War Crime:Urgent need for reappraisal of Go SL's response
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 5December 31, 2013, 6:02 pm
A smiling Jaffna-born Canadian MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan with Rev. Father S. J. Emmanuel, President of the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum
By Shamindra Ferdinando
There is something common in Rathika Sitsabaiesan and Nisha Desai Biswal, now in their early thirties. Both left their countries of birth as toddlers along with their families, seeking better lives in the West. Rathika and Nisha had been just five and six years of age, respectively, when their families migrated. Jaffna-born Rathika’s family moved to Canada in the mid 80s. Both had achieved important milestones in their lives; Rathika is now a Canadian MP, while Nisha, from rural India recently succeeded Robert O Blake as US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.
Rathika returned to Sri Lanka on an Etihad flight on December 28, 2013 as a Canadian member of parliament representing the New Democratic Party (NDP). Having obtained a tourist visa, Rathika rushed to the Northern Province where she had a series of meetings with representatives of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK). She is here on a fact finding mission ahead of the next session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March, 2014. Rathika was among those wanting President Mahinda Rajapaksa to address accountability issues during the final phase of the military offensive on the Vanni east front (January-May 2009) or face the consequences in Geneva. She also publicly accepted war crimes allegations made by the UK media outfit, Channel 4 News in June 2011.
Sitsabaiesan was elected to the House of Commons on the New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket at the last parliamentary polls on May 2, 2011.
Canada is home to one of the largest communities of the Tamil diaspora in the world, outside of India, many of whom live in Rathika’s constituency, Scarborough—Rouge River and across the greater Toronto area in general.
The MP was the first person of Tamil origin to be elected to the federal parliament in Canada and a close associate of pro-LTTE activists still propagating Eelam sentiments, though the LTTE remained a proscribed organization in Canada.
The first Indian-American Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Biswal is scheduled to visit Colombo next month ahead of the next Geneva session. Biswal too will raise the issue of accountability for atrocities committed during the final phase of the offensive. It would be the responsibility of the government to remind the two ladies of the circumstances under which neighbouring India destabilized the country, plunging Sri Lanka to a three decades long war. It would be important to establish why Rathika’s family fled her Jaffna. Did the Sitsabaiesans seek asylum in Canada after the deployment of the Indian army in Jaffna on July 29, 1987? Did they suffer at the hands of Sri Lankan forces, the Indian army or over a half a dozen terrorist groups sponsored by India? Was a close relative or relatives involved in Indian sponsored terrorism? It would be of pivotal importance to establish the truth, as the country is under intense scrutiny by a section of the international community.
Those meeting Biswal should have the guts to remind Biswal that she too, wouldn’t have been here on a fact finding mission if her country of birth didn’t intervene. Whatever happens, Sri Lanka must lucidly present its case before the international community.
At the mercy of Indian terrorism
Although a commission appointed by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga investigated some allegations made by the Tamil community against the Indian army during its deployment in the Northern and Eastern districts, Sri Lanka never conducted a comprehensive inquiry to verify these accusations. The Presidential commission of inquiry into involuntary removals and disappearances wasn’t meant to exclusively investigate atrocities committed by Indian forces, but incidents reported in all parts of the country.
India deployed forces here during the period July 29, 1987 to March 24, 1990. At the height of the war between the Indian army and the LTTE (Oct 1987 to Dec 1989), the Indian strength reached 100,000.
Successive governments ignored the need to probe atrocities committed by Indian personnel. Sri Lanka didn’t have the political will to conduct a proper investigation into the unprecedented Indian destabilization project. Had there been such an investigation, it could have been presented to the international community to explain the circumstances leading to the eelam war. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, too, didn’t have a mandate to go into Indian intervention.
Today, India is demanding Sri Lanka to explain the conduct of its forces during the phase of the Vanni battle (January-May 2009) or face the consequences at the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, in March, 2014.
It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka had no jurisdiction over Indian troops as well as Indian police deployed in the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province in accordance with the Indo-Lanka accord signed on the morning of July 29, 1987 in Colombo. India never dealt with allegations made against its personnel here in an orderly manner. President JRJ’s government was never briefed on actions taken against those accused of atrocities.
In fact, the Indo-Lanka agreement never dealt with the issue of those peacekeepers accused of committing atrocities during their deployment here. Those Indian sponsored Tamil terrorist groups active in the Northern and Eastern districts too, weren’t subject to the law of the land. Accountability hadn’t been an issue at that time. Western powers turned a blind eye to what was happening in Sri Lanka. Tamil politicians too, remained largely silent on the issue of accountability, hence atrocities committed by India and those groups sponsored by India were never investigated. The UNP too, ignored the need to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the allegations directed at Indian personnel, at least after the withdrawal of the Indian army.
Indian forces quit Sri Lanka on March 24, 1990.
Ranasinghe Premadasa, who succeeded JRJ in January 1989 as Sri Lanka’s second executive president never realized the need to investigate the Indian intervention. In spite of being severely critical of India’s conduct Vis a Vis Sri Lanka, Premadasa ignored the pivotal importance of recording events during his predecessor’s tenure.
