Wednesday, 29 March 2017

War crimes: Lanka overwhelmed by unsubstantiated allegations



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having received two additional years to fulfill the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution 30/1, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government last Friday (March 24) thanked those who had brought a second resolution 34/1 to give time and space to Sri Lanka.

Director Information, M. G. Jayathissa, on behalf of the government, issued a one page statement thanking the US-UK led countries for backing the second resolution that called for judicial mechanism, comprising local and foreign judges.

There had never been such a situation at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where a country welcomed punitive action proposed on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Those who had fought the LTTE had been unjustly punished on the basis of unfounded UN allegations. A case in point is Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage being denied an Australian visa over war accusations directed at the Sri Lanka Army (SLA). Australia has found fault with Gallage for giving leadership to the 59 Division, deployed on the Vanni east, front during the final phase of the offensive. Alleging that the 59 Division had massacred Tamils, Australia turned down Gallage’s visa application. Gallage, presently Director General Infantry, wanted to visit his brother, in Australia, last Dec-January (2017).

An external investigation, launched during the previous Rajapaksa administration, led to resolution 30/1, and now the government reassured its commitment to the same resolution without even bothering to at least examine the accusations. In fact, yahapalana rulers hadn’t examined the UN allegations at all. The Rajapaksa administration, too, lacked a cohesive strategy to counter lies. The Rajapaksas squandered millions of USD on expensive US public relations firms in a ridiculous project to influence the US administration.

For want of a clear strategy, those who had been propagating unsubstantiated allegations pertaining to war crimes, and crimes against humanity, since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, humiliated Sri Lanka at the Geneva sessions. The government turned a blind eye to what was going on in the run up to the crucial Geneva sessions.

The government did absolutely nothing to counter accusations. The government’s failure facilitated those who had been propagating unsubstantiated allegations against the war-winning military. The government lacked courage at least to point out the vast discrepancy in varying figures pertaining to war dead, quoted by those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before a hybrid court.

Sampanthan’s claim

Attorney-at-law Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, MP, recently declared that the nearly three decades long war had claimed the lives of 150,000 Tamils.

Trincomalee district MP conveniently refrained from differentiating civilians from those who had died fighting for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sampanthan asserted that 50 per cent of the Tamil population had fled the country, during the conflict, while blaming successive Sri Lankan governments for the plight of his people.

The 84-year-old veteran politician was addressing the Counter Terrorism Conference 2017 at the Hyatt Regency, New Delhi, organized by The India Foundation, in association with the Government of Haryana, and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). India established NIA close on the heels of the devastating Mumbai massacre, in late Nov 2008, blamed on Pakistan - based Islamic terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (l-e-T).

The third edition of the Counter Terrorism Conference attracted both politicians and various security experts. In addition to Sampanthan, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayake made presentations.

The Indian government - sponsored event coincided with the ongoing 34 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Key speakers discussed issues relating to ‘terrorism in the Indian Ocean region’ without any reference whatsoever to the LTTE whose sea going arm, Sea Tigers, once threatened international shipping. LTTE terrorism had inspired terrorist groups in various parts of the world. Daring Sea Tiger attacks on the Sri Lankan Navy vessels had inspired Al-Qaeda suicide bombing of guided missile destroyer USS Cole, in Oct 2000, in Aden, Yemen. Israel has said that the Jewish State had been a victim of suicide bombing, pioneered by the LTTE, and Indian trained terrorists, belonging to the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), almost succeeded in assassinating Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in early Nov 1988.

Leader of the Opposition, Sampanthan, who heads the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) addressed the gathering on March 15. Sampanthan tackled the issue in his speech, aptly titled ‘ballot vs bullet’ and was extensively covered in the local media. Sampanthan justified LTTE terrorism. (Of course, he conveniently refrained from mentioning how India sponsored terrorism in Sri Lanka to achieve its geo political objectives, as outlined by no less a person than one time Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy, launched in January 2004)

Sampanthan declared that Tamils had resorted to terrorism (TNA leader called it armed revolt) more than three decades after Sri Lanka gained independence, following the failure of democratic and political process. Referring to the bloody war in Sri Lanka, Sampanthan declared: "... was a classic instance, in which the bullet filled the void created by failure in the process of the ballot."

Sampanthan asserted that the war could have been avoided had the government accepted the Tamils right not to be governed from Colombo.

