadership. When the people wanted the UN’s presence amidst them the most, the UN was not there for them. For the UN to come later and issue statements accusing Sri Lanka’s security forces of committing atrocities is hypocrisy of the worst order. The UN should have been more prepared to face an impending humanitarian crisis in a conflict zone. After all, what is alleged to have happened during the last stages of Sri Lanka’s war on terror was not the first of its kind the UN had faced. In Rwanda, the UN stood watching when nearly a million Tutsis were massacred by the Hutu militia. During the Bosnian war in the 1990s, UN peacekeepers made little or no attempt to resist when in Srebrenica some eight thousand Bosnian men and boys were taken away to be massacred by Serbian forces.
To issue statements and reports expressing regret for the failure – as the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did in the case of Sri Lanka – will not absolve the UN from its culpability or criminal failure. That is probably a fig leaf.
While, there is certainly a case against the UN, if Sri Lanka’s northern people cared to move an international tribunal, post-war Sri Lankan governments have not fulfilled their responsibility with regard to a truth-and-reconciliation process aimed at healing. The war crimes and human rights violations the Sri Lankan state and security forces are alleged to have committed may have happened or may not have happened or may not have happened as has been alleged.
Had there been honest efforts by post-war Sri Lankan governments to bring about reconciliation, the country would not have to undergo the shame of being paraded handcuffed to the UNHRC dock to face an ever-extending charge sheet, then plead not guilty to come again the following year to face more charges. Civilized people and civilized governments are expected to respect human rights and condemn human rights violations. If there had been violations, the right path to take is to apologize and offer compensation while moving ahead with the reconciliation process.
With superior military powers, wars can be won and territorial integrity of a country preserved. But bringing people together against the backdrop of decades of hostilities requires a bigger effort and much more meticulous strategy involving hearts and minds.
Sad to say that since the end of the war in 2009. governments have not handled the reconciliation process with the seriousness it deserves. Reconciliation cannot be achieved through infrastructure development projects alone. It is a social process and involves meticulous social engineering.
Parochial nationalism or majoritarianism is certainly not the way to reconciliation. Neither does it augur well for Sri Lanka’s efforts to reclaim its position in the community of civilized nations as a state that respects human rights and is committed to democratic values such as Rule of Law and judicial independence. Patronizing majoritarianism or alt-right extremism may help political parties achieve short-term gains, but such a policy does long term damage to the country’s social, political and economic stability.
Instead of reconciliation, such a policy leads to alienation of communities – with the minorities losing the sense of belonging to the country. When a section of the population begins to feel they are lesser citizens, that is the moment a state begins to lose its credential as a democratic and civilized nation. It is a clear sign that the so-called reconciliation mechanism is only a façade.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Vital need to depoliticize UNHRC

