Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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The UN S-G's Panel Report

Colombo barks at the Moon, lunges at Tamils

by Dr S Sathananthan, May 17, 2011

Still worse, dragging senior armed forces personnel to court is very likely to backfire, provoke a bloody retaliation and perhaps a coup d’etat.

The regime will not dare antagonise the armed forces also because the officer corps clawed out increasing executive powers during the Eelam Wars. The military has transmuted into a State within the State and its tentacles have penetrated civil administration under the pretext of national security...

In short there has been a creeping coup roughly from the July 1995 Operation Leap Forward, the scorched earth military onslaught that culminated in the occupation of Jaffna by the end of that year. By most indications now – including lavish budget outlays and plum diplomatic postings – the armed forces essentially call the shots.

 

[Source: unknown]

“Now the sun may rise in the east, but I'm barking at the moon.” – Jenny Lewis

Several organisations and interest groups – Human Rights Watch, the European Union, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Crisis Group – strongly urge that Sri Lanka carry out credible and transparent investigations and bring to book those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Eelam War up to 19 May 2009. Allegations range from deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on Tamil civilians to the use of banned weapons (cluster and phosphorous bombs and fuel air explosives). Sinhalese President Mahinda Rajapakse flatly rejected such crimes were committed by his armed forces against Tamils and insisted they did not murder a single Tamil civilian; his regime still maintains that its ‘brave’ Sinhalese soldiers killed only Tamil ‘terrorists’ in a ‘War on Terror’. In other words, according to the regime all-dead-Tamils-are-terrorists; they are ‘terrorists’ irrespective of gender or age for the simple reason they are dead!

More than a year later and after the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) regime utterly failed to investigate alleged war crimes, the UN Secretary-General (S-G) Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts, appointed on 10 June 2010, held its first sitting on 19 July.

To be fair by members of the ruling Sinhalese coterie, they are fairly intelligent; from May 2009 to June 2010 they stone-walled every demand for war crimes investigations for obvious and compelling reasons. The allegations, if proven, would implicate many at the highest levels, a dire prospect largely of their own making.

The regime had options. It could have taken a leaf or two out of successive US administrations’ duplicitous damage control exercises of token prosecutions and convictions when dealing with several war crimes, ranging from the massacre at Mai Lai (Vietnam) to torture at Abu Gharaib prison (Iraq). US administrations have purveyed their own pathetically few and essentially cosmetic investigations to maintain deniability – to deny they condone war crimes.

The Sri Lankan regime could similarly have taken to task at least a few military personnel. But, for more than three decades it has not charged or convicted a single Indian or Sri Lankan officer or soldier for mass killings, torture, involuntary disappearances, and for using rape as a weapon of war throughout the several Eelam Wars, which began with then-Sinhalese President JR Jayawardene’s army jack-booting its way through Jaffna indiscriminately killing Tamil civilians in 1979/80. The sordid history of impunity encouraged the armed forces to contemptuously and systematically flout international humanitarian law during the period 2006 – 2009; it also foreclosed the political leadership’s scope to craft deniability and implicated key Sinhalese politicians in alleged war crimes.

The coterie, driven by greed, obsessively concentrated more and more powers directly in its own hands in violation of the pragmatic rule of keeping lines of command fuzzy and distancing itself from battlefield decisions. Abuses, when they occur, could then be isolated to and contained within a platoon or regiment whose officers can be selectively made scapegoats. Instead ruling Sinhalese politicians, drunk with power and – harking back to Dutugemunu – craving the personal ‘glory’ of defeating the hated Tamil adversary, unleashed a myopic hands-on genocidal military juggernaut between 2006 and 2009 and shot themselves in the foot.

What’s more, the ruling coterie cannot go back on the total impunity it unwisely assured the military during the war against the Tamil people and their armed resistance led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Having delivered the ‘victory’ the Sinhalese political class brayed for, military officers understandably are not willing to be sacrificed at the alter of rule of law and, if charged, may very well identify the political leaders who issued the illegal orders. Still worse, dragging senior armed forces personnel to court is very likely to backfire, provoke a bloody retaliation and perhaps a coup d’etat.

