The separatist conflict in Sri Lanka and
the souring of Canada against Sri Lanka.
HRW: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. Thank you very much for inviting Human Rights Watch to testify at this important and timely hearing.
Over the last two decades, Human Rights Watch has documented human rights violations in Sri Lanka, especially those committed by security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, particularly during the conflict that ended in May 2009. Today I'll talk a little bit about the lack of accountability for alleged war crimes, particularly during the final stages of the conflict, and also about the current human rights situation in the country.
With regard to the final stages of the conflict, Human Rights Watch has interviewed hundreds of victims and eyewitnesses to abuses. We have analyzed photos, video, and satellite imagery. Our findings are consistent with the investigations by other independent human rights groups, such as Amnesty International (AI) and the International Crisis Group (ICG), and more recently, a panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General.
|AI, HRW, ICG and other "human-rights" NGOs often justify their claims by asserting the existence of 'consistency' among themselves. However, we have not been able to find even a single specific case examined independently by each of them and published jointly (to establish consistency), or individually, that could be used in a court of law where witnesses could be cross-examined, and where the accused is innocent until proven guilty. If such a case is available, the trial can be done even in the absence of the accused (e.g., army officers or LTTE-cadres now living in Canada), but with a counsel for the defence to assure due process. In fact, when a specific case is demanded, these organizations usually cite the Channel-4 movie as an example. They themselves fail to present anything but anecdotal evidence, or unsupported, unidentified `victim testimony', without dates or places, or any specifics, as said by Sri Lankan authorities in many instances.
HRW: The panel's report, which was published in April this year, found strong and credible allegations that both the government and the LTTE committed serious violations during the final months. The report actually concludes that up to 40,000 civilians may have died during this period, the majority as a result of government shelling.
Unfortunately, the report prepared by Darusman et al., for the UN Secretary-General fails in credibility when figures like 40,000 are mentioned as "may have been killed, without any analysis or error bars. Is it 40,000±10,000, or 30,000±10,000 killed in action (KIA)?. Is this for the last 4 months, or over the four Eelam wars since 1981? In the figures for World-War II, (depending on the source) some 20% to 25% of the forces were unaccounted for as 'missing in action (MIA). The ICRC evacuated only 6000 injured during the last four months of the war. The Tiger mouthpiece "The Tamilnet" reported only ~200O deaths. Of the 40,000 claimed by the Darusman report, how many were LTTE victims? The UN gave 7000 as KIA, but later Gordon Weiss arbitrarily gave the figure of 40,000 in Australia, and this was used by the Darusman report. If there were 40,000 civilian deaths 'due to indiscriminate firing or bombing' of the tightly packed corral of captives held hostage by the Tigers, some three or four times that number, i.e., 120,000 to 160,000 would have been injured. No such numbers were noted in the ~300,000 captives that escaped the Tigers in the last stages. This fact alone warns us to examine very critically the 40,000 (or some times even 147,000) civilian deaths bandied by various NGOs and individuals.
Detailed independent analyzes by scholars using data from learned societies like the American Physical Society, UN-country report 2009, the 2011 Census of Sri lanka data have been reviewed in scholarly works as well as in internet-accessible reviews.
Review of the numbers by the Marga Institute. The discussion of war data by Roberts may also be cited.
These suggest that the total Killed in Action, and Missing in Action, for all four Eelam wars at up to about 23,000 ±10%. Not more than 8,000±10% persons died in the first five months of 2009 as a result of the conflict (in independent agreement with the UN-country report 2009, and this is inclusive of LTTE combatants as well. Neither the UN, nor the the HRW or any of the Western funded NGOs in Colombo who mount the same narrative have explained how they distinguish between civilians and LTTE-cadre in this conflict. We learn from a Wikileaks report that, according to Jacque de Maio, ICRC Head of Operations for South Asia on July 9, 200 that "On the LTTE, de Maio said that it had tried to keep civilians in the middle of a permanent state of violence. It saw the civilian population as a ‘protective asset’ and kept its fighters embedded amongst them. De Maio said that the LTTE commanders, objective was to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurredclick to read more.
