Posted on April 28th, 2009 1 comment
H. L. D. Mahindapala29 April 2009
The Foreign Minister of UK,,David Milliband, and his French counterpart are due to land in Colombo today to put pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) to halt the offensive against the Tamil Tigers who are on their knees begging for a cease fire. So the objectives of the Tamil Tigers and the two visiting Foreign Ministers coincide. Coincidentally, both parties are raising human rights issues as the rationale for halting the offensive.
Not surprisingly the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Brad Adams, has timed to announce a series of threats to the GOSL on the eve of their arrival. In his latest statement titled We cannot ignore Sri Lanka , he has threatened the GOSL with punitive measures if it does not yield to his political demands disguised as issues of human rights. He, in fact, goes out of his way to tell the visiting Foreign Ministers that they must “deliver a strong message to GOSL” on the following lines
1. “There will be a reckoning”
2. “Investigations into the conduct of the conflict by both sides will take place”
3. “A commission of inquiry will be established.”
4. “Tamils streaming out of the conflict area can no longer be treated as criminals and held in detention camps indefinitely.”.
5. “Humanitarian aid and independent observers must be allowed in immediately”
6. There is still time for the members of the UN security council and other countries to put people over political gamesmanship and allow the UN to finally bring its full and collective weight to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
7. “There is still time for the Sri Lankan government to show some respect for the rule of law, some tolerance towards critical voices from the Tamil community, and a vision for a political settlement that would make Tamils believe that Sri Lanka is also their country.”
First, it must be noted that there is nothing new in the instructions given to the Foreign Minister and the GOSL. Adams is merely repeating the political agenda of local NGOs who had been campaigning to stop the war against the one-man regime of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Adams too is plugging the same line knowing that neither human rights nor the plight of the Tamil civilians will improve one whit as long as Prabhakaran is allowed to hide behind the innocent civilians.
Second, Adams ’ tone – not mention the thrust — is so arrogant and partisan (in favor of the Tamil Tigers) that it should be rejected out of hand by the GOSL even if it comes from the visiting Foreign Ministers. In putting pressure on the Foreign Ministers to deliver his message to GOSL he is hoping to use them as his messenger boys. Adams is assuming that he is he is authorized power to dictate terms to the GOSL through the visiting Foreign Ministers. Now that the local NGOs have lost their clout to interfere in the affairs of the state – the people in voting overwhelmingly to the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration in recent polls have confirmed this – Adams is eager to be their surrogate. Sri Lankans are sick to their back teeth with these unwanted and unwarranted interventionists trying to muscle in with their solutions which have failed to bring the nation to the end of the tunnel. So why go down that path again when it’s not going to bring the desired result of ending the violence of Tamil Tigers?
Third, Adams ’ latest recommendation for “a pause in fighting….. to alleviate so much pain and suffering” has been tried and tested twice in recent times without any positive response from the Tamil Tigers who are determined to fight to the last brain-washed terrorist, spurning the call from India and the international community to give up arms, give up violence and release the Tamil civilians held as captives by Prabhakaran and his gang wanted by the international community.. So how many pauses does he want? And what guarantees can Adams give on saving the lives of Tamils if there is another pause? Will it enable the Tamils civilians to escape Prabhakaran’s grip?. Can Adams give a guarantee that his formula will work? If not why is he whistling in the wind to prolong the agony of the Tamil civilians by giving Prabhakaran a new lease of life to perpetuate his violence by throwing Tamil civilians as cannon fodder? Is he battling to save human rights or Prabhakaran?
Fourth, for the first time HRW has, in passing as it were, threatened the Tamil Tigers too of reprisals. Why did it take so long to threaten action against them? The reason is obvious: it is because HRW was caught in a in a bind. It could not threaten the GOSL without threatening the Tigers. All these years it has let the Tigers off the hook even when they were accused by the UN of abducting children forcibly to fight in its futile war. The war crimes and the crimes against humanity committed by the Tamil Tigers, for which they have been banned by the international community, did not prompt HRW to threaten the Tamil Tigers until they found it useful to threaten the GOSL. Adams ’ partisan politics is as objectionable as his hypocrisy.