Kumaratunga’s commission comprised attorney at law Mrs Manouri Muttetuwegama (chairperson), retired high court judge P. Balavadivel and retired Commissioner General of Prisons H. G. Dharmadasa. Retired SLAS officer M. C. M. Iqbal functioned as the Secretary to the Commission. The commission was tasked to investigate 10,136 cases of disappearances, a vast majority of them in areas outside the then merged North and Eastern province in the wake of three zonal presidential commissions concluding investigations (Inquiries into some disappearances in north during IPKF regime start tomorrow-The Island March 13, 1999).
Although the commission during its sittings in Jaffna obtained detailed accounts of Indian army involvement in some disappearances, the government never raised the issue with New Delhi. The Muttetuwegama report was never made public as the government felt that it could be detrimental to Sri Lanka’s interests. The government believed controversy over the conduct of the Indian army could hamper its desperate efforts to secure Indian support to combat the LTTE. Secretary to the commission, M. C. M. Iqbal, didn’t mince his words when he explained the delicate situation to the writer on the condition of anonymity at that time (Will IPKF be named in commission’s interim report with strap line Probe into alleged disappearances of persons in Jaffna in 80s-The Island May 1999).
Book on Indian atrocities
Those wanting to haul up Sri Lanka before an international war crimes tribunal, on the basis of ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ series, now have an opportunity to learn all about atrocities committed by the Indian army.
Unlike unsubstantiated allegations propagated by the UK-based Channel 4 News, at the behest of the Global Tamil Front (GTF), a new book titled ‘In the Name of Peace: IPKF Massacres of Tamils in Sri Lanka’ documented violations of the International Humanitarian Laws (IHL).
The book was launched in early April 2011, ahead of the the release of controversial ‘Darusman report.’
The Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR) documented IPKF atrocities In the Name of Peace: IPKF Massacres of Tamils in Sri Lanka which was published by the Delhi Tamil Students Union. The book launch took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, under the patronage of the Coordinating Committee for Oppressed Nationalities.
The book launch was followed by the screening of a documentary film, Mullaiththeevu Saga by Someetharan on the alleged atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan military during the final phase of the conflict.
The book focused on 12 massacres carried out by the IPKF, including the Jaffna hospital massacre in October 1987 and the Valveddiththurai massacre.
A. Bimol Akoijam, representing the organizers, Satya Sivaram, an independent journalist and visiting professors, S. Santhosh and Sabir Ahmed spoke at the book launch.
NESoHR was established in July 2004 as part of an overall strategy to promote the Oslo-led peace process, following the April 2004 parliamentary polls and also to highlight excesses by Sri Lankan forces.
The Indian media had largely ignored the NESoHR attack on the IPKF and failure on its part to prosecute members of the Indian military responsible for excesses during their deployment in Sri Lanka (New book targets India over ‘accountability issues’ in Sri Lanka-The Island August 10, 2011).
All those attacking Sri Lanka on accountability issues have been silent on the atrocities committed by the Indian army in Sri Lanka. They had also ignored the fact that these accusations were made by Tamil speaking people. Senior lawyer Gomin Dayasri said: "On Tamil civil casualties there are allegations against Sri Lankan forces and the Indian army. It is ironical that there should be a cacophony of shrieks about the Sri Lankan army and an eerie silence as regards the Indian army. Is it not a case of deliberate fire at a selected target with double standards? Are lives lost by Indian fire irrelevant and harm caused by Sri Lankan fire that needs to be accounted for? Is it that India can do no wrong and only Sri Lanka violated international humanitarian laws?"
Dayasri said: "Name a country that asks for an inquiry targeting India over the years. If asked, would India comply?" (Accountability issues: Why focus only on GoSL?-Gomin –The Island August 13, 2011).
A daunting challenge in Geneva
For want of a cohesive strategy, the war winning Rajapaksa administration too, hadn’t been able to counter an expensive international propaganda campaign directed against the government. The government needs especially to counteract various negative statements attributed to Indian politicians, who played politics at the expense of Sri Lanka. A damaging statement issued by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi some time after the conclusion of the conflict is a case in point.
On December 22, 2010, Gandhi criticized Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation, reconstruction and re-settlement efforts in the post-war era.
Voicing concern over the Sri Lankan government ‘not doing enough’" for the Tamils there, Gandhi said he would ensure that they get justice.
"We are concerned that enough is not being done for Sri Lankan Tamils by the government there," Gandhi said, during a brief interaction with a group of intellectuals in Chennai.
Gandhi was quoted as saying that he would take up the matter with "appropriate persons" at the Centre and see that Sri Lankan Tamils received justice.
Sri Lanka needs to establish India’s culpability and perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) may help the government to present its case. Although many opposed the establishment of the TRC as recommended by the government of South Africa, it would be advantageous to Sri Lanka if the proposed body received the required mandate to examine the conflict. In fact, the TRC could help Sri Lanka to prove that there wouldn’t have been a war in the first place if not for Indian action. The LLRC as well as the US-led resolution moved in Geneva with the backing of India against Sri Lanka has been silent on the Indian factor.