TORTURE: ASIAN AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES | FEB-APRIL 2013
VOLUME 02 NUMBER 01
by NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA
We are on the edge of the new era of extremism and fundamentalism which constantly challenges and curtails the personal liberty of the people, and that reduces mankind’s desire for freedom to little more than a dream. We are in the miserable position of not just trying to fight these enemies, but also of just trying to understand what threat they really pose. It has become increasingly clear in recent years that the concepts and mindsets of previous decades are no longer suitable to explain or counter modern extremism.
Recent violence in countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Pakistan demonstrate the very real dangers facing not just Asia, but the entire world, and this danger is not limited to insurrectionist movements or other nongovernment actors. The rise of government sponsored extremist organizations like the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) in Sri Lanka is also an emerging new trend of social disorder. Thousands of people were killed, thousands were injured, and countless more have become victims of social disorder due to acts by such groups. These violence based groups have been striking every aspect of a free society.
It has not only caused chaos among the communities in which they are active, but has also created an enormous opportunity for unjust regimes (who often come to power while showing that the electoral system is little more than the cynical manipulation of absolute power) to remain in power indefinitely. The creation of extremist originations is benefiting to those governments in many ways. They can manipulate public debate towards fighting some vilified portion of the population (whether real or imaginary) and away from necessary questions about personal liberty. The government can close many avenues for peaceful political dissent by citing “national security”. This excuse for extraordinary government power and the silencing of dissent opens the door for governments to abuse and exploit their citizens – plundering their businesses, farms, and homes, and breaking up families between “loyalists” and “traitors”. Isolated and ostracized by one another, a society that was once peacefully coexisting is as hard pressed to find their way back from perpetual sorrow and grief as a man in a dark hole, searching for his shadow, without so much as a single candle. In this edition we were able to extensively cover the institutional collapse in Bangladesh, a country which was created in 1971 after a bloody war for independence from Pakistan. Millions of people were murdered, including women and children, while hundred thousands of people were sexually assaulted over the course of the conflict. The independence fighters created a nation which can be measured in land, but were unable to create a peaceful place where people have an opportunity to enjoy their fundamental universal rights. Not only the non-state actors, but state law enforcement agencies as well, are falling afoul of the law and the citizenry. “Who can trust the law when you can buy the law at cheap prices?” a scholar from Dhaka disclosed to this writer a couple of months ago.
The collapse of the multi-stored clothing factory, which killed hundreds of innocent people, as well as the use of live bullets to kill protesters, are just two examples of a series of catastrophes in Bangladesh since 1971. The dark has never turned into light; political vulgarism has played its own role while fueling the fundamentalism that is now curtailing individual liberty. However, the dream is still alive while reminding us of the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Among free men,” he said, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”
Over the years, history taught us the bitterness of violence. Entire generations of young men, women, and children, in certain countries, are far too often lost and their dreams, buried. Violence has become a tool of spreading social fear and creating a “culture of silence”. State as well as non-state actors are engaging in violence continuously while advancing their own explanations to justify their actions. In one of his speeches, the late Robert F. Kennedy said, “… violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.”
“For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all,” he further said.
The late-Robert Kennedy suggested, “We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or revenge.”
In this issue we attempted to present torture as a global phenomenon while publishing a variety of views and ground reports. This will give all of us a clear-cut picture of torture, as well as a better understanding that we must unite to fight against torture in this crucial time. Torture is a tool of cowards; it does not give us any permanent solution to any problem, but it will create frustration and resentment among all of mankind. Neither peace nor solutions to any problem can found by torturing a person. It only spreads misery and trauma to both the lives of the victim and the assailant.
In their lengthy report released recently, by the Constitution Project based in the US, again reveals the use of torture by the US government and their law enforcement agencies. “U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture. American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment. Both categories of actions violate U.S. laws and international treaties. Such conduct was directly counter to values of the Constitution and our nation,” the report, which is more than six hundred pages, observed.
Again, the report has questioned US policy towards developing countries that seeks to teach the ways of governance under democracy, while engaging mass abuses of human rights around the world. It has given an opportunity to authoritarian leaders, who manipulate public opinion advance oppressive policies. It has also served to actually smother the seeds of authentic dissent and has helped foment the creation of more angry and violence prone movements. When their common policy reads as, “do as we say; not as we do”, the prospect for meaningful change largely evaporates.
International organizations, concerned about the grave destruction of state institutions rather than military interventions, currently makes up only a minority of the international community’s response to regions in conflict. The bloody reality and its contrast to the initial dream of the Arab Spring demonstrates this better than any other current crisis. “The so called spring turned into autumn, and now those who joined the spring have lost their direction”, said a human rights activist from Western Sahara, during discussions with this writer. Meanwhile, a Tunisian blogger said, “The conflict in Tunisia has changed. There are deadly internal conflicts within the groups who fought against the former dictator. In these circumstances the situation has turned into a dilemma where the people have lost their confidence and solidarity.”
Let us try to understand, who we are. What happened to us? Let us try to find a way to close the Pandora’s Box, we have opened. Without understanding the gravity of the problem, personal liberty is smokescreen. Acting against torture is one of the main actions that needs to be addressed, globally, and every section of society must understand that torture cannot be justified under any circumstances. We must realize that searching for shadows in a dark hole will never give us a chance to find any solution to any problem that mankind is suffering.