By: Dr. Chandrani Gunaratna
The New-York based Human Right Watch released another disinformation http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/03/23/sri-lanka-no-let-army-shelling-civilians report on Monday (March 23) saying that despite the assurances given by the government of Sri Lanka the Army continues to shell the no-fire zone where thousands of civilians are held as human shields by the terrorist outfit, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
HRW citing new information from the region said that they have received reports of civilians being killed and wounded daily in the no-fire zone, while the Sri Lankan government continues to deny the attacks.
Their ‘reliable’ new information came from a doctor at the makeshift hospital in Putumatalam who over the phone told the HRW ‘that dozens of dead and wounded civilians were being brought to the hospital daily.’
There is no doubt the ‘reliable’ information was received from the same doctor who supplies exaggerated casualty figures to Associated Press and BBC. HRW says shells fell 250 meters away from the makeshift hospital while the doctor was on the phone with the HRW.
It is surprising how this doctor has miraculously survived this long while hundreds of civilians around him have died daily due to the shelling from the government on every hospital, makeshift or otherwise he has been serving.
Does HRW have any information from sources other than this doctor? Are there any other doctors in the hospital who can give information? Is this a self-appointed spokesman for civilians or LTTE? Do they have any information from the aid agency workers in the area? HRW in its report mentions few incidents of death and injury to aid workers, so there are at least local aid workers in the area.
Certainly an international humanitarian agency cannot just rely on just a telephone conversation thousands of miles away with a source who could very well be either under the death threat of LTTE and acting as a LTTE spokesman or an actual LTTE Tiger acting as a doctor. Are there any HRW staff in or near the area who can verify the identity of this doctor who gave all the information in a phone call while shelling is going around him?
Simply put what credible facts and figures the HRW has, to claim that the government troops are still shelling the no-fire zone and the makeshift hospital other than hearsay? What evidence does HRW have to identify the shells that fall in the no-fire zone are from the Sri Lankan Army and not from the LTTE? After all LTTE has no regard for the human life as they continue to kill the civilians who try to leave.
If the Sri Lankan government is still continuing the shelling and as Brad Adams, the Asia director at HRW says, “has responded to broad international concerns with indignation and denials instead of action to address the humanitarian crisis,” why would the sailors of the Sri Lankan Navy risk their lives to evacuate the fleeing civilians who are being shot at by the LTTE?
For a while HRW hollered of genocide and internment camps with barbed wires for the lucky ones who escaped the LTTE execution. Those charges went silent when the government allowed the international aid agency officials to visit the Internally Displaced People (IDP) centers in Vavuniya and to see for themselves how the displaced are treated.
Sir John Holmes, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator toured the civilian shelters last month and said he was very satisfied with the way the government authorities are handling the humanitarian situation in the IDP centers.
When the Sri Lankan military started the offensive last year from Mannar in the Northwest and proceeded towards the east and even during the capture of Kilinochchi the Air Force bombed various LTTE installations and strongholds but there was no accusations of government shelling of civilians that flew around the globe despite that there were more civilians in those areas then.
Coincidentally when the LTTE got cornered in Puthukkudyiruppu and realized that they are finished and no where to run and will be annihilated unless they stop the offensive somehow, the HRW started its campaign to accuse the government of genocide and shelling hospitals.
What is the real agenda of HRW? There is no secret that the HRW is supporting the Tamil Diaspora’s struggle to save their dream of separate homeland. HRW makes their goal of blocking the Sri Lankan government’s war on terror clear in their report.
One of HRW’s goals is to put Sri Lanka on the UN Security Council’s agenda, asking UN to “urgently address the deteriorating situation.” However, they have faced a stumbling block from China and Russia. China blocked the move last week and Russia voiced against it recently.
HRW has repeatedly called on Sri Lanka’s key bilateral partners, such as Japan, the United States, and India to tie their financial assistance to the civilian issue. During the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sri Lanka on February 24th, HRW insisted on imposing conditions on the financial assistance to Sri Lanka but admitted that China and Russia would oppose such a move.
Having failed to achieve these goals HRW now has turned its attention to block the loan the Sri Lankan government is requesting from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to continue with the resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the Northern Province.
Last week, Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch sent a “http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/03/23/letter-international-monetary-fund-imf-sri-lankas-emergency-support-loan-request”>letter to the IMF board saying that the government’s current policies and practices are counterproductive to the stated goal of the IMF loan and urged the IMF board members to set strict conditions before granting the loan.
