The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about press accreditation procedures for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November. At past meetings, the Commonwealth’s Communications and Public Affairs Division has been responsible for issuing permission to journalists to attend the meeting. And, as you know, the visa application process will soon be under way.
But press reports from Colombo have indicated that the Sri Lankan government intends to enforce stringent background checks on any foreign journalists covering the meeting, with the apparent intention of denying them permission to enter the country. A document recently released by the Sri Lankan government said that the authorities reserve the right to “exclude any person … and impose additional conditions of entry to Sri Lanka … regardless of whether or not that person is accredited.”
Journalists will be issued accreditation by a task force, which is a division of the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry has stated that credentials may be “withdrawn, suspended, or deactivated for any reason at any time.”
Ceylon Today reported that on Saturday, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said authorities would be “cautious about who is coming” because some journalists have attempted to tarnish the country’s image under the “pretext of media freedom” and that they were a threat to the “national security of the country” and would be scrutinized before they are issued visas.
You are well aware, of course, of Sri Lanka’s abysmal press freedom record and the high level of impunity for those who attack or kill journalists. Even though the number of deaths under the current government has subsided, many Sri Lankan journalists have told us of continuing intimidation, and many admit to self-censoring their work in order to not fall afoul of the authorities. Others have told us of coming under threat because of their ethnicity.
Secretary-General Sharma, you have resisted calls for the Commonwealth to change the venue of the November meeting. You said in a June 29 letter published in the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror that the question for the international community was whether to criticize the lack of progress in Sri Lanka from afar or to make a practical difference. The paper quoted you as saying that the Commonwealth had opted for the latter option. You said, “We are active in Sri Lanka in advancing Commonwealth values, including human rights, the media, the judiciary and building mutual respect and understanding in communities.”
While we understand the value of engagement, if the Commonwealth cannot assert its own authority in asking for full media access to such an international event, the future for positive engagement looks bleak.
We ask you to ensure that the Sri Lankan government, which is widely known for its aggressive anti-press stance, does not prohibit access to foreign and local journalists who seek to cover the events surrounding the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Such an effort on your part would go far to show your commitment to advancing Commonwealth values of media freedom.
With best regards,
Commonwealth Director for the Communications and Public Affairs Division Richard Uku
Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris
Minister of Mass Media and Information Keheliya Rambukwella
H.E. Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General, The Commonwealth, Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House,
Pall Mall, London SW1-5HX, UK
CHOGM – 2013
I am writing to you with reference to a news item published in the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror of 29th June 2013. The story, captioned ‘Commonwealth wants to make practical difference in Sri Lanka’ quotes a letter you have reportedly sent to an unspecified recipient . In the absence of any contradiction or clarification from your organisation, I assume that the remarks are accurate. You are quoted as saying:
“The LLRC report was a home grown roadmap for achieving peace in a multi ethnic nation.The question for the international community is whether to criticise the lack of progress from afar in implementing that report or to offer and to make a practical difference. The Commonwealth has opted for the latter and the Sri Lankan government even now is identifying the areas where we will help. We are active in Sri Lanka in advancing Commonwealth values, including human rights, the media, the judiciary and building mutual respect and understanding in communities.”
The Commonwealth wanting to make a practical difference in Sri Lanka is indeed most welcome. However, for many of us who are living not afar but in Sri Lanka, we find it rather difficult to share your optimism as Sri Lanka seems to be moving away from the values which you claim that the Commonwealth is advancing even now. The day to day practical reality is that Sri Lanka continues to violate with impunity all 16 values of the Commonwealth Charter in varying degrees and we in Sri Lanka experience first hand the present Sri Lankan government’s contempt for democratic values, the rule of law and the sanctity of life.
In fact, Sri Lanka has slipped down to the 29th position in the ‘Failed State Index‘ compiled annually by the Fund for Peace and the Foreign Policy magazine. This year this drop is due to the deterioration of performance in 7 out of 12 categories, notably in the areas of human rights, rule of law, delegitimisation of the state, poverty and economic decline.
The human rights situation in Sri Lanka shows no signs of improvement and as ‘Lawyers for Democracy‘ stated in April, ‘the spate of deaths of persons while in Police custody is alarming. The casual manner in which the death of persons in police custody is being treated by the authorities is an insult to our system of administration of justice.’ The independent inquiry into the cold blooded execution of over 27 prisoners in November last year has also yet to materialise.
While hundreds if not thousands of complaints of serious human rights violations gather dust at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the commissioner announced a few days ago that the commission will be probing into rail tragedies at unprotected railway crossings in the country! In the face of such cynicism, the workshop being conducted by the Commonwealth and the HRCSL in Colombo at the moment with the participation of your deputy, I feel, is an useless exercise in mutual deception. By conducting a workshop with the HRCSL you are conferring legitimacy to a human rights institution which has become yet another appendage of the executive since the 18th Amendment of September 2010 . This is in direct contravention of the Paris Principles, which relate to the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights. As the Paris Principles stipulates, ‘ the key elements of the composition of a national institution are its independence and pluralism. In relation to the independence the only guidance in the Paris Principles is that the appointment of commissioners or other kinds of key personnel shall be given effect by an official act…..’ However, all commissioners of the current HRCSL have been appointed by the President.
Lattimer House Principles are also being consistently and continuously violated. After the President forcibly excluded the legal Chief Justice, Mrs. Shirani Bandaranayake from her chambers and installed someone else in her place in January, the executive with his hand picked set of judges proceeded to scrap the violated court of appeal order. This order was ignored by the President when he removed the legal Chief Justice after an hurried impeachment trial more akin to the witch trials of the dark ages. The witch hunt against Mrs.Bandaranaike continues and she has been summoned several times to the Bribery Commission which has also now become yet another appendage of the executive arm since the 18th Amendment came into operation.
Today, it is a well known secret that all Judicial transfers and appointments are decided at ‘Temple Trees’, the official residence of the executive, in violation of the Latimer House principle which states that ‘ Judicial appointments should be made on the basis of clearly defined criteria and by a declared process.’
Another Latimer House Principle states that the ‘ interaction, if any, between the executive and the judiciary should not compromise judicial independence.’ Yet the new Chief Justice prefers to demonstrate his devotion and servility to the executive by being a frequent visitor not only to the President but to his brother, the defence secretary.
The judiciary is not the only victim of the erosion of law through disempowered institutions. Even the university administration has been made into useless appendages of the executive. For example, the University Grants Commission has now abdicated its powers and responsibilities under section 34(1) of the act to select and recommend one person for appointment by the President. It has now unlawfully clothed the President with authority to make his own choice of Vice Chancellor.
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Sri Lanka as the 4th most dangerous place in the world for journalists to work in. The Criminal Investigation Department continues to raid newspapers which highlight corruption linked to the first family and two days ago,the Editor of ‘Janarela’ – a weekly Sinhala tabloid , was grilled by the CID regarding an article published last year. In the north, un identified militia men have continued their attacks on several independent newspapers. Several media personnel at MTV, a leading private television network, were threatened again recently.
