Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
09 February 2009
I was deeply shocked by news on Friday that stones had been thrown at the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The day before it had been the Indian cricketers, an appalling departure from our usual civilised behaviour as spectators. Such violence must stop, and I hope that message will go out loud and clear.
With regard to the ICRC indeed it is suggested that the violence was organised, and connected with criticisms made of the organisation by government. That is even worse – if there are problems, they should be settled through discussions and clear instructions to the ICRC as to the parameters within which they are expected to act.
I had myself noticed a change in the ICRC approach some weeks back, and written accordingly to the new Head of Delegation, suggesting that he work more on the lines established by his predecessor, one of the most respected expatriates to head a mission in this country in recent years. I pointed out that this did not mean compromising on his views, which he always expressed forthrightly, but he did so in a manner that was effective.
Since his departure, things have changed. We are no longer getting regularly the information we need as to areas in which violations of human rights might be occurring, instead there seems to be concentration only on the conflict areas, with regular statements that are then made use of by less scrupulous forces.
The Head of Delegation however did answer my plaint, to say that this was a conscious policy decision, and that it had been implemented after ‘face-to-face meetings with our key contact persons’. He did not tell me who these were, but presumably, now that the new policy seems to have led to abuse, with the ICRC being cited as authority for criticism of the government, obviously the contact persons should ensure that the policy is changed. It is wrong to assume that the ICRC intends to bring the government into disrepute, but if its statements have this effect, then some changes are in order. Indignation should not lead to violence, and any who practice this in the belief that they are standing up for Sri Lanka should be swiftly disabused of the notion that this is acceptable.
At the same time the ICRC too should respond swiftly to criticism. When this is direct, as when I wrote to the ICRC in Geneva, after a particularly unfortunate statement, they should reply promptly, as the Head of Delegation in Colombo did. When indignation is expressed verbally, they should seek a meeting to clarify the situation and indicate what remedial action should be taken.
All this is the more urgent, inasmuch as ruthless use is being made of any loose statement by internationally respected agencies. Unfortunately even in these agencies there are loose cannons and what these fire off is taken to represent the considered opinion of the entire body.
In this regard the UN has been particularly unfortunate recently. Not entirely coincidentally, I suspect, it has been used regularly in recent months by Amnesty International, which for some reason has decided it has to stop the Sri Lankan military offensive, while at the same time doing its best to justify the Tiger refusal to allow free movement to Tamils trying to get away to government controlled territory.
This phase in the Amnesty operation began with Yolanda Foster being part of the plot of what is termed the Coffee Club to send a petition to the UN Secretary General. The strategy was to have this signed by several Sri Lankan NGOs, but the moving spirits, apart from Yolanda and some members of the Coffee Club, were Alan Keenan of Gareth Evans’ International Crisis Group and Peter Bowling who the High Commission in London told me was very close to the Tigers.
The Coffee Club meanwhile derived its authority from the UN system, or rather from one of the new UN players on the scene after the tsunami, namely the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA). This body, in 2006, set up without proper authorisation something it termed the Inter Agency Standing Committee, which took upon itself even tasks such as monitoring the various projects developed under what was termed the Common Humanitarian Action Plan. Somewhere along the way the UN lost sight of the fact that its partner in Sri Lanka was the government, and actually functioned as though the IASC were there to hold the balance between government and terrorists.
Thus, though only the UN had been permitted entrance to the Wanni, as recently as last month it claimed that there had been an IASC monitoring mission. When this was pointed out to the UN Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, he said that that was a mistake, of a sort that he has all too often had to apologise for recently.
Such mistakes are serious, because they add to the belief that we need external monitoring of our situation. And they are doubly serious when we have what seems a symbiotic relationship between ostensibly independent agencies such as Amnesty International and the UN and what passed for its partners.
So, after Yolanda’s little flirtation with the forces determined to complain to the UN, forces that were simultaneously claiming to be UN partners, we had the Amnesty representative in Geneva, a usually sweet little man called Peter Splinte, taking a former UN employee around various missions to complain about the Sri Lankan government. The UN in Colombo apologised again, and put a stop to that, but they did not as promised issue a formal letter regretting the abuse of his UN position that this former employee, Benjamin Dix, had perpetrated.
Amnesty meanwhile had picked up another passionate opponent of Sri Lanka, Sam Zarifi, who earlier worked for Human Rights Watch (and has an impeccable American accent). Meanwhile they did not show the highly respected Head of Amnesty, Irene Khan, my letter of complaint. I was astonished by this, because Splinte had first explained her failure to respond by saying that she was away; he then promised to make sure that she got my letter when she returned, but when I met her in December, she had still not seen it. Splinte assured me that he had asked someone in London to get it to her, and had to confess that this had been ignored. He refused to answer me when I asked whether this was Yolanda.
In short, while Irene Khan expressed her willingness to engage, and to discuss issues, her underlings who are following their own agenda obviously will not allow this. As I have indicated before, their aim is to stop the Sri Lankan military, and if to achieve this they have to sacrifice the Tamil civilians, by only ambiguously asking that they be let go, they will have no qualms about this. I asked Splinte recently -
‘Will Yolanda and Sam grant that their attacks on the camps in Vavuniya were exaggerated, and that the people suffering in the Wanni (and now coming in larger numbers to government controlled areas) would have suffered less if encouraged and allowed to leave months ago?’
I have yet to receive a reply.
Meanwhile UN embarrassments continued, when one of its security staff, a former British serviceman it seemed called John Campbell, declared to the BBC that Sri Lanka was like Somalia. Again Neil Buhne apologised, and tells me now that the offending creature is no longer in Sri Lanka, but again there was nothing in writing, and no formal rebuttal of the story on BBC.
And then, last week, Amnesty struck again with a diatribe about cluster bombs. I saw it first in an e-mail from Splinte, who clearly thought he had struck gold, and wrote to me, ‘I don’t expect you to do anything publicly other than continue to defend the often indefensible, but I do hope that you are speaking out within your government to temper the savagery. As you have so often reminded me, the people under the bomb are Sri Lankans.’
What has apparently moved him to tears and to talk of savagery was a release authored it seems by the indefatigable Zarifi, which began ‘Amnesty International has denounced the reported use of cluster bombs in a civilian area by the Sri Lankan military as a serious violation of international humanitarian law. According to a UN spokesperson, the main hospital in the town of Puthukkudirippu was hit by cluster bombs and had to be evacuated.’ The statement went on to quote Zarifi doing his Bruce Fein impersonation – ‘The use of cluster bombs in such circumstances could constitute a war crime’.
I got this message late at night, having just come back from Manila from what should have been an intellectually stimulating workshop but which was full of media requests for information and clarification. Just before getting to sleep I saw Splinte’s message and also a news flash which said ‘The UN in a statement to foreign media accepts Sri Lankan government’s assurance that it does not have facility to fire cluster bombs’.
I responded to this effect to Splinte, and then called the UN the following morning to be assured by Buhne that the original statement had been a mistake. I asked for copies of this and the retraction, but did not receive them, only to be told later that some of the various assertions had been merely verbal. My staff tried to trace any releases on the website, but could not find anything on which the Amnesty claim could have been based, though they thought that something might have been deleted.
That whole day the story reverberated, with several media outlets calling for clarification, including Al Jazeera which interviewed me from Malaysia as well as Doha. The UN had agreed to issue a written retraction, and I reminded Buhne of this as urged also by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, but nothing was forthcoming. Finally I got through on the Saturday, and late at night he obliged and sent me a correction.
This seemed even madder, an attempt at self-justification rather than an apology. Instead of simply admitting the mistake and suggesting Amnesty retract, the letter, from their spokesman, Gordon Weiss, explained that ‘United Nations staff, who had the previous night endured 16 hours of constant bombardment in areas adjoining the hospital grounds where they were sheltering, confused the explosion of cluster munitions with air-burst fragmentation munitions, which deliver shrapnel over a wide area and which have a similar loud explosive report, followed by many smaller reports’.
All this sounded wonderfully erudite, and remarkably precise for people who had spent a 16 hour night under constant bombardment (though suffering no casualties whatsoever, which suggests the bombardment was not so near – the ICRC incidentally said that ‘The PTK Hospital was shelled several times especially from 5.30 pm on Tuesday up to 4.30 am yesterday’, expanding this in a later statement to 24 hours). When I commented on this to Buhne, and asked who these munitions experts were, he said it was their local staff who had described the noises. These were the people the UN had hoped to bring out the previous week with their families, only to be rudely rebuffed by the LTTE – the foreign staff who had gone in to ensure their safety had left the previous week, perhaps realising that they could do nothing, thus leaving the local staff to the mercy of the LTTE.
The conversation had taken place on the phone, and Buhne must have realised that it may well have been in the presence of LTTE operatives. What had happened, over the phone line, was that the local staff had described what they heard, and according to Buhne the UN Security Staff had deduced the type of munition used. These Security Staff, to which category John Campbell belonged, had jumped to the conclusion that cluster bombs had been used, and Gordon Weiss had pronounced accordingly.
Amnesty had promptly picked up that pronouncement, but a few hours later Weiss made a different sort of statement. According to a local paper, ‘Cluster bombs yesterday hit the vicinity of the Puthukkudiyirippu (PTK) Hospital, the United Nations (UN) said, adding that the government had meanwhile assured that it does not use such weapons. However the UN later said it accepted the government’s assurance that it did not have the facilities to fire cluster munitions. UN spokesman Gordon Weiss told Daily Mirror that based on information received from UN ground staff the bombs hit the area surrounding the hospital; the extent of the damage caused or of casualties if any were however not known’.
The use of ‘However’ and ‘later’ there is masterly, but that may have been journalistic interpretation rather than the tireless Weiss. He must however be a complete idiot if he does not realise that, if according to the UN cluster bombs hit the vicinity of the Hospital, but the UN accepted the government assurance it did not use such weapons, the culprits in the UN view must be either the LTTE or the UN itself. Since neither of these as far as we know now has aerial bombing capacity, someone must be lying. To us it is obvious that it is either the LTTE (speaking through the poor UN staff) or those staff on their own, whether the local ones in PTK or the foreign ones here. However the impression the statement creates is that it is the Sri Lankan government that is lying.
Three days later Weiss puts all the blame on the confused local UN staff in PTK, omitting to say that the diagnosis was not those abused and now abandoned Sri Lankans but rather the UN Security Staff in Colombo. He also now says that ‘The United Nations at no time stated that the munitions in question on that particular occasion struck the hospital’. Again that ‘on that particular occasion’ is masterly, and perhaps lends some weight to the impression his original statement had on Amnesty, an impression that Buhne at least was honest enough to admit was a mistake. Weiss’s first correction however claimed that the vicinity of the hospital was hit by cluster bombs. Now, having granted that UN staff were in that area, he claims that all they heard was noise, which was obligingly interpreted for them by the eager beavers in Colombo.
Buhne, helpfully, while out jogging, assured me that the munitions which his Security Staff now claim were used are not illegal. Buhne’s technological expertise is to be admired, but it is not likely to be shared by most people around the world. Even the statement that sounds were heard in the area surrounding the hospital by frightened Sri Lankans who then described them to UN Security Staff who jumped to the conclusion that cluster bombs had been used either on the hospital or on areas surrounding the hospital, and then decided that these were not cluster bombs but munitions that deliver shrapnel over a wide area and have a loud report followed by many smaller reports, quite unlike the sound of shells (since they were able to make the distinction after listening to a description given by exhausted Sri Lankans over a telephone), is likely to be leapt on with glee by Amnesty, which seems to have immediate access to the murkier employees of the United Nations and their reports.
In short, Buhne’s management style is not quite in the league of his technological expertise. I realise that he is under much pressure, not least from the Coffee Club, some of whom think they are his main partners, not the government, but it is imperative for him now to give a clear message to his staff that they are not here to hold a balance between the government and the LTTE.