As regards the death count: a very complete review of different 'Death Counts' in the Final Phase of the Eelam WarGerald by H. Peiris has been serialized in the Island newspaper.
Legal status In strict legal terms, the charge of firing into the NFZ acquires legitimacy only if there is written agreement regarding the NFZ between the parties to the conflict . Lacking such an agreement the NFZ has no treaty status or legal validity. The charge of a denial of humanitarian aid cannot be made since the parties to an internal armed conflict are only required to provide access to humanitarian aid and not actually required to provide such aid. However, we already showed that even if these charges were made, there evidence available seem to largely exonerate the Armed Forces. Instead, we see the incompetence or duplicity of the international agencies and NGOs allowed into the battle zone.
HRW: In terms of the specific abuses that we have documented, we documented abuses by the LTTE such as the use of civilians as human shields and deliberately firing on civilians to prevent them from fleeing to safety. The LTTE also forcibly recruited children.
On the government side, government forces killed civilians by widespread shelling. They committed numerous indiscriminate attacks, including attacks on the government-designated safe zones, including clearly marked hospitals, as well as humanitarian objects such as food lines and UN trucks that were trying to deliver aid. The government also deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid. Many more people died because of insufficient food and medical attention.
(a) Killing civilians etc.: The high-resolution satellite Image analysis of the AAAS clearly show that only Mortar fire (light artillary was used and ~300-400 civilian deaths and ~1000 LTTE deaths in the May. The government-designated 'safe zone' was violated by the Tigers who moved Rocket launchers and fighters into it, and some attack was necessary. Also, contrary to what is made out, the safe zone was a success as many civilians used it in April to escape the Tigers, as seen in a Reuter photo although HRW has called it a "war without witnesses" . The make-shift tent city that existed in the Nandikadal captive colony was so fragile that any 'indiscriminate firing' would have set it in flames. The aerial photos taken by the Times cameraman accompanying Ban Ki-Moon (~23rd May 2009) show many buildings intact. The photos taken by Kanchan Prasad and Midhalidar Reddy walking in the war zone, during 13-18th May are consistent with this. There is no evidence of the `widespread shelling' that DD-HRW, ICG, AI or Channel-Four have claimed - also, they claim it to be a "war without witnesses".
Some NGOs and LTTE sympathizers actually claimed that the people were not LTTE hostages, but staying voluntarily because of their support for Tamil Eelam. This was stated by some agencies who were secretly pleading with the LTTE to allow the families of their own staff to go free! There were ~535 NGO workers who were held hostage by the LTTE, and all of them returned unharmed at the end of the `indiscriminate shelling' that DD-HRW talks of.
Contrary to the claims that there were no witnesses to what happened, several journalists, e.g., Kanchan Prasad and Muralidhar Reddy from the Hindu, and reporters from Doordarshan were embedded with the 58th Brigade on the SL army side. David Gray, a Reuters correspondent, had also been touring the battlefield for a month in April 2009, and clearly states that the soldiers were feeding civilians etc., and no mention of 'indiscriminate attacks'. Reddy indicates having access to the internet and (being been aware of the allegations of civilian casualties that were being made), that they would have acted to report on the allegations. Sri Lankan academics (e.g., Dr. Tammita-Delgoda, a Historian at the Kadirgamar Institute) and journalists were also embedded with the army. Others, including ICRC officals, a team of Indian doctors, based in Puhulmotte (Pulmoddai), who subsequently worked in the Manik Farm IDP center, were in the Vanni. Even the Channel-4 producer Jon Snow unwittingly admitted the presence of foreign ICRC personnel in the Vanni as late as April 2009. Snow produced a Sri-Lankan British woman, Damil Vany Gnanakumar as his star witness in the movie (without admiting that she was an LTTE fighter). She had arrived in Sri Lanka in February 28, 2008 and served in the frontline LTTE Sothiya Regiment. This showed that even hostile foreigners could get into the Vanni.