Also, the government which purportedly claims that it values Commonwealth principles, has sought and received Chinese expertise to monitor, hack and block websites which expose human rights violations and corruption. In fact, the Defence Secretary, recently identified social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a serious threat to national security and plans are afoot, according to reliable sources to ban social media as well as to introduce the draconian code of ethics for the media, recently approved by Cabinet, after the summit in November.
Despite the predominantly Chinese funded ‘show’ development in the North, at vastly inflated costs, the plight of the Tamil people has deteriorated and the militarisation continues unabated. A special unit under the Commander of the area has been formed to suppress democratic activities: during a visit to the area some months ago, even a meeting attended by the Leader of the Opposition was attacked by this squad. While the government is reluctantly preparing to hold Northern Provincial Elections thanks to intense international pressure, there are reports that members of this squad are intimidating and threatening candidates who are hoping to seek nomination from opposition parties.
Even other religious minorities are now being persecuted with impunity. There have been over 15 Incidents during this year where Mosques as well as Muslim owned businesses have been attacked in broad daylight while the Police looked on. Two weeks ago, a beef stall owned by a Muslim was vandalised and destroyed while the Police and the PSD (Presidents Security Division) guarding the Presidents Tangalle residence, just a stones throw away, looked on. Many Christian places of worship have also been attacked in recent months. The fact that these fanatical groups can take law into their hands with total impunity is proof enough of the unholy alliance between these purveyors of terror and the powers that be.
Also in violation of yet another Commonwealth value, the government is continuing its witch hunt against members of civil society. The much respected local representative of the Ferdrich Ebert Stiftung was recently apprehended at the airport and questioned about funding a book written on Buddhism and Governance by the Leader of the Opposition seven years ago. She was also questioned by the CID for two days in May after hosting a workshop on Campaign management for Members of Parliament of the UNP. Another woman from an Indian NGO was deported last week for being critical of some development activities in the North. Many other key human rights activists are also subjected to harassment and the bank accounts of some of them have been frozen without a court order.
Emboldened by its apologists in the International community, the regime, continues with arrogance to violate the core values of the Commonwealth Charter. It is in the context of these continuing violations that I cannot share your enthusiasm that the “Commonwealth soft power and behind the scenes contribution’ can lead to “real progress in the long term”. From the daily occurrences, some of which I have mentioned above, it is clear that the government is unable to mend its ways and that there is a vast discrepancy between the values of the Commonwealth and the values of its incoming Chairman.
It is certainly true that certain recommendations of the LLRC report need a longer period to implement but if the government of Sri Lanka is sincere and genuine in its commitment to the Commonwealth Charter, there are some changes which could be implemented immediately prior to the Summit in November and in time for the Northern Provincial Elections.
For example, the notorious 18th Amendment to the Constitution, introduced as an Urgent bill in 2010 abolishing the independent Judicial, Elections, Public Services and Police Commissions can be repealed immediately with yet another urgent bill restoring all the independent commissions. This could well be the litmus test on the governments commitment to the core Commonwealth values.
Free and fair elections are an integral part of the Commonwealth charter. In addition to the independent elections commission and independent police commission been in place before the Northern Elections, it also imperative that a civilian governor be appointed to the North and that the army be confined to the barracks , if the election is to be truly free and fair.
If such changes are to be implemented prior to CHOGM in November, all Sri Lankans, I am sure will congratulate and thank you for the ‘Commonwealth soft power and behind the scene contribution’ in restoring the credentials of one of Asia’s oldest democracies. However, holding of the summit without such a proven commitment to the values and principles of democracy would not only call into grave question the value, credibility and future of the Commonwealth, it will also be the granting of the Commonwealth seal of approval to an emerging dictatorship in Asia.
As the CHOGM summit is of immense public interest, I am taking the liberty of releasing this letter to the media.
In Sri Lanka today there are two types of Buddhists- the Buddhist Moderates who identify themselves as Sri Lankans and those who identify themselves as Sinhala-Buddhists which they regard as their nationality!
As a Sri Lankan (a Sinhalese and a Buddhist by faith) I have lived and worked amidst the strange practices of Sinhala-Buddhists in Sri Lanka. As such I have observed closely what a Sinhala-Buddhist is as opposed to a Buddhist Moderate.
The following are my observations.
Buddhist Moderates (Sri Lankans) – This group identifies themselves by their nationality- Sri Lankan. Their ethnicity and faith are on a need-to-know basis, usually for official purposes. Moderates understand and respect Buddhism as a philosophy and quietly practice their faith in daily life to the best of their ability. Therefore they respect the religious beliefs and ethnicity of the ‘other’ (Hindus, Christians, Muslims etc) and treat them all as equals.
The Sinhala-Buddhist- This group carries a double-barreled identity; ethnicity first followed by the faith- Sinhala-Buddhist. As such they wear their identity on their sleeve with unfounded pride. This group has heard about the Buddha’s teachings- the Dhamma but don’t practice it. But they do practice a ‘religion’ which they call Buddhism that is diametrically opposed to the Dhamma. To these Sinhala-Buddhists the noble teachings of the Buddha are akin to casting pearls before swine!
The Sinhala-Buddhist regards Buddhism as a ‘religion’ and not as a philosophy and a way of life, as advised by the Buddha. Therefore they regard the Buddha as a God and practice their ‘religion’ by worshiping and venerating Buddhist symbols and objects; totally against the Buddha’s teachings.
Unlike Sinhala-Buddhists, Buddhist Moderates regard the Buddha as their noble teacher and Buddhism as a way of life. They don’t worship Buddhist symbols like Sinhala-Buddhists do, as for them Buddhism is not a religion. The Buddhist Moderate has the highest regard for the Buddha and respects his teachings by striving to live according to those noble teachings unlike the Sinhala-Buddhist label bearer.
Therefore these two groups- the Buddhist Moderates and Sinhala-Buddhists practice Buddhism in two extremely different ways. In today’s context the latter reeks of bigotry, hypocrisy and chauvinism in the extreme. To the Moderate Sri Lankan Buddhist, what the Sinhala-Buddhist practices as ‘Buddhism’ is a type of heresy of the Dhamma!
The Good Buddhist
The Sinhala-Buddhist’s idea of being a ‘Good Buddhist’ is confined only to one day of the calendar month- Full Moon (Poya) day. This day is dedicated to worshiping symbols and objects. As the ‘done’ thing they visit the temple, worship and heap flowers opposite the perceived image of the Buddha, light oil lamps and drench the roots of an over hydrated Bo tree within the temple premises. Then they parrot off the five-precepts with no intention of abiding by them. Most don’t even understand the meaning of them.
All this is done because it is the ‘done’ thing or with the foolish and selfish motive of gaining perceived ‘pin’ (merit) to counteract the ill-effects (or so they believe) of the crimes they commit. It never crosses their minds to question how a tree, clay, concrete or stone object could pardon them or grant them merit. But it is the ‘done’ thing so they do it, though they do not know why they do it. For them this is practicing ‘Buddhism’!
Also on Poya Day, the usually carnivorous Sinhala-Buddhists refrain from eating fish, meat and eggs. This is another ‘done’ thing which has nothing to do with the Dhamma. However some of these ‘Buddhists’ believe that refraining from consuming animal flesh is the ‘Buddhist’ thing to do, therefore bestowing more merit on themselves.