We have at the same time to recognise that there may be genuine fears. After all a respected Canadian journal quoted a diplomat, who ‘is not authorised to speak on the record’ saying ‘The government says all the right things but they speak with forked tongues. They just want the Tamils crushed and wiped out’. This may be nonsense, but people are capable of believing nonsense. After all, as a distinguished diplomat once told me himself, we have to remember that most countries – India, as the recent record of those posted here shows, being an outstanding exception, though we can see something of the sort with Russia and China too – do not send their brightest and best to Colombo.
People tend to be Pavlovian in their reactions – as we saw with the Canadians and Rama Mani for instance – and we have to remember that these are conditioned by the appalling behaviour of the Jayewardene government in the eighties. The fact that the West in those days seemed to condone that sort of behaviour has not affected subsequent generations into registering distinctions between then and now, whether it be current decision makers in the West or the members of the diaspora who fled after the racist government sponsored attacks of 1983. The fact that no government since has even dreamed of the excesses of Cyril Mathew, that no one with similar influence in government has similar views, that this government has moved for more empowerment and integration for minorities than any other since independence, is forgotten in the face of emotional outbursts.
We have to be aware of this and respond sensitively and without violence to understandable concerns. Getting rid of terrorism is one priority, ensuring that the benefits of this liberation accrue to all our people is another. But in the process we must insist that our partners also behave with sensitivity and without making allegations that can then be used against us, in a way that will allow the Hydra to raise again its innumerable heads.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
By Malin Abeyatunge
24th Decenber 2008
Human Rights Watch latest 17 page reports titled “Trapped and Mistreated” (as per extract reproduced by print media) shows at last they now see LTTE terrorist outfit in its true colors. It is pleased to learn that HRW has at last made some endeavour to see the LTTE’s human rights violation in its true perspective. If one peruses HRW’s previous Media Releases or reports, there was tendency of showing complacency on LTTE’s gross human rights violation but was only critical of the operations of GoSL against LTTE. GoSL. It became a norm to place LTTE Tamil Tiger Terrorists on par with GoSL when it reported the terrorist conflict in Sri Lanka. Certain HRW reports were targeted in tarnishing the image of Sri Lanka whilst totaling ignoring the atrocities and human rights violations committed by LTTE. There had been instances that HRW was very critical of GoSL when one or two civilians getting called in cross fires (collateral damage) but dumb founded when 74 innocent Afghan civilians who were having a wedding ceremony were killed by the Allied forces. That was HRW’s stance up to most recent times.
This is what HRW said in their last annual report “says thus re Sri Lanka “More than 1100 new disappearances or abductions were reported in Sri Lanka between January 2006 and 2007 with the vast majority of victims being Tamils. In the continuing conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) both sides show little regard for the safety and well being of civilians”.And this is what HRW reports today in their 17 page report titled “Trapped and Mistreated”.
” In the report “Trapped and Mistreated,” the HRW called upon the LTTE to allow civilians leave areas under its control; to respect the right to freedom of movement and the right to move to government-controlled territory for safety; Stop all forced recruitment; end all abductions and coercion; end all recruitment of children under the age of 18; cease the use of children in military operations; release all its child combatants including those recruited when children but were now over the age of 18; to stop all abusive or unpaid forced labor, including what it characterizes as voluntary; cease demanding that all families provide labor to the LTTE; stop forcing civilians to engage in labor directly related to the conduct of military operations, such as constructing trenches and bunkers; Provide humanitarian agencies and UN agencies safe and unhindered access to areas under its control, and guarantee the security of all humanitarian and UN workers, including Wanni residents working as humanitarian or UN staff.”
The recent trend in seeing things in its true perspective is pleasing and most welcome and hope that HRW will continue to issue balanced reports in future without just quoting crap information extracted from Tamil NET or other LTTE propaganda websites.
There were hundreds of letters, articles, media releases by various organizations and individuals both in Sri Lanka and outside, continuous editorials in local papers (not all) have been written about the atrocities and human rights violations committed by LTTE over the last 25 years but the so called humanitarian monitors and observers never paid any attention to them but instead relied only on false propaganda disseminated by LTTE ‘s global propaganda network in preparing their reports.
The atrocities and human rights violations committed by LTTE were brought to the notice of the HRW, Amnesty International, UN Bodies and other humanitarian organizations in the world, heads of countries not once but umpteen number of times by the above mentioned groups and thro various government sources. It’s heartening to note that almost the same human rights violations committed over the years by LTTE and brought to the notice of the International Community have finally come to the light of HRW’s latest report “Trapped and Mistreated” report appearing to look like their newest findings…
Prof Rajiva Wijesinghe Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process comments in Daily News (17/12/2008) in respect of HRW’s report thus;.
“ Human Rights Watch, though it had been critical of the LTTE previously, had seemed over the last twelve months to aim for some sort of spurious balance in soft-pedalling its criticism of the LTTE whilst engaging in emotional and sometimes totally fraudulent attacks on the Sri Lankan Forces.
Now however the suffering to which the LTTE is subjecting Tamils seems to have got the better even of HRW’s ambiguities. The latest pronouncement on Sri Lanka says ‘Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tigers are subjecting ethnic Tamils in their northern stronghold, the Vanni, to forced recruitment, abusive forced labour, and restrictions on movement that place their lives at risk… The LTTE has a long history of forced recruitment”
It is also pleasing to note that the latest HRW reports emphasized the latest human rights violation by LTTE on the trapped innocent Tamil civilians in the Wanni by holding them back forcibly and placing restrictions on their free movement into government-held territory. However HRW has also missed one point here that LTTE is using older men as human shield by forcibly conscripting them and prohibiting their move to safer areas under government control. Whether HRW has mentioned in their 17 page report of LTTE’s looting of essential foods, medicines and other basic material meant for the IDP’s I don’t know.
However, it’s never too late than never. HRW has finally come to learn the true nature of LTTE and its brutal human rights violations and it will be appreciated if HRW continues to report balanced view on the whole issue in future.
by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process
09 September 2008
The moral authority that we would all like NGOs concerned with Human Rights to exercise has sadly been eroded in recent years. This has coincided with the apotheosis of such organizations into recognized players on the world stage. Unfortunately a mechanism designed to enhance their stature has led in many cases to their being prey for skilful lobbyists, anxious to bend their pronouncements to purposes that have little to do with Rights. Countries that can influence such organizations, through funding or more subtle means, have also got into the act, and we find that increasingly organizations that should look after the Rights of all are selective about their pronouncements. Not entirely surprisingly, such selectivity is often at the expense of countries that strive to remain independent of the dominant consensus.
Perhaps the most obvious example of selectivity in pursuit of a particular agenda is that of Human Rights Watch. Its recent simplistic pronouncements with regard to South Ossetia were of a piece with the failure earlier this year to join other NGOs in their critique of what was going on in Gaza. Mulling over the reasons for these idiosyncrasies can however be left to other commentators. This article will be confined to the HRW lack of objectivity and balance in its comments on Sri Lanka, and particularly its constant disparagement of the Government of Sri Lanka regardless of facts or the context in which Sri Lanka maintains a better record than that of any other country struggling against terrorism. Whilst comparisons would be odious, it is obvious, given the constant deaths of civilians in other theatres, deaths that are swiftly forgotten, that focusing attention on comparatively minor tragedies in defenceless states like Sri Lanka allows greater problems to be forgotten. So, while Lanka is pilloried with epithets such as ‘indiscriminate attacks on civilians’, there is no challenge from the favoured agencies to the barrage of excuses that the dominant consensus trots out relentlessly for their own mistakes, viz hardly anyone died, and in any case those who died were terrorists (well, all but a few), and only terrorists were targeted (well, all but a few), and any mistake was the fault of certain individuals, who will be duly tried (after some years, and then they will all be acquitted, except one or two), not part of the system, which is obviously beyond question and would certainly never deceive its own people.
HRW has often in the last fifteen months pedaled stories on Sri Lanka meant to orchestrate adverse media coverage about alleged human rights violations on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka. These have little relation to ground reality. HRW has blown stories out of proportion to fact, striven to seek newspaper publicity with sensational headlines and aired blatantly false interpretations about the movement of the internally displaced seeking refuge in Government controlled areas.
In maintaining its campaign of denigration and condemnation of a sovereign state battling terror almost single handedly, Human Rights Watch has generated not only strong criticism of its conduct but also raised legitimate questions about its own background, its objectives, both overt and covert, and its double standards when approaching similar conflicts in different parts of the world. Human Rights Watch appears to be guided as a matter of policy by a strong desire to push to their limits the elitist views of the more patronizing amongst Western political and social activists, whether dealing with national security and foreign policy, or resolution of conflict, including intervention, whilst using the disarming rhetoric of Universal Human Rights.
This article, in looking at specific examples of misinterpretation and exaggeration, will raise the question whether the subject of Human Rights has been hijacked by bodies such as HRW to isolate and demonise countries that resist external influence or control, with the ultimate aim of using ‘human rights violations’ as an excuse for political operations against such countries. It is manifestly clear that ‘Human Rights’ has now replaced earlier catch phrases as the justification for intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states and the subsequent overthrow of governments.
Human Rights Watch Canards:
- Internment of Displaced Person
HRW released a statement at the beginning of July 2008, that Sri Lanka should end what it referred to as ‘internment of displaced persons’. This resort to sensationalistic language was highly unwarranted as the uninitiated reader might have been inclined to equate the conduct of Sri Lanka with that of the excesses perpetrated against the Japanese in America during the Second World War, or the forcible detention of Jews in Concentration Camps in many countries of Nazi occupied Europe. ‘Internment’ is a term that is applied to situations where people are taken forcibly from their homes and placed in forcible detention or prison camps. The Sri Lankan Government adopts no such policy towards the people, overwhelmingly Tamil, fleeing Tiger controlled areas to the safety of Government controlled areas. In LTTE controlled areas there is forced recruitment of children and young adults, extending now to two per family, and cancellation of marriages with a view to forced recruitment of the parties to the dissolved marriage. Interestingly, even now NGOs, possessed by a love that dare not speak its name, keep quiet about such matters, circulating them only privately, fearful of LTTE retribution in the face of overt criticism. Not only from the complaints of idealists sick and tired of the pusillanimity of their bosses, the Sri Lankan Government is well aware of the tyranny imposed by the LTTE on Tamil people in uncleared areas and the reasons for their flight from despotism. The Government, which continues to provide food, health and education facilities to people in LTTE controlled areas, will also, with the assistance of the UN and other agencies that are not frightened to transfer their operations to government controlled areas, provide shelter, food, medicine and security, in welfare centres, to people who manage to escape.
Freedom of movement during the day for refugees in welfare centres is generally permitted, but whatever restrictions that are imposed at other times are to prevent terrorists, who infiltrate government controlled areas by taking cover behind genuine refugees, from engaging in acts that may cause severe damage to both life and property of civilians. This is current LTTE strategy: to inflict maximum damage on the people in the south through terrorist bombings and provoke a repetition of events that occurred in July 1983 in Sri Lanka.
Both the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and comments of the UN Special Rapporteur Walter Kalin make it clear that precautionary steps can be adopted by a State under ‘exceptional circumstances’. Any restrictive steps taken by the authorities are because of the absolute necessity to curtail terrorist bombings and the resulting loss of lives of innocent civilians.
- Indiscriminate Bombing and Shelling resulting in Civilian Casualties
In a Report on Sri Lanka submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2008 in connection with the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka, HRW again resorted to canards beginning with the baseless charge that ‘Sri Lanka security forces have conducted indiscriminate bombing and shelling resulting in civilian casualties’ In August 2007, HRW in a statement claimed that ‘Security forces have subjected civilians to indiscriminate attacks …. Both the government and the LTTE have a shown a brazen disregard for the well being of non –combatants’
The Peace Secretariat has emphatically refuted these allegations in a response entitled ‘HRW’s dirty war and the clean record of the Sri Lankan army’, which was sent to HRW. There has so far been no response to this piece, nor a rebuttal of the arguments presented with regard to the Kathiravelli incident, the only one in the military action in the East in which civilians were killed. SCOPP was able to show that this particular incident had occurred because of ‘mortar locating radar’ which had led the forces to believe that they were actually firing in the direction of LTTE guns. In fact even the HRW report concedes that ‘The LTTE had sentries in the area of the camp, ostensibly to monitor the movement of displaced persons’ and that they were told that ‘In the daytime, the LTTE didn’t carry weapons….When the LTTE has heavy weapons, they don’t show them because they’re afraid someone will inform’. There were bunkers in the camp, though HRW claims that these had been built by the displaced. It is doubtful whether the displaced could have built such structures without the knowledge or support of the LTTE cadres living in the area of the camp.
