How do we sleep at night knowing 280,000 people are interned behind barbed wired fences in North
by Karu Jayasuriya
(This is the text of a statement issued by Deputy Leader UNP, Karu Jayasuriya on current trends)
In light of the many challenges facing Sri Lanka today, we are compelled to draw the attention of the powers that be and the people of this nation to the dire need to act swiftly on several vital fronts to ensure our country’s future. Five months since the conflict in the island’s north and east officially ended, Sri Lanka stands at a crucial crossroads – one path leads to growth, prosperity and the heralding of true peace and the other to our collective destruction and that of all which we hold sacred.
I take pride in the fact that I decided to stand with the government of Sri Lanka as it took on the gargantuan task of eliminating the terrorism of the LTTE.
My decision was based on the fact that country comes first, often before one’s personal political ideology or party loyalty. When the government was at the peak of its popularity, I resigned my cabinet portfolio and returned to being an opposition parliamentarian. I believed that I had rendered enough support to the administration and since the war was then nearing completion, the time had come to focus on other pressing matters affecting our nation. In order to put this country on the correct path, I believed my place was with my own party, where together with my erstwhile political colleagues, I could engage in ensuring a system of checks and balances so crucial to maintaining a democratic structure of governance.
While celebrating the success of our military, it is with a deep sense of regret that I look on my support towards this government. It might have eliminated terrorism in one form, but it continues to perpetuate the legacies of terrorism and to perpetrate a form of terrorism on hundreds of thousands of our own people, long after the LTTE is dead and gone.
How do we sleep at night, knowing that 280,000 people remain interned behind barbed wire fences in the north?
How do we engage in religious devotions in the knowledge that mothers are separated from their children, that fathers go missing in the night, that dozens are falling ill or dying every day?
How do we holiday and make merry, enjoying the fruits of peace in the once inaccessible areas of our island while one section of our people are made to suffer such atrocities?
The burden of their suffering must rest upon our collective conscience – the government believes that it is right to hold 280,000 civilians hostage in inhumane conditions in order to weed out 1000 or 10,000 terrorists. We say it is unconscionable.
We say it is a sure fire way to create wounds that will run deeper than any inflicted upon this populace before. If there were 1000 rebels or rebel sympathisers inside Menik Farm in May, the degrading treatment of these people has surely resulted in that number growing larger in the last five months. It wounds me deeply that I supported this government to bring about a better day for Sri Lanka and that it has managed to make its only success in the last five years into a bitter ignominy for all Sri Lankans standing on the side of righteousness. Inside those barbed wire fences, whose distance from us ensures our indifference, could reside Sri Lanka’s next Muttiah Muralitharan, its next Lakshman Kadirgamar. And each day he spends inside ensures the extinguishing of his hopes and the death of his dreams – impoverishing all us Sri Lankans in the long run. We promised these people liberation; we promised them freedom from LTTE terror; we promised them peace; we waged war in their name. In breaking all of those promises, we have shown ourselves incapable once more – of rapprochement and reconciliation. To make matters worse, duly elected Members of Parliament are not allowed to visit the Camps or beyond Medawachchiya, if they happen to represent opposition. Where is democracy? This is the worst ever insult to the Parliament.
This is not what our brave young men died for in the battlefields of the north and east. We have taken their noble victory and turned it into merely another political sham, desecrating their memory and failing, abysmally in our stated purpose. We are quick to react to other countries in the world that call on us to release the IDPs – it has become an experiment in machismo, this constant West-bashing, a fashionable type of patriotism. I believe I am a patriot – I have served in the Sri Lankan army and I have stood for my country in the world arena as a diplomat. True patriotism I believe comes from a profound desire to see Sri Lanka live up to her ideals, those rooted in the Buddha’s teachings and the deep traditions of democracy. It is true, as a sovereign nation, we need not bow down to the dictates of any other country. We must however want to better ourselves. Our conscience must be pricked by the fact that the people of two districts are being incarcerated on the premise ‘guilty until proven innocent’. We must seek reconciliation, we must demand a restoration of democracy, and we must desire equality for all citizens. True victory will stem from this national awakening and it is then that we can begin to rebuild our fractured land.
For five years, while this government has kept its eyes focused on the battlefronts of the north and east, the rest of the country has been mired in economic distress, state corruption and wastage and a serious deterioration of human rights that has come to affect almost every citizen of Sri Lanka, whether they are yet to realise this or not. In the guise of fighting terrorism, the government has muzzled and suppressed the independent press to the degree that no single publication or electronic media outfit in Sri Lanka is allowed to practice journalism in the way it ought to be. Dissent is non-existent, self-censorship the order of the day; the ultimate victim – the ordinary citizen of Sri Lanka whose sources of information have dried up so completely that his only version of events mirrors that of the regime of the day. Sri Lankan newspapers are forced to practice a Goebbelian form of reportage, thanks to totalitarian control over the media. Joseph Goebbels was Adolf Hitler’s most powerful weapon because his propaganda ensured the Nazis popular support. As Propaganda Minister in Hitler’s cabinet, Goebbels perfected an understanding of the "Big Lie" technique of propaganda, which is based on the principle that a lie, if audacious enough and repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses. Dangerously, the theory led to success with most of Hitler’s Germany actually believing that they were on the right side of history until the very last moment which ended in the destruction of their country. It is tragic to see this trend taking root in Sri Lanka today –the same country that boasted such a vibrant and defiant press not so very long ago. On the contrary, journalists have been slaughtered, abducted, assaulted, tortured and forced to flee their homeland all under the present regime. Investigations into a single one of these cases of brutality are yet to show any semblance of credibility or progress.
I beseech my countrymen, to remember the brutal murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the horrific assault Upali Tennakoon and abductions of Keith Noyahr and Poddala Jayantha and the myriad incidents of violence perpetrated on those individuals whose only crime has been to attempt to give you a version of the story that the government does not want you to hear. These were ordinary men tasked with an unfortunate duty to report the facts; fathers, husbands, brothers just like any one of us. It is when you, the citizen of Sri Lanka awake to the reality of this systematic silencing that the long march to freedom and security can finally begin. No amount of Goebbelsian propaganda can keep the truth buried forever however. Someday, history will vindicate Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP when details of secret backdoor deals with terrorists are finally brought to light.
This government is intent on isolating Sri Lanka in the world, in the full knowledge that such isolation and the consequences of that action will only place our most vulnerable people in harm’s way. Our rulers, although they mouth defiant rhetoric against the West, hold citizenship in those very countries they denigrate and when things become too hot to handle at home, they will be the first to flee. Not so for the innocent citizen of Hambantota or Moneragala. The greatest burden, economically, socially shall fall to him. It is time our President and this government realized that with great power comes great responsibility. It is time to stop stoking old hatreds; it is time for this government to shed the rhetoric and get on with governance; it is time for Sri Lanka to get back on the right side of history. The war, after all is won. There is however a great deal left to do.
The UNP is committed to ensuring that the rights of all Sri Lankans are safeguarded. Our party remains convinced that once Sri Lankans open their eyes to the reality that all is not well in their paradise, we will have hundreds of thousands marching on our side. It behoves the government to remember that the truth cannot be suppressed forever – that a people whose love for liberty and peace overrides all other concerns cannot be kept silent forever. Our party and I cherish the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. The UNP believes that Sri Lanka must live up to her full potential and towards this goal, we will fight, with all those who stand beside us, for a proud and free nation.
United National Party