(b) Attacks on civilians and Hospitals The Government denies ever targeting hospitals deliberately. Perhaps HRW dismisses the Government's denials as self-serving. But the hospitals allegedly `attacked' were in the battle-zone, with some civilians present as captives of the LTTE. The testimony of three doctors who were in the war zone, and Dr. Shanmugarajah's free statement, made in England under oath, establish a picture completely contrary to the claims made by the UN-Darusman report and presented (without any critical evaluation) by the DD-HRW to the Canadian Parliament. Please read:
Dr. Veerakanthipillai Shanmugarajah's Affidavit: Description of Conditions in the Vanni Pocket in Refutation of Channel-Four
Canada was the only nation among forty-seven members in the UN Human Rights Council to vote against a motion that condemned Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon that killed and injured innumerable civilians and some UN-workers as well. So Canadian Parliamentarians have to tread even more softly here, when a nation is fighting a domestic uprising, and not invading Lebanon. The previous discussion, and what we give below show that the so-called UN report, and HRW treat information sloppily.
(c) Food distribution etc.ICRC was present throughout, and suspended operation on 15th May 2009, implying that most civilians had successfully escaped the LTTE entrapment. The government had issued the ICRC 534,227 metric tons of food and medicine to the conflict zone. There were also UN/WFP convoys providing food and medicine, and the UN-Darusman report mentions 7,435 metric tons of food delivered over 5 months, but omits the 534,227 tons from ICRC. By ignoring these facts, the UN-Darusman-report gives the wrong picture that DD-HRW uses in front of the Canadian parliamentary committee. When DD-HRW says "Many more people died because of insufficient food and medical attention", does she suggest that the government (or the UN/WFP, or ICRC) willfully arranged that these people had insufficient food and medical attention.? Is the food provided insufficient? A measure of food needs acceped by the UN can be obtained from thr UN-run Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya:
It has ~535,000 refugees, and was supplied 10,000 metric tons/month by UN/WFP
This was prior to a 20% cut in November 2013. This suggests that the 300,000-hostage population held by the LTTE would need 5610 tons/month, or about 28,400 tons for 5 months. Hence, using typical UN/WFP food-supply rates, it it clear that roughly four times the needed amount of supplies have been provided by the Sri Lankan government via the ICRC, and the UN/WFP combined. So why does the HRW deputy director claim that hostages were provided insufficient food? We believe that the UN-expert panel, and experts in most Human-rights organizations have shown no signs of expertise in evaluating simple sets of data critically. Furthermore Dr. Shanmugarajah, the Medic who worked with the trapped people to the end categorically refutes Gordon Weiss's claim's of malnutrition in the captive population.
Such claims were mear echos of the TamilNet claims of 'genocde of the Tamils' by starving the people. Prof. Boyle, a well-known LTTE spokesman wrote in the Mrch 6th 2009 Tamil net that "Colombo withholding food supplies amounts to Genocide....". In every instance, we can trace the HRW position to the TamiNet narrative that has no support in facts.
HRW: Some specific examples of war crimes that were committed by government forces are included in video footage that has now been released and was recently shown in a U.K. Channel 4 documentary, The Killing Fields. It included some footage of summary execution of prisoners on May 18, 2009. Human Rights Watch has obtained a longer version of this video and photographs of the same incident from various different sources. We believe this footage is authentic. It shows what appears to be a summary execution of various prisoners by government troops. The footage also pans over about a dozen dead bodies in a field.
When specific examples of 'war crimes' are demanded from HRW, ICG or AI, they finally lean of the Channel 4 footage, well-knowing that its authenticity is highly contested. Even the language (spoken by alleeged Army soldiers) in the Channel-4 is clearly NOT Sinhala. Some months footage identical to it in many parts was shown on a Boston Television station, with the assassins clearly speaking Tamil. The assassins are unlikely to be Sri Lankan soldiers.
see: An LTTE video shown one-year before the Killing Fields movie of Channel-4.