In another section HRW says that, since the abrogation of the Ceasefire in January this year, ’the fighting has claimed hundreds of civilians lives, and tens of thousands more have been displaced’. This is simply not true. According to available figures, the total number of civilian deaths caused by the conflict from the beginning of the year until the end of April amounted to 325. Of these 137 were the result of indiscriminate LTTE terrorist attacks including suicide bombings in regions in the south of the country. The highest number of civilian deaths recorded in a district was in Moneragala where terrorists not only bombed a bus but shot the passengers as they were rushed out from the bombed vehicle.
The total number of civilian deaths to the end of April in the Northern Province which is a conflict zone amounted to 80. The figure of 325 is certainly excessive, but in comparison to the deaths of civilians in other parts of the world in conflicts against terror, the actual figure of less than a score of civilian deaths in the actual course of fighting is proof of the precautions taken by the forces out of concern for the civilians. Indeed the Bishop of Mannar singled this aspect out for praise, in a recent discussion concerning the situation of IDPs. In contrast, during this same period, as a consequence of LTTE bombs alone, 98 lives were lost.
The total number of internally displaced had risen by 149 between the end of December and the end of March 2008 according to UNHCR figures. In actual fact 2384 more people were displaced, but 2235 have been resettled in the Eastern Province. In the two predominant LTTE districts the increase was 480, while in the four areas under LTTE dominance in three other districts, one has shown no change, another indicates an increase of 311, a third area shows the numbers declining by 446 in two months before rising again by 2214, and the fourth area a decrease of 1156.
Disregarding these figures, HRW resorted to a sensationalistic style in asserting a figure of tens of thousands displaced. Again its fuller Report, in contrast to the flamboyant press release, recorded a UNHCR spokesperson saying of those displaced in the course of 2006 and 2007, ‘Our staff monitoring the situation on the ground say the majority of people are eager to return home, the returns are voluntary and in line with international protection standards. UNHCR will continue to monitor the returns and report directly to the government on any problems regarding the voluntariness and any deviation from the civilian characteristics of the move’.
Given all this high drama in May, to divert attention from more serious issues, HRW has indeed found itself having to cry ‘Wolf’ all the louder when serious IDP problems began in the North, with the recent offensives. Had it studied the past seriously, without basing its critiques on its knowledge of countries where IDP problems have gone on for years, it would have realized that it should strive to replicate the success story of the Eastern IDPs by urging the LTTE to release into government controlled territory the displaced it is hoarding in the North. After all, those who harp on the prevention of returnees to one area in the East, because of the creation of a High Security Zone, ignore the fact that alternative lands in close proximity have been found for all displaced families, and except for a few areas where demining still has to be concluded, the situation in the East is almost back to normal as far as displacement goes.
Given the complexity of the situation in the conflict areas, the conduct of the Sri Lankan government in resettling most of the displaced and restoring normalcy to the Eastern Province should be commended. It should serve as a role model for good governance in all conflict affected countries, but since HRW cannot really insist on durable solutions to many of the displaced in the world, it chooses to ignore the achievements of a country which has succeeded better than most in dealing with this problem.
- HRW Press Release regarding the arrest of Journalist J.S. Tissainayagam
HRW released a statement entitled ‘Free Journalist and other Critics’ on August 08, 2008 giving the erroneous impression that the Journalist Mr. J.S. Tissainayagam was arrested because he has been a critic of the government.
This is another false insinuation on the part of HRW. The factual position is otherwise. Mr. Tissainayagam was taken into custody because of his suspect connections to the LTTE, and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), two terrorist organizations banned in several countries. TRO was blacklisted when it became clear that its funding was used for terrorist activities. Mr. Tissainayagam had developed connections to both the LTTE and TRO during the period of the ceasefire, and had actively colluded with his other business associates to disparage the Government through false accusations via their publications. An example of his false accusation that has been published reads as follows: ‘Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel, with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and depopulating it. As this story is being written, Vaharai is being subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment’.
Mr. Tissainayagam has now been indicted for violating the law. The charge sheet contains the above passage, among a series of other charges. The law in Sri Lanka as in many other civilized countries presumes a suspect to be innocent until he is found guilty by a court of law. Mr. Tissainayagam still enjoys this presumption of innocence. The matter is before the courts. Due process will be followed. He will be freed if the prosecution fails to establish its case.
The Strange Case of Yolanda Foster, and Amnesty International
Meanwhile, Amnesty International, which had generally shown itself as more balanced in its general approach, has over the last month taken the lead in attacking the Sri Lankan government. This is in the form of releases issued by a young lady called Yolanda Foster, who spent many happy years in Sri Lanka when she was even younger, and is a wonderful example of what Paul Johnson would have called the bane of the 21st century, the professional do-gooder (even more irresponsible than his bane of the 20th century, the professional politician).
Young Yolanda, on behalf of Amnesty International, issued a sharp rebuke to the Sri Lankan government with regard to the situation of the internally displaced, though also recognizing the contribution of the LTTE to the problem. A response to Irene Khan, the Head of Amnesty International, has not as yet had a response, whilst a reminder to the generally conscientious Head of Amnesty in Geneva has prompted the excuse that the Head has been away from Headquarters in London.
Obviously no one is in charge in London, because Yolanda has returned to the charge with another couple of statements, each one more shrill than the earlier one. Whether Irene Khan will take command responsibility for all this remains to be seen. What I hope she will definitely disown is the attempt of Yolanda, along with her sisters and her cousins and her aunts to write to the Secretary General of the United Nations, badmouthing Sri Lanka. She was working on the letter along with an elderly gentleman called Peter Bowling of something that terms itself the International Working Group on Sri Lanka, based in London and believed to be close to LTTE networks; and also another youth who works for Gareth Evans’ International Crisis Group. Gareth, who seems to relish his new role as the Tailor of Panama, has floated yet another version of the Responsibility to Protect, which he hopes will allow him to pull rabbits out of a hat in Georgia or wherever he can strike gold.
It is surely a legitimate question to ask whether Yolanda Foster’s networking is part of her Amnesty International responsibilities, or whether she has another agenda. It certainly seems improper that AI should permit her, even while plotting with suspected LTTE supporters, to throw spanners in AI’s name into the works of the Sri Lankan government as it conducts a remarkably successful operation, successful most obviously in terms of the absence of civilian casualties, against the last bastions of terrorism in the North.Surely there must be some sort of responsibility amongst these self-appointed guardians of morality, and surely, if they are entitled to pronounce in international bodies, they should at least answer letters, refrain from pronouncements which are not checked, ensure that all falsehoods are promptly retracted. Sadly, instead of any of this, they seem now to be single-mindedly or subtly pursuing an agenda suspiciously close to that of the LTTE. More worryingly, given the support they get from some governments, they help to create the impression that there is uncertainty about whether the world really wants terrorism to be eradicated from Sri Lanka. But, as ample examples have shown in recent times, you cannot play with fire. Responsible governments should recognize that and discourage collusion that will provide succour to terror.
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process Sri Lanka
26 November 2008
Some people really seem to delight in recounting our problems. Instead of appreciating progress, they bash us over the head with still to be obtained goals. And at considerable length. The situation is never improving in their eyes. We are either already bad or getting a lot worse, and no practical suggestions are offered to help us recover. Rhetorical flourishes are the only things we are given by these characters. They love nothing better than wallowing in a bit of good old misery.
Human Rights Watch demonstrates this syndrome perfectly in its latest press release on the situation in the Eastern Province. To summarise, life is bad and blame lies with the Government.
The Eastern Province isn’t a utopia. There have been a number of killings and abductions in recent days, and these are clearly issues on which law enforcement agencies need to work harder until such crimes are totally wiped out from society. Nobody should have to face threats of violence as they go about their everyday business.
But it isn’t always easy. A significant extent of the area in question was under the control of a terrorist group for several years. Human Rights Watch doesn’t find anything positive to say about the liberation of the Eastern Province. It rather mocks the achievement, in fact. Reading its statement, we might almost think Human Rights Watch didn’t know there had ever been such a problem.
The LTTE wouldn’t allow dissent. Democracy had absolutely no place in territory over which that organisation held sway. Abductions were how it filled its vacancies. Even with children. And killings were commonplace. Let’s not forget it so quickly. Indeed, we can’t. For the LTTE is still around.
The Eastern Province has been set free, but there are still a fair number of individuals who are committed to working for the LTTE. They are responsible for some of the abductions and killings. What’s more, the suspicion that these elements are at large and attempting to infiltrate the organisation of their former comrades is fuelling the problem. Killings and abductions within that organisation and between them and the LTTE take place as a result. It is an unhappy situation, but one that has not been engineered by anybody other than the participants themselves.
The Government supports the TMVP. Human Rights Watch appears to regard this as an appalling development, for they believe that the party is responsible for many of the killings and abductions. Whatever the truth of those allegations, trying to help the party move into the political mainstream has to be the correct option now. Only a few years ago, the TMVP were part of the LTTE. They fought against the Government. Blew up innocent people in buses. Assassinated politicians. The LTTE haven’t seen the error of their ways as yet, but the TMVP have. They want to change. But transformation of such an organization isn’t a simple matter. Leaders cannot just decide to do it. The TMVP has a difficult task on its hands and the Government is determined to help them see it through to the end.
Human Rights Watch urges steps to be taken to improve the human rights situation. It’s a good idea, but let’s think about how that is going to be achieved. Just saying it isn’t any use.
The Eastern Province needs development. We have to provide jobs for those who have known only fighting as a means of survival. Former cadres need training. They and other Tamil speaking people will have to be brought into the law enforcement agencies, with proper oversight. Infrastructure has to be rebuilt after years of neglect due to the fighting. Health and education services need to be brought up to scratch again. Business has to return and invest in the area. And the list goes on.
This is exactly what is happening now. The Government has been engaging with international agencies to find money to fund projects in all these sectors, and progress is quickly being made. The collaboration at the highest levels between members of the different communities in the Eastern Province has been very encouraging. They are elected representatives too.
But it isn’t enough. The Eastern Province can never be the environment that we all hope for while there is still a threat from the LTTE. Human Rights Watch sometimes appears to be rather pleased that this is the case. That we still have a bitter conflict going on in this country, even though this is now some distance away from the Eastern Province. But we can’t be. The LTTE has to be convinced to follow the path set down by those who are now on the road to the political mainstream. The Eastern Province may not be a utopia, but it is in a far better situation than most places in the Vanni.
The Government has chosen a practical approach. Improvements are being made, and on an urgent footing. We do still have a way to go. But there is no greater priority than putting an end to the conflict that has dogged our country for so long to create a peaceful and prosperous society. We don’t always spend time explaining our efforts to the world. But things are happening. Let us keep in mind what has already been overcome and look forward to building on this as we move forward.Communications Division
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights12 August 2008
We reproduce a letter sent by SG, SCOPP, in his capacity of Secetary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, to Human Rights Watch in response to its recent press release regarding the journalist J S Tissainayagam.
12th August 2008
Mr Brad Adams
Director / Asia
Human Rights Watch
Dear Mr Adams
I write with reference to your press release entitled ‘Free Journalist and Other Critics’, issued on August 8th. The impression of that release is that Mr Tissainayagam has been arrested because he has criticized the government.
This is not accurate. Mr Tissainayagam was arrested because of suspicions regarding connections to the LTTE, a terrorist organization which as you are aware is banned in several countries. In the days when the LTTE was engaged in negotiations with the Sri Lankan government, Mr Tissainayagam developed connections with them, and with the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization. There was nothing wrong with this, but subsequently as you know the LTTE broke off negotiations, whilst it became clear that TRO funding was used for terrorist purposes – the TRO too has now been banned in several countries.