HRW in the letter to IMF said that based on their recent field research on the humanitarian situation in the northern Vanni area “an emergency support loan for post-conflict resettlement will not achieve its intended objectives unless the Sri Lankan government takes serious steps to safeguard the rights of internally displaced persons and ensure an effective humanitarian response to the immediate conflict and post-conflict situations.”
The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly assured the donor countries, the UN, and all other responsible humanitarian agencies that the displaced civilians will be settled in their original residences as soon as the war is over and the area is cleared of mines. The government has clearly shown that it can be done as they did with the resettlement in the Eastern Province. Yet HRW somehow seems to be certain that the government would fail to deliver those promises perhaps because the organization is making every effort to ensure that war with LTTE would never be over.
The Sri Lankan government and Sri Lankan people all over the world have a responsibility to counteract the HRW’s relentless campaign to block the government’s efforts to militarily defeat the LTTE and liberate the people and its reconstruction and rehabilitation plans for the Northern Province.
By continually accusing the Sri Lankan government of disregarding the rights and well-being of civilians in the Vanni despite the government’s repeated assurance and releasing biased reports full of hearsay on the conflict, the HRW is purposely carrying out a smear campaign against the Sri Lankan government in the eyes of the Western world, especially of the donor countries.
U.S. Senator John Kerry’s letter to Sri Lankan President on March 23 saying that the Senator was alarmed by reports about actions taken by the government of Sri Lanka and urging the “Sri Lankan government to take all necessary steps to protect civilians, allow humanitarian access to the displaced, and credibly investigate human rights violations by all members of government security forces,” is a clear example of the devastating effect of this smear campaign by the HRW on Sri Lanka.
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)
23rd March 2009
It seems as though every man and his dog is worried about Sri Lankan civilians. Opening a newspaper without running into a statement expressing concern at their fate is almost impossible now, and not only in this country. Our civilians are on the minds of the entire world community, apparently from Great Danes to Yorkshire Terriers, and words of concern just keep flooding out of their mouths.
If this attention helped to relieve suffering, or saved even one life, the Government would be delighted. Civilians are not just our responsibility, they are our voters. The Government has a vested interest in their wellbeing, and we intend to provide them with all they need to get by while this struggle with terrorism is going on.
Sadly, most of the interjections achieve no such thing. They call on both sides to make sure we are adhering to international law on safeguarding civilians during wars, sometimes denouncing particular acts as obviously wrong. For example, many agencies and individuals have now condemned the LTTE for holding civilians against their will, for child recruitment and for suicide bombings. Such denunciations are useful. But the writers and speakers of the pious words of advice fairly often say, or sometimes just imply, that there isn’t much of a difference between the Government and the LTTE, and that the plight of civilians is effectively the fault of both sides.
This is nonsense, as we have said on occasions too numerous to count. And the facts back us up. If the Government were as indifferent to the fate of civilians as the LTTE, this conflict would have been over long ago. We could have destroyed the entire safe zone in which cadres are now hiding out, reducing everything there to dust. Indeed, we needn’t have bothered to declare a safe zone. No soldiers would have been killed, because the Air Force could have littered the place with bombs from the safety of great heights, as others do on a regular basis in their struggles with terrorism elsewhere. It would have been easy, if the LTTE example had been followed by the Government.
Terrorist suicide bombs in Sri-Lanka
Observers don’t take this argument seriously enough. Democratically elected governments can’t be judged according to the same criteria as terrorists, they claim, because they have greater responsibilities to the people.
It certainly makes a difference to the legitimacy of the struggle. The Government has been elected to look after the country and its citizens, and that includes protecting them from terrorism. This is a responsibility that we take seriously. The LTTE, on the other hand, doesn’t represent anybody. It has lost the majority of the support it once enjoyed, precisely because it treats people with contempt.
Furthermore, there are plenty of good reasons for comparing tactics. War crimes are the responsibility of individuals. Whether the person committing them is a terrorist or a democratically elected politician makes no difference when they come to be judged for their actions. Hitler would not have been handled any differently on the basis that he turned Germany into a one party state, because more relevant was the fact that he gassed six million Jews. It would be unthinkable to suggest that we couldn’t have expected any better from him, given that he was a dictator. Similarly, terrorists ought not to be let off the hook just because they don’t hold any official positions.
The LTTE thinks nothing of killing civilians, as we know only too well. It has deliberately targeted countless numbers, sending in dozens of brainwashed individuals, including children, to blow themselves up amongst the innocent. They have struck in buses and trains, amongst worshippers of different faiths, at political rallies and a lot more. Even the people the LTTE claims to be liberating are not exempt from its barbarism, as has become very obvious in recent days with hundreds of civilians being shot for attempting to escape to Government controlled areas.
Tactics are devious too, and this is where observers have tended to lose their way of late. The LTTE does everything possible to make sure that civilians are thrust in between its cadres and the Army. Its decision to stop civilians leaving the Vanni was designed to create such a buffer. But less obvious strategies are being used too. Bunkers are dug in the middle of civilian dwellings, while concealed artillery positions are put up alongside. Military hardware is kept nearby. The LTTE launches shells from among civilians, actually hoping to draw return fire. It has even fired its own heavy weapons into civilian areas, presumably just to be able to say that the Army has targeted them.
The LTTE launches shells from among civilians, actually hoping to draw return fire.
The difference in approach is obvious. The Army doesn’t try to use civilians to protect its soldiers, most importantly because it is committed to international humanitarian law, but also practically because it knows that the LTTE wouldn’t hesitate to shoot through the civilians. Contrariwise, the LTTE knows that the Army does stop and think when civilians get in the way, indeed that its operations are severely curtailed as a result.
The LTTE is completely focused on propaganda these days. It knows that the battle will be lost if outside support isn’t forthcoming, so it is directing all its efforts to the diaspora, and through them to the rest of the world. The LTTE is desperate to create the impression that a lot of people are dying, and it is willing to kill civilians itself when it can’t fool the Army into doing it by mistake. Only if the LTTE does this effectively is there a chance that other countries will try to intervene in the war.
Observers sometimes accept that this is the case, but then argue that the LTTE wouldn’t feel compelled to do any such thing if the Government weren’t trying to recapture the territory that it considered its own. We all know what the LTTE is like, they say, blaming the Government for pushing a group of terrorists into a corner.
This is rather crass, of course. Such people can’t be allowed to do as they wish. When the LTTE was sitting pretty in Kilinochchi, with thousands of square kilometres under its control and no military operations to bother it, it was still killing people. Furthermore, it was busy constructing defences, acquiring planes, boats and submarines, making bombs and forcing people to learn how to explode them. The LTTE was preparing to kill an awful lot more people, in other words.
The Government didn’t launch this military action enthusiastically, but in response to a long series of provocations that couldn’t be ignored. We tried negotiations, but the LTTE demonstrated time and again that it wasn’t serious in reaching a deal. It is even less interested in talking now, because it realises that it has lost the place it usurped for itself as sole representative of the Tamils. Since Muralitharan and Chandrakanthan joined forces with the Government, and as others like Devananda look forward to greater room to manoeuvre in future, the LTTE has been recognised for the fringe group that it has long been. There is now less hope than ever of Prabhakaran getting his own state to misrule, so intransigence rules.
In the circumstances, options are limited. The Government is doing whatever possible to save the lives and relieve the suffering of the civilians trapped in the conflict zone by the LTTE. Officials work continuously to get food and medicines in, despite logistical problems. Military operations are going on carefully, while air strikes and the use of heavy weapons have been curtailed. The Government can’t ensure that no more civilians will die, at least not while the LTTE is still in business, but we are doing our best. Sometimes nothing more is possible.
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)
16 March 2009
For a long time, organisations like Human Rights Watch looked no worse than sadly misguided. Their intellectual capacities obviously weren’t up to the analysis of basic facts, and their unshakeable belief in the fundamental goodness of humankind led them to assume that terrorists couldn’t be as dangerous as they seemed, but their intentions weren’t really in doubt. Lately, however, it has become clear that they must have some other agenda.
Charu Lata Hogg
The most recent article in a series attacking the Sri Lankan government, by the Human Rights Watch South Asia Researcher Charu Lata Hogg, was published in a Japanese newspaper earlier this week. And it was particularly crude in its methods.
Lying now seems to be perfectly acceptable to these modern day crusaders. In her opening paragraph, Hogg describes in rather compelling detail what she calls the scenes of death and destruction in the Vanni. Dead bodies of civilians lie strewn along dusty roads, she says. Hospitals, playgrounds and houses stand ravaged by rockets fired from multi-barrel launchers.
If Hogg has managed to identify the weaponry used and even noted the dirt underfoot, she must have a very good idea of what is going on, readers might be forgiven for assuming. Except that she hasn’t been within fifty kilometres of the conflict zone.
Hogg would probably argue that this is because the Government hasn’t allowed her to go, peculiarly concerned for her safety as she dashes across territory the LTTE has scattered with landmines to risk being hit by bullets Prabhakaran intends for escaping civilians. But this is no excuse for making things up.
Readers may also like to think that Hogg is just filling the gaps in her story. They may want to give her the benefit of the doubt, given that she operates under the rather useful banner of human rights. Perhaps she got those reports from somebody else and just made a silly mistake in presenting them as her own experiences.
Hogg might have checked to ensure that she wasn’t just repeating propaganda from the LTTE, although it isn’t clear how. It is a lot to swallow. Independent journalists would have explained that the statements were no more than hearsay because they hadn’t seen for themselves, but Hogg apparently doesn’t feel the need to meet even the lowest quality standards when pontificating to the rest of the world.
Hogg then claims that Human Rights Watch research indicates that there have been up to two thousand civilian deaths since the beginning of January. This is rather cunning, because it would be true even if none had occurred. But more disturbing is that the figure coincides with that being put about by TamilNet. And Hogg doesn’t indicate how else she came by the information. Readers may now be somewhat unwilling to just assume that her sources are not connected to the LTTE. As the Peace Secretariat has pointed out before, TamilNet started inflating reports of civilian deaths after we highlighted the very small number of allegations being made, with considerably less than a hundred in the six months to the end of December.
This lackadaisical attitude with regard to figures is nothing compared to the discussion of responsibility.
Hogg distributes blame almost evenly, stating that both the Army and the LTTE committed the killings. Then she subtly gives the impression that the majority were the responsibility of the Army, saying that many of the civilian deaths have occurred in areas designated by the Government as safe zones. What she doesn’t admit to is that the United Nations has said that the LTTE was probably behind at least some of these attacks on safe zones, while responsibility for others can’t be ascertained. It has also confirmed that the LTTE has been shooting at civilians trying to escape.
The difference between accidents and deliberate targeting doesn’t appear to be clear to Hogg either. The LTTE is engaged in the latter, which is what makes it a terrorist organisation. She hides this moral issue by pretending that the Government has sanctioned violations of the rules of war by telling the Army to treat everybody in the conflict zone as LTTE supporters, which is just nonsense. The Government and the Army Commander have made numerous statements on the need for a military strategy without collateral damage. Indeed, if not for this determination to avoid civilian deaths, it would have been possible to finish off the LTTE months ago. The Army could have reduced such a tiny area to rubble within days, as others have done in their struggles against terrorism elsewhere, instead of which it has been losing an increasing number of soldiers and spending ever more on equipment and weaponry. While accidents do of course happen, probably more often than they should because of the LTTE policy of using civilians as a human shield, Hogg has absolutely no justification for her claims of an all out war.
Hogg doesn’t show any greater concern for the truth when dealing with places she has actually been able to visit. She claims to have interviewed dozens of IDPs in Vavuniya, but what she has to say about their situation has little to do with reality.
The basic premise is that people are as badly off in Government care as they were in the clutches of the LTTE, which is a very sick joke in the circumstances. Hogg claims that while civilians who remain in the conflict zone come under fire as they run for cover, those who manage to flee lie wounded and dying without adequate medical care in hospital wards or militarised welfare centres. She says that there are few hopes for these IDPs because Government has inflicted its own atrocities on their community. It would appear that Hogg wants people to head back into the conflict zone, presumably to stand guard over Prabhakaran and his swimming pools.
Readers will have noted another rather egregious falsification in these descriptions of life in Vavuniya. Obviously some IDPs have been injured, and they are now being treated in Government hospitals. While standards may not be quite up to Harley Street, and Hogg might do well to remember that at least services are free, they are perfectly acceptable. In fact, the United Nations has praised our healthcare facilities on numerous occasions, and outcomes have long been better than in other countries with our income. More relevantly still, the vast majority of IDPs are not lying anywhere.
Hogg has not been into the welfare centres, another problem she would undoubtedly blame on the Government, although her stay in the country was incognito. But there can be no excuse for her overactive imagination this time. Independent journalists have been inside, and she could have even watched their video footage online from the comfort of her office in London. This demonstrates that the IDPs are healthy, being fed and clothed and provided with shelter, that the children are at school, and that young people and adults are getting training to put them in a better position to support themselves when they return home. The Government doesn’t allow all and sundry to run around the welfare centres, having learnt a good lesson from the jamboree that followed the tsunami, plus needing to take additional security measures in the face of serious threats from the LTTE, but they aren’t cut off from scrutiny.
The question of militarisation is getting a bit old too. Hogg pretends that the fact that the Army runs the welfare centres makes them threatening, and has a good tug at heart strings with her claim that loved ones are seen through barbed wire fences but families kept apart. In fact, all efforts are being made to get those families who happened to be separated on their way down from the Vanni back together again. And Hogg would realise that barbed wire fences are quite common in England too, if only she didn’t spend so much time skulking around this country. The Army is doing a good job in what are very trying circumstances, with thousands of people to cater for, because it is an efficient organisation and has a vested interest in ensuring that the IDPs are well looked after, so that the gains they have made at terrible cost in terms of the lives and health of their colleagues are not undone.
Human Rights Watch must have its reasons for this whole deception, and for the relentlessness of its efforts to denigrate the Sri Lankan government. And here comes the final lie. While it churns out articles and statements at a tremendous rate, it claims that the Sri Lankan conflict is getting no attention in the international arena. If that were true, the Peace Secretariat could get on with its real work instead of having to reply to so many false accusations made by people like Charu Lata Hogg.
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights12th March 2009
Response of Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, to comments by non-Governmental Organizations in the Interactive Dialogue on Item 3 in the Agenda of the UN Human Rights Council“Sri Lanka is grateful to the Asian Legal Resource Centre for giving it the opportunity to clarify a misconception about our engagement with the Working Group on Disappearances. A loose reading of his printed text by the ALRC Spokesman gave the impression that we were ignoring over 5000 cases of disappearances. In fact, as ALRC knows well, and as the graphics of the Working Group make clear, the vast majority of these cases related to the period 1989 and 1990.
Sri Lanka managed to clarify about half the cases reported for that period just before the introduction of the Ceasefire Agreement, through the sterling work of REPIA, the authority set up for rehabilitation purposes. Unfortunately, the government that signed the Ceasefire Agreement abolished REPIA, for reasons which ALRC may be familiar with, and the programme that had been set up for this purpose then broke down. This government has, with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner, developed a mechanism to go into the backlog, and we hope to deal with most of those cases in the next few months.
More vital for our ongoing commitment to Human Rights are the recent cases, and in this regard it was unfortunate that our reports on the 32 urgent cases sent to us in the first few months of last year, though prepared in early September, did not reach the Working Group until December. Though the Report seems to have been finalized after the meeting of the Working Group in November, we once again request the Working Group to report at least in an Appendix that we did reply last year, while accepting fully that it was our fault that the report reached the Working Group three months later than it should have.
Furthermore, while ALRC talks of 212 cases reported to the Working Group in 2008, the non-urgent cases were reported to us only this year, and we have already obtained police reports on these cases. Let me add that the police official dedicated by the Inspector General to work with us was transferred, and his replacement does not find it so easy to function in English. My own Ministry also has few officials able to work in English, let alone translate reports into that language. These are real problems Mr President, and well funded NGOs that sweep up the brightest and best of our youngsters should not confuse inadequacies with intransigence. That being said, Mr President, we will try to get the most recent report expeditiously to Geneva, while hoping that the Office of the High Commissioner will enable us to match NGO salaries and obtain more assistance to keep these NGOs satisfied, in the wonderful concentration of resources on answering their criticisms that the new NGO industry demands.
Finally Mr President, whilst we appreciate your rebuke to the International Federation of Journalists and its associates for talking about their own little obsessions instead of addressing the issues with which this Assembly should be concerned, I would like to take this opportunity to express our anger at the belittling of serious issues that their approach encourages.
They killing of the editor Lasantha Wickramatunga in January this year was an appalling act and it needs to be addressed, but it is an insult to Mr. Wickramatunga to link it with the topics under discussion. Secondly, while IFG trots out statistics with the reporting period changed each time, it must learn to distinguish between more recent difficulties and the excesses of 2006, which we have explained elsewhere, while also explaining how we managed to get that situation under control once strong LTTE influence had been eliminated from much of the country. The spate of LTTE propelled disappearances during the Ceasefire Agreement period, of Tamils from groups that had accepted democracy but continued critical of the terrorism of the LTTE, disappearances which could not be reported to Geneva because non-State actors do not fall within the mandate of the Working Group, led to a reaction which we have made clear was unacceptable, and this has now stopped. Like Human Rights Watch, which with unlimited resources produced a glossy book of Sri Lankan disappearances in early 2008, only three of which related to 2007, IFJ too must stop trotting out age old figures that take attention away from the few real problems we now face.
This self-perpetuating conspiracy of apparent plutocrats must stop, Mr President, and I hope you will ensure that we can go back to constructive dialogue instead of the finger-pointing that we sadly need to respond to, before it is broadcast indiscriminately by terrorist forces, which have only these particular cluster bombs now in their active arsenal.”
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
12th March 2009
Intervention of Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, in the Interactive Dialogue on the Reports of Special Rapporteurs under Item 3 of the Agenda of the UN Human Rights Council
“Sri Lanka thanks the Special Rapporteurs who spoke this morning for their reports on two important areas. We still remember the visit of the Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, and confirm that, as the only country in the world that has substantial proportions of its population belonging to four major religions of the world, we will continue to affirm pluralism and tolerance in this regard. The tragic occurrence yesterday at a mosque, where terrorism took the lives of people of different religions, shows that we need always to be on guard against forces that abhor the broadminded ecumenicalism that we strive to promote.
With regard to the Report on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, we deplore a confusion that takes away from the very real dangers that could threaten such defenders. Though the Rapporteur did not refer to Sri Lanka in her presentation, the Report itself mentions Sri Lanka several times, and one of these instances was also the subject of an intervention by the Czech Republic. Significantly, this was the reference that seemed to us irrelevant, since it seems to privilege irresponsibility and a lack of transparency that we have found especially worrying in the context of inadequate safeguards against the funding of terrorism and terrorist related activities.
Mr President, physical threats to anyone, including defenders of human rights, are to be deplored, and we believe the Rapporteur is right to draw our attention to possible lapses in this regard. But complaints about requirements with regard to registration and close monitoring of funding is essential, and we believe this Council should affirm the need for full accountability and transparency, for all public organizations, and in particular those that purport to sit in judgment on governments that are selected by and accountable to their peoples.
Mr President, we in Sri Lanka have had to face bunkers and walls and swimming pools for terrorist leaders built with funds which the taxpayers of countries more fortunate than ourselves intended for the benefit of our people. We have found that NGOs profiting from the generosity of citizens of such countries, and also from UN funding, claim to have been engaged in advocacy but can show nothing positive for their millions. We are tired, Mr President, of hypocrisy and double dealing that take advantage of the humanism of world citizens.
It is for this reason that we have asked for proper systems of accounting. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has agreed that there has been inadequate monitoring and coordination in the past, and has promised to improve the situation, but we need also to ensure accountability to the people of Sri Lanka with regard to money supposed to be expended on their behalf. Recently we found that an agency claiming to engage in advocacy, which engaged in propaganda against the government, claimed to have been funded by the Canadian and Australian governments, but the Australian government denied this. We are still awaiting clarification from Canada in this regard, and hope that at some stage responding to correspondence in this important particular will become regular practice. Unfortunately abuse of funding to attack government, which seems important to us, does not seem important to others, and in time this request for clarity too may be interpreted as an attack on defenders of human rights. Perhaps, Mr President, the mandate may need to be expanded in time, if the antics of non-State actors are to be treated with the seriousness they deserve, to deal also with defenders of States against secretly funded attacks in relation to Human Rights.
Mr President, Sri Lanka will not compromise on the need for financial probity and accountability and we strongly recommend that this Council too request and require minimum standards of accountability and transparency from all those who pronounce here. I am sure that the distinguished delegate from the Czech Republic knows exactly how her stay here and the documents she produces are financed, and there should be similar openness about the funding of those who launch attacks so regularly on particular governments.
