Friday, November 7, 2008

Civilians Turn To Those Who Provide Security/Freedom/Peace!

A history- making election in the Shanie A history-making election in US

Blow ye the trumpet, blow!

The gladly solemn sound

Let all the nations know,

To earth’s remotest bound:

On New Year’s Day in 1863, exactly one hundred years before the assassination of Martin Luther King, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation ostensibly to free the slaves. A large group, like many other blacks all over the northern states, had gathered at a Baptist Church in Boston to await news of the signing. Immediately the news reached them, they broke into the hymn that begins with the words quoted above. This was during the American Civil War when there nearly four million slaves. The actual abolition of slavery did not happen until nearly three years later after the Civil War had ended and the 13th Amendment had been passed.

Now, one hundred and forty five years later, the dream of the founding fathers of the United States of America is finding a resonance in the election of Barack Hussain Obama as the next US President. The founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence declared: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..." But slavery and segregation were a blot on American society, and violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Forty seven years ago when Obama was born, segregation was common and accepted. It was some years later than segregation was also abolished. In July this year, the US House of Representatives passed a historic resolution acknowledging the inhumanity of slavery and segregation and apologised to the African Americans for the injustice done to them.

When segregation was completely abolished throughout the US, nobody would have thought that forty years later, the people of the US would elect a black man as their President. Obama’s father was a Kenyan, his mother was American, he grew up as a school kid in Indonesia and Hawaii and had his graduate studies in Ivy League Universities in the US. That is why, it is said, he used to joke that his family occasions were like a mini UN General Assembly. He has been elected to the Presidency not because of his colour, not because of his ethnicity or religion but because the US voter found in him a leader who had the ability to change the faltering direction in which their country was moving. They elected him despite his colour, despite his middle name which identified his mixed background. As he stated in his victory speech at Chicago’s Grant Park: "If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

In the same speech, he acknowledged the difficulties he would be facing when he took office: "Two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century." Then in a spirit of candour, he said: "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. There will be setbacks and false starts, but I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face." Two years earlier, when he launched his campaign for the Presidency, he had said: "I imagine they (the American people) are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point." That was the realism and humility that ensured for Obama such a decisive victory.

The US still remains the world’s largest power. Her politics and her economy impact on the rest of the world. This is why the rest of the world took a keen interest in the US Presidential Election. In almost all countries, a substantial body of the opinion-makers appeared to favour an Obama victory. He was one who seemed to have the vision and idealism and the realism to understand the hurdles he had to clear. He has now shown that he has the overwhelming support of the American people and goodwill from people all over the globe. Despite limited experience in Washington, he has everything else going in his favour. There is therefore every hope that he will be able to deliver both to the American people and to the world.

War, Peace and Civilians

The public have a right to information, though, in times of war, some sensitive information may have to be withheld. But feeding the public with disinformation can and will be counter-productive. In recent weeks, the Government spokespersons have been more circumspect in their reporting. The public were earlier given the impression that the Army were on the verge of taking Kilinochchi. One senior political figure at an election rally in the NCP even thought that it would happen before the NCP election was over. This may have been just election rhetoric but, when propaganda does not become reality, disillusionment sets in. The more cautious reporting in recent weeks is therefore to be welcomed.

Also to be welcomed is the possibility that proposals for a political package to bring about a settlement to the National Question may be released soon. President Chandrika Kumaratunge presented her proposals whilst pursuing military action against the LTTE. It is good that President Rajapakse also seems to have around to the same view. He must engage the Tamil civil society and attempt to win over the minds of the civilians. This cannot be done by using elements whose mindset and actions are as fascistic as that of the LTTE. The people of the East (and North) continue to be in the grip of violence because of these elements. The ordinary peace-needing civilians will turn to a group who will provide them with security and freedom from harassment and violence. The Government has the opportunity to use its security forces to provide just that security to the civilians. By using fascist elements with their own personal agendas, the Government is sadly losing that opportunity and allowing a resurgence of activity that terrorises the civilian population.

Good Governance

Along with a political settlement, President Rajapakse needs to change his thinking on two other matters. First, is the question of getting the GSP+ facility renewed for our apparel industry. Non-renewal of that privilege will have enormous and permanent effects on our economy. It centres on ensuring that we implement fully the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has been pointed out that there are a number of ICCPR rights which are still not recognised by the Sri Lankan Constitution or law. These include the right to life; freedom from negative discrimination on the basis of national or social origin; freedom from forced or compulsory labour; the security and liberty of persons deprived of liberty; the right to compensation for unlawful arrest or detention; right to require free consent to medical or scientific experimentation; right to leave the country; rights of minorities, including in respect of religion, language and culture; and the right to privacy. Surely, there can be no objection to ensuring that we specifically recognise and incorporate them into our statute book. The loss of the GSP+ privilege is not a temporary loss of employment for thousands of our young people who need this income. If the apparel industry decides to move to other countries that have no problems with recognising ICCPR rights, it will have long-term effects on our economy.

President Rajapakse must also, not waiting for Supreme Court strictures, fully implement the 17th Amendment and set up the Constitutional Council. Abiding by the provisions of the Constitution not just ensures good governance; it benefits not only the people but the Government as well. Not to do so will inevitably lead to growing dissatisfaction with the Government. People will want to see that justice is being done, even if they do not always receive justice.


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