Unfortunately there seemed to be evidence that Mr Tissainayagam, or at least his business associates, continued their contacts with the LTTE and that some of their publications were designed to embarrass the Sri Lankan government through false accusations. After investigation, which took time given the delicate nature of the case, he has now been charged. While it is conceivable that he was being used by other forces, there is little doubt that what he published was questionable. Let me for instance draw your attention to the following passage – ‘Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel, with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and depopulating it. As this story is being written, Vaharai is being subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment’.
The passage is cited in the indictment which details the reasons for believing that he has transgressed our laws. The matter is now before the courts. He may well be acquitted, if intention cannot be proved, but you will agree that your own conduct in this regard suggests that there is a conspiracy – in which in all innocence you too may have been used – to halt the Sri Lankan forces in their tracks by rousing feeling against them that is based on false information.
You are well aware that the state security forces have done their best to follow international law in the course of operations. Despite dealing with one of the most ruthless terrorist outfits in the world, they have done better than others labouring under similar difficulties in trying to protect their own citizens (and sometimes the citizens of other countries) from appalling atrocities. Yet, ignoring the facts, you too have claimed publicly, with lurid headlines not borne out by argument, that Sri Lankan forces engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Your report made clear that this florid assertion was based on a single incident in which it was shown that mortar locating radar had precipitated firing on a site where LTTE cadres were present with weapons and where bunkers had been dug. Your well publicized claim was then widely used by the LTTE and its supporters in a manner that I am sure those opposed to terrorism would have found unfortunate. Your failure to respond to my detailed rebuttal of your claims, and indeed to cancel a meeting in the House of Commons at which I was looking forward to refuting some of your allegations, is symptomatic of the approach of institutions that will not engage in discussion but instead fling insults and care nothing about the damage that may be done.
Mr Tissainayagam is a more responsible person, and it is in respect for his stature that this Ministry monitored his situation from the day he was arrested. The Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights ensured that his wife had immediate access to him, and indeed arranged for her to be transported in an official vehicle. This was ignored in allegations that presented her as having to endure discomfort in going to see him, allegations that we have come to understand are part of an insidious pattern of distortion. Despite all this, whilst we cannot obviously interfere with police investigations and the deliberations of the Attorney General’s Department, we have carefully monitored his wellbeing, and can assure you that due process was always followed, and that he had ready access to his lawyers as well as family.
I should note in this respect that he was able to discuss matters confidentially with his lawyer, though as required by regulations there was a police presence within sight, but not earshot, contrary to your allegation. We would be grateful therefore if, whilst urging that Mr Tissainayagam be treated according to the law, and that action should be expedited, you refrained from fraudulent suggestions that the exercise was intended simply to silence a critic of the government. Obviously, as your outbursts and those of others have made clear, his arrest was bound to lead to greater criticism, and I do not think that agencies of government are so stupid as not to have anticipated this. However, the influence of terrorists is extensive, and Sri Lanka needs to combat this thoroughly, using the law correctly. This will not be stymied, however crude the criticism that is flung at this country.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
Investigators Claim That Elements Close To LTTE Were Campaigning That Dead Suicide Bomber Was Abducted By Government Goons And Now Missing
By Walter Jayawardhana
11th August 2008
Extensive investigations conducted by number of detectives have concluded that a name of a suicide cadre who died in an attack few months ago has been used as a missing person’s name in a human right’s campaign against the government , the Ministry of Defense said.
“The man died in an attack carrying forged identity cards as a Moslem but the suicide cadre’s real name has been used by elements close to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ( LTTE) as a name of a person who had been abducted by pro-government goons and now missing,” Defense sources said.
Original ID and the forged ID card as a Moslem
Velayudan Sudarshan alias Sudan died in May 2008 ramming his explosive laden motor bike against a bus carrying policemen
Ministry of Defense sources alleged Velayudan Sudarshan alias Sudan died in May 2008 ramming his explosive laden motor bike against a bus carrying policemen and police women killing scores of them while carrying forged identity papers as a Muslim named Ibrahim Lebbe Mubarak , but since then his true name has been widely used as a name of a person abducted by the government and missing and whose human rights have been violated.
The Ministry of Defense website defence.lk published details of the investigations of detectives and claimed that in fact by his death the terrorist group achieved the task of killing two birds with one stone. It said by sacrificing the suicide cadre Sudarshan alias Sudan they not only killed scores of police personnel but also tarnished the government’s good name in the international arena on human rights issues. The website published the true and forged national identity cards he possessed and the forged driving license he was holding at the time of his death.
Describing the suicide attack incident the Ministry website Defence.lk said : “ On 16 May, 2008, just 2 days before the Buddhists’ most venerated Vesak Poya day, an LTTE suicide bomber carried out a bloodbath in front of the Buddhist temple down the Lotus road, in the heart of the Colombo city. The suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle at a bus carrying police personnel of the riot squad in broad daylight killing 8 policemen, 9 policewomen and wounding over 100 civilians.”
Since no Muslim had ever been recruited in the suicide squad of the LTTE the Muslim name on the identity papers on the body of the suicide cadre aroused lingering suspicion and instigated tedious investigations , the Ministry of Defense sources further said. On numbers found on the wreckage of his motor bike the detectives led themselves to the owner of the motor bike which was used to ram the bus , the defense sources said.
The clues took investigators to a man named Jeyarathan in Trincomalee area , the owner of the motor bike that was used for the suicide killing. Although , the alleged suicide killer had left his mother Rasa Lechchumi and his sister Nirojanee, with the their knowledge it was the mother who had complained to the local police that he was missing after reaching Colombo after a day he had left. From April to May the alleged suicide bomber had stayed in a popular lodge of previous killers, at Sooriyan Rest ,18 Station Road , Wellawatte, in Colombo busy obtaining his forged identity papers and getting ready for the crime.
Describing the investigation the defence.lk website said: “According to the officials, this was the first time in the history of Sri Lanka’s war on terror, the officials could trace the full details of an LTTE suicide bomber. Interestingly, the investigations conducted by the intelligence (men) came in line with the investigations carried out by a separate department that probes into the alleged “abductions” and “disappearances” of persons. Now, the two investigations have almost come into a common end throwing new light to the recent spate of alleged “abductions”, “disappearances”, and “white van incidents”, that are being used by Anti Sir Lankan forces to tarnish the country’s good image.”
Defense Ministry sources said , anti government sources have made use of the so called missing man’s name as one of an individual who has been brutally abducted by a white van and now missing.
It was also revealed the suicide bomber received his training at the Thiruvai Aru Special Suicide Bomber training institute in Kilinochchi and his mother Rasa Lechchumi despite the false complaint that he was missing knew all the time what was actually happening to her son
by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Proces
07 July 2008
Our old friends Human Rights Watch are at it again. Last week saw a spate of releases targeting Sri Lanka, timed it seem to put the kybosh on what seem successes both internally and internationally in our struggle against terrorism.
It started with a release claiming that Sri Lanka should end what it termed internment of displaced persons. If the headline was the preferred choice of HRW, it is up to its old tactic of using sensationalistic language to draw attention to itself, even though this is not substantiated in the arguments it puts forward. Thus, though the body of the text suggests that HRW understands what internment means, and does not use it to describe what is happening in Sri Lanka, the hope is that the world will be taken in by words that might recall the excesses against say those of Japanese ancestry in America during the Second World War, or even the horrors of what happened to the Jews in so many countries in Europe under the Nazis.
The text indeed indicates that we are talking only about restrictions on the movements of those coming in from terrorist controlled areas to the comparative safety and liberty of government controlled areas. As the ongoing surveys and discussions at the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Action Meetings make clear, freedom of movement during the day is generally permitted and restrictions as to long term stays elsewhere are relaxed whenever possible. However, though doubtless almost those concerned are genuine refugees from the Tiger excesses that the UN has recorded (forced recruitment of two per family, cancellation of marriages etc), previous experience indicates that there may amongst them be terrorists who will inflict massive damage on civilians in line with recent Tiger strategy. For this reason precautions are essential, as indeed UN Guiding Principles and the recent comments of the UN Special Rapporteur make clear are acceptable under exceptional circumstances. HRW, from the safety of New York, does not recognize the ‘exceptional circumstances’ that have led to so many civilian deaths through so many terrorist bombs in recent months. HRW’s blindness is not the problem of the government, or the millions of civilians in Sri Lanka who are kept safe by such precautions, and we cannot, to satisfy HRW’s concept of what is exceptional and what is not, put the lives of our citizens at risk.
Meanwhile HRW goes into another feather dance, a melodramatic performance, about precautions in France. It is doubtless coincidence that this performance came shortly after the French, who long before any other nation realized that all terrorism had to be dealt with firmly, not merely what was fashionable at any particular time because of successful slaughter, had fallen heavily on Tiger propaganda networks. However, from the Sri Lankan point of view, HRW’s pontifications at this stage suggest that it sees terrorism as a game that must be played to a finish, and then only punitive measures can be imposed legally.
Terrorists measure their success by the vigour of their explosions against civilians. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch measure theirs by the volume and vigour of their verbal attacks on governments trying to protect civilians. It is sad when the interests of these two groups coincide, to put civilian lives at risk.
Finally, as though to make clear its totally theoretical approach to a very real problem, HRW goes into paroxysms about the need for Sri Lanka, ‘after Britain failed to do so because of a lack of evidence’ to prosecute Karuna, the Tiger who turned his back on terrorism and now heads a political party. Certainly Karuna was part of the LTTE in 1990 when many of the horrors HRW refers to occurred, but it must be appreciated that he turned his back on the Tigers in 2004, and there are no commensurate allegations whatsoever against him from that period on.
The only recent allegations to which HRW refers are with regard to ‘kidnapping children ….. while troops stood by’, which are allegedly by UNICEF. In actual fact, UNICEF, when I inquired into this, could give me only a single allegation of children in a vehicle being allowed through a check point, about which indeed the Sri Lankan army had already taken disciplinary action. There was no response to a request for further specific information, and indeed UNICEF is now working with the Sri Lankan government and the former Karuna faction to ensure that any children still with them are released. It should be noted that the faction released its cadres in 2004, as recorded by UNICEF, and it was only when nothing was done for them and they were subject to re – recruitment by the LTTE, that the faction says compelled them to take the children into protective custody.
HRW may well not credit this, but there is no doubt that children have not been used in combat by the Karuna faction since 2004 when it threw off LTTE shackles, quite unlike the LTTE who continued to use children and were even indulged by UNICEF with regard to this, until we had to reprimand the then UNICEF representative. It was because of such behaviour that the Karuna faction was wary of UNICEF but, following the excellent principled approach of the current UNICEF representative, the Sri Lankan government has been able to rebuild confidence and we have no doubt that that problem will be resolved soon.
However, given the recent rescue by Sri Lankan forces of yet another 17 year old girl who had been forced to fight for the Tigers – a fact about which HRW continues to remain conspicuously silent, paying lip service to balance by a small paragraph about Tiger excesses in the course of its diatribes against the Sri Lankan government but no longer looking into them in detail – it is worth exploring why the demonization of the former Karuna faction with regard to child soldiers began at the very beginning of 2006. Sadly, it seems that people who should know better have been taken in by Tiger propaganda on this issue, propaganda designed to excuse its refusal to negotiate on the grounds that the Sri Lankan government indulges the former Karuna faction. Of course the Sri Lankan government will continue to indulge them in their movement towards being a democratic pluralistic political party. Sri Lanka owes a debt of gratitude to Karuna and his forces for having turned their backs on the Tigers. This gratitude has to be combined with determination to restore the rule of law, but the manner in which the TMVP, the political party that has emerged from the faction, has conducted itself indicates that this can be a cooperative effort.
HRW, which evidently does not in its absolutist zeal, understand politics and people at all, claims that Karuna was ousted from the leadership of the TMVP, ‘prompting his flight from Sri Lanka’. He remains its leader but, perhaps feeling that his capabilities did not lie in local electoral politics, he went to England where his family had earlier found refuge. After he had served a sentence for illegal entry, Britain was then under pressure from the LTTE as well as groups such as HRW to charge him with war crimes, but evidently found that the evidence was insufficient, in spite of testimony from within and without Sri Lanka. The HRW outburst suggests that Britain is somehow at fault for this, though thankfully it is short of the allegations of impunity that will doubtless now be flung at Sri Lanka.
