Comedy of errors at Chogm

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When the British PM started hurling the first ‘rock’, he forgot to anticipate that it could boomerang and return to smash Britain’s own ‘glass house’, observes Rakyat Jelata.

British premier David Cameron calls on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Chogm 2013
British premier David Cameron calls on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Chogm 2013 – Photograph: chogm2013.lk

In typical colonial manner British Prime Minister, David Cameron demanded a probe on crimes of inhumanity against Tamils, during, and at the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Some heads of state present at the Chogm gathering may have applauded this, and some may have, for the sake of diplomacy, remained silent. Yet, this outburst of righteous indignation was countered by Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa with a less than cool, “ People in glass houses must not throw stones.”

In giving in to such emotional outburst, the British Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that this is 2013 and not the 1800s. Moreover, that Sri Lanka now hosts Chogm as a sovereign nation, not a British Colony or Protectorate. The atrocities alleged to have been committed against Tamil guerillas and civilians by Sri Lankan forces are certainly not justified, and must be investigated as were the war crimes and atrocities committed in Rwanda in the 1990s.

Pointing a finger in return, the Sri Lankan President reminded Cameron of Britain’s own dismal human rights record during the troubles in Northern Ireland, where 14 unarmed protesters were gunned down by the British army on ‘Bloody Sunday’, 30 January 1972 . Britain had also put in place detention without charge for terror suspects under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The miscarriages of justice, even by the highest British courts, of Northern Irish terror suspects remains a scar on the lives of the innocent who had served 14 to 15 years in prison for crimes they evidently did not commit, i.e. the Guilford Four , the Maguire Seven, and the Birmingham Six; to say nothing of British collaboration and participation in the Gulf War debacle, and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan led by the United States.

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While Cameron has promised to wield Britain’s influence in the UN Human Rights Council and push for an international inquiry, if Sri Lanka fails to hold a probe into the crimes against humanity committed by its government forces, by March 2014, the issue of Britain’s own accountability for similar crimes in the past is still outstanding.

The furore raises the spectre of the Batang Kali Massacre which took place in Selangor on 11 December 1948, when a platoon of British Scots Guards gunned down 24 unarmed Chinese men in Sungai Remok rubber estate on the mere notion of their involvement with communist insurgents. No evidence of such involvement has been brought to light, and the killing remains an open wound for relatives and descendants of the victims of this massacre.

The British government has not yet provided closure for them, by acceding to their request of an official apology and some compensation to set the record straight, and clear the names of the 24, accused and executed without trial, for allegedly supporting the Communists during the Emergency. The case brought by the relatives and grandchildren of the Batang Kali massacre victims is still pending in the British Court.

Turning the spotlight on the reaction of the Malaysian government, PM Najib Razak was seen to throw support behind Sri Lanka on the premise that Chogm was a meeting in Sri Lanka, not about Sri Lanka. This was Najib’s reaction despite calls from various quarters to boycott the Chogm talks. Malaysia, always ready to lend support to countries for mainly economic advantage, despite their bad human rights records and lack of democracy, was not seen to raise even a whisper about the Batang Kali incident to the British government.

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Malaysia has been acting in contravention of a number of international human rights laws concerning forced repatriation of UNHCR-confirmed refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom were Sri Lankan. It has stipulated draconian and oppressive laws like the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma). It has progressively suppressed freedom of expression, information and assembly e.g. by arresting Komas activist Lena Hendry for privately screening the documentary film, “No Fire Zone”, on atrocities in Sri Lanka. Then, there is the well known absurdity of its prohibition of the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims in the peninsula. Finally but not least, the erosion of the right to freedom of religion of certain sects of Muslims in contradiction to citizens’ rights under the Federal Constitution.

Ironically, a number of countries sitting at the Chogm table are realistically aware that no government is completely free of any wrongdoing in the recent or historical past and they were wise enough not to hurl the first rock. Some like Mauritius, India and Canada stayed away in apparent protest. So, when the British PM started hurling the first rock, he probably forgot to anticipate that it could boomerang around the room and return to smash Britain’s own ‘glass house’ as well.

In hindsight, it might have been wiser either to call off the Chogm assembly and deal with the outstanding issue of Sri Lanka’s human rights record before going to the host country to publicly embarrass the host ; or to respectfully hold separate diplomatic talks during the meeting as is done amongst sovereign governments on equal standing as members of the United Nations Organisation.

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As it is, there are no winners in this British debacle or in the recently ended civil war in Sri Lanka, or any war whatsoever.

Rakyat Jelata is a regular contributor to Aliran

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Rufus Mallu
Rufus Mallu
30 Nov 2013 5.23pm

It’s so easy to point one accusing finger, not realising that there are 4 fingers pointing at you!

Sasha Pranth
29 Nov 2013 7.09pm

I think our PM was right to keep silent. As the writer points out, David Cameron got egg in his face for chastising Sri Lanka for their war crimes. Our PM knows the human rights abuses in his own backyard so why put his foot in his mouth and take a holier than thou stance? Just as Al Gore chose the wrong forum (APEC) to criticise Mahathir over Anwar’s imprisonment for alleged sodomy, so too was CHOGM the wrong platform to criticise Sri Lanka. Guess we have to just leave it at that.

Shiva
Shiva
29 Nov 2013 7.45am

This is the biggest Joke of the Century! This job should be conducted by an independent body like HRW, AI, UN Staff and other global organizations and not by the Sri Lankan regime that is accused of mass murder and human rights abuses will never collect or provide accurate data on those who are missing, surrendered POWs, abducted, tortured, raped and murdered.
Even recently the regime forces are abducting and removing those who actively participated in the recent Northern elections and was trying to meet David Cameron when he visited Jaffna.

The regime has not implemented the 13the Amendment that was singed by India and Sri Lanka in 1987 for the last 26 years despite the President Mahinda Rajapakse has been misleading and fooling the International community including the Indian UPA leaders that he will provide more rights to the Tamils than stipulated in the 13th Amendment (13 +) and his words are written on water and never realistic….