Nationalists call for the use of choppers and machetes

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

We may have to take choppers and machetes, we will have to attack with choppers those who jump over the boundaries,” chanted a group of people from Hela Urumaya, (a Sinhala heritage party), gathered in front of the British High Commission to protest the visits of the British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner. The Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, was denied a visa to join the delegation. Photographs of the protest show Buddhist monks seated in front of the slogan chanting crowd. Meanwhile a large poster exhibited the photographs ofDavid Milliband, Hilary Clinton, American Secretary of State and Erik Solheim the Norwegian minister for the Environment and Development with the slogan: Wanted for Aiding and Abetting Terrorism.

The purpose of the visit of the British and French foreign secretaries was to inspect the humanitarian situation of the civilians trapped in the no-fire zone where the LTTE and the government forces are engaged in fierce battles. The concerns expressed by these foreign politicians was on behalf of the civilians whose numbers are estimated to be around 80,000 to 140,000 including women, children and the elderly. The call for humanitarian concern has been portrayed in the media and by extremist racist elements as an attempt to extend a lifeline to the LTTE. One of the placards read: ‘Gordon Brown would you give a humanitarian lifeline to Osama Bin laden?’

According to reports over 6,500 civilians have been killed and 14,000 injured due to shelling and the use of heavy armament since January 2009. Over 175,000 persons are now internally displaced and this includes 110,000 people who have fled the no-fire zone.

The portrayal of concern for humanitarian issues and international law, even in the midst of a conflict as treachery and invasion, is part of a national ideology promoted by the government through its supporters and through the media. The call for the taking of choppers and machetes reminds one of similar slogans used in places like Rwanda and such ideology and propaganda has the potential to lead to massive violence. Perhaps instead of an end of a period of intense violence what seems to be emerging in Sri Lanka is a further period of even more intense societal violence.

In the Western province the provincial council elections were held at which two of the persons who got the highest popular vote were a politician who is facing several charges of rape at the High Courts and a well known businessman engaged in the gambler industry that also has faced several criminal charges before courts. Election monitors reported a greater use of violence including murder during this election. The atmosphere around the election is demonstrated by the fact that over 60 journalists have left the country in fear of their lives. The Immigration Department has restricted the issue of visas for 837 persons including foreign media personnel. The state media is being utilised for propaganda for the government and its supporters. The raising of a war psychology and ‘nationalism’ that sees the rule of law and democracy as a threat to sovereignty has for its ultimate aim the displacement of free and fair elections. The intimidation of the opposition an! d the silencing of all voices that insist on the return to a stable society based on functioning institutions, are the parameters in which the new political system functions.

The impact of this on civil society has been demonstrated in several incidents. Akmeemana is a remote village in the south where the population is almost totally Sinhalese Buddhists. Two year, eight month-old Kavin Rashmaka and ten-year-old Thanuja Iragane were both killed while looking for Kavin’s tricycle. They were brutally hacked to death in what is reported to have been a family dispute where the assailants took revenge on Kavin’s father by killing the child. As ten-year-old Thanuja was a witness she was also killed. Their bodies were hidden and were discovered only a few days later when the police and the villagers launched a search. The alleged assassin was immediately killed after arrest and his father was reportedly killed later by the villagers. The crime, as well as the manner in which ‘justice’ has been carried out, is barbaric. A further disturbing piece of news associated with the killing of the two children was that at the time of the incident K! avin’s mother and father were engaged in gambling in two separate locations and the mother was reportedly not allowed to leave the gambling den as it is customary that no one is allowed to leave while the game is underway. Thus, she was prevented from accompanying little Kavin when the child went looking for the tricycle. Buddhists shun gambling but in this remote village that gambling has become so much a part of the daily life indicates the nature of the societal transformation taking place even in rural areas.

In another incident a 13-year-old girl was forced to drink acid which was also poured over her head as revenge against her parents who allegedly gave information to the police about an illicit liquor business in the area.

Incidents of lawlessness are reported from all over the country every day. There is no national consciousness promoted by anyone in order to deal with the complete collapse of the law and the public institutions within the country. The consolidation of a stable society based on democratic institutions and the people’s participation is seen as obstacles to the type of nationalism which tries to direct the people’s attention to real or imagined enemies. Lawlessness has become an integral part of the ‘nationalism’ now promoted in Sri Lanka.

As during the time of the tsunami, the money from donors is dispersed generously on behalf of internally displaced persons. However, IDPs themselves have no participatory role in the utilisation of these funds. Perhaps detention centres may last for a long time purely for attracting more donations. What would be the new administrative and political measures that would be created for the IDPs to quickly return to their lands and their ways of life? Or will they be kept under harsh conditions to provide satisfaction for those who wish to deal with national problems with choppers and machetes.

Meanwhile, serious concerns have been expressed of the possibility of a bloodbath within the coming week of the civilians caught between the LTTE and the armed forces. The nationalist propaganda to ignore the voices of the senior politicians from Europe and the United Nations may contribute to underplay this very real danger.

From the point of view of the government the sole aim of all that is being done and allowed to happen seems to be the preparation for a presidential election which a government spokesman has predicted may happen around April next year with a view to secure a victory for the incumbent president. As a peaceful atmosphere conducive to a free and fair election may not produce that result it is likely that tensions will be kept high through various means of pseudo nationalism. Under these circumstances what happens to people may be of the least interest. 

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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.

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One Response

  1. “Buddhists shun gambling but in this remote village that gambling has become so much a part of the daily life indicates the nature of the societal transformation taking place even in rural areas.

    In another incident a 13-year-old girl was forced to drink acid which was also poured over her head as revenge against her parents who allegedly gave information to the police about an illicit liquor business in the area.”

    The above seems to be the underlying reasons for the continuation of the “war” in a country that is supposed to be following the foot-steps of Lord Buddha.

    Thailand’s three gems losing their gleam?
    By Frank G. Anderson
    Column: Thai Traditions
    Published: November 14, 2008

    http://www.upiasia. com/Society_ Culture/2008/ 11/14/thailands_ three_gems_ losing_their_ gleam/8444/

    Nakhonratchasima, Thailand — Thailand’s highest Buddhist organization, the Supreme Sangha, is one of the three jewels described in Buddhism. The three – the Lord Buddha himself, the Dharma doctrine, and the Sangha clergy – are the three pillars that practicing Buddhists found their faith upon.
    That is, they used to.
    Today, as Buddha warned over 2,000 years ago, “enemies” of Buddhism are creeping in from the inside.
    Loss of direction is hardly a new issue to those of any faith around the world, and Buddhism is no different. Many adherents of basic Buddhism branch off, in practice and principle, to either found their own sect or to follow an already established one that does not adhere to original Buddhist teachings.
    The use of amulets is such an outgrowth, as is the worshipping of Buddhist images. Buddha did not advocate either of these, nor did he likely suspect that millions would later worship his image, but betray his teachings.

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