All this taken together presents a pretty picture indeed. When Britain investigates and finds nothing, with regard to someone who has turned his back on the terror he engaged in as a Tiger in 1990, Britain is at fault. When France tries to investigate in order to forestall terrorist attacks that might now do harm to its citizens, and others in the world, France is at fault. When the Sri Lankan government provides, in consultation with UN agencies, shelter to those fleeing from Tiger controlled areas, it is accused of internment, a term that is used by normal people to indicate taking people from their homes and putting them into what amount to prison camps.
I have no idea who funds HRW. Their conduct however suggest a certain bias and a possible hidden agenda, which ought to be investigated carefully before they are given further funds which end up being used to promote agendas similar to those of active terrorists. Their donors should realize that advocacy to shut stable doors when there are no horses left inside will allow Tigers in the wild to run riot.
Human Rights Watch Has Spoken Out Of Turn And Should Focus Their Attentions Elsewhere With A Felt Need!
Insight By Sunil Kumar
May 20th 2008
The rights group Human Rights Watch has surely spoken out of turn as they sometimes do in taking the liberty to proclaim that UN members should reject Sri Lanka’s re-election bid to the world body’s Human Rights Council. This rights group has blatantly accused the Sri Lankan Administration of being responsible for ‘widespread abductions and disappearances’ which they have not really classified nor clarified probably because the accusations are mostly hearsay with no tangible proof and the group seems to have jumped on the bandwagon of accusations and false allegations circulating presently and have been for sometime now based on innuendo and concocted exaggerations mostly set in place by the various propaganda sources of the Tamil Tiger terrorists in their campaign to discredit the Government of Sri Lanka who is now on a determined and concerted tour de force to eliminate them permanently from the face of Sri Lanka.
Most aggravatingly for the Sri Lankan authorities their cause has been compounded up by a few prominent world figures who seem to be barking up the wrong tree as far as their accusations against the Government of Sri Lanka goes. Names such as Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who fancies his particular brand of dabbling in controversy, former Us president Jimmy Carter America’s goody two shoes former president who even defied the current Administration and Argentinian Nobel laureate Adolfo P Esquivel who is a melodramatic peace activist whose country has long been steeped in human rights violations to name a few who have absolutelty no right to their accusations with neither circumstantial nor uncovered evidence and are lowering their credibilities by meddling in the internal affairs of a Sovereign nation.
They are best adviced to put a lid on their campaign to discredit Sri Lanka and focus their attentions on parts of the world such as Palestine at the mercy of the State of Israel, Burma being autocratically buldozed by her military junta, North Korea whose starving millions are intimidated by a bureaucratic administration hell bent on gaining nuclear power even at the cost of oppressing civillians, China despite the eyewash to cover up attrocities in Tibet and the intimidations directed at Taiwan not forgetting South Africa and Zimbabwe – all countries where human rights violations are rife, at times unparalleled and ironically the assinine accusations against Sri Lanka are aginst a Nation waging a very justifiable and legitimate war towards eliminating a band of muderous terrorists and by no means a war of attrition!
Sri Lanka is one of the participants vying for elections to the 47-member council, the UN’s leading human rights body which will be held in New York on Wednesday, when candidate countries need an absolute majority — or 97 votes from the UN’s 192 nations — to be elected.To the consternation of Sri Lanka the organization
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has branded Sri Lanka as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of “disappearances” and abductions and described the situation in the island — torn by a decades-old ethnic war — as a “national crisis” but realistically need to get their facts and figures including contentious accusations into proper perspective to accommdate the truth rather than trumpet the cause of the Tamil Tiger terrorists which their rhetoric seems tantamount to!
Sri Lanka has indeed been faced with a national crisis at the hands of the Tamil Tiger terrorists for almost four decades now where at long last there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Sri Lanka as the terrorists are being systematically taken to task and annihilated as they are an unwelcome presence as a destructive element in the Island Nation and to a greater proportion inhuman considering their modus operandi, their track record and the havoc they have wreaked in the past on innocent civilians and if anyone champions their cause under the guise of human rights they probably need to have their heads examined!
by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
07 May 2008
The latest Human Rights Watch report on Sri Lanka, issued as a submission to the UN Human Rights Council in connection with the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka, repeats several canards that have been refuted in the past, with no response from HRW to the detailed rebuttal of their falsehoods. In particular it begins its offensive by claiming that ‘Sri Lanka security forces have conducted indiscriminate bombing and shelling resulting in civilian casualties’.
In August the claim was Security forces have subjected civilians to indiscriminate attacks …. Both the government and the LTTE have shown a brazen disregard for the well-being of non-combatants’. These were conclusively refuted in the response of the Peace Secretariat entitled ‘HRW’s dirty war and the clean record of the Sri Lankan army’, sent to HRW. As yet there has been no response to this, nor rebuttal of the arguments with regard to the Kathiravelli incident, the only one in the military action in the East in which civilians were killed. It was shown in the SCOPP response that that incident occurred because of ‘mortar locating radar’ so that the forces believed they were firing on LTTE guns. In fact even the HRW report, as opposed to its sensationalistic press release, revealed ‘The LTTE had sentries in the area of the camp, ostensibly to monitor the movement of displaced persons’ and that they were told that ‘In the daytime, the LTTE didn’t carry weapons….When the LTTE has heavy weapons, they don’t show them because they’re afraid someone will inform’. There were bunkers in the camp, though HRW claims that these had been built by the displaced – doubtless without the knowledge or support of the LTTE soldiers in the camp.
Instead of responding to this evidence from their own report, HRW merrily continues with the same vicious allegations, making clear their determination to denigrate without looking at evidence. The same goes for many of the old allegations that are repeated in this latest report, as well as the new ones.
It is claimed for instance that, since the abrogation of the Ceasefire in January this year, ’the fighting has claimed hundreds of civilians lives, and tens of thousands more have been displaced’. This is totally untrue. The total of civilian deaths related to the conflict from the beginning of the year till the end of April amount to 325. Of these 137 are due to terrorist attacks in districts in the south of the country, including suicide bombings, with the highest number of civilian deaths in a district being in Moneragala where terrorists not only bombed a bus but shot survivors as they emerged.
The total number of civilian deaths in the Northern province, where fighting is taking place, amount to 80. These include killings by the LTTE, including by a suicide bombing and a claymore that killed five soldiers plus eight civilians in a bus. There were 79 deaths in the Eastern Province, a few of them being of candidates of the TMVP (the former Karuna faction) related to the conflict. The rest were in other southern districts, including in Anuradhapura bordering the North where some of the killings were by the LTTE.
This figure is 325 too much, but when compared with the deaths of civilians in other conflicts against terror, the actual figure of less than a score in the course of fighting testifies to the regard of the Sri Lankan forces for civilians. Conversely, during this same period, as a consequence of LTTE bombs alone, 98 lives have been lost.
Similarly, the total of displaced has risen by just 149 between the end of December and the end of March according to UNHCR figures. In actual fact 2384 more people have been displaced, but 2235 have been resettled in the Eastern Province. In the two LTTE controlled districts, the increase has been 480 while in the four areas controlled by the LTTE in three other districts, one has shown no change, another showed an increase of 311, a third numbers going down by 446 in two months before rising again by 2214, and the last a decrease of 1156.
Despite all this, HRW has no qualms about asserting a figure of tens of thousands displaced. This is of a piece when, irritated perhaps by the comparatively low figure for displaced in the East within a few months of it being liberated, it insisted that there had been forced resettlement. Again the full report, as opposed to the aggressive press release, recorded a UNHCR spokesperson saying ‘Our staff monitoring the situation on the ground say the majority of people are eager to return home, the returns are voluntary and in line with international protection standards …. UNHCR will continue to monitor the returns and report directly to the government on any problems regarding the voluntariness and any deviation from the civilian characteristics of the move’.
Conversely, they inveigh against a return to one area in the East being prevented because of the creation of a High Security Zone, ignoring the fact that alternative lands in close proximity have been found for all displaced families. In fact, taken as a whole, the achievement of the Sri Lankan government in resettling most of the displaced and restoring normalcy to the Eastern Province is a lesson for all conflict affected countries. The fact that local government elections were held there last month, to the satisfaction of the internationally recognized monitoring group PAFFREL, is testimony to this success, as is the Provincial Council election being held now, which has attracted the two largest opposition parties which had boycotted the earlier election.
The argument that the former Karuna group, now a political party known as the TMVP, is ‘routinely visible’ bearing arms in the East may be correct if the term ‘routinely’ is interpreted very loosely, since given clandestine activity by the LTTE, they need to defend themselves. However, the government has made it clear that the weapons should not be used or displayed, so that, as an NGO hostile to the government put it in asking that elections be cancelled – ‘Though weapons are currently only visible in Batticaloa in the hands of the military, there is a deep, widely held conviction that armed groups have not permanently disarmed but only put their weapons out of sight for the moment’. Fortunately the government did not give in to such specious logic, and went ahead with the election, and normalcy is rapidly returning.
Another subject used to demonize the TMVP is that of child soldiers and HRW duly claims that the government has ‘been complicit in the use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups’. The government is still waiting for evidence to conduct investigations in this respect. Queries to Alan Rock, who first made this claim, have fallen on deaf ears. The one instance cited by UNICEF was looked into, and it turned out that personnel involved, soldiers at a checkpoint who had passed through a truck with armed personnel including children, had been given a punishment transfer. UNICEF was asked for information about any other incidents, but could provide none.
On the contrary, it should be noted with regard to allegations of recruitment by the Karuna group (the only one cited in this regard except for the LTTE), an estimated 1,800 children were released by them after they split from the LTTE in 2004. However, this led to widespread re-recruitment of these children by the LTTE and the Karuna faction then claimed that it was forced to take in children who were otherwise in danger. UNICEF figures indicate 351 children recruited by them as opposed to the 453 claimed by HRW and, now that the East is free of LTTE control, release of these soldiers has begun, as noted and welcomed by UNICEF. It should be noted that previously, as indicated in a recent press statement, the former Karuna group was wary of UNICEF because of what seemed undue indulgence to the LTTE, exemplified in the handing over for rehabilitation purposes of $1 million dollars to an LTTE front. Accounts of this grant are still awaited, despite having been requested from UNICEF nine months ago.
HRW then raises the old chestnut about the national Human Rights Commission, both querying how it was appointed and its efficacy. This ignores the fact that the government agrees it could be made more efficacious, but that its pleas for assistance were ignored by those who now complain. In particular, the suppression of the UNDP stocktaking report on the HRC, which established that the questions about the appointment of the HRC in no way vitiated its standing or the integrity of those appointed, suggests a determination to condemn almost worthy of HRW. Now at last UNDP has begun to develop ‘a new framework for UN support to the HRC.’
This charge is of a piece with the claim that there is impunity in Sri Lanka. This is absurd since, though it may be complained that the Sri Lankan government is slow or inefficient in punishing such activities – a trait it shares with all governments – it has never sanctioned them. Indictments have been issued for some killings, and most recently, with regard to indictments, an indictment has been issued on persons arrested some months ago, but then released following a court ruling. HRW may see it as a problem that the courts in Sri Lanka are independent and tend, as in jurisdictions similar to ours, to acquit without evidence that may seem impossible to collect – but in the long run we should be glad of this, and indeed many activists have been pleased recently about several decisions in which the Supreme Court has ruled against measures taken for security reasons. Whether the citizenry are happy about this when bombs enclosed is another question, but that is not a reason to complain about the rule of law.
Finally, given its categorical refusal to accept UN reports, it is astonishing that HRW adds its voice to the chorus demanding a UN monitoring mission. At least it would be astonishing were it not clear that the determination to establish such a mission, with its lucrative jobs for footsoldiers in the Human Rights army, had been rife even before what was supposed to be a survey by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Certainly Sri Lanka will not be dragooned into submitting to decisions taken on the basis of falsehoods, and prefers to concentrate on strengthening its own national institutions, which belatedly the UN has now agreed to think of doing.