By Ameen Izzadeen
In theory, human rights are universal and apolitical. This is what international human rights law insists, for the law is no respecter of nations or politics. But in practice, human rights are given different interpretations in different cultures and are subjected to political exigencies and national interest agendas. In other words, human rights are politicized while their application is, sometimes, hypocritical.
When the biggest human rights violators sit as jurors at the United Nations Human Rights Council and condemn other nations, as the case will be against Sri Lanka during the upcoming UNHRC sessions, the hypocrisy is revolting. Depoliticizing the UN human rights mechanism is just as important as the need to hold human rights violators accountable.
The Council was set up in 2006 with the intention of depoliticizing human rights. Its predecessor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, was criticized for being a political tool in the hands of big time human rights violators and for its failure to live up to the expectations in terms of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Widespread human rights violations took place in every nook and corner of the world, although every state had pledged to uphold human rights upon being admitted to the UN as a member of the community of civilized nations.
Talks on reforming the politicized Human Rights Commission gathered momentum following the demise of the Cold War in 1991 with the then sole superpower United States coming under intense pressure to play a responsible role and give leadership to create a rule-based world order instead of being a conceited bully on the world stage. This was the period when human rights were being given paramount importance in international relations.
Sri Lanka was then in the thick of a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) regarded as one of the most ruthless terror groups in the world. Yet in keeping with the post-Cold War utopian idealism, the then Sri Lankan administration under the presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga went to the extent of adopting a monist approach to international human rights law. Following Kumaratunga government’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1997, Sri Lankans who exhausted local judicial remedies in their bid to obtain justice were allowed to present their cases to the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee – a body set up under the ICCPR and comprising of a panel of international eminent persons – to obtain its view.
The then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, regarded as the best foreign minister Sri Lankan has had, considered accession to the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR as a proud achievement. Addressing the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2005, he said: “Accession to the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR in October 1997 at a time when the country was confronted with an extraordinary security situation arising out of terrorism, further demonstrated Sri Lanka’s commitment to openness and accountability in the promotion and protection of human rights even under difficult circumstances.”
Mr. Kadirgamar believed that respecting human rights was compatible with national interest.
During the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency in 2006, the Sri Lanka Supreme Court in the Sinharasa case ruled that the accession amounted to a conferment of the people’s judicial power to an external body and therefore it was a violation of the constitution. But this is another matter, though the ruling was in tune with the emerging new world order after 9/11.
The world changed with the terror attack on the United States on September 9, 2001. The US launched its global war on terror. Human rights and international law became the war’s fist victims along with truth. Suspects were dehumanized and detained without a trial in gulag-like prisons. Extrajudicial killing was resorted to eliminate terrorist targets while mass-scale civilian deaths were justified as collateral damage. The US performed the final rites for human rights in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places where, coincidentally, its terror war objectives and geostrategic interests converged. Amidst the human rights gloom, the silver lining was some European nations’ determination to continue with the reform process to transform the politicized Human Rights Commission into a depoliticized Human Rights Council so that every nation would live and breathe human rights.