Sampanthan’s unprecedented claim, in respect of 150,000 Tamils killed should be thoroughly examined against the backdrop of different figures quoted by the UN, and various other parties wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before the proposed hybrid war crimes court, in accordance with the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct 1, 2015. Sri Lanka, last week, reiterated its commitment to 30/1.

Though the writer had referred to the TNA’s sordid past in numerous times, it would be necessary to recall the formation of the grouping consisting of politicians and members of one-time India sponsored terrorist groups. The PLOTE that had made an abortive bid to assassinate Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is among constituents of the TNA, now in control of the Northern Provincial Council, as well as parliament.

The LTTE formed the TNA, in late Oct 2001. Having joined the LTTE-led formation, Sampanthan remained faithful to its cause though his colleague V. Anandasangaree quit the outfit at an early stage. The TNA remained an appendage of the LTTE until the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Had Sri Lanka allowed Western powers to rescue LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, in May 2009, Sampanthan would certainly not have received an invitation to address the India - sponsored event at Hyatt Regency. Had Prabhakaran survived, perhaps Western powers, the TNA, as well as funded civil society organizations wouldn’t have moved Geneva against Sri Lanka. They wouldn’t have moved a series of resolutions in Geneva, finally leading to consensus on resolution 30/1 in Sep/Oct 2015.

Had the war ended in a stalemate, the LTTE would have remained the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people as declared by Sampanthan, himself, in the run up to eelam war IV. Prabhakaran would never have accepted the TNA, in the decision making process, under any circumstances. The TNA had no option but to carry out Prabhakaran’s directives or face the consequences. A case in point is Prabhakaran’s decision to prevent Tamils exercising their franchise in support of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, at the Nov 2005, presidential polls. Prabhakaran purposely sabotaged the understanding between the UNP and the TNA to ensure Wickremesinghe’s victory. Prabhakaran wanted UPFA’s Mahinda Rajapaksa to win as he naively believed the SLFPer could have been easily overwhelmed, both on the political front as well as on the battlefield. Rajapaksa proved Prabhakaran wrong within three years after the latter launched eelam war IV, with spectacular coordinated attacks on the northern and eastern theaters, in Aug 2006.

TNA silent on key issues

Now that Sampanthan has quite confidently placed the number of Tamils killed at 150,000 before an international audience, he should be able to provide a breakdown in respect figures during the different stages of the conflict.

The TNA chief should also explain the despicable partnership between his party and the LTTE confirmed by the EU, in June 2004, following the parliamentary polls, in April 2004.

First of all, Sampanthan should explain whether those who had been killed, fighting for the LTTE, were included in the 150,000. Even seven years after the war, the LTTE appendage TNA is silent on the number of Tamils, including children, perished in fighting for the LTTE.

The TNA shouldn’t hesitate to present evidence it had in respect of ‘150,000 Tamils killed’ to the proposed hybrid court and demand tangible action against successive governments, including that of twice President and Commander-in-Chief of armed forces Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (Aug 1994-Nov 2005). Kumaratunga, widely credited for liberating the Jaffna peninsula during her first term, today functions as the Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR).

Sampanthan’s recent claim should be examined against the backdrop of the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) placing the number of civilians killed at 40,000. The UN assessment has been made on the basis of about 4,000 submissions received by the three-member Darusman Panel. The PoE has received information from about 2,300 persons. It would be pertinent to mention that these accusations cannot be verified until 2031 in accordance with a UN directive. Even then, verification has to be approved by the UN.

Obviously, Sampanthan has received and gathered much more evidence than the PoE to place the number of dead at 150,000.

Sampanthan should be able to reveal how many Tamils were killed during fighting among various terrorist groups as well as the battle between the LTTE and the Tamil National Army (TNA) formed by India, in late 1989.

Various interested parties quoted varying unsubstantiated figures since the conclusion of the conflict. Interestingly, Sampanthan claim that 150,000 had been killed in 30 years placed into insignificance when one considered what the British parliament was told two years after the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009.

= British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) told the House of Commons, in September, 2011, that 60,000 LTTE cadres and 40,000 Tamils perished during January-May 2009. The MP made the only specific reference to the number of LTTE cadres killed during a certain period. The politician ignored the writer’s emails seeking a clarification regarding her sources. The British HC in Colombo declined to comment on the MP’s claim.

* Special Amnesty International report titled When will they get

justice: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission also released in September 2011 estimated the number of civilian deaths at 10,000 during the final phase of the eelam war IV.