Sri Lanka is also worried about continuing denigration of the country in the claim that HRW forwards, that its government ‘publicly labeled senior UN officials as “LTTE supporters” and “terrorists” because they highlighted “disappearances” or other rights violations’. The reference is to a criticism by the Government Chief Whip, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, of a statement by Sir John Holmes, who is in charge of Humanitarian Affairs for the United Nations., because he made a statement that has since been used by the LTTE and other forces to the government to claim that Sri Lanka is the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian workers.
What Minister Fernandopulle had meant was quite clear, in that he had indicated that he thought Sir John was helping the terrorist cause by describing Sri Lanka as the second most dangerous place in the world for aid workers. And he was correct, in that that phrase has been quoted time and again by terrorists, their supporters, and Sri Lankans who oppose the government, whether or not they support the LTTE or its cause. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle knew what would happen as a result of Sir John’s loose talk, and it is a pity that he then became the butt of criticism, without Sir John feeling obliged to explain publicly the circumstances under which he had made his faux pas.
Later it was revealed that Sir John had broken an agreement he had with the government which had invited him to Sri Lanka, that he should not give any private interview to the media while he was in Sri Lanka. It has not as yet been explained why he broke his agreement, nor who in his or the UN office made the arrangement. Significantly, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had made a similar agreement, and again her office or the office in Sri Lanka had arranged an interview in violation of this agreement. It was only just in time, when she was being taken away for the interview, that the Minister who had invited her found out what was happening and suggested she stand by the agreement. To her credit, she agreed.
Though Sir John later regretted what had happened in a letter to the Minister concerned, and indicated that his statement had been taken out of context, the damage had been done. His remark as quoted has reverberated since in reporting about Sri Lanka, transformed now into being the most dangerous place in the world for aid workers.
Elsewhere the incident which contributed to this remark has been discussed at length, and it has been pointed out that, in terms of the UN manual on safety, the agency which sent 17 workers to their deaths had been in gross breach of its obligations. Though those responsible for the murder should be sought and tried, the culpability of the agency cannot be forgotten. But it has been forgotten, despite a Sri Lankan reporter bringing the question up when the bodies were found. It is hard to escape the conclusion that international agencies have impunity in such matters, from the international media, as well as their own governments.
So there has been no question of finding out who advised Sir John to breach his agreement. He doubtless had no idea of what would result from his indiscretion. Having spent the last few years in Paris and London, doubtless he assumed that people played by the rules, so it did not matter if he himself broke them. Even now, when he sees his remark quoted all the time – assuming that is, that he has time to think of Sri Lanka – he doubtless does not think of his own culpability, but bristles with indignation that he was called a terrorist.
That Mr Fernandopulle died in a suicide attack last month did register with Sir John, but he scrupulously avoided any criticism of terrorism, and instead took the opportunity to mention ‘the rising toll that fighting in Sri Lanka is having on civilians’. In strongly condemning, not a terrorist attack targeting a democratically elected Minister, but ‘all violence and indiscriminate attacks against civilians’, Sir John was again playing the LTTE game, of suggesting that terrorism can be justified. The implication is that the Sri Lankan government also engages in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, as asserted by HRW too.
This does not make them terrorists. Complex language is necessary to show that, without being terrorists themselves, they are playing into terrorist hands. In Sir John’s case it may be appreciated that this was unwitting, but as HRW goes on and on with the same vicious chestnuts, one begins to wonder whether they are really quite as innocent as they seem.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
07 April 2008 -Anglo-Saxon Attitudes towards abuses and impunity
Over the last few months I have had to travel quite a lot, which has allowed me greater access to foreign papers than I had enjoyed for a long time. Coincidentally, on almost every trip I came across descriptions of inadequacies with regard to the protection of human rights on the part of Britain and America. In fairness to the Anglo-Saxon world, I wondered whether, had I read French or German papers, I would have seen similar allegations about those countries. At the same time I realize that Anglo-Saxons tend to beat their breasts (and those of others) more dramatically than most, perhaps secure in the knowledge that their control of the world will allow them to limit the damage (to themselves, though not to others), as required.
So some months ago there was an anxious article about the fact that, after years of inquiry, the British had found only one person guilty with regard to the well attested torture at Abu Ghraib. More recently there was a long article about the impact of the war in Iraq, which spoke of the instances ‘when America’s intentions were betrayed by its troops in more personal ways, with the abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, with the shooting deaths of 24 civilians in Haditha and with the rape and murder of a 14-year-old-girl at Mahmudiya, along with the killing of three other members of her family’.
I have no quarrel with the benefit of the doubt being given to America as to its intentions, just as I should record, as the newspaper did, that these incidents led to court-martial hearings. But, as the British newspaper pointed out with regard to their little contribution at Abu Ghraib, the consequences of those hearings was not commensurate with the damage that had been inflicted. Indeed, coincidentally, shortly before the visit to Sri Lanka recently of a Congressional delegation that had some concern with human rights, I had been reading ‘Shalimar the Clown’, with its graphic evocation of the Rodney King case, when white police officers had been recorded on film when they beat up a black suspect. The case went to court, but a white jury acquitted the officers despite the evidence. I mentioned this, when they asked about allegations of human rights abuse and delays in justice.
One of the earnest young Congressional aides noted that he came from Los Angeles himself and this was an occasion to feel proud of the American system, given the outrage the incident evoked, but even he could not explain away the fact that the culprits had been acquitted. I hastened to add that I was not alleging endemic injustice. My point was that, in the British system we both had inherited, convictions were not easy to secure. What upset me was the failure of the Anglo-Saxon world to extend to Sri Lanka the same indulgence it extended to its own institutions.
Problems with independent institutions
So I was fascinated too by a recent defense of the British Independent Police Complaints Commission, in response to the claim that it ‘faces a crisis of confidence after a network of (lawyers) resigned from its advisory body’. I was reminded then of the brouhaha when first four local NGO activists resigned from an Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights (which was claimed in some media reports to be resignation from the National Human Rights Commission), and now with the departure of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons tasked to observe the proceedings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into a variety of cases.
There has been no similar beating of breasts in Britain, but the Chairman of the IPCC clearly thought it necessary to respond to a newspaper article of February 25th. He pointed out there that the lawyers had not in fact attended the IPCC External Advisory Board since summer 2007, reminding me of the fact that the four activists had not often attended the MDMHR Committee, and the IIGEP personnel had been conspicuous by their absence from the CoI proceedings, often leaving attendance to a group of assistants who certainly did not have the eminence which had prompted the setting up of the Group in the first place.
In his response the IPCC Chairman referred to an allegation of a ‘pattern of favouritism’ towards the police (though he declared that he did not have the opportunity to respond to this on individual cases), to the question of ‘raunchy emails’ sent by a police officer (dealt with by saying that these were sent when he was working with his force, not when he was seconded to the IPCC) and to a particular case which ‘we inherited. We were not happy with it and so commissioned a review by another force. The review has taken longer than we anticipated but is now in its final stages’. The case was one of a stabbing in 2000, the Chairman’s response, still awaiting the report of the review, was in 2008.
Dickens wrote 150 years ago of the Circumlocution Office in Britain, and in the intervening years Britain has certainly brought circumlocution to an even finer art. We are only now seeing the long awaited formal Coroner’s Inquiry into the death of Princess Diana, but the Sri Lankan government would not dream of claiming that the delay is owing to a determination to protect Her Majesty the Queen or her band of murderous brutes, which is how a website funded by Canadian and Australian aid characterizes the Sri Lankan situation. The report on the Bloody Sunday massacre is still awaited, though it occurred nearly 40 years ago. Interestingly, Michael Birnbaum QC, who delivered the outrageous fraudulent finger pointing report on the ACF case, in which he perverted what the Australian expert Malcolm Dodd said into an allegation that Sri Lankan officials had tampered with evidence, had cut his teeth on the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which perhaps explains his profound suspicions of what governments might get up to, in order to conceal evidence. Fortunately Dr Dodd has categorically refuted his suggestion, and the white world at least has now given up on that particular canard.
Unsurprisingly, the Sunday Times, which occasionally delights in playing Uncle Tom, has once more resurrected that hoary story, in a typical misrepresentation of what happened in Geneva after the story broke. I have dealt elsewhere with its attempt to suggest that the Government was desperate for approval in this regard, when the fact is that it was quite secure from the start in its belief that there had been no tampering with evidence as Mr Birnbaum had suggested. What the British were up to with regard to the Bloody Sunday inquiry Mr Birnbaum doubtless knows, but his transposition of that expertise to Sri Lanka was singularly inappropriate.
I could go on with quotations from the IPCC Chairman’s response, which grants that ‘sometimes commissioners and staff get things wrong or are tactless. But we do not accept your sweeping criticism of our caseworkers and investigators…most delays are outside our control and result from trials and inquest proceedings’. I could refer to the impunity that most perpetrators of human rights abuse have benefited from in Iraq and elsewhere, even in Vietnam (where, with the victims of massacre at My Lai amounting to ‘between 300 and 500…Eventually just one man, Lt William L Calley was charged, and convicted of murdering 22 civilians; Calley served three and a half years under house arrest and has just retired from running a jewellery store’.)
Recognizing and dealing with problems in a human context
But there would be little point, because I am not going to succeed in making America and Britain change their ways. Nor indeed would I presume to think they should, not because I do not believe impunity and delays are bad, but because I understand that in theory at any rate these are not matters of government policy. In practice however there are lots of constraints, ranging from leaders who want to stand by their men, other leaders who are just not tough enough on discipline, endemic delays in the system of justice we practice, and so on. The important thing is that people should raise questions, that courts should at least sometimes impose punishments, that training should proceed apace to minimize abuses, and to make it clear that not only are abuses wrong, they are also generally counter-productive (though I know that some British and American military men would continue to disagree about this last).
Now Sri Lanka has enough and more of all the remedial measures I have mentioned, quite unlike in the dark days of the eighties, when very few people raised questions, when indeed there was hardly any independent media in which they could be raised; when courts hardly ever ruled against the government, with total contempt on the rare occasions when this did happen, policemen who had violated fundamental rights being promptly promoted, their fines paid by the state, and a tumultuous demonstration brought in state buses to their houses, led by a government goon; when there was no training at all in human rights awareness, when the Sri Lankan forces were described as the most indisciplined in the world, unfairly perhaps, but certainly not comparable to today’s military which is amongst the most disciplined in the world, with hardly any civilian casualties in military operations, very little collateral damage, almost no allegations of rape or sexual abuse in the field, a far better record than any other armed force fighting terror in any other part of the world.
And yet the complaints go on and on and on, culminating recently in two reports by the British and American governments, that have been seized upon to attack the Sri Lankan government. Why do what are supposedly friendly governments, more involved in fighting terror themselves than other white governments around the world, so willing to engage in naming and shaming? One would rather have expected them to assist us enthusiastically, drawing attention in private perhaps to deficiencies they had noted, but not allowing themselves to be used not only by politicians opposed to the government, but even by terrorists and by organizations that support terrorists, openly or stealthily. In short, why do they seem to be extending a lifeline to terrorism when for once it seems possible that Sri Lanka might do what they themselves have so signally failed to do, despite having so much military power and no one breathing down their necks? They have signally failed to crush terrorism, to restore not only democracy but also democratic institutions to areas deprived of it for many years, to also rehabilitate former proponents of terror into taking part in the electoral process, whereas we at least have been doing better all the time at this, since the present government took over.
Some sort of an answer came to me last week, when I attended a party given by the Swiss Ambassador, in honour of two members of her staff who were leaving, after having worked here in the fields of human rights and peace building. I was due to go out of Colombo, but I made it a point to attend because these were people for whom I had the highest regard. Admittedly the Swiss ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva occasionally says things that are misplaced, but his counterpart here has, as far as I know, never engaged in the public naming and shaming that some of her peers have perpetrated. She may have questions about human rights and the peace process, but these are not put in a way that they can be taken advantage of by others.
