SL at NAM, UNGA
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 141September 27, 2016, 6:42 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having co-sponsored the much disputed Resolution, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), last October meant to establish a hybrid court, to examine accountability issues, during Sri Lanka’s successful war against terrorism, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government called for a comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the recently concluded Non Aligned Movement summit, in Venezuela.
Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, on September 18, 2016 made the appeal, on behalf of Sri Lanka. The one-time Human Rights Minister underscored the need to strengthen cooperation to fight the scourge of terrorism and stressed the importance of concluding a comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, at the earliest.
Speaking at the Interactive Debate, at the NAM Ministerial Meeting, held in Margarita Island, Venezuela, Minister Samarasinghe said that terrorism remained one of the most serious threats to international peace and security and all its forms and manifestations should be condemned.
Minister Samarasinghe, who had been at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s wartime and post-conflict defence, at various international FORA, refrained from at least referring to Sri Lanka’s glorious victory over the most ruthless terorist organisation in the world. There hadn’t been any reference at all to the victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the recently concluded NAM gathering.
The military brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The military convincingly proved wrong Western and Indian thinking that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily.
In spite of defeating the LTTE, the previous government lacked the capacity to address accountability issues, and counter a massive propaganda project, for want of a cohesive strategy. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa hadn’t been able to come to terms with the post-war situation yet.
Having represented Sri Lanka, at NAM, Minister Samarasinghe joined the government delegation, at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in New York, where President Maithripala Sirisena, on Sept. 21, 2016, briefed the global community on the ongoing national reconciliation process and assured them of a country free of future conflict. President Sirisena, too, conveniently abstained from recollecting Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE.
Turmoil in US
The UNGA was meeting, amidst severe turmoil, in the US, due to bomb blasts in New York and New Jersey. The Sri Lankan delegation, and the media contingent accompanying the President, refrained from at least comparing the situations. Law enforcement authorities captured the man, Ahmad Khan Rahami (28), suspected of bombings, following a shootout on the previous Monday.
President Maithripala Sirisena should have reminded the global community of extreme difficulties, experienced by Sri Lanka, during the war. The LTTE as well as other Indian-trained Tamil terrorist groups, mounted a series of bomb attacks, in Colombo, and its suburbs, as well as in various other parts of the country, until the very end of the conflict. The UN never bothered to take action against those who had been funding terrorists here. In fact, during Eelam War IV, Maithripala
Sirisena, in his capacity as the then Agriculture Minister and SLFP General Secretary, held the defence portfolio, briefly, in May, 2009. Unfortunately, the President hadn’t admitted that peace would never have been a reality in case the LTTE survived.
Obviously, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is reluctant to discuss Sri Lanka’s greatest achievement. Had Western powers managed to throw a lifeline, to the sinking Velupillai Prabhakaran, in 2009, perhaps the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t have felt the requirement to call for early presidential polls. Had the President given in, Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief, Shanmugalingam
Sivashankar alias Pottu Amman, would have certainly survived to reach an internationally backed understanding with Sri Lanka. Had that been the case, the so-called January Revolution would never have taken place. That is the undeniable truth.
Had Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman survived, the much touted national reconciliation would never have been on the agenda, now pursued by Western powers.
Had the Vanni battle ended inconclusively due to Western intervention, Western powers wouldn’t have moved Geneva against Sri Lanka. As long as the LTTE had retained some territory, under its control, in addition to men, women and children at its command, the four-party Tamil National Alliance and the Tamil Diaspora wouldn’t have dared to discuss reconciliation. Had there been a stalemate on the ground, the US wouldn’t have wanted to take up the issue in Geneva. Remember, Geneva hadn’t been really worried about Sri Lanka’s war and never sought to intervene until the LTTE was brought to its knees. The UN turned a blind eye to Indian intervention here, in the early 80s, leading to the deployment of her Army, in July, 1987. Geneva never felt the requirement to examine the situation here, even after the Indian Army deployment.
Those who had been demanding to know the truth, through a judicial process, with the participation of foreign judges, are reluctant even to discuss the Indian destabilization project.
Having twice backed the US-led Geneva Resolutions against Sri Lanka, during the Rajapaksa administration, India, obviously, doesn’t want its role, in international terrorism discussed, at a war crimes court, comprising Sri Lankan and foreign judges, including those from the Commonwealth. As India had been part of the problem, those wanting a hybrid judicial mechanism are unlikely to seek the services of an Indian judge or expertise. Against ongoing efforts to absolve India of all responsibility for accountability issues, leaving the blame on the wartime political and military leaderships, it would be pertinent to examine a letter written by Prabhakaran, in late 1989.