* A confidential UN report placed the number of the dead and wounded, including LTTE combatants, at 7,721 and 18,479, respectively. The report dealt with the situation in the Vanni, from August 2008 to May 13, 2009. The war ended a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to the intensity of the fighting.

The UN is yet to release the report though it was made available to Darusman. Will it be placed before the proposed judicial inquiry? It would be pertinent to mention that the UN report had been based on information provided by those who were trapped in the war zone and even today further verification can be made as the identities of those who had provided information are known to the UN. Darusman refused to accept the report as it contradicted his own claims.

Ramadoss in Geneva

The eelam lobby also brought in Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, MP, in support of their Geneva project. Former Indian Health Minister claimed that the Sri Lankan military had massacred over 100,000 Tamils, in 2009. The Indian’s statement should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka bringing the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009. Perhaps, Ramadoss and British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh had been adviced by the same party as both claimed 100,000 Tamils died, in 2009.

Let me reproduce the statement made by Ramadoss posted on UK Tamil News website: "I come here on behalf of 78 million Tamil people in India.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka have been subjected to constant racial abuses, ethnic cleansing and structural genocide since its independence, which culminated in the killings of more than 1,00,000 Tamils, in 2009, by the Sri Lankan Government forces. Even after 8 years Justice has not yet reached the victims.

The report of the High Commissioner on Sri Lanka assesses the progress the Government of Sri Lanka has made on transitional justice as ‘worryingly slow,’ describing actions taken so far as ‘inadequate to assure real progress.’ It is vital, therefore, that the Human Rights Council continue its oversight of the accountability process in Sri Lanka with renewed vigor.

"The High Commissioner’s report reiterates the need for international involvement in a special hybrid court for crimes committed during and after the war. A weak and ethnicized judicial system refuses to punish military personnel when the victims are Tamils. Just last week, we learned that 10 Sri Lankan soldiers, accused of the 1997 murder of two Tamil youths, in Siruppiddy, are to be acquitted on the instructions of the Attorney-General.

"The structural genocide of Tamil Eelam continues as Sinhalisation, land grab and military presence in the Tamil region remains. The democratically elected Tamil Nadu assembly, in India, representing 78 million Tamil people, had unanimously passed three resolutions demanding a Judicial tribunal on war crimes and genocide and conducting a referendum.

"Sri Lanka has got the audacity to not only kill its own citizens but also the neighbouring Indian citizens as well. Just a fortnight ago the Sri Lankan navy brutally shot and murdered an Indian fisherman, from Tamil Nadu, called Bridjo. It is highly condemnable that Sri Lankan Navy has murdered more than 600 Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu in the last 35 years and still continue to do so.

"The President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka have repeatedly stated that no international involvement will be allowed, contrary to commitments made in resolution 30/1. As the next step of non-compliance, Pasumai Thaayagam strongly recommends that the UNHRC must immediately refer Sri Lanka to the General Assembly and the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is high time the UNHRC and the International Community  respects the right of the Tamils to exercise the right to self determination and find a lasting solution through a referendum."

Ramadoss should be asked to reveal the number of SriLanka Tamils killed by the Indian Army during its deployment (July 1987-March 1990) and comment accusations pertaining to rape of women.

Sushma’s anguish and pain

Having caused massive death and destruction in Sri Lanka, neighbouring India continues to shed crocodile tears. Unfortunately, Sri Lankan politicians lacked the courage to remind India of its duplicity. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj strongly condemned Sri Lanka’s human rights record ahead of the passage of resolution endorsing 30/1.

The Indian media quoted Swaraj as having said that India felt anguish and pain over the Sri Lankan military’s alleged war crimes against unarmed Tamils in the 2009 war.

Ms. Swaraj reiterated India’s commitment to the protection of the rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

"The anguish with which the members have raised the issue [of crimes committed during the war of 2009], the government associates itself with the same pain," Ms Swaraj said.

"Our aim is to protect the interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka. You can achieve this through two means: by either doing it forcefully or through persuasion with the friendly country," she said answering a question from D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

India should take the responsibility for her actions in the 80s that caused massive destruction in Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to ask Swaraj whether mother India accepted Sampanthan’s claim in respect of 150,000 Tamils killed in 30 years or Ramadoss’s over 100,000 massacred in five and half months. Sampanthan, too, should acknowledge his outfit’s relationship with the LTTE and how it benefited as a result of LTTE terrorism. Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to face the hybrid court, let Indian judges take part in the process, and hear how India subverted a small neighbour to her heart’s content until Sri Lanka finished off the murderous LTTE, in May, 2009.