The regime will not dare antagonise the armed forces also because the officer corps clawed out increasing executive powers during the Eelam Wars. The military has transmuted into a State within the State and its tentacles have penetrated civil administration under the pretext of national security. The military determines issues ranging from urban development, height of buildings to traffic flows. Northern and eastern regions are under military administrations; the rest of the country is surely moving in that direction.

In short there has been a creeping coup roughly from the July 1995 Operation Leap Forward, the scorched earth military onslaught that culminated in the occupation of Jaffna by the end of that year. By most indications now – including lavish budget outlays and plum diplomatic postings – the armed forces essentially call the shots. In Sri Lanka’s national security State, the parliament is at best a deceptive façade, Pakistan-style, and the President’s political space to manoeuvre against the armed forces appears to be constricting. The tipping point would be reached when his popular support evaporates.

Nor can the Sinhalese regime prosecute Tamil combatants for alleged war crimes. The more important LTTE leaders who survived captivity are comfortably ensconced within the regime; they are the lapdogs of the ruling coterie. The regime is evidently shielding them from the law, obviously fearing they could testify to war crimes by the LTTE as well as the armed forces.

Predictably the regime opposed the S-G’s Panel of Experts as “an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation” but only in public. Behind closed doors, however, the Ministry of External Affairs extended the fullest cooperation to the Panel from September 2010, detailed in Annex 2 of the Report, that included exchanges of 17 communications and a meeting between a high level Sri Lankan delegation (comprising Attorney-General, Foreign Secretary, Permanent and Deputy Permanent UN Representatives) and the Panel, joined by UN Secretariat officials on 22 February 2011.

Perhaps the regime either misconstrued the interests of western powers operating through the S-G or overestimated its own ability to skew the Panel’s investigations through cooperation. Or did the regime naively anticipate the S-G would cave in – give greater weight to Colombo’s submissions – in return for Sri Lanka’s solitary vote for his re-election?

The regime’s sanguine hope it had neutered the Panel was rudely shattered when the S-G informally conveyed the March 2011 ‘Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka’ to the regime in early April. It shook the corridors of criminality in Colombo. Instead of measured backroom diplomacy, the regime’s knee-jerk reaction challenged the Panel’s credibility! That is not all. The regime pompously re-named it the ‘Darusman Report’, superciliously disputed whether it is an official UN document and haughtily dismissed it as one compiled by individuals led by Indonesia’s Marzuki Darusman!

But it’s too late in the day for histrionics since the regime has acknowledged the Panel’s legitimacy by willingly assisting its investigations.

When all is lost, blind defiance is the only option. The regime leaked the unofficial Report to the local press and orchestrated a public and futile campaign in Sri Lanka against its official release to the public. But the UN published the report on 24 April while the regime ritually rejected the Report.

The President kicked off an orchestrated show of mass protest against the Report on May Day and claimed support for his regime’s war record. Perhaps he assumed for reasons best know to him that western powers and the S-G would be impressed or intimidated by Sinhalese men and women pouring down Colombo’s streets.

The campaign against the Report is a grisly exercise in sheer mendacity. The armed forces dragooned Tamils in the north and frogmarched them to May Day events in the south to show they too ostensibly backed the Sinhalese regime’s genocidal war waged against Tamils. Sinhalese equivalents of Brown Shirts escorted by some senior ruling politicians accosted Tamils on the streets and strong armed them to sign petitions against the Report.

Minister of External Affairs GL Peiris did his share. His reaction once again confirmed, if confirmation is at all needed, the staggering ineptitude and pathetic lack of imagination of the diplomatic corps. In his briefing to foreign diplomats – including those who know their governments assisted and condoned the war crimes – the Minister quixotically asserted that the alleged crimes could not have taken place.

What’s worse, the Minister held Tamil people hostage, that the Report jeopardises their security and prospects in the country: he glibly asserted, ‘since the end of conflict, the Government of Sri Lanka is engaged in the delicate task of forging national unity and progress through reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction’; and added ominously, ‘the Darusman Report and its public release at this stage obstruct and retard this positive momentum.’

In other words, he threatened that the Secretary-General’s Report would irretrievably erode the position of Tamils. Is he blackmailing the S-G by implying the Tamil people would suffer unspecified consequences? Is he holding Tamils as human shields to continue impunity for those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly inflicted upon those same Tamils??