This seems the more remarkable, in that almost every Sri Lankan at the gathering would have welcomed a more publicly critical approach. Not that there were that many Sri Lankans there. My initial impression – and I certainly may have missed seeing or identifying many of those present – was of a sea of white faces. These did not, with a few exceptions, belong to the top officials, understandably so for these were largely the peers of the individuals being honoured. But it struck me that these were perhaps those who did the reports on which their seniors based their interventions.
And their reports in turn would be based, one assumes, on the views of their principal interlocutors, the Sri Lankans who were present at the event. These, it seemed, with just a few exceptions, were essentially those who lived off the whites in the room. In short, the Sri Lankans present were almost exclusively those who work for embassies, or for NGOs funded by these embassies or their agencies.
Now these people are not necessarily opposed to the government. Though some of those present have recently made it their business to attack the government relentlessly, I believe there are only a few NGOs that see this as their main focus, and many of those present were fundamentally decent people whose criticisms of the government and the armed forces are made in good faith. Again, though many are dependent on the white world for their wages, and indeed the status they enjoy, there are enough and more who would not let that affect their independence, who have shown themselves willing and able to take a stand against those who think money can buy anything.
The failure to engage
I was not then worried about who was there. What worried me was the almost total absence of anyone who might speak for the government. Where were the young diplomats, the academics, the officials and advisers of the Ministry of Human Rights, the Human Rights Commission, the Attorney-General’s Department, who should also contribute actively to the reports these young foreigners, working in missions and in aid agencies, prepare for their policy makers? And as for the journalists, except for Rajpal Abeynaike, and perhaps one or two others I did not notice, those present were the leading promoters of a change of government.
Whose fault is it that the interaction that would contribute to productive partnership has virtually ceased? On the one hand, there is certainly a language barrier, and a barrier perhaps of culture. When I read recently the enormous weight attached to sexual and transgender issues in the report of 39 NGOs to the Human Rights Council, I realized that they live in a very different world from that of the vast number of government employees. It is not that sexual issues are not important, of course they are, but it is economic and social rights that are of much greater concern to the vast number of citizens of this country who are represented by government officials. They can certainly appreciate the importance of civil and political rights, and assertions that these should be upheld they can readily understand; but looking at the gathering at the Swiss ambassador’s, wondering which of them saw overdosing on heroin as a mild aberration, I wondered about the great gulf that lies between the country at large and the influential members of a Colombo elite who are much more at home in such drawing rooms than in the country at large.
Many years ago, one of my brightest students, a former monk who had taken great pains to study English for his degree, told me after he had got a job with a newspaper to which I had recommended him that he found the culture unfamiliar. I thought he meant the drinking that I knew was common amongst my journalist friends. No, he said, what he meant was that they used spoons and forks to eat.
That young man subsequently joined the Administrative Service, being one of the few who completed the training course in English, when most of his peers revolted and got their medium of training changed to Sinhala. That was a batch in which there were no Tamils, something I found appalling. The authorities at the time agreed with me, but said no one suitable had applied. It did not occur to them that they should have engaged in the sort of positive discrimination that this government has at last applied to the police. None of this of course registers with the young foreigners who report on us, nor on their informants. I cannot otherwise understand the failure, in the days when President Kumaratunga’s pluralistic credentials were well known, to have at least initiated some policy changes to increase access by minorities to official positions. Sadly, I think I can understand, given what I have seen about the way they gather information, why the so-called international community that pleads for pluralism has scarcely registered the importance of the recent passing out of 175 Tamil policemen, trained in Tamil, for service in the East.
My former student, now quite senior in the Administrative Service, would probably not have felt at home in the ambassador’s drawing room. But he, and his peers – and some of those he introduced me to, when the Council for Liberal Democracy initiated a training session with the assistance of USAID, were even more intelligent and articulate in English – should have been there. But they might not have found the small talk easy, and the camaraderie that was so evident in that drawing room would not have been possible.
The Nostalgia of the Elite
So, though we can understand the insularity bred by our education system, though we can understand the ease with which the leadership of the Colombo NGO community interacts with the white youngsters who now constitute the international community in their own eyes and those of their interlocutors, the result is a mismatch between aims and achievements for the countries they represent. As Paul Scott so tellingly put it in describing the absence of the ordinary Indian from the portrait of the Jewel in the Crown, what is missing here is the citizenry of the country at large, with whom these foreigners should interact. Their failure to do so is perhaps what led to such a gross misreading of the situation in 2005, when they all assumed Mr Rajapakse would be defeated, and Mr Wickremesinghe would become President in a restoration as it were of the King over the Water.
A more perceptive American than most once referred to what was going on in Colombo diplomatic circles as the unhealthy nostalgia of some Europeans for the Wickremesinghe regime. This emotion affects even those, or perhaps especially those, who had no experience of that regime, but started working here in President Kumaratunga’s last days, when she too seemed to share that nostalgia despite her admirable role in getting rid of it – or, rather, in allowing the people a chance to express their views in what turned out to be a stunning electoral reversal in a very short time. By 2005 however the assumption was that, since the drawing rooms of Colombo had at last got together, in a manner not seen since 1947, there was no doubt that the Colombo ethos would triumph.
It did not, but then the dream was that it somehow would later, in 2006 or perhaps in 2007, as it had done in 2001 to subvert the people’s will as expressed in the 2000 General election. 2007 seemed especially hopeful, after the last SLFP leader steeped in Western culture jumped ship. No matter that the intellectual elite of the UNP had previously joined the government, finding their leader totally out of touch with the country at large. The drawing rooms of Colombo continued to believe they must have been enticed over, whereas the SLFP resignations were due to idealism, just like the SLFP and SLMC abandonment of the government in 2000. Now surely the millennium would dawn again, and if this depended on the horrid leftists bringing down the government, why there was ample evidence that Sri Lanka was full of turkeys who would vote for Christmas.
So right through 2007 we were told that the international community abhorred this government, that nothing could prevent an international monitoring mission from being imposed on us, that the cost of living was so appalling that the JVP had no choice but to vote against the government on the budget. One does not need to believe the stories about conspiracies to bribe people over to realize that the vultures were not only waiting to pick over the corpse, they had been depositing carrion to spread disease to promote a fatality. Much of the optimism in this regard was Sri Lankan, one should hasten to point out but, with such constant assertion of the inevitable, it is understandable that the more callow youngsters who frolic in the drawing rooms of Colombo were also affected, and turned wishful thinking into serious reports.
And, while I am inclined to grant the benefit of the doubt to most, to attribute much of what was going on to innocence abroad rather than deliberate distortion, certainly there is evidence of machination too. We have already been through the case of Rama Mani, working with her old friend Radhika Coomaraswamy to associate ICES with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, without keeping the Board of ICES informed. Radhika even seems to have taken the UN for a ride on that one, getting their permission to stay on the Board to appoint a successor, and then assuming that bestowed on her the responsibility to protect that successor, to the extent of practically blackmailing those who drew attention to financial improprieties. Fortunately the UN has now seen the light, and Radhika has resigned from the Advisory Board of GCR2P. This is just as well, if the tactics she used were representative of how precisely her version of the international community planned to protect the countries they intended to force themselves upon.
The deceitfulness of the plausible
But before Rama Mani hit the headlines, there was another case in which initially I was even more naïve than I had been as concerns Radhika. This was with regard to Norbert Ropers, whom I met for the first time last October, when he kindly gave me lunch, and explained what the Berghof Foundation had been doing in Sri Lanka. During our meeting, he almost shyly introduced the topic of the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy which I had criticized in a recent press release, for arranging a meeting in Geneva at which the Sri Lankan government had been attacked, without allowing any opportunity for a response. We felt particularly hurt about this, because our Mission in Geneva had arranged several opportunities for those who wished to criticize Sri Lanka to do so at meetings within the Palais de Nations, so that there could be active debate and discussion. Instead – perhaps arrogantly, we felt it was because we had been able to refute all their allegations systematically at the earlier meetings – they avoided the final debate we had suggested, and instead met on their own to lambast the government and obtain maximum publicity for this.
Norbert Ropers very graciously, as it seemed to me, told me that the organization which had arranged the meeting was in essence an LTTE front, which had been set up by the Berghof Foundation. His point was that, in the time when the Ceasefire seemed a great opportunity, he had genuinely believed that the LTTE could be brought into the democratic process, and setting up civil society organizations like this, which could interact with similar organizations in Sri Lanka, had seemed a positive initiative.
I could understand this, but it seemed to me that once the LTTE had shown itself unwilling to change, the Berghof Foundation should have registered this and severed links. That, Ropers assured me, was precisely what had happened. Of course they had never controlled the organization, and now they had no idea what it did.
I believed him. I even attended his Christmas party, a couple of months later, when I realized questions about him had been raised, to show that I believed in his good faith. I was away then over Christmas, and found when I got back that his visa had been cancelled. He had sent me a book as a farewell, and I took pains to send him a thank you note. When I was told later that he had been conspiring against the government, I was not convinced, and I thought it understandable that the German ambassador, and then one of the German ministers, seemed very cross at his removal. I thought the way they had expressed this was strange, but I assumed that some liberties had been taken in the reporting, and they could not really have been as patronizing as the Colombo media claimed. The matter did not seem to me worth pursuing and, even though, in the course of studying some funding patterns, I found that the Berghof Foundation and its employees were at the centre of several interlocking directorates, I did not think that proved anything except misjudgment, based on the exploded ideals of the Ceasefire period.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that some alert Sri Lankan abroad informed us that Centre for Just Peace and Democracy will soon have formal status at the UN as a registered NGO. Further research revealed that it had been in continuous touch with the Berghof Foundation, and had signed last year a Memorandum of Understanding for Institutional and Programme support, which may have contributed to its elevation it seemed to official status at the NGO. I felt a complete fool. But I also felt deeply disappointed. The principle I had tried to uphold in all my work, and especially now at the Peace Secretariat, is that one must always engage. I was glad I had had lunch with Ropers, listened to his explanation of what the Berghof had tried to do. Why had he felt obliged to lie to me?
Holding funders accountable
I believe from what Ropers told me that much of Berghof funding as far as Sri Lanka goes comes from the German and the Swiss governments. Are these governments aware that the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy is an LTTE front organization? If so, does this affect the way in which we should respond to the pronouncements of these governments? If not, should they now not launch a thorough investigation into the manner in which their efforts at peacebuilding seem to have been traduced by the instruments through which they chose to operate? After all, when I suggested to the Swiss ambassador that funding for teaching policemen Tamil would be welcome, she said they did not have resources. But I pointed out that they had sunk it seems massive amounts into the Berghof. Now that it seems some at least of that funding has gone to the LTTE, surely they owe it to the people of this country to make recompense.
Elsewhere I have dealt with the enormous waste of funds intended for promoting peace that the Germans, and more recently the British, sank into disbursements by FLICT, an organization for Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation. I had previously discussed with one of the aid administrators at the German embassy, which has generally done much good work, how concentration on dancing butterflies seemed ridiculous to promote peace, by which I meant funding for what seemed abstract creations rather than concrete measures of the sort I put to them. Since that discussion I have shown how large sums went to precisely those social butterflies that decorated the Swiss ambassador’s drawing room. Since then it transpired that a fairly hefty sum from FLICT formed part of the funding my old friend J S Tissainayagam received for publications that certainly do not seem to have promoted peace.
Part of this is of course the fault of the government, in not having carefully monitored such disbursements. But greater responsibility I feel lies with the donors, who did not sufficiently consult with the government to ensure that initiatives were consistent with government policy. At the very end of 2003, as I have noted, Bradman Weerakoon, against the recommendations it seems of the Peace Secretariat, went ahead with procuring UNDP funding for the LTTE Peace Secretariat, with equivalent funding for the government one, only that the latter was disbursed to NGOs for the butterfly brigade. UNDP, despite promises, has still failed to let me know who precisely benefited from all that money. But I cannot blame the UNDP, though one would expect more careful accounting and record keeping from an international organization, it was our fault for not having put a stop to all this, for not having insisted at the time on transparency and accountability.
