The following blog on President Rajapaksa’s visit to the UK is authored by MCM Iqbal . He retired from 40 years of civil service in Sri Lanka during which time, among other positions, he was Secretary to four Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, two of which on disappearances of persons. He was then Consultant to the National Human Rights Commission and later Consultant to the Law & Society Trust and The Asian Foundation in Sri Lanka. Most recently he was appointed by the UNDP as one of the Advisers to the Group of International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), which supervised the work of a Commission of Inquiry into Serious Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka during the few years prior to 2007. Having received repeated threats to stop working for the IIGEP, Iqbal eventually left Sri Lanka in 2007 and currently lives in the Netherlands. Later, the IIGEP itself resigned in protest at heavy-handed interference from the government of Sri Lanka, after having lodged a series of objections that went unheeded by the government.
Sri Lanka has been very much in the news during the past few days. To us in the Diaspora, nothing was more interesting during the past week than the UK visit of President Rajapaksa in response to an invitation to address the Oxford Union. We all know now that this invitation was part of a series of lectures organized by the Union and prompted by a small group of current Sri Lankan students at the University. Although advised against making the trip at this time by the Sri Lankan High Commission, the President arrived to face tumultuous protests and what eventually transpired has led to the total humiliation of the Rajapaksa regime and its apologists for all the world to see.
However, this visit provided the opportunity for the Diaspora to show their strength which one hopes will not be disregarded. For those Rajapaksa apologists the easiest rebuttal is to brand those willing to speak up as LTTE supporters. That is far from the truth. It is hoped that this misinterpretation will not result in the supporters of Mahinda back home in Sri Lanka taking revenge on the innocent Tamils who have already paid the price (in terms of loss of lives, possessions and homeland) for having lived in the Wanni during the conflict for absence of a better alternative.
It is encouraging to see the comments in many online journals by our Sinhalese compatriots speaking about the senselessness of some of the recent activities of the President. Before long many others, especially the rural folk, will begin to realize this. It is the prolonged repression of the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka that is delaying the realization of the truth by the people. Hopefully, in the course of time the people of Lanka will understand how they have been taken for a ride by unscrupulous politicians in power whose actions totally disregarding the principles of democracy, justice and fair play for all people have paved the way for putting the communities asunder even after the war was concluded almost two years ago.
The persistence with which the Diaspora continued to demonstrate against the President’s visit to London should make him realize how powerful they can be, if united. There is now a need for the government to interact with the Diaspora and prevent them being radicalized. There cannot be peace and development in Sri Lanka unless all the people live as members of one community. Merely mouthing such intentions do not suffice. One should be able to see and feel that meaningful steps are being taken in that direction.
The slogan shouting that was heard in Sri Lanka after the return of the President to the country was aimed at the Western Nations. The persistent stance taken by the government against those countries that called for an international independent body to inquire into allegations of human rights violations and war crimes, of an anti-NGO stand, and of the complete suppression of media freedom has prompted these Western states to press for justice and fair play. It is hoped the government will eventually make amends and prevent the country from moving towards becoming an outcast in the international community. The sooner the people realize that the international community is not against the people of Sri Lanka but against the repressive and undemocratic actions of the State, the better it is for everyone concerned.