LTTE on Indian atrocities
The TNA, Tamil Diaspora and Western powers, shedding tears for the long suffering Tamil speaking people, and wanting to punish flee perpetrators of atrocities couldn’t ignore Prabhakaran’s letter, released by Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) General Secretary, Vaiko, recently. The secret missive had been with him for 28 years.
Vaiko made his move in the run up to the UNGA, in New York.
Vaiko released the letter, dated Feb. 22, 1989, written by Prabhakaran, to DMK leader, M. Karunanidhi, in which he had asked the latter to bring to the attention of opposition parties the atrocities committed by the Indian Army.
The Hindu, quoted Vaiko, as having said on Sept 16, "Prabhakaran gave the letter when I met him in the jungles of Sri Lanka. A few months after I handed over the letter, Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) said he had destroyed it. But I kept a copy of the letter for 28 years and have released it now because the world should know its contents."
Calling Karunanidhi as Anna (elder brother), Prabhakaran alleged that Tamil members of Sri Lankan parliament had abandoned the Tamils for personal benefit though Vaiko risked his life to meet them in Sri Lanka’s northern jungles.
The Hindu, in a Chennai datelined (Sept. 17) story, headlined ‘After 28 years, Vaiko releases Prabhakaran’s letter to DMK chief,’ quoted Prabhakaran as having said: "His (Vaiko’s) love for Tamils and his courage make us feel that we can die a thousand times for the cause of our people and language. We have respect for your party of selfless cadres." "It is his love for our people, that has made him to undertake the adventure."
"As far as we are concerned, we have taken up arms to fulfill our goal. We will either win or happily die for the cause. Our country is turning into a graveyard because of the presence of the IPKF. Time has come for you to bring it to the notice of the Opposition, in India, and people of Tamil Nadu. We hope you will inform the people of Tamil Nadu the betrayal of the IPKF and the attack unleashed on us. The IPKF is preparing itself for a massive attack," Prabhakaran alleged.
"I am sending Gopalasamy (as Vaiko was known then) Annan to Tamil Nadu because of the dangerous situation."
Prabhakaran’s letter cannot be ignored by the proposed war crimes court.
Prabhakaran made allegations against the Indian Army, in the run-up to his agreement with the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, in May, 1989. On the invitation of the President, UK-based LTTE theoretician, Anton Balqsingham, returned to Sri Lanka, in May, 1989, to pave the way for direct talks between the two parties. Prabhakaran cleverly exploited the relationship with Premadasa to get the IPKF out, in March, 1990. Prabhakaran resumed Eelam War II, in June, 1990.
Prez welcomes P’karan’s elimination
Having deceived President Premadasa, Prabhakaran unleashed his cadres on the Army and the Police in June, 1990. Western powers looked the other away as the LTTE quickly overran isolated Army detachments along the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. The government couldn’t regain the road, fully, until early January, 1990. Peace would never have a reality as long as Prabhakaran survived.
President Maihripala Sirisena didn’t mince his words when the writer recently queried him as regards the UN turning a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s plight due to Prabhakaran’s terrorism. The writer also sought an explanation from President Maithripala Sirisena, after he lambasted the previous leadership of causing serious rift with the UN. The President acknowledged that lasting peace wouldn’t have been possible if Prabhakaran somehow survived the Army onslaught to take refuge in
northern jungles or overseas. The President welcomed Prabhakaran’s elimination. The President asserted that Prabhakaran wouldn’t have ever agreed to a lasting solution. The Commander-in-Chief explained that had the war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa secured a third term, at the January, 2015, presidential polls, it would have been an obstacle in achieving lasting peace (Lasting peace was never a reality with war-winning MR in power, defeated Prabhakaran alive-Prez, The Island, Sept. 3, 2016).
The media, for some strange reason largely ignored President Maithripala Sirisena’s remarks on Prabhakaran. The LTTE made multiple attempts to assassinate Maithripala Sirisena during the Rajapaksa administration. The assassination of Maithripala Sirisena had been a priority and was in accordance with the LTTE’s overall strategy to deprive the Sinhalese of leadership.
