I was lying awake in the small hours a couple of nights ago trying to drift back to sleep. ‘From Our Own Foreign Correspondent’ came on the radio. FOOFC is a beacon programme from the BBC, which radiates professional journalism of the highest calibre allied to values of decency and humanity. Drifting off was out of the question as the journalist - sorry, did not catch her name - outlined a catalogue of horror from Sri Lanka.
The coverage of the mainstream BBC News media has been to challenge the Sri Lankan government about events that took place towards the end of their 30-year civil war with the Tamils. The item is introduced in guarded terms, “both sides did terrible things to each other,” etc to which the government spokesbod invariably replies indignantly that the Sri Lankan government have never been involved in torture and similar flat denials.
The 5 minute catalogue of terror in the small hours was not about events towards the end of the war. It was about what is happening now. Today. In Sri Lanka. Police and security officials behave with impunity knowing they have the support of those in the highest positions in the government. Torture, beating, rape, disappearances, mutilation and mock executions are an everyday occurrence. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an Inquiry into events which took place as the war ended and they have also put on record the testimonies of the many victims who are still suffering.
None of this is unknown. Teams of journalists in Sri Lanka to cover the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting have been threatened by mobs of ‘government loyalists.’ The campaign of harassment broke pledges given by the Sri Lankan President before the event. The Chief Justice was been forced out of office by the Sri Lankan government. Journalists and editors have been killed for opposing the government. Police and security services have powers of unlimited detention. There has been a growing campaign of attacks and threats towards minority religions backed by the regime.
Our government could have followed the lead of Canada, Mauritius and India and refused to give these torturers and abusers the fig leaf of respectability craved by despots throughout the ages. That they didn’t is perplexing. Do Hague and Cameron know what they are doing? By their very presence they are endorsing the abuse of the rule of law in the country. Cameron claims that he will raise the issue of an Inquiry into the end of the war but has said nothing about what is happening today. Cameron’s approach was dismissed in unflattering terms by a different Sri Lankan spokesbod.
One thought: as the Arab Spring was in its infancy, Cameron and Hague set off on a small tour of the Middle East - flogging arms.
Watch this space.