Set up in 2006, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council started well. The US which had by then become a serial human rights violator under the hawkish Bush administration decided not to seek membership of the council. This was probably because it lacked the necessary votes in the UN General Assembly to get elected to the UNHRC. Ever since, Washington’s UNHRC membership has been one of staying out during the Republican administration and getting in during the Democratic administration. Accordingly, the US gained the membership of the council during the Barack Obama administration. Then, Donald Trump withdrew the country’s membership with his UN envoy Nikki Haley describing the council as a “cesspool of political bias”. And now under new President Joe Biden, the US will be joining the council.
On Monday, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: “The @UN Human Rights Council is flawed and needs reform, but walking away won’t fix it. The best way to improve the Council, so it can achieve its potential, is through robust and principled U.S. leadership. Under @POTUS Biden, we are reengaging and ready to lead.”
However, to expect the US or, for that matter any nation, to champion human rights devoid of any political agenda, is to expect a capitalist to champion socialism. Often the US rushes to defend Israel, where a culture of impunity exists with regard to human rights violations in occupied Palestinian territories. The US also turns a blind eye to serious human rights violations in some oil rich Gul Arab nations in favour of billion dollar deals.
However much human rights idealists shout themselves hoarse insisting that human rights should be apolitical, in reality, UN human rights mechanisms remain politicized. The UNHRC is divided between the idealist bureaucracy represented by the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner and the council comprising member-states with political agendas. At the end of the day, politics has its way, however intense the bureaucracy’s determination to uphold human rights and punish the violators. In this process, even bureaucrats and human rights activists can fall prey to political traps.
At the UNHRC, nations vote, voice their opinions, support or oppose a country under review solely on the basis of their national interests. Rarely does a nation promote human rights for the sake of human rights. In reality, most nations use human rights as a foreign policy tool to promote their soft power and national interest or to punish a nation which is seen to be insubordinate. Big powers are sometimes seen as big time human rights champions. This is a fig leaf to cover their own shame and war crimes.
With states putting political considerations above human rights, the UNHRC is no better than its predecessor – the Commission on Human Rights.
In such circumstances, a politicized and flawed UNHRC cannot be the judge to lord over human rights violators. We will never find the perfect model. But we can pursue a reform programme to depoliticize the UNHRC with that elusive perfect model in mind.

(This story was first published in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Myanmar coup: The dangers of politicizing the military

By Ameen Izzadeen

To a world that is grappling with the coronavirus crisis, Myanmar’s February 1 military coup was hard to absorb, although it came as no shock to Myanmar watchers. They knew the military’s takeover of the government was only a matter of time, as the crisis had been brewing since the military disputed the November’s landslide election victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by the controversial Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The coup has exposed the inadequacy of the global community to establish democracy as the norm in world politics. The blame for this should squarely be placed on the so-called developed democracies in the West. They were hypocritical in their selective promotion of democracy, as they cherry-pick a few nations such a Sri Lanka to preach democracy, while embracing big time human rights violators as friends and economic partners.