Mr President, we have dealt previously with the questions of visits, which in principle we welcome, but they should be designed to improve the situation, as has happened with regard to mandates on Torture and Displaced Persons. Given however instances in which our attempts to engage were stymied, we are cautious about interventions that will not help. The Rapporteur had made requests to earlier governments, and we are happy that she renewed a couple of months ago a request last made in 2004. This may be considered in the light of her report, and in terms of the interactions which we hope will follow responses to the queries she has recently addressed to us.”
Prof. Rajiva WIJESINHA Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
Courtesy The Daily News
12 March 2009
Once again the International Crisis Group has pronounced on Sri Lanka, bang on cue after the other usual suspects. Most negative of these was Human Rights Watch which is a specialist, along with ICG, in purporting to be balanced. In fact they both persist in treating an elected government on a par with the terrorists they thus privilege.
Both of them specialize in being economical with the truth, most notably by being extravagant about numbers. They also seem unduly wary of anyone who can correct their mistakes. Human Rights Watch has failed to respond to my rebuttals of their claims and most recently, despite what seemed initial enthusiasm on the part of their Director, refused to meet me in Geneva.
International Crisis Group, in the form of its presiding genius Gareth Evans, failed to answer in 2007 to my detailed refutation of his suggestion that Sri Lanka was ripe for his own version of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect.
When I met him late last year in Geneva, he affected surprise when I told him he had not responded. Neither he nor his sidekick in Colombo, Alan Keenan, has since responded to my reminders. This is perhaps understandable since Gareth actually said that he realized I was a difficult person to engage with. In short, when they come across someone who knows more about a situation than they do, they run away – though I hope that that is not the reason for Gareth finally deciding to call it a day and leave ICG and his perverse patronizing version of the doctrine he was instrumental in developing.
Unfortunately his organization has returned to the charge, with the usual farrago of inaccuracies. It begins by claiming that ‘An estimated 150,000 civilians are trapped in an ever shrinking space, forcibly held back by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and exposed to indiscriminate attacks by the Sri Lankan military.’
That figure as Gareth and his crew know is contested, so to shore it up they add later ‘Independent estimates from sources on the ground and satellite imagery suggest at least 150,000 people are trapped by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military, more than the level claimed by the Sri Lankan Government.’ Who are these independent observers? Are they similar to the poor government official who claims today that the figure is 330,000? Is it the UN which has in fact gradually been reducing its estimates, along with even the most hysterical media outlets which at one stage were claiming 400,000?
And where does ICG get its accounts of satellite imagery? Surely with his excellent sources Gareth must be aware that at the last meeting of the UN group which saw itself as engaged in protection the report from satellite imagery was between 70,000 (which is the GOSL figure) and 100,000. Why then do Gareth and his ilk simply pronounce, without even the most rudimentary attempt to check their sources?
Then, along with his friends in HRW, he talks about ‘indiscriminate attacks’ by the Sri Lankan Forces. Surely he must know that indiscriminate attacks would have brought total victory long ago to the Forces. It is precisely because the Army is holding back on use of heavy weapons, in deference to the human shields the LTTE is using, that the LTTE is continuing to resist, that the number of civilian casualties is far fewer than when the LTTE used their heavy weaponry from amidst civilians, and that in fact the Sri Lankan Forces are suffering heavier casualties than previously.
The ICG claims that ‘Thousands have already been killed and many more wounded’, which is correct in terms of the worst case scenario, that on Tamilnet, which has about 2500 killed from June last year to now, and about 3000 injured. The number went up dramatically in January (there were fewer than 100 allegations of civilian deaths previously), in part because the LTTE started firing indiscriminately (as UNDP has recorded) and in part because the LTTE started forcibly conscripting even more civilians, including children (as UNICEF has testified).
But ICG makes clear its main aim early on when it demands pressure to stop what it terms the Sri Lankan Government’s ‘policy of annihilation’. It wants the government to ‘hold off on the final assault to allow relief to reach the civilian populations and to make it possible for those civilians who wish to leave to do so’. We have been here before, with HRW also wanting somehow to let the LTTE off the hook. Though they clothe it in the guise of concern for civilians, it is crystal clear to everyone that it is the LTTE that is holding onto these civilians, as it did for nine long months when the international community stood back and allowed them to be tormented.
ICG pretend that they want the LTTE to release the civilians, but twin it with a surrender that involves the ‘personal security of LTTE leaders and fighters guaranteed by the international community’. Why such kindness now? Why does ICG, which for years did not think of unequivocally asking terrorists to surrender, or even to return to negotiations, suddenly want the international community to guarantee the personal security of this unsavoury crew? The Sri Lankan Government is pledged to give the LTTE leadership a fair trial, and has indicated that an amnesty will be available for those dragooned into fighting. Why does ICG think the Tigers deserve greater privileges?
ICG claims that its ‘150,000 people…..have little access to fresh water, food, or medicine’, and suggest that little was provided between January and March. This is nonsense, given the food that has been taken in regularly right through February, a fact ICG gets over by talking about the latest delivery being the first ‘major’ aid. With regard to the hysteria about illness, again we have been here before, with the prophets of doom predicting epidemics every month for the latter part of last year, not bothering to explain why they were wrong when, month after month, they had to report that the health situation was under control. The explanation lies in the tremendous efforts of our national Health Ministry which has accordingly been nominated for the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize, with support from the UN.
ICG claims that ‘UN agencies have documented more than 2300 civilian deaths and at least 6500 injuries since late January’ which again is tosh. The UN made an estimate, which was then withdrawn (although it turned out to have been leaked, obviously to ICG too), and in any case granted that in the only cases where there was certainty about the source of firing, it was the LTTE. Then there is the sweeping statement that ‘More than 100 victims are arriving each day in the make-shift medical centres still functioning in Wanni, many of whom die before evacuation’ which is again nonsense, belied by the next sentence ‘The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been able to evacuate some 2,000 injured and sick persons over the past few weeks’. Since the evacuation process began just about four weeks back, and since the ICRC also began to bring out the sick, i.e., when they had brought out all the war wounded, ICG really needs to study its multiplication tables.
Any death should however be regretted, as should any injury, but this should be accompanied by clear condemnation of those responsible. ICG said nothing when the civilians were driven from pillar to post over the last nine months. It has ignored the clear evidence of the Tamil Bishop of Jaffna and the UN that the LTTE has been firing into the safe zone, and instead it repeats the LTTE canard that ‘the Government has continued shelling of civilian areas – including its own unilaterally declared “no fire zone” — without any significant pause over the past two months’ which is another bit of bombast since it is less than two months since the Government declared a safe zone.
It is in fact outrageous that ICG should claim that Government acts ‘regardless of the cost to civilians’. More officers and men have died in the last couple of weeks precisely because the forces are not using heavy weapons.
It seems that Gareth Evans and his heartless crew not only want to see more sacrifices on the part of the Sri Lankan Army, but insist on lying about it.
Contrariwise Sir John Holmes had the decency, when told about the tactics now being employed, to remark that this meant more casualties for the Forces. Instead of even noting this possibility, the ICG declares that ‘Unable to fire their weapons in a manner that respects the distinction between combatant and non-combatant, most Government attacks at this point are by their very nature indiscriminate.’ This is simply rank ignorance masquerading as sanctimoniousness.
And then ICG pronounces. With no idea of the reach of terrorism it declares, ‘The Sri Lankan military has already achieved its military objectives and essentially won the war.’
It then comes out with suggestions that would have made sense some months ago, but which it scrupulously avoided, perhaps because it was then engaged in plotting with individuals with sympathies for the LTTE. Gareth’s sidekick Alan Keenan was one of the key players in the preparation of a petition to the UN Secretary General which these secretive international NGOs then got Sri Lankan NGOs to present.
Now, again, the performance of ICG seems much of a muchness with that of those anxious that the Tigers should get away to fight another day. For the sake of humanity, of the children forced into Tiger ranks, of the poor Tamils driven to suicide for what ICG with superb understatement claims is a ‘Tiger leadership, which has become as much a cult as a rational guerrilla force’ it is time to put a stop to such ultimately destructive self-righteousness.
(The writer is Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process)
Letter from SCOPP SG to Ms. Juliette de Rivera, Director (HRW) dated Sept. 12, 2007
Letter from SCOPP SG to Director (HRW) dated Sept. 10, 2007
Posted on March 24th, 2009 1 comment
Letter from SCOPP SG to Brad Adams ( HRW) dated August 13, 2007
Letter from Brad Adams (HRW) to SCOPP SG dated August 9, 2007