Bradman was of course prominent at the Swiss party. Apart from Mr Anandasangaree, he was the only politician I saw there, except that doubtless the Swiss do not see him as a politician, but rather as a fine upstanding member of Civil Society. Any clear sighted assessment will find that he has not made the transition made by say, Mangala Moonesinghe – also at the party, but clearly no longer a politician, now even more obviously the idealist he has always been – but clear sighted assessment is not what this game is all about. People believe what they want to believe, and I fear that the international community, in the sense Bradman would use the term, find him much more congenial than most. With a name like that, how could he not be?
An excess of seed money
Mangala Moonesinghe now chairs the One Text Initiative, which has been referred to in a piece on Tissainayagam, claiming that his bona fides can be seen in that he ‘worked untiringly for peace with the ministers of this government and with members of all parties at the One Text Initiative’. Now from the little I knew of Tissainayagam in the past, I believe he was a genuine idealist, who would not willingly get involved in terrorist activity. At the same time we have to recognize that the LTTE swept many people into its net during the Ceasefire period, many of them sincerely believing that the period of terror was over and that the Tigers had turned into Pussycats. Many such got involved in activities, and in particular funding processes, that they thought were totally innocent. When this proved not to be the case, it was not so easy to withdraw from their involvements.
I have no idea whether something of the sort has happened in this case, and in any case the details of suspicious funding from abroad, which seems to have occurred, though I trust not to Tissainayagam himself, are not my business. I am more concerned with the sums that seem to have been freely flung around here, without due accountability. FLICT provided money direct to Tissainayagam’s journalistic ventures, while his wife, in her article, uses his involvement with One Text to suggest that he is above suspicion.
This is extremely unfair, for Tissainayagam is only a TNA representative at One Text, not central to the reforms that have now been initiated to make the Initiative more meaningful. And whilst One Text officials have tried to ensure, as indeed anyone should, that Tissainayagam is not subject to any undue pressure, they have not interfered with the investigation. As a consequence of the concern that they, and indeed other officials, evinced, Mrs Tissainayagam was I believe escorted to see her husband by the police. Her article is misleading then in giving a harrowing account of what purports to be ‘her first visit to TID’.
Why such distortion? Is it necessarily the case that Tissainayagam’s arrest should have been based entirely on prejudice, that there is no possibility at all that something might be wrong about the way in which he received and deployed international funding? Many people have died because of terrorism, and more in the last few years because of the enhanced capacity of the LTTE, following the flood of funds they were able to get their hands on. Hardly any of that went for development, for alleviation of the difficulties faced by so many citizens of the North and East.
But much more important to our opinion makers, as they see themselves, is the welfare of the advocacy agents in the capital. In effect the concentration in the drawing rooms of Colombo of aid meant for Sri Lanka has thus totally distorted all perspectives, and any questioning of what is done with this aid is considered improper. In fact questioning leads to a determination to hand out even more to the stinking rich, just to show who is in charge. Thus the panjandrums at ICES thought it fit, without any proper budgetary provision for this, to pay out Rs 6 million for the benefit of having had Rama Mani for just over a year, and now want to pay around a third of that sum over again, as compensation – thus accepting responsibility as it were for her involving ICES with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, even though she had not informed them of all this.
It seems to matter not a whit to them that they have been using money meant for projects, and even endowment income, to keep Dr Mani in the style to which she was accustomed. The donors, who should be concerned about misuse of their funds, are more concerned about reinstating Rama Mani, to the extent of threatening other more productive NGOs with cutting funds for not worshipping at the feet or whatever of this preposterous idol. At times I wonder if all this is seen as a small price to pay for institutionalizing the right to protect, to interfere, to pontificate at length – but I recollect a principle I learnt early in life, namely that one should never assume wickedness when incompetence provides a sufficient explanation of events. At the same time, there comes a stage when excessive incompetence, or ignorance, becomes culpable, particularly when public property is involved.
Ensuring transparency and accountability in partnership
I will doubtless be criticized for discussing these matters publicly, but I cannot understand why they should not be public. These funds have come into Sri Lanka to assist us in our quest for peace, and we cannot achieve peace without transparency and full accountability. Certainly some things may need to be kept confidential, but what such funds are used for, and the source of those funds, must be public knowledge. You do not need to be particularly sophisticated to understand that, in general, he who pays the piper calls the tune. There are of course several people who will maintain their independence regardless of who pays them, but that is all the more reason for there to be public awareness of any payments relating to issues in which their final responsibility is to the Sri Lankan public.
Government should of course investigate all this, and ensure transparency, but government is not always efficient and, if government officials also get involved in a collegiate atmosphere, transparency gives way to solidarity. I would suggest that an equal responsibility lies on donors, to make sure that they work in accordance with government policies, that they publish clearly all recipients of funding, that they ensure a match between aims and methods, and that they do not allow the whole exercise to degenerate into rent-seeking that needs to feed on itself.
What happened instead is an outpouring of funds that went to fulfil particular agendas, not necessarily those of the donors, perhaps not those of the immediate recipients. One of the guests at the party, a Tamil himself, having upbraided me for having got associated with what he described as two awful Tamils in their opposition to Rama Mani, told me he thought Tissainayagam had got carried away by money. If so, this was not apparent in his lifestyle, which seems to have continued as simple and I feel innocent as in the days when I first knew him. Rather, the funds he had to take responsibility for would have proved easy pickings for others less scrupulous than himself. In that respect, the donors who did not bother to check on what they were funding must bear some responsibility for his current plight. Significantly, the account of his case does not suggest any abuse on the part of the investigating authorities, and certainly from the start his wife had access to him and I believe he has been treated with total propriety. That is only as it should be, not only for moral reasons, but also because anything else would be totally counter-productive. After all, a media that persisted in claiming that all those arrested with him were Tamil, including a Mr Wijesinghe, would certainly twist anything that happened to alarming proportions, and their friends in the international community would not hesitate to follow suit.
Advantages to the Tigers from unaccounted funding
The investigation however needs to be thorough. Even if the funds Tissainayagam controlled did not directly benefit the LTTE, the concerted attacks of various media organizations on the government is grist to their mill. Now this does not mean that there should be no criticism of the government in the press. What is unacceptable is that so much funding should be given by foreign governments to agencies that denigrate the government relentlessly.
Sadly, the LTTE has since the Ceasefire seen this as their due. Their demand was that they should be funded without question, and their demand was acceded to. We are still waiting for the results of the long overdue audit of the million dollars or whatever it was that UNICEF – with the full acquiescence of the then Sri Lankan government, I hasten to add – handed over to the TRO. We have seen the use made of the funds given for communications – again with the full acquiescence of the then government – by UNDP and the Norwegian government, with only the latter at least telling the LTTE that it thought such use improper. We know about the equipment handed over by the then government, using the Norwegians as an instrument, we know how successive governments paid duty for sophisticated vehicles.
If all that has stopped, we now know that aid for what is termed peace building continues, as with the Berghof Foundation subvention to the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy. If Tissainayagam, with his millions from FLICT, has been used as a front, what about the partners with which projects in that dubious area called protection continue to be conducted in un cleared areas? The United States is now, according to a recent newspaper report, going to charge a man who worked for an Islamic charity because he organized ‘a trip by three US lawmakers to Iraq in the run-up to the war’ – but we are expected not only to accept foreign funding for agencies operating in conjunction with the LTTE, we are upbraided for preventing some of the white elements in the international community from visiting them and exchanging pleasantries. The United States, I should note, is consistent in this regard, but it seems to indulge the very different approach of its cousins, who would not dream of criticizing the US for practices and principles for which they roundly condemn us.
Possible motivations for double standards
What lies behind all this? The double standards, the rejection of democracy, the indulgence of perverse criticism. Is it only the mad social whirl of Colombo? Certainly, when Colombo was at one with the government, in the eighties, we heard very little criticism of authoritarianism, of the perversion of the constitution, the relentless belittling of Tamil aspirations, the postponement of elections, the attacks on strikers. This does not necessarily mean the West is hypocritical, for today’s policy makers have come a long way since the days of ruthless partisanship associated with the Cold War. But it does mean that their sanctimoniousness rings hollow, given that we are essentially now suffering for the sins of the Jayewardene ascendancy, its appalling constitution, its adventurism (which the white world then approved of) as regards India, its attacks on Tamils (which at least woke the West from its lethargy, if briefly).
Still, though one should not forget the past, one should not dwell on it overmuch. Today’s problems require solutions today. We should then consider what precisely makes at least some elements in the West act in a manner that may undermine the government, and provide an incentive to the LTTE to keep fighting, in the belief that the wonderful summer of 2002 can be brought back, when they could happily infiltrate the country as a whole, commandeer the allegiance of administrators throughout the North and East, build up their stock of weapons as well as fortifications in areas they had been kept away from previously, recruit children at will, and deploy massive amounts of funding, from the diaspora as well as a gullible collection of international donors.
Firstly of course there is the influence of the diaspora. That should not be underestimated, especially after the Ceasefire in a sense gave the LTTE the status it had long demanded, that of the sole representatives of the Tamils. To overcome this it is essential for the government to engage actively with the diaspora, to show them that their funds can be used to benefit their kinsmen in the North and East, that they can become partners in the development programme in those areas.
Secondly, there is the undue influence of the elite advocacy NGOs in Colombo. To deal with them, the government should ensure total transparency with regard to funding, preventing the game some foreign governments play, of claiming that Civil Society is critical of the government when it is their own funds that provide Civil Society with its voice. I am reminded when I hear such arguments of the head of the European Human Rights office, who basically called our Ambassador in and declared that the time was not ripe for elections in the East. He had been briefed by one of our more plausible activists, who is heavily funded by the EU, but he also claimed that the reports of EU monitors at the last election showed that elections in those areas could not be fair. It never occurred to him that it was precisely the parliamentarians who triumphed at that election (give or take a couple who were killed by the LTTE, because they were thought to owe allegiance to the East) who were the most vehemently opposed (together with the more dogmatic NGOs) to elections in the East.
The dilemmas of dependency
But, finally, there is perhaps the fear that their own influence will be minimal if Sri Lanka solves her problems. That is not a notion that is ever clearly articulated, but it lay at the heart of British policy in the subcontinent when they ensured partition sixty years ago. Most British administrators did not consciously seek this, but in the end they gave in to the predilections of what Scott calls their dark side, the paternalists who continuously required justification for the dominance they wished to exercise. I do not think there is any conscious policy of wanting to stay on, except perhaps in the younger aid workers who are having such a wonderful time in Colombo, and so many fantastic cheap hotels. But it must be hard to think that we might just conceivably be able to manage without them. And of course it cannot harm anyone, except the inhabitants of this island perhaps, to keep the pot boiling.
Twenty years ago, when India finally put paid to Jayewardene’s efforts to hand over Trincomalee to the Americans, I was of the view that America did not mind too much, given indeed that they had got Diego Garcia from the British, and without any people, in one of the more outrageous examples of sustained Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy. Still, that was doubtless done with the highest motives, to save the world from communism, as was the assistance to the Taliban, so graphically expounded in ‘Charley Wilson’s War’. But now that history has taught them they can never be sure who will be hostile next, a little insurance cannot come amiss.
How can we deal with this? I believe the only answer is the sort of forthright approach India has adopted over the years, now clearly with resounding success. We need to develop a sense of national unity, so that there will only be isolated examples of people in influential positions whose allegiance is not primarily to this country. We have also to make it clear that we cannot be used as an agent for extraneous purposes. For that, I believe, we have to develop a strong regional identity, the togetherness in diversity that has transformed the ASEAN countries into independent entities that cannot be used against each other. They may have their differences, but the confrontations of the past are clearly no longer possible.
I conclude then with the idea that we need to work much harder at developing SAARC. We are uniquely able to do this, for we are trusted by all its members, and have a population that can relate to every other country in terms of religion as well as culture. With the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, there is a window of opportunity for the region that we should not let pass. Sixty years ago, with partition, there began a history of rivalry and suspicion that has prevented this region from developing as it should have. Now, finally, we should take this chance to finally rid the white man of his burden, and move forward on our own.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process