Global Radar Screen

The Easter Sunday Attacks And The Human Security Question

President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake and other politicians join the parish priest of St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade, at a vigil a week after the Easter Sunday bombings. St. Anthony’s was one of the churches that was bombed. (courtesy PMD)

Dissector

As should be expected, it is the human costs of the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka that are engaging the attention of the world and this is likely to be so for a long time to come. It is the sheer inhumanity and brute insensitivity of the attacks that are leaving people everywhere dumbfounded and the irony is that this could be an eye-opener of sorts in the cloud of depression currently hanging over Sri Lanka. This is because our minds are being taken to the primacy of human security in the governing of countries.

Much public and media attention is being focused on the governmental and bureaucratic bungling that preceded and facilitated the terror attacks and as far as the well-meaning are concerned, attention of this kind is not misplaced because it is the loss of lives that they consider most important and distressing. That is, human security was badly compromised in the tragic events and on this score the government cannot be let off lightly in the apportionment of accountability.

The Dissector is of the view that all those functionaries of the state, from the President and Prime Minister downward, who were entrusted with public safety and security, ought to step down from their positions if any importance is to be attached to the principle of accountability. They will certainly do so if they are possessed of sound consciences. Hopefully, they would obey the promptings of this sacred attribute.

The state security versus human security debate is yet to take off earnestly in Sri Lanka and this is a great pity because one has not been differentiated from the other, leading to serious policy lacunae. It is to be wondered whether even the 21/4 calamity will lead to a public policy discussion in these directions. The country needs such a discussion very urgently if it is to get its priorities right.

LTTE terror was quelled in May 2009 but what emerged triumphant in this historic event was state security and not so much human security. Essentially, what transpired then was that the state used its law and order machinery very effectively to eliminate the number one security threat to the state – the LTTE. State stability was established and disruptive and separatist tendencies in the country were neutralized. But stability of this kind is not equivalent with human security, which, in the thinking of humanists and democratic opinion the world over in particular is the reason for the existence of the state. This begs the question: Has the security of all Tamil citizens in the truest sense of the word been fostered? It is high time all relevant stakeholders pondered on this issue and delivered human security to the North and East.

Outside St. Anthony’s church, soon after the bomb blast.
Outside St. Anthony’s church, soon after the bomb blast.

By broaching these questions we are getting back to basics in governance. The factor that needs to be watched very carefully by governments is the alienation of national minorities from the state. In the case of Sri Lanka, successive governments and the public have been complacent over the issue of whether minority communities have been enduringly integrated with mainstream society. The relative state security they enjoyed in the early decades of independence led governments and the larger public to believe that all was well with the minority communities. With regard to the Muslim community the ‘conventional wisdom’ was that this important section of Sri Lankan society was quite content ‘doing business’.

However, history has proved governments and the mainstream public of Sri Lanka wrong. While nothing could justify the use of violence by any quarter for whatever reason, a scientific approach to understanding political violence and ‘terror’ would dictate an alternative understanding of violence of this kind. Political militancy and violence grow out of concrete social and economic conditions and it is an understanding of these factors that would enable us to evolve the correct policy measures to rectify these aberrations and distortions in the body politic.

Interestingly, it is to Tamil militancy that one must turn to study these  issues in depth. It was mentioned earlier that by eliminating the LTTE the Lankan state put all the conditions in place to ensure state security. That is, we had an abundance of all the law and order measures that ensured 10 years of relative state stability. The people lived in comparative security.

But the rub is, did Sri Lanka have peace? The fact that ethnic and religious tensions have been prevailing over the past 10 years, establish that social peace has eluded this country. The Easter horrific violence proves abundantly that unwittingly or otherwise the Sri Lankan state and other vital stakeholders have allowed gradually growing disaffections in the affairs of the Muslim community to aggravate. The anti-Muslim riots of mid- 2012 and those of early last year were two turning points in the relations between the state/ majority community and the Muslims that should not have been allowed to be glossed over or taken lightly.

A mass burial for the victims.
A mass burial for the victims.

As said earlier, violence cannot be condoned on any ground on the part of anyone but the neglect of human security in a state could lead to catastrophic consequences and we had a proof of this on Easter Sunday.

From this arises the question – how best could human security be provided? This poser could be simply answered by saying that all citizens should be treated equally. This touches on the larger issue of having in place systems that ensure the equal dignity of all citizens and re-distributive justice in the provision of material resources among the populace.

The above involve the initiation of long gestation programs of equity. They cannot be achieved overnight. Meanwhile, the state and its law and order machinery need to get cracking and rid the state of criminal, unlawful elements. But, having achieved state security the government must get down to ensuring human security and treating its citizens as equal in dignity and worth is the prime principle on which it needs to operate with regard to fostering enduring internal peace.

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