Long overdue is an international system that will grant recognition to states only on the basis of their democratic credentials.

In the absence of such an international mechanism to de-recognise democracy killers, the ease with which Myanmar’s junta captured power came as no surprise. The junta was least worried about half-hearted or perfunctory condemnations issued by the United States and other Western nations. The Joe Biden administration has warned of sanctions, but we can predict that the punitive measures will be lacking the pinch to force the military to restore democracy.  The junta is being encouraged by the weak international response. As expected, China and the Association of the South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, consider what is happening in Myanmar as an internal affair.  They took a similar stance when Myanmar was accused of committing war crimes against the Rohingya minority.

Behind the international community’s weak response are geostrategic agendas. China shares a border with Myanmar and sees its southern neighbour as a geostrategic hub connected via border trade, road networks and oil and gas pipelines.

The US and India – allies in a new anti-China front – fear that tough action or condemnation may prompt the junta to throw its weight fully behind China. Rather than punishing the junta, they prefer to keep some space to engage with it. Especially, for India, Myanmar, with whom it shares a border, is the gateway to the ASEAN region. India has invested heavily in Myanmar in a strategic move to counter China’s Belt-and-Road initiative.

The charade behind the condemnations only underlines the importance the big powers give to political agendas while ignoring threats to democracy from the military and dictators.

The debate over the military’s involvement in exclusively civil space has dogged civil society activists and academia. It goes without saying that whether a state is democratic or not, the military is the main arm of the state tasked with carrying out orders to ensure national security. Unlike in a military government, in a democracy the military’s role is strictly restricted to national security – a role defined in terms of the separation of functions doctrine. In other words, politicians make national security policies while the military merely carries them out.

As Tennyson puts it in his famous poem titled The Charge of the Light Brigade, “Theirs not to make reply; theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die…”

Separation of politics from military is also what the famous Prussian General, Carl von Clausewitz, advocated in his thesis on war. He defined war as “the continuation of politics by other means” and was said to have opposed militarism of the generals on the basis that politics is the objective of the war and the military or the war is the means to achieve that objective.

This is why even in many democratic states, the commander in chief of the armed forces is a civilian head of state who is vested with the power to declare war and peace.

Separation of functions does not mean that citizens with military background cannot come to politics. Yes, they can. But not before they are demilitarized or civilianized. In the United States, the waiting period is nine months or 270 days. In Sri Lanka it is six months. One of the charges against war-winning General Sarath Fonseka – now a field marshal — after his arrest by the army in 2010 was that he engaged in political activity and contested the presidential election before he completed this ‘quarantine’ period.

In the US, retired military officers have served as heads of states or held cabinet posts after they completed the mandatory demilitarization period. The famous example is Dwight D Eisenhower. A five-star Army general, he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War II.

In the US, retired military officers who donned the civilian garb to serve the country through politics, were fully committed to democracy. They upheld the separation of functions doctrine.

That chaos ensues if this functional separation is not honoured is seen in countries such as Pakistan and Myanmar where the military manipulates the democratic process. In some countries, the reverse happens with politicians politicizing the military or riding piggyback on the military’s feats to prop   themselves up in view of the next election.  The cheap theatrics reach such ridiculous heights that patriotism is measured by the amount of praise one heaps on the military and the extent to which one goes to whitewash the crimes of the military. Even developed democracies such as the United Kingdom defend the crimes their men and women in uniform are alleged to have committed. They even plan military strikes against target nations with the focus being election victory and not the enemy.

In Myanmar, too, this happened. The democratically elected government defended the military’s excesses against the Rohingya people. Appearing in person in the International Court of Justice, the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, refuted the allegations against the very military which kept her under house arrest for 15 years and killed and tortured thousands of her supporters and democracy activists.  Of course, the now discredied human rights champion had no choice. To protect her part-democratic-and-part-