It must be said that all these acts are harmless in themselves if not for the hypocrisy involved!
There is a popular misconception that the Dhamma prohibits followers from consuming animal flesh. In fact, the Buddha did not ‘prohibit’ his followers from doing so, if it is offered by a person in good faith. But he did advise his followers against seeking it and destroying life for it. Buddhist Moderates who refrain from consuming animal flesh do so either for health or ethical reasons.
So in typical Sinhala-Buddhist style, commercial establishments are banned by the State from selling meat on Poya Days. This applies to the sale of alcohol as well. But on the days preceding this ‘sacred’ Day, one may store as much animal flesh in their refrigerators as required and sufficient alcohol to see them through the days of prohibition.
Most often Sinhala-Buddhists are the first customers at meat stalls and taverns before the day of ‘prohibition’ dawns. So, for whose benefit and for what purpose are such prohibitions imposed? Who is trying to fool whom? This is Sinhala-Buddhist state-sponsored hypocrisy!
Also on Poya Day a few even try to refrain from consuming alcohol, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct or murder/killing- the five precepts. But this is all confined only to Poya Days. Convinced and content that they have accumulated sufficient ‘pin (merit)’ to see them through all their misdeeds in the future, life returns to normal the rest of the month!
Insecurities of Sinhala-Buddhists
The average Sinhala-Buddhist suffers from an acute inferiority complex which is often mistaken for a superiority complex. This could be attributed to a lack of substance in the superficial ‘religion’ they practice by worshiping objects and symbols and a lack of knowledge of the Dhamma.
Besides wearing their identity on their sleeve, a relatively recent ‘fashion’ adopted by Sinhala-Buddhists is the way in which they wear the ‘Pirith Noola’ (Pirith blessed thread) on the right wrist. Instead of the customary three folds of white cotton thread, we now see them ‘exhibiting’ on their right wrist what looks more like ‘Pirith bandages’. This is usually observed amongst Sinhala-Buddhist political VIPs.
This new phenomenon could either be to draw attention to their Sinhala-Buddhist identity and superiority over the ‘other’ or to ensure foolishly imagined ‘divine protection’ as they carry on accumulating negative ‘karma’ through their hypocrisy. In some cases it also could be a combination of both.
Sinhala-Buddhists live in constant fear of their ‘concrete/clay/stone made’ religion which they call ‘Buddhism’ being destroyed. As is obvious to any right thinking individual, all material objects, including Buddhist symbols are vulnerable to natural phenomena and destructive humans.
To the Buddhist Moderate, such fear is unfounded as their faith is strong. It lives and grows within them therefore it can never be destroyed either by destructive humans or natural phenomena. Buddhist symbols don’t carry any weight with the Buddhist Moderate except for the archeological value of some.
Insecurity harbored by Sinhala-Buddhists is nothing new to Lanka. It goes back to ancient times of the Cholas and more recently to pre-independent Ceylon when the British introduced Christianity to the island. The likes of Anagarika Dharmapala (a Sinhala-Buddhist personified) claimed that Buddhism was being destroyed by the British and Sinhala-Buddhists were being forced to convert to Christianity!
The question arises here if anyone could be ‘forced’ to change their faith/religious belief for whatever reason if the person is strong in her/his belief? But that is another subject altogether.
Usually Sinhala-Buddhists practice their ‘hypocrisy’ amongst themselves without causing too many problems for the rest of society. They denigrate those of other ethnic groups and religions behind their backs, but are sweet as honey to their faces. This is only until a Sinhala-Buddhist political regime takes over and starts whipping up ethno-religious emotions for their own political gain. It happened with the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and it is happening now!
Today, in place of Anagarika Dharmapala and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike we have Sinhala-Buddhist Warlords to carry on the tradition!
This malaise has now brimmed over to extreme proportions. We now have Sinhala-Buddhist saffron-robed thugs masquerading as Buddhist monks denigrating the Buddha and his noble teachings in every possible way. Sinhala-Buddhist parents and teachers are encouraged to teach their young how to denigrate those of other religious faith from an early age. These saffron robed groups appear to be paramilitaries of the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic State who use the sacred Saffron robe as a weapon over the ‘other’- those of other faiths.
Strangely this phenomenon burst forth post 2009 and today Sinhala-Buddhists see ‘demons’ everywhere threatening Buddhism in Sri Lanka!
This could be attributed to the political environment we live in today which is besieged by insecurities of various forms. After the successful elimination of LTTE terrorism, our warlords seem to find it necessary to create another ‘monster’.
This could be to keep the voter on edge and in constant fear and, therefore, to keep them reminded that only ‘they’ and ‘they’ alone have the ability to keep the country safe from the likes of Prabhakaran and other such ‘monsters’. This they believe is the surest way of keeping the Sinhala-Buddhist voter terrified and forever grateful to the Warlords for keeping them safe.
So today we find new concrete ‘Buddhist symbols’ sprouting like mushrooms throughout the country, especially in areas populated by the ‘other’ (Hindus, Christians and Muslims). This is the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic way of claiming superiority over the ‘other’. Not stopping there, they go on to destroy places of religious worship of the ‘other’.
The Buddhist Moderate looks on in horror and revulsion as these acts go totally against the Buddha’s teaching of sympathetic understanding and respect for other religions!
So today while overtly paying lip-service extolling the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and religious harmony, the Sinhala-Buddhist Warlords covertly give full reign to terrorizing the ‘other’.
All this ugliness takes place in this so called thrice-blessed Buddhist country Sri Lanka!
*Sharmini Serasinghe was Director Communications of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) under Secretary Generals Jayantha Dhanapala and Dr. John Gooneratne. She counts over thirty years in journalism in both the print and electronic media.
Burma is often most renowned for its military Junta, repression of democratic rights and the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi that spanned over two decades. Such it is when in line with Western countries interest and their explicitly displayed values. Unfortunately what is lesser known is the multiple national independence struggles fought by suppressed nations in Burma, and the state sponsored persecution and terrorism against minorities. In 2012, Burma was being praised by the West for freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, liberalizing its economy, allowing political parties, extending democratic rights, and for the abolishing of media censorship. In the backwaters of these events, with the West applauding what it considers positive steps taken by the new civilian government under President Thein Sein, a war was unleashed to eradicate the resistance of the Kachin nation in northern Burma (1). As the West is supplying funds, handing Burma international repute, facilitating it with international space to self-narrate the progress of the country, the Burmese army is unhindered in pursuing its structural approach towards minority nations. After a 17 year truce with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), it launched an extensive military offensive on June 2012. This decision coincided with the work on the billion dollar Sino-Burmese hydropower projects in the irrawaddy river in the Kachin homeland. In order to secure these areas for Chinese exploitation, the Burmese military is entrusted to drive out the Kachin people (2) . With both the subtle blessings and sinister involvement of contemporary imperialist powers, the West and China alike, a chauvinistic state is facilitated to carry out genocide. Another process which also began in 2012 summer, was the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Rohinyga Muslims, in the central west of the country. In matter of few weeks, thousands of Rohinygas were reported butchered by Arakanese mobs, Buddhist monks, state police and federal forces, with tens of thousands being displaced. This brings to mind the parallels between the Burmese state and the Sri Lankan state and their interaction and liaisons with international powers.
