SPECIAL REPORT : The road from Nanthikadal to Geneva : Part 2
December 10, 2013, 6:12 pm
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Nisha Desai Biswal as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 21, 2013. [State Department photo]
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having succeeded Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O’ Blake recently, an American of Indian origin Nisha Desai Biswal declared that the US and its friends across the international community had underscored the need for Sri Lanka to make progress on issues of reconciliation, on issues of accountability and issues of human rights or face the consequences.
Blake was America’s wartime ambassador in Colombo (Sept 2006 –May 2009). He moved to Colombo from New Delhi where he was No. 2 at the diplomatic mission.
Ms Biswal was addressing the media in Washington on Dec. 4.
The first ever Indian-American to hold the post, Ms Biswal didn’t mince her words when she warned the Sri Lankan government that unless real progress was made, particularly on the issues of accountability, the patience of the international community would start to wear thin.
Addressing a distinguished gathering at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department on Nov. 21, 2013 after the swearing in of Ms Desai as Robert O’Blake’s successor, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, "Think about the message that we’re sending today, which I’m excited about: The story of a woman who left a small town in India at the age six, to come to America and now as become one of the most important leaders in the Department of State."
Instead of vowing in both in and outside parliament that the government wouldn’t bow down to international pressure, those responsible for formulating Sri Lanka’s response to war crimes allegations should closely examine the issue of ACCOUNTABILITY. The government needs to remind those pushing for an international war crimes tribunal that ACCOUNTABILUTY issues couldn’t be examined in isolation. It would a grave mistake on the part of the government to scrutinize the entire range of issues in the run-up to the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. For want of cohesive strategy and negligence, the country had been overwhelmed by a relentless international propaganda campaign. Had Sri Lanka failed on the war front, none of those demanding that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government addressed ACCOUNTABILITY issues would have bothered to take up the separatist eelam war at international forums. That is the bottom line.
Before discussing the war crimes issue further, it would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been able to bring the war to a successful conclusion in two years and nine months (Sept 2006-May 2009) without the US helping the SLN to locate four LTTE floating arsenals on the high seas. The US offered tangible help following the then Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda briefing Blake regarding the need for urgent action against the LTTE. The LTTE never recovered from the loss of four ships loaded with arms, ammunition and equipment in September and Oct 2007.
Shocking failure to exploit Dhanapala’s advice
One of the most prominent international diplomats produced by Sri Lanka, Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala discussed the issue of ACCOUNTABILITY when he appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on Aug. 25, 2010. The correspondent was fortunate to be present at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies where Dhanapala made his presentation (Intl. laws shouldn’t apply to conflicts between States and terrorist groups with strap line …calls for a review of Rules of War-The Island August 26, 2010). Although it was perhaps the most important submission made before the LLRC, the government didn’t make use of Dhanapala’s effort. Western and the civil society organizations couldn’t have ignored the statement attributed to Dhanapala on the issue of the controversial Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept. Let me reproduce verbatim what one-time head of the SCOPP (Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process) Dhanapala told the LLRC headed by former Attorney General C.R. de Silva. Having recollected the circumstances under which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the R2P concept at its 60th summit in September 2005, Dhanapala emphasized the pivotal importance to expand that concept with regard to the issue of ACCOUNTABILITY. The former UN under Secretary General said: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harbored, ; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to neighbors or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case, this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy arms and ammunition that caused the deaths, maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to our civilians and the civilians of other nation states from that kind of behavior on the part of members of the international community …" Dhanapala went to the extent of calling for a new set of rules as the IHL didn’t address a situation a conventional army had to battle terrorists (Dhanapala calls for a new set of rules with strap line The rules of war as they exist do not meet today’s requirements-The Island September 6, 2010).
Unprecedented case of Charles Taylor
The government needs to revisit Dhanapala’s submissions especially in the backdrop of former Liberian President Charles Taylor being sentenced to serve a 50-year jail term for sponsoring terrorism in neighboring Sierra Leone, a long standing member of the Commonwealth. The 65-year-old Taylor was sentenced by the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. The verdict was upheld in The Hague. He was sentenced on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court declared that Taylor in his capacity as President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, provided arms and ammunition to terrorists in neighboring Sierra Leone. During proceedings, much to the embarrassment of the US, Taylor revealed his close relationship with US security authorities and his extraordinary escape from the maximum security Plymouth Country Correctional Facility in Massachusetts in November 1985 with the help of US agents. The revelation was made in July 2009. The escape took place several days before an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the then Liberian government was made with the support of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Taylor told the tribunal.