If the Minister fondly believed Beijing would weigh in on Colombo’s side, he was wrong. The Chinese Ambassador pointedly stayed away from the Minister’s briefing to diplomats; the Russian government demurred ever so softly for the record.

Court jesters are not far behind. A Sinhalese Member of Parliament, Rajiva Wijesinha, had mimicked British amoral political tradition when he slithered from liberalism to Sinhalese racial supremacism while displaying what he may have thought is ‘good form’. He suavely pointed to inconsistencies in the Report and, with characteristic naivety, wrote directly to the S-G although he is not part of the Foreign Ministry. Predictably he failed utterly to draw the considered attention of the S-G or devalue the Report.

Earlier too he enacted a Monty Python act. As Head of Peace Secretariat, Wijesinha wrote to a western journalist accusing him of ‘sensationalising’ barbed wire perimeter fences around the Vanni concentration camps, into which the regime brutally herded about 300,000 Tamils civilians – men, women and children, aged and infirm – after May 2009. The Briefing Note of the International Commission of Jurists condemned the camps as ‘the largest mass administrative detention anywhere in the world.’ But Wijesinha trotted out a bizarre explanation: ‘Unfortunately, a man from a cold climate does not realise that, in the [Indian] sub-continent, barbed wire is the most common material to establish secure boundaries, to permit ventilation as well as views’. Whether the terrified Tamil inmates surviving from one day to the next were grateful for fresh air and aesthetic surroundings is not known. But, more to the point is Wijesinha’s macabre logic a throwback to the Nazis entertaining Auschwitz’s Jewish inmates with western classical music in order to create the appropriate ambience?

While Colombo is belching hot air, the fact is the Report does not make any concrete charges. All it does is to suggest there appear to be sufficient grounds to warrant an impartial international investigation.

But the so-called Liberal and Left Sinhalese and deceitful peddlers of ‘peace’, ‘conflict resolution’ and ‘policy alternatives’ have almost to a man shrunk into deaf and dumb church mice. These invertebrates, who had sabre rattled against the LTTE ostensibly willing to go the extra mile, are busy crafting disingenuous justifications why they have gone belly up. In stark contrast, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), despite its well known shortcomings, mustered up enough spine to welcome the Report, for which the editorial in a leading Sinhalese-controlled English daily accused the party ‘kindling violence’ – a thinly veiled threat that Sinhalese can again make Tamil blood flow!

A Sinhalese sycophant, Dayan Jayatilleka seriously wants to know if Americans can celebrate the extra-judicial execution of Osama bin Laden – an alien militant, not a US citizen – why cannot Sinhalese indulge in triumphalism over the murder of Veluppillai Pirapakaran – a domestic militant and citizen of Sri Lanka. As is well known, defending the indefensible often warps the human mind.

What is more relevant, Jayatilleka brazenly rejected everything from an independent international investigation – ‘how independent is independent’ he queried facetiously – to ‘the milder [domestic] method of a “truth and reconciliation”’. For him, the ‘brutal excesses’ of armed forces are mere ‘exceptions’, which ought to be handled domestically. Is he is staggeringly ignorant of the history of countless commissions and investigations – beginning with the one for the 1958 Pogrom – that went the way of all flesh, into oblivion?

Confronted with the prospect of a damaging international investigation, the regime again has turned on Tamils. Minister Basil Rajapakse (President’s brother) journeyed on 9 May 2011 to Jaffna, where he addressed a public gathering of Tamils at Maaviddapuram. He claimed to have a special message from the President: ‘Tamils should not play treachery by betraying the country for a few thousand dollars,’ ominously warned the Minister palpably threatening Tamils not to divulge evidence of war crimes to any investigating body or person.

The strident rejection of an independent international investigation, couched in a vacuous defence of ‘national sovereignty’, imputes culpability of alleged crimes and invites investigations. Dutugemunu, in the 2nd century BC, did not have to contend with international humanitarian laws.

On their part, many Tamil Diaspora organisations are bent on ruthlessly pursuing the alleged Sinhalese war criminals just as the Israelis have mercilessly hunted the Nazi mass murderers.

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