Burma is a multi-ethnic country and was united under British colonial rule which placed the diverse region under the fold of a centralized authority in Rangoon. The boundaries set and the establishment of government ignored traditional and national peculiarities. The Burmese government represents the Bamar people alongside a range of other Buddhist people, who speak different but related languages. Thus the national culture is heavily marked by Buddhism and the Bamar. The military dictatorship has also drawn its legitimacy for military government from the rule of kings of the past. This leaves little space for nations with other religious following and another linguistic affiliation to prosper in its own right. The Kachin people speak various Kachinic languages and most follow Christianity, while the Rohiniygas speak Bengali and are Muslims. Both these people are viewed as multi-centric elements within the national space. They oppose and restrict the erection of the dominant Burmese nationality. The Karen took up arms in 1961 establishing the KIO and its military wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to fight the Burmese government battling the state until 1994 when a truce was signed. As in Sri Lanka it was successively imposed discriminatory laws and actions in the post-independence period culminating in the state decision to make Buddhism the state religion which antagonized and marginalized the Kachin. Also as with the Sri Lankan context the Burmese state pursued a malicious counter-insurgency to impose its national unity. Sri Lanka’s war on Tamils starts as an element of the state’s intent to pursue a policy of creating a Sinhala Buddhist nation state. Similarly with Burma it targeted the ethnicities within its borders which were deemed multi-centric, this being foremost the Tamils who have since early independence been increasingly mobilized on lingo-national basis. With successive governments presiding over series of discriminatory laws, violent suppression and anti-Tamil riots , the Tamils took up arms in the 1970’s and the secessionist war broke out.
In the aftermath of 09.11.2001, a new international platform to fight counter-insurgencies emerged. It became rather advantageous for any nation-state to conjoin their counter-insurgencies with other nations on the pretext of fighting terrorism. For Sri Lanka this constituted a structural condition which would facilitate its reliance on international backing and subtle support in pursuit of a military solution to eradicate Tamil secessionism. With the collapse of the ceasefire in 2006, Colombo initiated a heavy offensive in the East of the island, a process which ended in May 2009 with the genocide in Mulluvaykal. International powers were known to have contributed with economical, diplomatical and military support, either directly or indirectly which served Sri Lanka’s ambitions. China poured in 1 billion dollars annually to the Sri Lankan state from 2005 to 2009 (3), while Pakistan upgraded the Sri Lankan air force’s radar and fighter jets. India trained military personnel, and aided the military forces with crucial logistics to weaken the LTTE. During the last war a range of Western countries were in support of dissolving the LTTE militarily in order to set the platform to deal with the national question concerning the Tamils. Later on through UN internal reports published in 2012 it was shown that even the U.N. leadership by grossly downplaying the civilian causalities assisted Sri Lanka in accomplishing what it had intended. What seems initially to be a series of strange events, tends to emerge as a systematic pattern, where it appears that the established international community of nation states apply a structural approach to people struggles. This very approach favours nation states’ military solutions to settle the self-determination struggles of oppressed nations and is pursued under the guise of eradicating terrorism and paving the way for development. Discourse and promises of democracy and peace, added with preliminary actions taken in the name of credence, shadow the brutal reality enacted by chauvinistic states and thereby sets the stage for the subtle support granted by international powers.
Statements expressing forthcoming harmony and the generosity to accede economic concessions by President Rajapakse resulted in the international community abetting the the Sri Lankan government’s genocidal war. It now seems Burma is effecting equally, through its adaptation of the Sri Lankan counter- insurgency model. The intent is to quash a genocidal war against the KIO and the Kachin people in the North while eradicating the Rohingya through mob and police perpetuated genocide and violence . The international community however is delighted and rather pleased with Burma due to rhetorics of democracy and the economic concessions endorsed under liberalization. A dreadful symphony of imperialist expansionism and genocidal nation state politics is perpetuated under the guise of development and reform. Failing to practice what it preach of equality and democracy, the west perceive it as more fruitful to aid the nation states in completing genocide and eradicating resistance in order to pursue imperialist goals. The West intends to counter China, China intends to counter the West and India, while India intends to counter China and make itself a power in the region. In this matrix the Burmese government maximizes on an abundance of supplies and support to pursue its agenda, an art the Sri Lankan government mastered in the last few years. The much praised Aung San Suu Kyi remains silent on these atrocities and is instead indulgent in praising the military for its historical role in the country’s establishment (4). Meanwhile the Kachen people brace themself for a bitter survival as Burmese troops are moving in towards their heartland with designs of occupying the town of Laiza. The international community and its media seemed to have abandoned the Kachin as was the case with Tamils in 2009, and now another genocide is lurking around the corner.
1) On the ingorance of the war against the Kachin people by international investors.http://karennews.org/2013/02/burma-investors-beware.html/
The Ministry of Mass Media and Information has recently proposed a Draft ‘Code of Media Ethics’. Upon reading the preliminary draft which has been made available selectively, the writer would like to highlight certain immediate concerns about this step by the Ministry. These concerns are primarily made for the preservation of an essential element of democracy; the freedom of the Media. There shall be no specific comment on the content of the Draft Code at this juncture as it would be premature even though on a perusal of the same it is much warranted.
The first concern is a matter of Professions and Ethical guidelines. Professions require and do have ethical guidelines. Ideally such is created and regulated by the profession itself. Therefore the propriety of a Ministry or Government to pass by regulation a Code of Ethics applicable to a profession must be questioned. It brings up the wider question whether any other profession can be subject to similar governmental actions. The Minister does have the power to pass regulations subject to approval by Parliament under S.30(2) of the Press Council Act of 1973 however the question remains whether the content of such regulation can ever be a code of ethics and even so a code of ethics formulated by the Ministry.
Further it must be noted that it is not in the absence of a code of ethics from the Media Profession the Government has taken this step. There is currently a ‘Code of Professional Practice (Code of Ethics)’ of The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka and Free Media Movement adopted by the Sri Lanka Press Institute which is quite comprehensive, and up to date has maintained a Press Complaints Commission for the implementation of such. Interestingly several elements of the same code has been extracted verbatim to the proposed code as well; however some of the additional ‘ethics’ proposed (especially in clause 1) cannot be said to be of a nature that any professional body would pass or that would be reasonably acceptable from the perspective of the Media Profession as it embodies very little professional insight on the workings of Media. Thus the propriety of the Government to pass it own set of ethics and superimpose such on the Media profession is clearly questionable.
The 2nd issue that arises is as to one aspect of the content of the Draft Code which is one of the graver concerns. Clause 1 contains several grounds from (a) to (m) on which ‘No Publication should be published…’ for example ‘containing material against the integrity of the executive , judiciary and legislative’. The question that arises here is can a code of ethics for media set out a restriction on content or subject matter that the media may deal with? Ethics being primarily related to the conduct of the media should if at all regulate the ‘means by which the media acts’. These restrictions do not regulate the means. They regulate the ‘end’ or the end product that is the publication itself. There is a flaw in a code of ethics regulating the end and not the means to an end. From Clause 2 onwards there are considerations of these means. For example accuracy, standards of reporting, means of investigating, confidentiality and so on are matters within an ethical code which are the means by which the media should work. If at all any restriction on the content should not be other than that which is not allowed ‘by law’ which need not be stated and is implied and is further strengthened under The Press Council Act itself and by other laws. Certain elements of Clause 1 do not carry out that objective either. Interestingly the Code adopted by the Sri Lanka Press Institute does not at any juncture have any such restrictions either, as it is itself a proper code of ethics standing within the purpose of a code of ethics.