Myanmar coup: The dangers of politicizing the military
To a world that is grappling with the coronavirus crisis, Myanmar’s February 1 military coup was hard to absorb, although it came as no shock to Myanmar watchers. They knew the military’s takeover of the government was only a matter of time, as the crisis had been brewing since the military disputed the November’s landslide election victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by the controversial Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The coup has exposed the inadequacy of the global community to establish democracy as the norm in world politics. The blame for this should squarely be placed on the so-called developed democracies in the West. They were hypocritical in their selective promotion of democracy, as they cherry-pick a few nations such a Sri Lanka to preach democracy, while embracing big time human rights violators as friends and economic partners.
Long overdue is an international system that will grant recognition to states only on the basis of their democratic credentials.
In the absence of such an international mechanism to de-recognise democracy killers, the ease with which Myanmar’s junta captured power came as no surprise. The junta was least worried about half-hearted or perfunctory condemnations issued by the United States and other Western nations. The Joe Biden administration has warned of sanctions, but we can predict that the punitive measures will be lacking the pinch to force the military to restore democracy. The junta is being encouraged by the weak international response. As expected, China and the Association of the South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, consider what is happening in Myanmar as an internal affair. They took a similar stance when Myanmar was accused of committing war crimes against the Rohingya minority.
Behind the international community’s weak response are geostrategic agendas. China shares a border with Myanmar and sees its southern neighbour as a geostrategic hub connected via border trade, road networks and oil and gas pipelines.
The US and India – allies in a new anti-China front – fear that tough action or condemnation may prompt the junta to throw its weight fully behind China. Rather than punishing the junta, they prefer to keep some space to engage with it. Especially, for India, Myanmar, with whom it shares a border, is the gateway to the ASEAN region. India has invested heavily in Myanmar in a strategic move to counter China’s Belt-and-Road initiative.
The charade behind the condemnations only underlines the importance the big powers give to political agendas while ignoring threats to democracy from the military and dictators.
The debate over the military’s involvement in exclusively civil space has dogged civil society activists and academia. It goes without saying that whether a state is democratic or not, the military is the main arm of the state tasked with carrying out orders to ensure national security. Unlike in a military government, in a democracy the military’s role is strictly restricted to national security – a role defined in terms of the separation of functions doctrine. In other words, politicians make national security policies while the military merely carries them out.
As Tennyson puts it in his famous poem titled The Charge of the Light Brigade, “Theirs not to make reply; theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die…”
Separation of politics from military is also what the famous Prussian General, Carl von Clausewitz, advocated in his thesis on war. He defined war as “the continuation of politics by other means” and was said to have opposed militarism of the generals on the basis that politics is the objective of the war and the military or the war is the means to achieve that objective.
This is why even in many democratic states, the commander in chief of the armed forces is a civilian head of state who is vested with the power to declare war and peace.
Separation of functions does not mean that citizens with military background cannot come to politics. Yes, they can. But not before they are demilitarized or civilianized. In the United States, the waiting period is nine months or 270 days. In Sri Lanka it is six months. One of the charges against war-winning General Sarath Fonseka – now a field marshal — after his arrest by the army in 2010 was that he engaged in political activity and contested the presidential election before he completed this ‘quarantine’ period.
In the US, retired military officers have served as heads of states or held cabinet posts after they completed the mandatory demilitarization period. The famous example is Dwight D Eisenhower. A five-star Army general, he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War II.
In the US, retired military officers who donned the civilian garb to serve the country through politics, were fully committed to democracy. They upheld the separation of functions doctrine.
That chaos ensues if this functional separation is not honoured is seen in countries such as Pakistan and Myanmar where the military manipulates the democratic process. In some countries, the reverse happens with politicians politicizing the military or riding piggyback on the military’s feats to prop themselves up in view of the next election. The cheap theatrics reach such ridiculous heights that patriotism is measured by the amount of praise one heaps on the military and the extent to which one goes to whitewash the crimes of the military. Even developed democracies such as the United Kingdom defend the crimes their men and women in uniform are alleged to have committed. They even plan military strikes against target nations with the focus being election victory and not the enemy.
In Myanmar, too, this happened. The democratically elected government defended the military’s excesses against the Rohingya people. Appearing in person in the International Court of Justice, the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, refuted the allegations against the very military which kept her under house arrest for 15 years and killed and tortured thousands of her supporters and democracy activists. Of course, the now discredied human rights champion had no choice. To protect her part-democratic-and-part-stratocratic government and win the November 2020 elections with a sweeping majority, which she eventually achieved, she thought she had to prove her patriotic credentials by siding with the country’s military which stood accused of committing crimes against humanity.
Politicization of the military serves neither the military nor democracy. The process is as dangerous as it is volatile. The very military which is hailed as the saviour of the nation today can become the most loathed institution tomorrow. Examples for this are found in Myanmar and Pakistan under military dictators, Iran under the Shah, Chile under Augusto Pinochet and many other countries. Even in Sri Lanka, the love and respect the military now enjoy in the south of the country were not there when the military was battling the leftist insurrections in 1971 and 1988-90.

stratocratic government and win the November 2020 elections with a sweeping majority, which she eventually achieved, she thought she had to prove her patriotic credentials by siding with the country’s military which stood accused of committing crimes against humanity.

