Human rights: Blatant hypocrisy and mind boggling silence!

The way people respond to human rights violations differs from person to person. Some take rights abuses lying down while others take up cudgels against perpetrators. Champions of human rights, too, act in different ways. Most of them have hidden agendas and, therefore, they crusade for protecting rights selectively; they are jolted into action only if perpetrators happen to be their bêtes noires. The on-going attack on the JVP for having children at a recent function is a case in point.

True, the JVP must be condemned for using children at political functions. It has a history of child abuse. In the late 1980s, it mobilised schoolchildren in its protests against the establishment of the Provincial Councils. Even the tykes in primary classes at that time were not spared. They were brought out on to the streets to hold placards and shout slogans. Some of those children could be heard shouting a peculiar slogan at the JVP’s behest: Pala Baba Apita Epa (or ‘We don’t need the green leaves baby!’). What did that slogan really mean? Those poor children didn’t know what on earth Palath Sabha (Provincial Councils) were and had mistaken them for Pala Baba.

The JVP also used children to put up posters and run errands, especially to deliver the much dreaded chits ordering the closure of shops and public institutions. Many children were killed as a result. The Suriyakanda mass grave where a group of schoolchildren killed by the army were buried during the height of the JVP terror is a testimony to the fate that befell children because of Rathu Sahodarayas. So, it is only natural that an outfit with so sullied a history draws flak when it brings children to its political events. Even if a tippler were to drink a glass of milk under a palmyrah palm, so goes a saying, people think he is drinking toddy.

Strangely, mum’s the word on the part of some of those who are bashing the JVP for using children at political events as to child abductions by the LTTE, which is using children as cannon fodder. Those who don’t take up the issue of child soldiers only get exposed for what they really are—a bunch of hypocrites— when they shed politically induced crocodile tears for the children in the clutches of the JVP.

Now we hear of a worse case where an eminent person claims he has information about the killers of a group of aid workers but refuses to divulge it! President of the Sri Lanka National Commission of Jurists, former President of Sri Lanka Bar Association as well as the International Bar Association Desmond Fernando PC has allegedly claimed to be privy to a ministerial revelation of the identity of the killer of 17 local workers of the Action Contra La Faim (ACF). The massacre of those humanitarian workers in 2006 has become an international issue and Sri Lanka is under immense pressure to probe it and punish the culprits. Mr. Fernando has allegedly refrained from either naming the minister divulging what the politico confided to him.

We are simply intrigued! If the press reports on his alleged statement are true, then as much as the minister concerned is guilty of suppressing information about a heinous crime, Mr. Fernando is at fault for a cover-up. He may keep under wraps something harmless that a minister tells him about a mistress etc., but it is unbecoming of a person of his calibre to conceal vital evidence about a crime which has shocked the world. Mr. Fernando knows the law better than we do and he may defend himself on this score legally but his alleged silence has left a very bad taste in the public mouth.

We are reminded of a similar ‘revelation’ by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. She once said in public that someone had offered a bribe to her and she had turned it down. When she was asked to name the culprit, she chose to remain silent. A person’s refusal to name a person who offers him or her a bribe is, in our books, as bad as taking it! President Kumaratunga came to power vowing to eliminate dooshanaya and bheeshanya (corruption and violence) but she decided against reporting the person who tried to bribe her to the Bribery Commission! At least now, in her retirement, she must tell us who that person was.

However, the offence over which Mr. Fernando is allegedly exercising his right to silence is far more serious than offering a bribe. It has to do with a savage massacre. A minister won’t go about telling everybody that he knows the killers of so many humanitarian workers. He will tell that only to a person whom he trusts and associates with closely. Someone has to be in his good books to share that secret. Therefore, Mr. Fenando’s alleged sharing of a secret with a government politico has done him no good. A man, it is said, is known by the company he keeps!

Attempts are being made at obfuscation. It is being claimed that Mr. Fernando didn’t say something to that effect. But the government lawyers insist he did. And what have the Eminent Persons who are reported to have been present where Mr. Fernando allegedly made that statement got to say? The benefit of doubt may go to Mr. Fernando but we do hope he will clear the air and lay the matter to rest. What is at stake is not only his reputation but also that of the country. Most of all, the public has a right to know whether he really made that statement and, if so, who the killers are.

All it takes for evil to flourish, said Edmund Burke, is for the good men to do nothing. So, if men and women of eminence try to act like the three proverbial monkeys refusing to see or hear or speak, they are only helping promote evil.

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