The 3rd concern is that this particular draft code of ethics cannot be set out as regulations under the existing Law. Due to the inaction of several governments over time it has been seen that the Media is subject to Laws in a haphazard manner. The Press Council Act of 1973 deals with print media such as in the form of newspapers. However the draft code attempts to herd in Electronic Media and Websites. The only form of Law currently applicable to these forms of media are the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act No. 25 of 1991 which by its provisions do not provide for regulations of this nature and by its preamble does not suggest any such. Therefore the Government as a first step will have to consider legislative amendments to the Press Council Act or additional legislation before it can come up with these regulations. This would make it a further issue as currently existing media forms which have been allowed to so exist will be subsequently subject to new laws and regulations. Given this clear retrospective effect this lacuna in law should not be unilaterally imposed by the government but done with extensive dialogue and consultation with the Media Profession.
The final issue is then what would be the effect if these legislative amendments are made and the draft code of ethics is passed by regulation and made applicable to all the said media above. The code uses the words ‘shall adhere’ which in law usually suggests a mandatory provision. The code however does not suggest the method of implementation and as at current there have been suggestions from the Ministry that this code of ethics will only have an effect as such and no effect whatsoever as Law. To determine the truth of this one must read the Code of Ethics along with the existing Press Council Act of 1973 which is the Core Law according to sources that will be amended to facilitate these regulations.
S.2 of the said Act creates the body called ‘The Press Council’ which has the capacity to sue. Under S.3 it is constituted of 7 members who include 6 members appointed by the President and 1 person called the ‘Director of Information’. Out of these 6 members appointed only 2 members are selected by the president from a nominated panel respectively from working journalists nominated by the Journalists Associations and a person to represent the interests of employees of newspaper businesses from such employee unions thus leaving 4 others to be selected by the President in addition to the appointee as Director of Information. Interestingly a quorum of 5 suffices for the Council functions. Therefore there is grave concern as to the independence of this Council with respect to appointment, remuneration, removal, functioning quorum and so on.
Under S.9 the council may take action by way of Inquiry. This can be done where there is ‘complaint made to it or otherwise’ and this includes inquiry by the Council of its own initiative. The reason for such inquiry can be a publication by an editor or a working journalist which commits a breach of professional misconduct or breach of the code of journalistic ethics. Therefore the proposed Code of Ethics by regulation shall clearly fall under the criteria for instigating an inquiry.
Under S.11 the Council has the powers of a District Court to summon persons, compel the production of documents and administer and subject person to an oath. Further under S.12 refusal or failure to comply with the Councils abovementioned powers amount to ‘contempt of the Council’ of which a certificate may be submitted to the Court of Appeal by the Council Chairman and can be punishable under Article 105 of the Constitution as if it were contempt of the Court itself. Any orders of the Council are also final and cannot be questioned in any court of Law and further disobeying any order made by the Council amounts to summarily triable offence at the Magistrate Court with possible fines and imprisonment.
There is therefore no doubt as to the extreme powers that might be with the Press Council and the heavy blow to be dealt to the freedom of the media with the addition of this Code of Ethics. It could be suggested that the constitution, powers and functions of such a Council be reviewed and amended. Whilst regulation of Media is also a necessary component of government it should not be done without proper checks and balances. Having a ‘Code of Ethics’ and the adjudicative powers one on the side of government would amount to a serious concentration of powers which will seriously hinder against the freedom of the media.
The self-immolation of Ven Bowatte Indraratnana Thero raised many questions. Whatever the late Thero’s intentions may have been, it is unlikely that ‘media ethics’ or lack thereof was something that prompted the horrifying act. That, however, is what we are left with.
The action or rather inaction of those who may have been able to prevent the tragedy, especially the journalist who was ‘in the know’ has spurred much debate on what really constitutes ‘responsibility’ for people in the media industry.
At panel discussion on the subject organized by the Sri Lanka Press Institute, a young journalist Tharaka Basnayake, had asked the following question: ‘How does citizen journalism fits into codes of ethics since almost all the mainstream media outlets encourage citizens to capture whatever they desire and with regard to Indrarathana Thero’s self-immolation, most of the ordinary citizens were busy capturing the action with their mobile phones (against their conscience)?’
The question is simple: ‘Is the journalist’s duty to capture spectacle or whatever is newsworthy as per the dictates of professionalism or react humanely to a situation where choice of action/inaction can make a different between life and death?’ Put another way, ‘Can there ever be guidelines to inform a professional when to drop professional garb and when to put on larger humane clothing?’
It is something we can talk about forever.
The Government has found it fit, under these circumstances, to come up with ‘ethical guidelines’ for journalists. The Government has been fittingly lampooned in the press for the presumptuousness of the exercise, given the fact that politicians and state media personal have hardly covered themselves in glory on account of ethical behavior.
The humor, however, should not stop with the Government or the State Media or even journalists in general. ‘Ethics’ is a rare commodity, so rare that rather than rarity resulting in high value it has reverted to the other extreme in valuation: nothing. Ethics is talked about. It is scripted into professional oaths. It is tossed into advertising copy. It is almost as though the word would make palatable any excrement as such is dished out by the corporate world or by professional entities. All it takes is to say, ‘we are ethical’. But are we?
This is the age of the spectacle. This is the era of instant gratification. By omission or commission this world has either embraced or resolved to submit to Mr. Spectacle. All that glitters may not be gold, but glitter fetches a better price than ethics in the market, let us acknowledge. Even crap that is glitter-clothed or worse, glitter-labeled, let us add!
Is he who demands honor, himself honorable? Is she who demands ethical behavior herself ethical in her behavior? Who are the saints here? The truth is that ‘ethics’ cannot be legislated. They cannot be advertised. In short there’s no market for ethics. That’s the brutal fact that is being ignored in the debate.
Today’s market is full of goods and services deliberately marked with planned obsolescence; things are made to break (sooner rather than later) with adequate caveats in the small print regarding warranties to insure the vendor. And what’s good for refrigerators, laptops, mobile phones and iPods is good for the media too. It works. Stories are re-invented. A women jumps into a well with a baby and the media shares the savory details in a way that prompts another depressed individual to execute a copy-cat jump that will continue to keep the media in business. One story is crafted in a way that a follow-up story will result. So what’s new? What’s ‘unethical’ about it? It’s just business as usual in the 21st Century, isn’t it?
The question can be asked, ‘isn’t this how it always was?’ Yes, there were always neethi (laws) and there were always reethi (customs). The difference is that in times gone by, the latter prevailed over the former. The latter drew from an ethical template.
The incident resulted in an interrogation of the media on the subject of ethics, interestingly by those who really don’t have the right to talk about ethics. There cannot be ethics in isolation. There cannot be ethics for some but not for others. But laws, we know, are selective and prejudiced in favor of the powerful, i.e. those who have money or power or both.
Still, that fact alone is not enough to settle for ‘business as usual’. Self-regulation begins with self, it goes without saying. We, the media, as a tribe, are but one part of society and can claim rightful share to its glories and resolve to own up to its shame. We could play safe and say ‘let’s see you go first!’ but that’s cop-out option.
We cannot get anyone to pay for even a tiny advertisement pleading ‘Let’s be ethical’. We can but be ethical, as per our sense of right and wrong, regardless of professional dictates (which too, let us not forget, are for the most part ‘owned’ by corporate prerogatives).
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com
“….establishing a complete series of methods which will allow the controlling oligarchy……to get people to really like their servitude. This is the, it appears to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions”. –Aldous Huxley (The Ultimate Revolution)
In the course of his current Ugandatour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reportedly enchanted by the servile conduct of the Ugandans he came into speak to with. According to the political column of last Sunday’s Rivira, the Lankan President asked his Ugandan counterpart, “When we appear at them (Ugandans) it is clear that they have a very obedient nature. How did you handle to make them so obedient?” President Musevini’s response was that this servility was a relic of the Colonial ethos, when White Masters kept their Black and Brown Subjects in total subjugation.
In a democracy uncritical obedience is a unsafe vice. Despotic rule can’t survive without uncritical obedience. Colonial rulers treated colonised peoples as political infants incapable of handling independence. Tyrants too regard their subjects as eternal political-minors, incapable of dealing with freedom.
Foremost amongst the freedoms considered unsafe by actual and nascent despots is the appropriate to info, the freedom of the individuals to know what is happening in their personal nation. Over the years the Rajapaksas have managed to subdue most of the print media. At present, websites are their major targets. In this month alone, de facto banns were imposed on numerous web sites which includes Gossip Lanka and Lanka Eagle.
The Rajapaksa worry of a free of charge and critical media is comprehensible. The Siblings have a lot to hide.
Take land grabbing. At present this is a major dilemma confronting not just by the Tamil individuals of the North but also by the Sinhala people of the South. Parallel to the stealth campaign of demographic reengineering in the North, the Rajapaksas are conducting an even more secretive operation of class and partisan-political reengineering in the South. Their ultimate aim is to create a new demographic which will render tough any democratic/electoral resistance to Familial Rule.
In the North, private lands are getting expropriated to create new army camps and military cantonments. For instance, according to Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the regime is utilizing the Land Acquisition Act to expropriate 6,400 acres of land to build a military cantonment in Jaffna: “….the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outdoors the so known as illegal Higher Safety Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not comprehensive. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands….. Now abruptly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to other folks to occupy, who will turn into voters in the North. Equivalent notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, guidelines have gone out to obtain all the land that the military deems needed for its purposes”[i].
These cantonments and military bases are getting superimposed on a Tamil terrain to break the current ethnic contiguity of the North, thereby to render devolution not possible and to maintain Tamils in a continued state of subjection. Its other – and no significantly less important goal – is to make it possible for the Rajapaksas to win elections in the North, with a minimum quantity of violence and malpractices.
Most Sinhalese are indifferent to the situation of land-grabbing due to the fact they see it as a Tamil dilemma. The Rajapaksas would want this ignorance – and the consequent indifference – to last as lengthy as achievable. The plight of Colombo’s poor, who are facing the danger of becoming evicted from their houses en masse, has received some interest but the plight of the Sinhala peasants of Ampara who have been chased away from their classic lands is virtually unknown. In 2011, the Lankan Navy grabbed far more than 1,200 acres of land close to the tourist hot-spot ofPanama consequently thousands of Sinhala villagers of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella lost their properties and their signifies of livelihood. A comparable fate has befallen the fisher-folk of Kalpitiya.
When the state requires more than private land for development purposes, it is obligated to provide the owners with either compensation or alternate lands. This is how successive governments in Sri Lanka carried out themselves, by and large. The Rajapaksas have developed a different method land grabbing is becoming carried out, added-legally, making use of the military. The situation is hence ‘militarised’ and garbed in the protective-attire of ‘national security’. This way the owners can be threatened at will, the Sinhala-language media silenced and environmental laws and archaeological regulations ignored. For instance, in Ampara, “though sanctions have been imposed by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out any improvement operate on forestlands, the Sri Lanka Navy claims that such formalities are entirely discarded when the Defence Ministry approves their projects. Speaking on the construction work carried out by the Navy in Panamain the Ampara District, Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya stated that they have not followed any of these procedures nor would they require permission from the mentioned institutions as the building is becoming carried out on Defence Ministry land. ‘This is a Defence Ministry land and there is no necessity to get approval from any department to carry out any of our improvement function,’ claimed Warnakulasuriya[ii].
The Defence Ministry and the military are the law, not just in the Tamil-North, but even in the Sinhala-South. The ultimate objective of these acts of dispossession is to fill the Rajapaksa coffers, buttress the Rajapaksa dynastic project and render hard any powerful national resistance to Rajapaksa rule.
The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims of land-grabbing have a issue and an opponent in common. Therefore coordinating their different acts of resistance into a single struggle tends to make perfect sense. However, rather of this essential and possible national campaign – ideally with the participation of the opposition parties – resistance is fragmented along regional/ ethnic/class lines.
The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to understand that they are not immune to Rajapaksa-injustice. The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to realise that the military, far from becoming ‘our boys’, are Rajapaksa tools (just as the Tigers served not the Tamil folks but Vellupillai Pirapaharan). The Siblings do not want their Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims to uncover the typical ground and mount a coordinated resistance. The Siblings want to atomise Lankans along ethnic, religious and class lines, to avoid a united opposition to familial rule from coming into getting. The only Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity they want to market is a unity in apathy and indifference.
The Rajapaksa project aims at the psychological reengineering of the Lankan people. They want an ignorant nation which equates distinction with danger. They want a men and women more concerned about hemlines or eating habits than land-grabbing or kid abuse. They want a nation seeped in mutual-suspicion and habituated into obedience.
They want a nation which, unconsciously, cooperates in its own subjugation and undoing.
Nationalism has been the main guiding ideology of many of the countries in the world in modern times, and even before, whether we like it or not. If nationalism could be replaced completely by liberalism or socialism, or by a combination of both, the world would be a better place to live. But that is not the reality as at present. Both liberalism and socialism have often capitulated to nationalism, and worst of all to ethno nationalism. This is the case in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. But this is not to give up hopes. Sri Lanka or the world at large still has a chance, if civic nationalism could be strengthened and forged without neglecting ethnic identities and equal rights of ethnic communities.
What I mean by civic nationalism is that kind of nationalism which could unite all or greater majority of the citizens of a polity irrespective of ‘race,’ ethnicity, religion or any other such distinction. Any other such distinction can be language, caste or even gender. For this to happen there should be an enlightened creed or policy, enunciated by a strong multiethnic leadership, a party or a movement.
Ethno nationalism in contrast is that nationalism which divides people on racial, ethnic, religious or language lines and invariably strengthens caste or gender discrimination, depending on the country of concern. Most often ethno-nationalism is the product of primordial instincts and affiliations.