Politicization of the military serves neither the military nor democracy. The process is as dangerous as it is volatile. The very military which is hailed as the saviour of the nation today can become the most loathed institution tomorrow. Examples for this are found in Myanmar and Pakistan under military dictators, Iran under the Shah, Chile under Augusto Pinochet and many other countries. Even in Sri Lanka, the love and respect the military now enjoy in the south of the country were not there when the military was battling the leftist insurrections in 1971 and 1988-90.

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Free speech allows dishonest politicians to be named and shamed

By Ameen Izzadeen

In the absence of free speech, the people suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic will never know how it all began, though they have the right to know it. Given China’s suppression of free speech and powerful Western nations’ secret plans to counter China’s military ambitions, we do not know whether the virus was originated in a lab or from a wet market in Wuhan in China or brought to China by a hostile nation. It is alleged that the absence of free information flow and China’s crackdown on whistleblowers contributed to the uncontrollable spread of the disease and delayed an early global response.
By yesterday, 1.98 million people worldwide have died due to the pandemic and 92.3 million have been afflicted. Yet, freedom of expression is still being denied, suppressed and abused by governments and ruling party politicians, though they make use of it to come to power.
In an absolute watertight dictatorship, politics is clandestine and exists only in the minds of those who harbour ambitions to oust the dictator or are wishing his death to establish themselves in the seat of power. In this secretive game of throne, replete with betrayals and backstabbing, there is little space for freedom of expression. The one who speaks out, does so only at the expense of drawing upon himself the wrath of the dictator or severe punishment. With fear psychosis growing, none will have the courage to speak out and tell the dictator that he is committing crime after crime against democracy.
With evil thriving in the silence of democracy’s devout believers, dictators may feel they are well ensconced in the seats of power. They will not realize, however, that dictatorships only lead to the destruction of the moral fabric of the nation, apart from causing economic and social ruination. World history is full of examples of how the mighty have fallen and faced shameful ends after people’s power revolutions.
While politics is aimed at capturing, retaining, protecting and enhancing power, only in a democratic setup, can a political campaign be carried out to capture power. For any political campaign to be effective, freedom of speech is sine qua non. The more the people enjoy the freedom to express themselves, the better the health of the democracy and the higher the quality of representatives they will be electing.
However, democracy’s weaknesses allow depraved rulers to desecrate the democratic space and suppress the freedom of expression. This is because they feel if there is unhindered free speech, they will not be able to remain in power. In some countries, politicians abuse the freedom of expression by surreptitiously or outlandishly introducing fake news with the help of the pliant media. This is not freedom of speech. Rather, it is a charlatan’s freedom to deceive people. Instead of abusing the freedom of speech, a democracy worth its salt must protect it. It is a responsibility.
In the United States, former President George W. Bush marketed lie after lie to get the public support for the invasion of Iraq. Sadly, even the mainstream media, perhaps out of blind patriotism, parroted these lies and did not carry out fact checks. The outgoing president, Donald Trump, who lacked the decency to concede defeat and allow the peaceful transfer of power, is a fake news factory though he accuses the media that criticize him of publishing fake news. In a July 2020 report, the Washington Post said that Trump had made more than 20,000 false claims since he assumed office in January 2017. This worked out to an average of 20 lies a day. Trump stands out as a dishonest politician who made use of free speech and democratic institutions to come to power. The low point of his fake news campaign was the January 6 assault by his supporters on Capitol Hill.
In weaker democracies, Trump-like demagogues bring in laws or use intimidation to suppress free speech and undermine democratic institutions.
To prevent democracies being turned into democratic dictatorships or dictatorial democracies, people need to be vigilant, since eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. They need to raise their voices at the first sign of an attempt to suppress free speech. For, it is through free speech that any rot in the government can be pointed out, misdeeds corrected and democracy preserved. But many journalists have been killed or imprisoned by the enemies of free speech.
Last year, according to UNESCO, a journalist was killed every four days in the line of duty – 57 journalists in total. In Sri Lanka, too, many journalists have been killed for expressing views fearlessly. Rarely does an investigation into the death of a journalist end in prosecution. Many have been imprisoned, too, with laws being given draconian interpretations.
Western democracies, too, have blood on their hands and have suppressed free speech. During its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US military bombed the offices of Al-Jazeera in Kabul and Baghdad. This was seen as a side war against free speech. Part of this side war is the West’s persecution of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder. His extradition is sought by the US where he faces espionage charges. Assange is a fanatic believer in free speech. His website WikiLeaks published documents which states would not want their citizens to know. Assange believed that governments need to be transparent and the people have the right to know what the governments do on their behalf. Obviously, his absolutism clashed with the view that free speech needs to be curtailed on public security grounds.
Brave journalism is not a crime, yet Assange is being punished in a high security British jail without being given bail for practising journalism and having the determination to expose dirty deals of powerful nations. Not only Assange, whistleblowers who supplied classified material to WikiLeaks and other media groups were also hunted down and punished.
Chelsea Manning, a US army soldier turned whistleblower, leaked to WikiLeaks files that exposed the US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together with selected media partners, WikiLeaks published them as Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diaries. Manning was arrested and imprisoned. WikiLeaks also published leaked diplomatic cables from US embassies. Among other revelations, the cables showed the links some powerful states had with terror groups.
Another high profile whistleblower, Central Intelligence Agency’s data analyst Edward Snowden, who exposed the mass surveillance programmes carried out by the US together with its allies, fled the US and found asylum in Russia. Snowden defended his leaks as an effort “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
If only WikiLeaks had been allowed to carry on with its journalistic duty, and whistleblowers had legal and the United Nations’ protection, the world would have been a better place with dishonest politicians being named and shamed. If there had been absolute free speech, there would have been at least some amount of morality in politics and governments would have been more transparent and accountable. We would also have known as to the origin of the COVID-19 virus.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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After Trump supporters’ fascist thuggery, whither the Republican Party?