Diaspora letter to UNHRC
Sri Lanka should never be complacent. Outgoing UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s comparison of Vanni offensive with that of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, in 1994, and 1995, respectively, is a warning to Sri Lanka. Western powers will continue to advance strategies at the expense of Sri Lanka as the country faced war crimes probe. Let me reproduce a section of a letter, dated Feb. 14, 2015, sent by the following organization to UN Human Rights High Commissioner Al -Hussein: Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) Reginald Jeganathan, Chairman 2) British Tamil Conservatives (BTC) Dr. Arjuna Sivanathan, President 3) British Tamil Forum (BTF) V. Ravi Kumar, General Secretary 4) Centre for War Victims and Human Rights (Canada) Anton Philip, Chairman 5) Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (USA) Naanjil Peter, President 6) Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Dr. Rev. S.J. Emmanuel, President 7) Ilankai Tamil Sangam (ITS, USA) Dr. Rajaram Kandasamy, President 8) New Zealand Tamil Society (NZTS) Dr. Siva Vasanthan, President 9) People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (USA) Tasha Manoranjan, JD, Executive Director 10) South African Tamil Federation Karthigasen Moothsamy, President 11) Swedish Tamil Forum (STF) G. Jeganmohan, President 12) Tamils Against Genocide (TAG, UK/USA) Janani Jananayagam, Director 13) Tamils For Labour (United Kingdom) Sen Kandiah, Chairman 14) United States Tamil Political Action Council Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham, President 15) World Thamil Organization (WTO, USA) Thillai Kumaran, President.
The letter was sent in the wake of the UN agreeing to delay the Geneva process soon after the change of government in Sri Lanka. The relevant sections, from the joint letter: "The mass atrocities that transpired in 2009 were not a singular event, but rather an especially heinous manifestation of the decades-long oppression Tamils have suffered. Our community has been and continues to be systemically disadvantaged by Sri Lankan institutions... We do not think President Sirisena’s mention of a domestic process is sufficient to believe this would change. While President Sirisena’s election was a step toward democracy and he has made some initial strides in this area, the fact that he was the acting Defense Minister, during a portion of the period in which the atrocities were committed, leaves the victims with no hope, or trust, on any domestic mechanism to seek accountability and justice (emphasis mine). Some have pointed to President Sirisena’s mention of a domestic accountability process as sufficient reason to postpone or even cancel the OISL’s (Office’s Investigation on Sri Lanka) work. The apparent call for a postponement became clear following Senior Advisor Jayantha Dhanapala’s meeting with you, in Geneva, on 29 January, 2015, and from statements by Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, in Washington and New York. This is extremely troubling, as any change in the OISL’s work would be a major blow to justice and accountability, and would bring into question the neutrality of the OHCHR. The Northern Provincial Council, on February 10th, unanimously adopted a resolution brought by its Chief Minister, Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, making a well researched case that the Tamils, in Sri Lanka, have been subjected to genocide by successive Sri Lanka governments. The Resolution urged the OISL to investigate the charge of genocide against Tamils, and unequivocally called for the timely release of the OISL report and further OHCHR mandated actions, including referral to the ICC. Our organizations representing the 1-million strong Tamil Diaspora forced out of Sri Lanka due to the conflict, and having lost tens of thousands of relatives, fully endorse the call by the Northern Provincial Council, and urge you to release the OISL report, in March,
2015 as originally mandated. President Sirisena’s election and short tenure do not negate the need for a timely release. The UN stands as the standard bearer of human rights. Therefore, any recommendations, within the OISL report, should serve as the baseline and driving force to guide a credible accountability process. Moreover, the victims and perpetrators are looking to the report as the first – and only –
credible accounting for what happened during the final period of the war. To amend that will crush the hope and expectations for justice, as well as play into the hands of the perpetrators who will see this as an opportunity to evade justice. The failure of the UNHCR, to release its report in March, would set a terrible precedent for the United Nations. The 2012 UN Internal Review Panel, chaired by Charles Petrie, concluded that, "the events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure on the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN." Since the report, the UN has made strides to address its grave failure. A postponement of the report would be a treacherous step backwards for the organization. The global Tamil community welcomes President Sirisena’s progress on replacing military leadership with civilian leaders in the North, welcoming back some exiled activists and journalists, and offering to resettle internally displaced persons. However, Tamils still await the demilitarization of the North and East, the return of Tamil land acquired by the government, constitutional protections for Tamil language and culture in their traditional homeland in the North East, empowering of the Tamil provincial bodies to serve its people without barriers from the Colombo government, and, most vitally, the attainment of a fair political settlement. We encourage you and other global leaders to welcome President Sirisena by both commending the steps he has taken and at the same time also outlining past challenges and ongoing abuses, setting assertive and credible benchmarks for domestic progress, and providing ssistance and oversight to ensure these benchmarks are met. Sri Lanka cannot develop as a pluralistic, democratic and stable country if one – or any – of its communities live with substandard access to democratic institutions and without full protection of the law. After decades of subjugation, the Tamil community needs international leaders to ensure that Sri Lanka is truly starting a new chapter of governance, justice and truth. The timely release of the OISL report is a clear step towards both accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We, the global Tamil community, stand in partnership with you and all who fight for human rights to bring justice, honorable peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka."