Rajapaksa’s private trip to the UK highlights the regime’s inability to recognize the abhorrence with which it is widely viewed.
Scheduled to speak to the Oxford Union on December 2nd, the event was pulled at the last minute. Much speculation ensued about the reasons behind this decision. The official line was the inadequate security to cope with the large British Tamil community and critics of the Sri Lankan government. But could it be that the cancellation was linked to the mounting evidence of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan regime from Wikileaks  and the new video footage released by Channel 4  ?
Or perhaps the British Union of Students’ guideline: “no platform for fascists” kicked in? (Although the UK society upholds democratic principles including freedom of speech thankfully it also pays due regard to ethical boundaries).
In response, Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said, “[President Rajapaksa] has been prevented from expressing his point of view,” . He then went on to say that the Union cancelled the event because of intimidation and “brute force”.
The cruel irony is that this hyperbolic accusation comes from a government that was at the same time was using brute force in its own parliament in Sri Lanka . Government MPs publicly assaulted senior Opposition (UNP) MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena in Parliament accusing him of instigating the protests in London! A local human right activist commented on this pathetic state of affairs, saying, “You can see the ‘culture’ we have. If MPs can assault another MP in parliament during sessions, what won’t government thugs and paramilitary gangs do to poor human rights defenders, intellectual dissidents and grass roots activists?”
In an article using the President’s own words for its title, The Times pointedly remarked on Rajapakasa’s claims regarding civilian deaths during the last stages of the war. The article detailing the interview with the President was titled, “Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such: Rajapaksa” . “As such” is indeed a deliberately deceptive phrase with which to describe what has been estimated by the International Crisis Group as 30,000 (with an upper limit of 75,000) people unaccounted for.
The Times article describes the interview: ”The most telling moment in the Times interview with President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka came after it was over. For almost an hour, in a suite in the Dorchester, Mr Rajapaksa had painted a picture of his Government and country that was as white and spotless as his traditional garb: any atrocities at the culmination of Sri Lanka’s brutal war with Tamil separatists were the work of the terrorists; videos allegedly showing army troops killing civilians were fakes; war crime allegations were groundless; the arrest and trial of his foremost political opponent was a matter for the judiciary and nothing to do with him.”
The Times then goes on to say that as they were leaving the hotel lobby they were called back: “Mr Rajapaksa, looking both angry and crestfallen, met us in the corridor, to declare that the president of the Oxford Union no longer wanted him to give a speech today — his official reason for coming to Britain. Protests were planned by Tamil activists and the union leader had said that he could not guarantee Mr Rajapaksa’s safety. “’ think he has been threatened by these fellows,’ snapped Mr Rajapaksa — a man, one suspects, not used to being disinvited” .
So how will this turn of events be reflected in the country?
“We also expect a propaganda barrage in Sinhala about imperialist power humiliating ‘sovereignty of nation’ which will further harden Sinhala ultra nationalism at least at the rural peasant level,” said a local human rights activist who wishes to remain anonymous.
Continuing, he said, “It will take more international humiliations before the populace realises that it is NOT an attack on ‘Sri Lanka’ as such but is an attack on a political faction that is misbehaving to the degree that that faction is bringing on shame to our country. This kind of difficult logic needs many hard knocks before it is driven home.”
Britain has once again called for an independent inquiry into alleged human rights violations during the war between the security forces and the LTTE. A Foreign Office spokeswoman issued the call at a media briefing in London on December 2 .
Oh well, the trip was probably not entirely wasted.. The entourage would have had a cosy time at the Dorchester, with Christmas lights and shopping opportunities just around the corner. After all, the shopping in London has got to be better than in Tehran or Beijing.
1. WikiLeaks renews accusations over Sri Lanka war crimes
2. Sri Lanka execution video; new war crimes claims
3. Sri Lanka complains president silenced on UK trip
4. Ministers try to assault Jayalath for allegedly insulting the President
5. “Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such: Rajapaksa” http://
6. War crimes in Sri Lanka – Asia report 191, 17 May 2010
7. Britain again calls for independent probe