Fifth, he says that the GOSL will argue that it is a democracy carrying out the will of the people and they should be allowed to finish off the Tigers. Instead of accepting the will of the people Admas is bent on imposing his will. He has also conveniently avoided the fact staring in his eyes that the Tamil civilians t0o have voted with their feet to be with the GOSL abandoning “the Pol Potist regime” (New York Times) of the Tamil Tigers. Clearly, this reveals Adams’ ignorance of the ground realities and confirms the wisdom and the pragmatic knowledge of the victims who scorn the likes of Adams in INGOS and NGOs. They know that Adams and his ilk are singing for their supper by selling their suffering. If the pain and suffering of the victims are expressed unequivocally by the Tamil civilians seeking a better alternative (otherwise they wouldn’t have dared to face the bullets of the Tigers shooting them in the back as they flee) why is Adams trying to block their passage to a better alternative by stopping the military offensive?.
Sixth, it is not the preachings and the punditry and the morality of INGOs and NGOs that opened the passage for Tamil civilians to escape Prabhakaran’s Evil-laam. It was decisively the successful breach in the sand bank opened by the military offensive that enabled the mass exodus from Prabhakaran’s prison. If the military failed to hit the sand back built by Prabhakaran and breach it the tens of thousands who escaped would be still under the grip, with the likes of Adams crowing that the Tamil civilians are with Prabhakaran. Isn’t it time for Adams to wipe the dust clouding his vision and took a more realistic view of how to save human rights by saving the Tamils civilians?
Seventh, however flawed it may be, the liberation of the east from the Tamil Tigers is a compelling argument that indicates the respect for “law and order, some tolerance towards critical voices from the Tamil community, and a vision for a political settlement that would make Tamils believe that Sri Lanka is also their country.” If further proof is needed the Tamils voting with their feet confirms that “ Sri Lanka is also their country” and not –the pseudo-state of Evil-laam.
Unfolding events reveal that this war is not wanted by the people or the successive Sri Lankan governments. This war was officially declared in May 1976 in the infamous Vadukoddai Resolution drafted by the political leaders of the north. It is the Tamils of the north who l au nched the war, financed the war and prosecuted the war (waged partly by child soldiers recruited forcibly by the Tamil Tigers) killing peace-makers, Tamil dissidents and even international agreements.
Rajiv Gandhi was the first notable peace-maker (he negotiated the Peace Agreement with the Tamil leaders and Sri Lankan government) who was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers. Second, they nearly got President Chandrika Kumaratunga after she offered Velupillai Prabhakaran the north and the east for ten years without an election to challenge his one-man regime. She narrowly escaped death though she lost one eye. Third, Prabhakaran shot to pieces the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 which came with international guarantees by violating 95% of the terms and conditions, according to Scandinavian peace monitors. This prompted the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to terminate it. Before that the Tamil Tigers had walked out of peace talks on the flimsiest of excuses.
Clearly, India, the regional super power and the Co-Chairs – Norway, Japan, EU and US, – representing the international community have failed to tame the Tigers. Nor did the Neville Chamberlainian kind of appeasement in handing over the territory claimed by the Tamil Tigers yield any lasting solution. The only experiment that was not tried was to fight fire with fire. When that succeeded under President Rajapaksa every international instrument has been introduced to tie the hands of the Government forces fighting the Tamil Tigers – the primary source that violates every cannon of international humanitarian law.
By and large, every segment of Sri Lankan society sympathize with the plight of the victims running away from the one-man regime of Prabhakaran. They want the war to end — rather fought to a finish as seen in the latest elections results. This is not different from the lines argued by State Secretary Hilary Clinton and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In heir latest statement Ms. Clinton had expressed disappointment about the failure of the Pakistan government to deal more decisively with the Talibans. And Mr. Brown argues (in front of camera) that Taliban violence should be terminated in Afghanistan bec au se it is spilling over to the streets of London .
Their arguments are valid. But the question is why Mr. Brown, who is so concerned about the streets of London , doesn’t care two hoots about the victims in the streets of Colombo ? It is also necessary to ask why Ms. Clinton (having possible recovered from water boarding and other form of torture) is urging the Pakistan government to wage a more intense and focused war on Talibans and, in the same breath, opposing the most successful war on terror in Sri Lanka ?