Origins of Distinction
The distinction between civic nationalism and ethno nationalism was first made by Hans Kohn in 1940 when he wrote The Idea of Nationalism. One reason to make that distinction was the experience in Germany under Fascism. Kohn was of Jewish origin who had to flee Germany facing ethno nationalist violence and atrocities. As we all know, the German variety of ethno nationalism led to the Second World War that cost more than 15 million human lives and many other disasters.
The emergence of the two types of nationalism was also observed vaguely by Ernest Renan as far back as 1882 when he wrote Qu’est –ce qu’une Nation? (What is a Nation?). The reason again was the distinction between nationalism in France and Germany.
The French Revolution of 1789 is considered to be the mother of modern nationalism.
I use the adjective ‘modern’ to allow the possibility of the existence of some proto types of nationalism in the pre-modern times in the West or the East. However, the phenomenon that we call modern nationalism could hardly exist in pre-modern conditions. An ideology like modern nationalism was not necessary or possible.
The ideology of modern nationalism is supposed to have a ‘vision.’ That vision is to make the national unit and the political unit congruent. The controversy and the conflict, however, have always been on the definition of the national unit (or the nation) and the political unit. In the case of some countries, the achievement of the congruence appeared smooth and easy, but not in all the cases.
Civic nationalism has proved to be quite useful in achieving the vision of national unity (if not congruence) in many countries that have advanced economically, socially and politically. The natural advantage of being socially homogeneous is obviously rare in countries. Only around a dozen of countries might claim for the qualification today. These include the countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark, two Koreas, perhaps Japan and a few of Arabic or Latin American countries. Yet many of them are internally diverse or becoming increasingly multi-ethnic due to increased migration.
When the French Revolution declared the ‘nation to be the base of political sovereignty,’ the idea was to enunciate civic nationalism. The nation was conceived to be the people of all sorts including various minorities. The base of that kind of nationalism or civic nationalism was considered to be ‘the rights of man and the citizen.’ This is equivalent to the conception of today’s human rights. Whatever the distortions that Franceen countered after the revolution, the origins of civic nationalism could be traced to that revolution. It was the same by and large in Britain where civic nationalism prevailed over ethno nationalism.
In contrast, the origin of ethno nationalism was mainly Germany. The two thinkers who advocated ethno nationalism at the onset of the 19th century were Johann Fichte and Johann Herder. According to them, ‘people are eternally divided into nations.’ The ‘proof of this division is the language.’ The meaning that they gave to nation is equivalent to race or ethnicity. The nation is a collectivity. It is like the body. Nationalism is its sole. ‘A state based on ethnicity is the embodiment of both the body and the sole.’ This may sound rational and logical at first glance, but in practice or in essence it is insane and foolish.
While ethno nationalism is an organic theory, civic nationalism is not. Civic nationalism has only a functional or utility value. One is emotional and the other is rational. While ethno nationalism is exclusive, civic nationalism is not. Civic nationalism is inclusive of diversity, pluralism and democracy. While the contrast between the two types of nationalism is considerable, in social reality they may exist side by side in real world conditions. The issue is what the dominant trait in a particular country or society is and what the guiding principles of nationalism are.
Relevance to Sri Lanka
One may question the relevance of the distinction between civic nationalism and ethno nationalism to Sri Lanka. Another may go even further and reject the relevance of foreign or ‘Western notions’ at all to Sri Lanka. Whatever may be the reservations,Sri Lanka’s present predicament is related to these two notions directly and indirectly.
This does not mean that Sri Lanka acquired these two notions one from France or Britain and the other from Germany.France and Germanyare only two examples where these two notions appeared in distinct forms in the Western hemisphere. That is also not completely correct. While civic nationalism was predominant in France, there is evidence of ethno nationalism appearing intermittently undermining civic nationalism at times. This was the case in Germany as well. Before Hitler came to power, there were attempts at forging nationalism on civic grounds under the Weimar Republic(1918-1933). Social Democracy was the main ideology that facilitated civic nationalism in Germany at that time. NM Perera wrote his doctoral thesis on that republic and even appreciated civic nationalism behind its constitution.
The emergence of nationalism is related to modern socio-economic changes. In the process of modernization and nation building or one may say in the course of capitalist development, many countries both in the West and the East have zigzagged between civic nationalism and ethno nationalism.Sri Lanka is no exception. But the question is for how long Sri Lanka could afford to go along in this tortuous path with instability and uncertainty. In the case of Sri Lanka, it is not just a question of instability or uncertainty. Ethno nationalism on both sides has led to nearly 25 years of internal war with at least over 100,000 direct deaths, not to speak much of the other disasters like displacement and human misery.
In the development of national feelings or nationalism, it is somewhat natural for different communities in a multi-ethnic society to first focus on one’s own community in religious, ethnic or language grounds. Therefore, the appearance of religious revivalist movements amongst the Buddhists, the Hindus or the Muslims towards the beginning of the 20th century was quite natural, inevitable or even healthy. This was more so given the colonial circumstances.
One of the main vehicles of nationalism is the media – the print media in the context of the past. One predicament of the print media, however, is the language barrier. According to Benedict Anderson, ‘nation is an imagined community.’ This does not mean that nation is a fiction. But ‘nation’ is formed in a process of imagination or conceptualization. The print media plays a decisive role in this process and most often promotes ethno nationalism instead of civic nationalism. This may be understandable at the beginning. There was nothing particularly wrong in the publication of Sinhala Jathiya on the one side of the fence, and Hindu Organ on the other side of the same, at the beginning of the nationalist movement in the country.
Likewise, the formation of the Tamil Maha Sabhas or the Sinhala Maha Sabhas was understandable in the interim. But the failure of the Ceylon National Congress to be an overarching national organization could not be easily forgiven. At the beginning of the nationalist movement in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, there were a plethora of organizations based not only on ethnicity and religion but also on caste and region. All must have been inevitable given the context. But the failure was to forge a national organization similar to the Indian National Congress (INC) which could unite people and direct the country for independence. Even in India there were failings on the part of the INC.
There is nothing wrong in ordinary people having ethnic feelings in a multi-cultural society. But at least the leaders should be able to transcend them. Otherwise they are not proper leaders. The building of civic nationalism does not mean the eradication or suppression of all ethnic or religious affiliation or feelings. It means the transcending parochial or narrow ethnic or religious feelings for the greater good of all communities. Civic nationalism does recognize the importance of ethnic identity of the majority or the minorities, but on an equal basis. But there is no possibility of recognizing one or one against the other.
Sri Lanka has been lucky to achieve independence in one piece in 1948. This also shows the existence of some form of civic nationalism towards independence. The failure of the country, however, was its inability to continue and strengthen this path and the blame should go to the main two political parties, the SLFP and the UNP. Hans Kohn has opted to give an explanation on why ethno nationalism predominates over civic nationalism, if it does. His explanation is on class or economic lines linking the strength of civic nationalism to the existence of a strong bourgeoisie or a business class, and in contrast ethno nationalism to a weak bourgeoisie. This may have some relevance even in the case of Sri Lanka.