By Ameen Izzadeen
In the history of the United States’ democracy, the darkest day, though unprecedented, was not unexpected. January 6, 2021 has gone down in the annals of US politics as the day on which the worst assault on democracy took place — and the biggest culprit is the President himself who aided and abetted what was described by President-elect Joe Biden as an insurrection bordering on sedition.
The assault on Capitol Hill was shocking, if not appalling. Congress which acts as a check against the excesses of the executive president came under siege by thousands of Trump supporters who ransacked the building, forcing the lawmakers to take cover in what was seen as the climax episode of the preposterous presidency of Donald Trump.
What happened on January 6 was a coup d’état of sorts to subvert democracy. Just as the 9/11 terrorists brought down the Twin Towers, Trump’s terrorists – some of them armed — tried to bring down the edifice of democracy so that the demagogue could continue as president for four more years.
This may not be Trump’s last card. He has 12 more days in office to abuse his power. The more Trump stays in office as president, the more danger he poses to democracy. Twitter, his favorite social media platform, immediately blocked him.
Just as he failed to condemn the violence perpetrated by white supremacists against peaceful demonstrators in Charlottesville in 2017, Trump in his initial reaction chose not to condemn Wednesday’s storming of Capitol Hill by his supporters. In a video message he was seen heaping his love on them and telling them they are special, though he later issued a statement agreeing to an orderly transition of power on January 20
As the siege of Capitol Hill continued, there were calls to remove Trump immediately. There had been enough and more reasons to get rid of him during his presidency. But Republican lawmakers by their sycophancy allowed Trump to tear apart the country’s democratic and social fabric. They refused to support the impeachment motion or pay heed to top psychiatrists’ opinions about Trump’s mental unsuitability to be the president or about his narcissistic personal disorder. His incompetence was seen in the way he handled the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 361,000 Americans have died due to the pandemic and more than 21.4 million have been afflicted while he dismisses scientific advice on facemasks, physical distancing, and other health guidelines.
As this column was being written yesterday, the PBS and BBC reported that in what appears to be the delayed dawn of wisdom, the members of the Trump Cabinet were mulling over the possibility of invoking the 25th amendment to remove the President on the basis he is unfit to command.
This should have happened long time ago. They should not have waited till Trump’s Proud Boys and Girls heeded his ‘Stand by’ command to storm the Capitol building while the lawmakers had gathered in a joint session to certify the electoral college vote count – a formal procedure which could have been completed in an hour or so if there had been no objections.
Questions are being raised as to the unpreparedness of the police as they knew well in advance that Trump supporters were converging on the capital. On Tuesday, Washington’s mayor urged the federal government to deploy the National Guard. But it did not happen.
As the Trumpists justified yesterday’s action as a revolution similar to the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution, the way the highly outnumbered police retreated was unbelievable, given their trigger-happy action against Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Even when the troublemakers were leaving the Congress building after their violent behaviour which led to the deaths of four people, the police made little or no effort to arrest them. Later some 50 people were arrested for violating the curfew.
The police passivity was only a footnote in the grand scheme of Trump’s effort to subvert the will of the American people who by their verdict on November 3 told the President “enough is enough, you should go.”
Trump was the architect of Wednesday’s ugly scenes, because even before the November 3rd election was held, he fed conspiracy theories to his supporters saying the election was to be rigged, with rightwing media groups parroting him. Though, unsubstantiated, these claims were given legitimacy by most Republican leaders who refused to endorse Biden’s victory.
The Republican leadership fell in line with Trump though he lacked leadership traits such as wisdom, temperance, and high moral values. There is something seriously not right within the party founded on democratic principles.
Under Trump, the party veered away from morally upright politics. In the aftermath of Wednesday’s ugly scenes in Capitol Hill, it was a welcome relief to see US Vice President Mike Pence and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell waxing eloquent about democratic values and condemning Trump supporters’ violent behaviour. But their remarks were too little too late. They too should be held responsible for being complicit in Trump’s anti-democratic actions. McConnell, for instance, until recently refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, thus giving tacit approval to Trump’s baseless allegations that the election was rigged.
The US democracy’s sacred precincts would not have been desecrated by the alt-right hooligans if the Republican leadership had stood against Trump and had the courage to correct him when he went astray. Many in the Republican Party probably believes that they could politically survive only if they follow Trump and woo the white supremacists, even if it meant ditching inclusive democracy. After all, more than 70 million people voted for Trump in the nail-biter November election despite his disdain for democratic traditions and the dignity associated with the office of the president.
This was probably why a majority of the Republican politicians shamelessly went along with Trump’s immoral political stunts and whitewashed his wrongdoings. Republican Senator Ted Cruz, during the 2016 Republican party’s primaries, labelled Trump as immoral and unsuited for presidency, but he became one of the staunchest defenders of Trump’s presidential misdeeds.
Even after Wednesday’s fascist attempt to subvert democracy, hundreds of Republican lawmakers had the temerity to raise objections during Congress’ certification of the electoral college vote count. Although a significant number of Republican lawmakers voted with the Democrats to reject the objections, it is still distasteful to see Republican representatives raising objections and becoming part of Trump’s plan to delay the peaceful transfer of power.
Despite the skullduggery and filibustering, Biden was endorsed by Congress yesterday. It had a message for Trump’s pack of fools: democracy in the US is still strong enough to withstand the fascists’ thuggery despite the battering it suffered during the four years of Trump presidency.
By defeating Trump, Biden saved the soul of America. But who will save the soul of the Republican Party after it became responsible for the darkest chapter in US democratic history?