This is not an argument to give a free hand for the Sri Lankan Security Forces to go on the rampage among civilians. Their offensive is to save the civilians trapped inside the last spit of land held by the Tamil Tigers. There is no alternative to those genuinely concerned about saving lives. Besides, none of those proposing an end to offensive can guarantee that Prabhakaran will let the Tamil people go.
Right now the Sri Lankan forces are faced with the problem of how to make an omelet without breaking eggs. The positive results of the offensive have proved that there is no alternative than this to save the Tamil civilians. If the military offensive of breaching a sand bank opened the way for tens of thousands of Tamil civilians to escape the grip of Tamil Talibans it is clear as daylight that the elimination of Prabhakaran is he answer to overall humanitarian issue.
HRW has duty to ask a simple question before rushing into pass strictures on the GOSL. HRW should ask: who can and has served human rights better under prevailing conditions? The answer could found in the Tamils walking out of Prabhakaran’s gulag. It clear that the long-term and the positive answer to serve human rights is in eliminating Prabhakaran. Stopping the offensive at this late stage –a practice never adopted by the big powers in any of their wars – will only exacerbate the suffering and pain of he Tamil civilians. However, painful it may be a surgical operation to cure the cancer is the only way to peace, stability and protection of human rights.
Posted on April 28th, 2009 No comments
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Secretary General Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
28th April 2009
Like the proverbial pig sticking its snout into swill, Human Rights Watch has leapt with glee onto the recent declaration by the Sri Lankan government that its security forces ‘have been instructed to end the use of heavy weapons’. HRW has immediately concluded that “By finally admitting it has been using heavy weapons all along, the Sri Lanka government has shed light onto its official deception as well as its brutal military tactics.”
This was the delightfully dense Brad Adams, who does not understand that not only was the government using heavy weapons, it has indeed reported regularly on its achievements through such means. The point the government had been making was that it was not using heavy weapons on civilians, and indeed its recent magnificent achievement in breaching one of the walls the LTTE had built up, and thus ensuring that over 100,000 civilians could get to safety, was without the use of heavy weapons as pointed out at the time.
Had Brad Adams understood the use of the English language, he would have realized that the government has made clear that it will continue with its efforts to rescue civilians, and this will involve the use of appropriate, and proportionate, weaponry. Though this had been the principle it had adopted in rescuing civilians from the safe zone and elsewhere, previously it had not eschewed the use of heavy weapons in defence. Just a couple of weeks back it had publicized its removal of LTTE heavy artillery which had been firing out of the safe zone. This was not done by snipers or even catapults, but involved precision bombing by the air force, and there was no reason whatsoever to conceal such action.
Similarly, when the LTTE used its tank to fire on fleeing civilians, the forces had an obligation to stop such action. Unfortunately they do not seem to have succeeded in this, but this means that, if at any point the LTTE resorts to such tactics again, the forces too will have to respond in kind to save civilian lives.
However, since the LTTE has now announced a unilateral ceasefire, it is to be hoped that they will refrain from using such heavy weaponry against civilians and against the aid that is being sent in – there were reports a couple of weeks back, it will be remembered, of firing on a food ship, and all the ICRC said then was that they did not think the ship had been actually targeted. If the LTTE sticks to its word, there will therefore be no need for government to use heavy weapons at all. However, if the LTTE does use heavy weapons, it would not make sense for government to nevertheless continue with its moratorium, and try to deal with anti-aircraft guns or tanks with the slingshots and catapults that Mr. Adams might advocate.
Offensive operations have stopped, as they should be while so many civilians are being used as human shields. However that does not take away from the moral obligation to release those civilians, and that is what the government has said it will continue to attempt. Mr Adams may think this his cue to engage in tendentious interpretation that betrays his ignorance of facts, and his Luddite understanding of what war means in the modern age. We can only hope that the visiting Foreign Ministers, Mr. Kouchner and Mr. Miliband, the current Castor and Pollux of NATO and of Western operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, will not fall in with this sanctimonious finger-pointing.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process