But in Sri Lanka one may find many other additional reasons such as the pre-modern social influences, distortions in the democratic system or the ‘dark side of it,’ or divide and rule policy of colonialism, to mention only a few. There is no question that the country also faced a vortex of problems at independence, some deriving from the colonial heritage. The issues of citizenship, official language, further decolonization and the need of an endogenous constitution were some of them. In addition was the question of how to divide the ‘small cake’ that we inherited.
While all these could have been resolved on civic nationalist lines strengthening unity, mutual understanding, equity and fair play, the leaders unfortunately opted to utilize ethno nationalism and its partial criteria to device public policy in post-independence Sri Lanka.
The blame should go not only to the parties of the majority community but also to the parties of the minority communities. There was considerable reluctance on the part of the Tamil leaders to cooperate on national policy and take mutual responsibility on national issues. Rights were claimed but there was no proper readiness to take responsibility. This was the predicament of ethno nationalism.
There is no meaning of arguing who started ethno nationalism first or who should be blamed most. There is no possibility to say one type of ethno nationalism is better than the other. All types of ethno nationalism are detrimental to national or human progress. The only exception can be the fact that numerically minority communities do have disadvantages than a majority community in general because of the numbers and political power. This has to be recognized.
The question, however, is how to forge civic nationalism in the future while recognizing ethnic identities and their separate interests which are not detrimental to national unity. There is no possibility of de-ethnicising people whether they belong to the majority community or minority communities. There is no need for that either.
Civic nationalism is the overarching glue for national unity of any country. Civic nationalism is compatible with internationalism or other civic nationalisms. Civic nationalism cannot be forged instantly, but some of the main elements are already in existence in our society. Many of them are available in (1) all four religious teachings (2) principles of liberalism and socialism and (3) discourse of human rights and responsibilities.
This may appear civic nationalism to be eclectic, but the issue is to select the necessary principles from a host of practically available sources. The most important might be to forge possible unity, solidarity and cooperation among the leaders of all communities to stand above ethno nationalism and to seek solutions on the lines and in strengthening civic nationalism. This is equally important to our discussions on restructuring of the state or constitution on the lines of devolution or federalism.
In the event of the government facilitating UN Secretary General’s Panel to visit Sri Lanka, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will hear such representations on the basis of its Warrant and the usual procedures followed for such hearings, the LLRC said in a statement.
Following is the statement:
UN SG’s Panel
There have been some inquiries from the national media regarding a visit to Sri Lanka by the UN Secretary General’s Panel. Any decision to facilitate the UN SG’s Panel to visit Sri Lanka lies entirely with the Government of Sri Lanka. If a decision is made to permit such a visit the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will hear such representations on the basis of its Warrant and the usual procedures followed for such hearings >> Full Story
An excellent piece in the New York Times today talks about ‘Monks Gone Bad’, describing a corrupt and violent Sangha that uses hate speech and abuse against minorities and is helmed by leaders who resemble fatuous politicians and not the ‘birds of the wing’ that the Buddha wanted his mendicant followers to be. I am not here to point out the contradictions between Buddhism as taught and Buddhism as practiced, the ingloriousness of Buddhist praxis nowadays is evident for all to see. I just wanted to point out that at every instance in that article where I saw Myanmar, I could have easily inserted Sri Lanka. For every instance where I read about 969 in the news, I can insert ‘Bodu Bala Sena’. About the only words that do not require replacing are ‘anti-Muslim’, ‘minority’ and ‘hate’.
As we all know, the police, together with the Bodu Bala Sena soon disbursed the vigil, arresting some, manhandling others, and collecting the names and pictures of most of the attendees.
The Bodu Bala Sena and its kindred run amok in Sri Lanka, like bullies in a school playground, and with not much more in the way of finesse. They hurl offensive invective towards religious minorities, and their words have resulted in quite a few violent incidents against Muslims ,and at least one against Christians, re-opening wounds in the country that are still struggling to heal after the 30 year war. They seem to operate in a space where Sri Lanka has not just lost so many lives, its economic development, and so much of its natural beauty to a long, long war. In order, perhaps, to call their attention to this, a peaceful vigil was held outside the headquarters of the Bodu Bala Sena. As we all know, the police, together with the Bodu Bala Sena soon disbursed the vigil, arresting some, manhandling others, and collecting the names and pictures of most of the attendees. Not only this, the Facebook page of the Bodu Bala Sena decided to ‘name and shame’ these attendees, causing their supporters to enact the most disgraceful bout of name-calling, verbal harassment and racist trolling that I have ever seen on social media.
One of the ‘points of order’ from the Bodu Bala Sena, its supporters and some of the media who covered the incident, was that the legitimacy of the vigil was in question because the attendees did not represent the Buddhist population, that many Muslims, Christians and Hindus were present. On Facebook, attendees are called out as ‘demalek’ ‘muslimayek’ ‘jathiyak nathe’. Indeed, an attendee tweeted that he overheard someone saying that the vigil was convened due to a ‘conspiracy of Muslims and Catholics’. So much for a critical understanding of religious history- perhaps the speaker would be better served from devoting his time to education rather than racist troublemaking! To each his own, however. It is altogether more worrying thing that this misrepresentation of the attendees was not only picked up by the media, but that it was also the feature of an article by Malinda Seneviratne, writing in the Colombo Telegraph. The good gentleman, from his considerable experience, no doubt, is able to discern a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist, and therefore writes an entirely unnecessary article that serves only to distance himself from standing with those who attended the vigil. In response, Dr Dayan Jayatileka – who is experiencing some changes to his tune- quite rightly pointed out the flaws in Mr Seneviratne’s argument, but did it in a manner that entirely calls attention to his own accomplishments and ‘stake’ in the manner. The riposte from Mr Seneviratne was then, to accuse the good Doctor of ‘throwing his CV’ at him. I ask you, gentlemen, is this really the response to what is happening in Sri Lanka? The actions of the Bodu Bala Sena, and the complicity of the government in them are grotesque enough without the debate being reduced to puerile attacks on each other’s logic.
If you have a voice that can be heard and that has gravitas, and you both have the great privilege of this, why not turn it more fully toward more constructive dialogue? Why not ask that the rights of those who attended the vigil be defended? Countless women- because the body of the woman is so carelessly mangled in these cases- are facing vile, misogynistic abuse via Facebook from the supporters of the Bodu Bala Sena. These men direct all their perverted, violent fantasies at these girls who really do not have much in the way of legal succour. After all, the AG has instructed victims of social media attack to file complaints with the police. Yes, the very same police who put the kybosh in the vigil. Why not direct more energy into rousing the non-English speaking Buddhists to speak out against the Bodu Bala Sena with less articles in places like the Telegraph which are read by the diaspora and the English speakers? Yes, the handicap at the vigil was that there were many who attended who were ‘English speaking’- but that does not make them any less Sri Lankan, any less Buddhist, any less angry, or any less valid in their protesting attacks on minorities. Give out your voice in solidarity with each other, with those who will question the validity of the Bodu Bala Sena, and in solidarity with what must be a better tomorrow.
*Anupama Ranawana is a wishful academic and a practicing activist. She can be reached for comment via Twitter @MsAMR25