Dixit on Indian intervention in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka could never have finished off the LTTE during eelam war IV (Sept 2006 to May 2009) without India’s blessings. Although India made a desperate attempt to arrange a ceasefire as the Sri Lankan Army (SLA was closing in on the LTTE formation’ on the Vanni east front, the government couldn’t have brought the ground offensive to that stage if India intervened much earlier. But Sri Lanka would never have been plagued by terrorism if not for Indian intervention. Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Madras Café’ discussed the Indian intervention here leading to the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur near Chennai by an LTTE suicide woman cadre on May 21, 1991.
Former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo J.N. Dixit who retired with the rank of Foreign Secretary, faulted former Premier Indira Gandhi for intervening in Sri Lanka. Dixit in his memoirs titled ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’, asserted that Indian intervention here was one of two foreign policy blunders made by Premier Indira Gandhi.
Dixit said, "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: "her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms of these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she couldn’t openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly fifty years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils. In both cases, her decisions were relevant at the point of time they were taken. History will judge her as a political leader who safeguarded Indian national interests with determination and farsightedness."
With the next Geneva session scheduled for March 2014, it would be necessary for decisions makers here to peruse Dixit’s memoirs. Perhaps make one available to the new Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Ms Biswal to help her understand the crisis caused by the then Indian political leadership. She should be able to comprehend the catastrophe caused by India, the country of her birth.
Perhaps Sri Lanka’s policy makers never really understood India’s decision to intervene here. Sri Lanka will have to pay an extremely heavy price for the failure of those in authority to have a cohesive defence in the face of mounting international pressure. India sponsored over a half a dozen terrorist groups targeting the then President JRJ’s government in accordance with its security policy. The Indian operation was meant to thwart the US project involving Pakistan and Israel. Unfortunately, successive governments had failed to examine the logic in India fomenting terrorism here, and hence failed to counter anti-Sri Lanka propaganda. Those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal unless President Rajapaksa addressed human rights, ACCOUNTABILITY and reconciliation issues had conveniently forgotten the Indian role. India, due to domestic political compulsions, threw its weight behind a US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva. Recent electoral losses suffered by the incumbent Congress administration at the hands of the BJP will compel it to appease Tamil Nadu further.
Dixit explained lucidly New Delhi’s decision to destabilize Sri Lanka. The outspoken diplomat said that India had no option but to take measures due to Sri Lanka’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Dixit stressed that India’s motivations as well as actions Vis-a-Vis Sri Lanka should be analysed in the context of the regional as well as global political, security and economic environment during the 1980-1984 period. Dixit went on to allege that the US and Pakistan exploited the rise of Tamil militancy to create what he called a politico-strategic pressure point against India in the island nation.
Need for a Truth Commission
Sri Lanka is now under pressure to accept a South African proposal to establish a Truth Commission to inquire into the conflict. Those backing the SA move are of the opinion that an agreement on the establishment of a truth Commission can subdue the push for an international war crimes tribunal. Perhaps a Truth Commission or whatever one calls such a mechanism, can help Sri Lanka to prove the culpability of those who had sponsored terrorism here. In case Sri Lanka and South Africa can reach agreement on the proposed Truth Commission, it should be given a mandate to fully investigate the national issue leading to eelam war IV. Such a commission can help prove that Sri Lanka would never have had to transform its ceremonial army to a lethal fighting force if not for the LTTE wiping out a routine army patrol made of troops of the first battalion of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry (1 SLLI) in Jaffna in July 1983.With Dixit publicly admitting Premier Gandhi had authorized ‘active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants’those interested in establishing ACCOUNTABILITY should seek to establish the circumstances leading to the unprecedented coordinated attack on the 1 SLLI. The LTTE operation was meant to provoke the poorly trained army as well as the Sinhalese. India and LTTE succeeded in their attempt. The rest is history.