Freedom, Democracy, Human Rights and the US – EDITORIAL
Posted on October 15th, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Daily Mirror

Liberal-minded Sri Lankans have for long looked on the US as a bastion of democracy, a defender of freedom, democratic values and a promoter of human rights the world over.

The various statements made by the different arms of the US government condemning perceived human rights violations -as during Sri Lanka’s three-decade long ethnic war; election malpractice -as in Russia’s presidential election; authoritarian behaviour of governments cracking down on peaceful protests – as at China’s Tianamen Square- has given credence to this belief, particularly among Colombo’s English-speaking middle and upper class.

Additionally, the US, through a plethora of ‘privately funded organisations’ and its official development arm (USAID) generously contributes, financially and materially to civil society activist groups whose activites range from compiling lists of human rights abuses, to election monitors and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) involved in poverty alleviation programmes.

The help extends from payment of administrative costs including salaries and travel to social activists, to even helping ‘poor folk’ participate in various activities organised by local civil society groups, via emoluments to participants who would otherwise have to forego a day’s wage to participate  in programmes. It also includes payment for venues, speakers/lecturers, food and beverage, travel grants to the venue and back, in addition to costs of printed material etc.

In-house training as well as international training programmes (for the English-speaking leadership of activist groups) are held outside the country to help activists understand the needs of the funding partner. Seminars, conferences, skills-based training programmes and many other programmes are organised by international backers to help activists to identify the most important problems which affect them, their people and country. It also  provides training to vocalize and publicize these issues.

By mischance perhaps, aid is granted only to programmes which fall within parameters drawn up by USAID to groups conversant in English. Not surprisingly therefore the US is recognised by recipients of its largesse as the upholder of democratic values and THE guarantor of human rights worldwide. The plethora of training programmes, conferences etc., has blinded them to the extent that they cannot see the trees for the wood.
In the early 1970s, in the aftermath of the first JVP uprising we saw the birth of the first activist group in the form of the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ demanding justice, protesting torture and indiscriminate killing of young people suspected to be involved in that uprising. The group was born of the conviction of its small membership and maintained without any external funds. Its voice rattled the powers that be of the day, was heard internationally, forced accountability of the state and brought to an end the extra judicial killings of that era.

Following on, it created awareness on the bloody birth of Bangladesh, the dangers of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of the 1980s and the role of US imperialism in supporting apartheid in South Africa and overthrowing governments from Iran to Latin America to help US multinational companies exploiting those countries. All without foreign funds, no large staff, but having maximum impact.
Today our local human rights groups do not raise their voices against human rights violations under Israeli occupation of Palestine, or the US vetoing any discussion of ongoing atrocities against Palestinians at the United Nations (UN).

While the US brought a motion of censure against Sri Lanka at the UN for actions which occurred during the closing stages of the near three decade-long civil war, this self-same US turns a blind eye to ongoing atrocities committed in Yemen where a coalition led by Saudi Arabia is continuing to bomb Yemeni civillians using weapons provided by the US. Saudi Arabia has also imposed a land sea and air blockade of that country. The UN has described Saudi’s action in Yemen as having created a humanitarian disaster.

Today Saudi Arabia also stands accused of brutally interrogating, torturing, killing and dismembering US resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi for being critical of Saudi’s de facto ruler Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
Yet the US refuses to condemn the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Saudi Arabia against Yemenis or the brutal murder of one of its own residents by the Saudi regime.
According to US President Trump, he cannot endanger the billion dollar arms deal with the Saudis.

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