Dr. Julian Vigo, an American academic currently living in the U.K., who authored a report based on eye-witness accounts from twelve United Nations humanitarian workers who were working on the ground during the last phases of war in Sri Lanka that ended in May 2009, in an interview to TamilNet, apportions blame to the United Nations organs operating in Sri Lanka at the time of the massacre at the killing fields of Mu’l’livaaykkal, and says, “I am interested in how historical fictions (if we are to take the media as the recorder of history) are created around the issue of Sri Lanka’s dead and the way that international organizations eschew responsibility for their role in the 40,000 dead while finger pointing to Colombo.”
Vigo recently filed statements from UN workers on the policies implemented by Colombo, leading to starvation, deprivation of medical supplies, indiscriminate bombings of hospitals and schools in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1612 amounting to war-crimes and crimes against humanity. Vigo also was exposed United Nation’s officials’ inaction, failure to speak out and the UN’s willingness to acquiesce with the Rajapakse government’s rights violations and state sanctioned killings of tens of thousands of unarmed civilians.
Vigo’s interview with TamilNet follows:
TamilNet: You list anthropology and human rights as special expertise among other skills. Are you an academic by heart?, and why did you get involved in this project?
Julian Vigo: I got involved because I was working on child trafficking projects in Haiti and was approached by two different members of the UN who asked me to make a report about what they witnessed in Sri Lanka that resembled much of what they were seeing in Haiti.
TamilNet: How long did the interviews last? and how long did it take you to prepare the report? Were the staffers satisfied with the product?
Julian Vigo: This is a report, not a team survey so the report was published and did not get ‘approval’ by anyone. I do not think that having the subjects approve of the report would have been ethical to be honest. This report is virtually verbatim hence it was really a matter of checking out some facts and putting together the report through their testimony. Interviews varied in time from each person–some had more to share than others.
TamilNet: How did you conduct the interviews? Did you record the interviews, audio or video?
Julian Vigo:I recorded the interviews.
TamilNet:Why did you choose to expose the UN’s role in Sri Lanka’s war, when many others with knowledge have stayed quiet?
Julian Vigo: This question rather answers itself. The fact that people were silent and others spoke out necessitated an analysis of the spoken testimony.
TamilNet: Did all witnesses have a serious issue with the way the UN officials were prepared to remain silent?
Julian Vigo: They had issues with what they saw and by the policy of the UN to remain silent and force them to be silent.
TamilNet: Why do you think the UN officials acted the way they did? Was there directives from the NY office, or if the Colombo-based staff acted locally not to jeopardize their careers or both?
Julian Vigo: I dislike speculating on this subject as I can only state what those UN staff members stated which is all in the report. The consensus is that the UN remains silent in countries such as Sri Lanka for fear of getting kicked out. As for directives from NY, I cannot guess as to what NY was doing or saying. I have attempted to interview the NY UN office and they have refused to be interviewed.
TamilNet:Sri Lanka and UN will be furious for this exposure. Are you or others whose names have been exposed not worried of the repercussions? Will you and others be prepared speak out on these issues again?
Julian Vigo:Anyone with a modicum of ethics should not be furious about this report or any other but rather these individuals should be concerned about the serious actions that led to the death of 40,000 humans. Obfuscating nutrition reports, allowing certain UN agencies to send chalkboards to a starving population, the creation of a concentration camp to house people, to remain silent about the illegal actions of the Sri Lanka government. These are all reasons to be furious.
TamilNet: Do you think some of the witnesses will be willing to take this matter further, like appearing as witnesses in any future legal actions?
Julian Vigo:Two yes. Many others are terrified of losing their careers and hence jobs in an economic climate which is unkind to even the most competent.
TamilNet: In what way has the Haiti and Sri Lanka exposure affect you in the way you view the way the international NGOs deal with humanitarian matters?
Julian Vigo: I have written much about the devastating effects of “humanitarian aid” and the concept of “development” in the West and within the larger UN structure. Having studied the insertion of NGO’s at approximately the same time of the decolonization processes of many nations in the 1950s and 1960s, it is not surprising that NGOs and the UN have merely acted as surrogates to one upon a time colonial powers. The downside to this is, of course, that there is not mandate to ‘get out’ as if a temporary military invasion and countries across Africa and Asia and the Americas have had their economies devastated and their infrastructures modeled after a dependency structure. Haiti, for instance, once exported most of its produce for profit and in the 1950s was a wealthy country. It is one of the most economically devastated in the world today with US rice costing less than locally grown rice, with the presence of 10,000 NGOs in such a small nation. Clearly development is a failure in Haiti as it is in in every African nation. Economist Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid gives an economic analysis regarding why aid is simply not working. Yet these structures perpetuate to give jobs to the well-educated and often well-off members of societies. So while there were Haitian doctors and lawyers in need of work after the earthquake, the UN’s response is to pay specialists in the areas of $20,000-$30,000 per month (tax free) to do what Haitians are completely capable of doing for themselves. In brief, “aid” and “development” schemes are aiding Western industries and work forces while impoverishing further the local sectors of professional formation and labor.
TamilNet: In what way does Sri lanka’s war and the tamil killing field fit into your broader research interests?
Julian Vigo: I have been working on issues of violence from the suicide bombers in the West Bank during the Second Intifada to the disappearing of Muslim men post 9/11 in the USA where 14,000 men have gone reported missing. I am interested in how historical fictions (if we are to take the media as the recorder of history) are created around the issue of Sri Lanka’s dead and the way that international organizations eschew responsibility for their role in the 40,000 dead while finger pointing to Colombo. Certainly there is blame to go around but without any sliver of honesty from the UN, I fear that this will simply result in a UN that is resilient to questioning and arrogant to respond to questions. The first step is to begin to ask the questions and to demand an external investigation of these incidents by professionals from outside the UN body.