Last week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa completed 40 years in politics.
But all the experience and diplomatic acumen collected over four decades could not prevent him from losing his cool in an interview, also held last week, to the Al Jazeera television channel.
“You don’t ask that from the Americans! You don’t go and ask that of the British about Iraq, or Afghanistan or what is happening in Pakistan? Be fair with us…be fair with us… don’t treat Sri Lanka like this because we defeated terrorism,’’ Rajapaksa said when asked uncomfortable questions on human rights violations.
Usually, Rajapaksa is charming, even disarmingly frank with reporters during interactions. But some commentators on the web saw this chink in his armour of affability as an increasing weariness on the question of rights abuse during the last phase of the civil war.
Interestingly, Rajapaksa was made professor emeritus at the Visva-Bharathi University in the late 1990s for his record as a human rights activist.
This was after he delivered a lecture on human rights — on involuntary disappearances — at a Deharadun-based human rights organisation; the seminar was jointly organised by India’s National Human Rights Commission.
But then that was a long time ago. These days, Rajapaksa is busy staving off, what he calls the effort of big western powers to dominate Sri Lanka and undermine its sovereignty by calling for an international probe.
Ministers and bureaucrats are following his example. During his recent US visit, External Affairs minister, G.L. Peiris avoided a meeting at the National Press Club in Washington; the same organistion that had awarded its 2009 International Freedom of the Press Award to journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga, murdered in January last year.
Then, attorney general Mohan Peiris is in Geneva to counter the United Nations Human Rights Council’s continuing demand for an international inquiry into the government’s final assault on the Tigers.
And in New Delhi, Lankan high commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam shot off a letter on Monday to a television channel which had done a report on the impact of the situation in Lanka on Tamil Nadu fishermen saying it was motivated and claimed that some of the footage used was three years old.