For several decades now the Sri Lankan people have been exposed to extraordinary acts of separation, large scale forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, illegal arrest and detention. This and large scale displacement of people from their homes by way of internal displacement or by leaving the country altogether and the disappearance of even elementary forms of protection available to people within the legal and social sphere are among the many issues that have caused massive forms of trauma in the population as a whole.
The response of the state to such problems has been one of denial. It denies that there were large scale disappearances; it denies the attacks on the civil and political rights of people at every possible level.
It denies the large scale dislocations which have displaced people from their places where they have been living all their lives and many other forms of suffering that has caused trauma to the people. GOSL denies the need for investigations into any of these problems and any need to find the truth about what has taken place. In essence it denies the need to grieve and mourn over the losses that have been caused to the people. In doing so the GOSL denies that the people live in a state of trauma and psychological distress.
To carry out this denial process massive propaganda machinery has been put in place. This propaganda machinery constantly constructs various activities in order to create an appearance of normalcy and even triumphalism. To people suffering from trauma the GOSL offers a message of triumphalism and wants them to believe that they are not a traumatised people but a victorious people. This massive contrast from the reality and the false situation that is being constructed by propaganda is crisis in which the people are caught up all the time.
Decent to Silliness
The GoSL’s denial of the people’s trauma and the prevention of opportunities of grief have created conditions in which society produces many acts of blatant silliness. Unable to recover their rational process, unable to deal with its own emotional distress society has been led into a descent into silliness. The following are examples of silliness within the society:
A Minister ties a civil servant to a tree
A minister publically and in front of the media, tied a civil servant to a tree as punishment for being absent at a meeting. The minister, with rope in hand, standing in front of a crowd and talking to this man before tying him to the tree has all been photographed by a number of media persons. The bystanders stood by passively behind the minister, watching this scene unfold. Only one person, a woman, came forward to protest this action and she was reprimanded by the minister who threatened her with the same punishment.
This incident was extensively covered by the media and a senior minister of the government, the Minister for Health was questioned by the media as to what action the government would take against the blatant misconduct of the minister. His reply was that no complaint had been received and GOSL would only look into the matter when this happened. That the lack of a complaint is the cause for the lack of an investigation has become a familiar excuse by the government for not conducting inquiries into serious acts of violence. The people do not make complaints due to their fear of possible repercussions and this is used as the excuse for the failure to conduct investigations. That is the type of silliness that the entire establishment has descended to and the people see spectacles of such silliness every day.
The Comic ‘satyagraha’
A few weeks earlier another minister staged a ‘satyagraha’, a hunger-strike-unto-death, in an effort to force the Secretary General of the United Nations to withdraw the panel that he had appointed to advise him on the course of action he should take relating to the alleged acts of violence by the military that took place in Sri Lanka in the latter part of the conflict with the LTTE that ended in May 2009. This minister staged the satyagraha in front of the United Nations headquarters in Colombo and this was done with the blessings of the government. The UN acted promptly and closed down the premises and called its senior staff member for consultations in New York with the Secretary General. The incident caused serious diplomatic problems. At that stage the president of Sri Lanka intervened, gave the minister a glass of water and asked him to stop his hunger strike.
This entire drama was telecast and huge media coverage lasted for several days. Then, for several days after this small groups gathered outside the UN headquarters in Geneva to continue the action. The whole episode ended tragic-comically and it was yet another example of the descent into silliness that is taking place in the country.
Bar Council’s Resolution
Again, this week the Bar Council of Sri Lanka passed a resolution which condemned the action of the UN Secretary General in the strongest possible terms virtually demonstrating that a group of persons acting under the influence of the existing regime is manipulating the proceedings within the Bar Association itself. For a long time now the legal system, the rule of law system and the very place of the lawyers has been lost in the country but there have been no protests by the Bar Association on any of these matters. When a member wrote to the President of the Bar Association reminding him of a draft law submitted by the association on the contempt of court law, the president’s reply was that he could not recall submitting such a draft but would take some action to find out about it.
On two occasions the Supreme Court has punished persons under the contempt of court legislation and such actions have been declared by the United Nations Human Rights Committee as violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka is a state party.
In one of these cases a man was sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment for talking loudly in court. None of these actions brought any kind of official protest from within the Bar Association. When the legal system is dismantled and the very survival of the legal profession in the country is threatened the Bar Association remains silent. The Bar Association also remained silent on the issue of a judge being accused of rape and sexual molestation of a girl who has not been subjected to arrest and criminal investigation. However, on a politically charged issue it makes statements. The descent of the professional bodies to such an extent of silliness is itself a demonstration of what is taking place in Sri Lanka.
The Flight of domestic workers abroad
Women working as domestic workers are having a tough time. Women stranded at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are an example. A Few hundred women who have fled from the harassment of employers to a camp provided by the Sri Lankan consulate tell a woeful tale of troubles. Many in the camp have nothing except the clothes they were wearing at the time of fleeing. Though they make complains to authorities at the consulate hardly any action is taken, not even as to getting their salaries. Women complain of been taken away against their will. According to one woman who spoke from the camp to the BBC Sinhala Service, about five dead women had been returned to the camp premises recently. Such sufferings are ignored by the authorities. The government needs foreign exchange for payment of debts and this mostly come from Sri Lankan women working abroad as domestic slaves. The complaints of these women are not of much concern to the government.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.