http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/After-Trump-supporters-fascist-thuggery-whither-the-Republican-Party/172-203333(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Lanka’s grave problem: The solution is not outsourcing it to Maldives

By Ameen Izzadeen
One of the responsibilities of a government towards its citizens is to ensure their physical security from domestic or external threats and protect and promote their human rights, including socio-economic and cultural rights.
The Sri Lankan government is still far from convinced that the burial of the those who die of COVID-19 will not cause any harm to those who are not dead yet and is continuing with the policy of forced cremation though there is no scientific basis for its fears.
Citing international practice, the World Health Organisation advisory and scientific proof, Sri Lanka’s Muslims plead that they be allowed to bury those who die of COVID-19, and that they should not be denied their fundamental right to accord a decent burial to their loved ones. But in the government, an influential section is holding on to an unsubstantiated claim that if the burial of COVID-19 victims is allowed the virus could seep through the water table and reemerge in society.
This claim has been given wide publicity in pro-government rags and electronic media which do not seem to give the same space and time to experts who say that no harm is caused to society by the burial of COVID-19 victims. These experts include the world renowned Sri Lankan virologist Malik Peiris and Sri Lanka’s former chief epidemiologist Nihal Abeysinghe.
On Tuesday, Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella was asked about reports that the Sri Lankan President had requested the Maldivian President to explore the possibility of burying in a Maldivian islet Sri Lankan Muslims who die of COVID-19. To this grave issue, his answer was that the Cabinet had not taken such a decision and the government would act only on the advice of an expert committee. But little or nothing is known as to who heads this mystery expert committee, who its members are and what their scientific background is.
Against this backdrop, the government’s Maldivian move may reflect its intention to help the Muslims overcome the burial problem, though it poses logistical hurdles.
Seeking a foreign nation’s help to solve what could easily be done in Sri Lanka is tantamount to the government shirking its responsibility towards a section of its citizens. It may be an easy way out for a government which is caught in the ultranationalist trap that is preventing it from giving approval for burial, though almost every nation has permitted burial of its COVID-19 victims.
The government appears to be unwilling to yield to a minority community’s demands, fearing that it would have to incur the wrath of the majority Sinhalese who voted overwhelmingly for the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) to come to office. But not all Sinhalese are opposed to the burial of COVID-19 victims. Most of them are rational and will not protest if permission is granted to bury those who die of COVID-19, while adhering to safeguards as recommended by the so-called expert committee.
The Utilitarian political theory calls on a government to work for the greater good of the greater number. The philosophy as propounded by James Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham insists that the government should strive to give happiness and pleasure to as many people under its care as possible. They did not expound crass majoritarianism which only sounds the death knell for democracy. True, a democracy promotes majority rule. In a multiethnic country, the rule by the majority community is in order. But in a democracy, there should still be space for the minorities to express their views and find redress if they have grievances. This is the gist of the saying that the majority can have their way, but the minority must have their say.
A nation state is built on the basis of one overarching national identity. It is the Sri Lankan identity that defines the Sri Lankan multiethnic nation state. But if a government resorts to crass majoritarianism or institutionalise the tyranny of the majority and takes decision as though the country is a mono-ethnic entity, such a government sows the seeds of destruction. This happened in post-independence Sri Lanka with myopic policies aimed at grabbing political power sowing the seeds for the 30-year civil war. The conflict sapped the country’s human and economic resources, thereby denying the nation the progress needed to raise the living standards of all its citizens and emerge as a strong nation.
Is the nation once again moving towards mono-ethnic democracy? Or are the ultranationalists telling the minority Muslims that if they want to bury their dead, it is “over our dead bodies”? If the rights of a section of the citizens are denied, needless to say, it will give excuses to foreign powers to intervene in Sri Lanka’s affairs on the basis or under the guise of the responsibility to protect principle.
Helping this government to come to power was the Viyath Maga group that has brilliant brains. Surely, there have to be among them scholars with sound democratic credentials and those who are committed to promoting human rights. They should be able to help the government to extricate itself from the ultranationalist political trap. Intellectualism and democracy cannot coexist with ultranationalism.
When a government fails to create an environment where the people – or a section of the people — are assured that their fundamental rights are guaranteed, it will only alienate the affected people. Muslims believe burial is their right to human dignity in accordance with their beliefs.
The United Nations Charter recognises the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
Without a rational basis, denying a section of the people their right to dignity and dignified funerals in accordance with their religious belief could be seen as an act of humiliation and a violation of universally recognised human rights, the UN Charter and several international conventions including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Government is a social contract, which is renewed at every election. The contract vests in the government the responsibility to protect the citizens, guarantee them their fundamental rights and ensure their physical and socio-economic security. In a multiethnic democracy, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln’s famous phrase, government is of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.
Lincoln’s statement was underlined when the United States President-elect Joe Biden said in his victory speech last month: “I pledge to be a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify…. I will be a President for all Americans — whether you voted for me or not.”
On page one of Sri Lanka passports, it is stated that “the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka requests all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.” The request does not add a rider to say, “except Sri Lanka’s minorities”.
Emanant in this statement is the spirit of statesmanship with which the government should find solutions to the burial problem.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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