SRI LANKA: A mirror of the culture of repression

A reply to another statement by SCOPP dated May 5, 2008 entitled response to AHRC

The AHRC has engaged in an exchange of statements with Rajiva Wijesinha, the General Secretary of the Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), with the deliberate intent to expose the entrenched culture of repression within Sri Lanka. With every statement coming from SCOPP we see manifestations of the tactics and strategies that are used by those who lead the literary wing of this culture of repression. Such literary engagements are attempts to cover up violence and repression on the one hand, and intimidate opponents on the other. If one were to ask why there is so much violence in all parts of Sri Lanka, for example, murders, rape, extrajudicial killings, torture, the police criminal nexus which has extended its roots into all areas of life and of course, the war related violence engaged in by all parties, the answer lies in a culture of denial. SCOPP is nothing more than one of the mouth pieces of that culture of denial.

The General Secretary of SCOPP, while issuing statements, also engages in other tactics of intimidation. One such tactic is to write to the boards of various organisations asking the directors to silence the more critical voices. Such letters were written to the Law Society and Trust (LST) and even a personal letter to a senior member of that board, complaining about the activism of the younger members. Another letter was written to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and of course a letter was also written to the Chairperson of the Asian Human Rights Commission requesting that he take action to silence me. (To this last letter the AHRC Chairperson has replied and we have already published this letter). Now here is a professor and also a man who is as old as a matured jak-fruit tree engaging in these childish exercises. However, perhaps the purpose is not so childish. These types of tactics have been used during the time of McCarthyism in the United States, during the period of Stalinism in Russia and many other countries, for example, in Suharto’s Indonesia and the like. This is the surveillance function. Identify those who make at least some small attempt to say something critical and then try to silence them. SCOPP stoops to such levels.

Imagine those journalists who are killed and those who are stabbed on their way home after work in their media institutions. Usually the blame goes to the minister, Mervyn Silva. It has just become a popular habit to associate this minister with any sort of high handed action against media personnel. But of course, that is not the whole story. Repression against the media, which includes the burning of some press establishments, like that of the Sunday Leader, is part of a larger scheme that goes under the name of defense. Of course, no well informed person in Sri Lanka believes any longer that the word ‘defense’ is used to mean only the war in the north; there is a war that is going on against all the people of Sri Lanka. Naturally, in that war the people who are made to suffer more are those who dare to speak. That is a universal law of repression. SCOPP is just a tiny part of this whole machinery of repression that is unleashed on all the people of Sri Lanka.

The SCOPP General Secretary keeps on talking about the origin of the dispute with the AHRC. The origin is this original sin of the all encompassing repression that is spread throughout the country. Our few replies to him were just a small part of a large body of writings done on a daily basis for over a long period with a view to generate an enlightened reaction which may in turn generate a fruitful public debate on this all-important issue. But SCOPP is a watchdog against such public debate. So sensitively it follows all attempts to generate such a discussion. Whether the attacks have been against human rights activists or their organisations or against the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights or the IIGEP the essential task is the same, which is to shout down anyone, local or foreign, who raises the issues relating to repression. In this the dirty word is ‘human rights’. And the basic message is to create an impression that all human rights work is done for monetary gain and not out of conviction.

In a statement dated May 5, 2008, the SCOPP Secretary General says that I have become hysterical. Why, may we ask? Why should anyone be hysterical to have a discussion with the Secretary General of SCOPP? Is he such an awesome presence, a frightening person or an ogre? Or it is his dog that is also exhibited in the SCOPP website that we should be frightened of? Perhaps what he means is that by now we should have become hysterical, after all the machinery of repression within the country is very intimidating. Large numbers of persons have fled the country including journalists. The media organisations constantly talk about the climate of fear, and of course all ordinary citizens are taking so many precautions just to remain safe. The ease with which people of other countries move about is not a privilege that is available to Sri Lankans.

Typically he also refers to the content of our statements as a diatribe. Perhaps that is how he sees any talk about repression. You need a mentality like that to do a job like the one he has. All the rest of the world only engages in diatribe and he is the only man who talks sense. Once again it goes back to the same thing: a man who enjoys his role in contributing to repression. After a life time of talk about liberalism the place he has found within the political establishment is to be a watch dog of repression.

He may think he is at the centre of everything, however, for our concerns he is just a tiny bit of a much larger problem. It is only to the extent of talking about that larger problem that we have an interest in this discussion. Since the discussion has revealed at least some aspect of the ‘intellectual input’ into this larger machinery of repression this discussion has not been in vain.

Basil Fernando

For further information please see the following websites:

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-119-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,