Then there are all the technical questions raised by many critics and independent academics. However, the HRW-DD says "we believe this footage is authentic". But HRW admit that they could get at "longer footages" from other sources - i.e., many versions?. In fact, there are many versions going back several years. These have little to do with the last phase of the war, but with fund-raising in the Diaspora. Organizations like HRW, AI, ICG etc., who accept the authenticity of the footage should call a judicial-style trial of the footage, allowing the defence counsels and technical experts of the two sides to present each other's arguments, in a transparent process regarding the validity of the footage. Instead, we find `Trial by TV' installed, with the accused presumed guilty. This is a very dangerous precedent and an assault on human-rights and due process. The Iraqi invasion was based on `fabricated truths'. The Sri Lankan Government has not ignored the footage; it has also produced its own TV-footage, replying Channel-4 point-by-point. However, Western parliaments have simply not seen it, dismissing it as `government propaganda'! HRW etc., conveniently ignore the government submissions and refuse to cooperate to sort out fact from fiction.
see: Lies Agreed Upon : Sri Lanka counters Channel 4 (Full Video). Minsitry of defence replies to Channel-4.
If the most specific thing that HRW, AI, and ICG can bring against the Sri Lankan government is to refer to the Channel-4 movies, they need to authenticate the footage in a transparent manner, because authenticity of the footage is what is being contested. It is not sufficient to say, "we believe it is authentic", without establishing it. The previous extremely uninformed answers by the HRW-DD on food distribution to the LTTE-captives where four-times the needed supplies had been provided show the incapacity of the HRW-functionaries to evaluate simple data (e.g., available to them from ICRC, US/WFP etc). So how can we have confidence in their views of authenticity of the Channel-4 movie?
We know very well that initially, Channel-4, together Western-NGO aid agencies attempted to claim that horrible atrocities are being committed in IDP camps. The camps were visited by ICRC, UN envoys, Japanese, Indian and other diplomats, and dignitaries, including John Holmes, Malcolm Bruce. No such observations have been made by them. HOn. Bruce Holmes, MP, reported to the House of Commons in England the very opposite of what the pro-Tiger lobby wanted to hear. So Channel-4 stopped looking for atrocities inside the camps, and moved its time frame to an earlier era?
HRW: One of the dead bodies in the video and photographs is a woman named Issipiriya , a 27-year-old reporter for the LTTE. Her body and the bodies of other women that appear beside her are partially naked, and soldiers who recorded the video make lewd comments, raising concerns that these women may have been sexually assaulted. Despite the existence of such graphic evidence of alleged war crimes, the Sri Lankan government has taken no efforts to genuinely investigate these allegations.
Contrary to what HRW-DD says, the SL-Govt. has investigated Isseipriya (also spelt as Issei Piriya, Issipriya, Isaipriya, in various documents), and knows a lot about her, even prior to 2007.
Isseipriya is not a simple reporter as made out by the HRW-DD, or Channel-4.
The case of Isseipriya has been publicly discussed by a Ministry of Defence communique a few months before the HRW-DD appeared in front of the Canadian parliamentarians. It stated that:
"A report submitted to UNESCO by GoSL following the bombing of VOT by SLAF in 2007 made it clear that VOT was the official propaganda radio station of the LTTE. The LTTE cadres who died in the attack were identified as cadres ... engaged in military operations against the Security Forces. Isseipriya had been given the rank of 'Lt Col' ..., married a Sea Tiger, Sri Ram who also died in ... May 2009. Sri Ram was the former LTTE Senior Sea Tiger leader in Trincomalee and ...(launched operations) against the Sri Lanka Navy and Merchant Vessels". The LTTE-identity card issued to Isseipriya is pictured below.
The whole issue here is, given the prior existence of several parts of the Channel-4 movie, the authenticity of the re-assembled movie has to be transparently established. HRW, AI, ICG etc., have uncritically accepted the claims of Channel-4, being unaware of the antecedents of parts of the footage. So it is lamentable that the 'specific cases' that the HRW-DD can present are the ones culled from the Channel-4 movies.
For contrasting views (by anti-Govt websites) about Isaipriya, her pictures and how some of them have been doctored for propaganda purposes etc, see: New Pictures Of Isaipriya when Alive Emerge
HRW: Immediately after the war ended, in a joint communiqué issued in May 2009, the Sri Lankan government and the UN Secretary-General agreed to address accountability; however, since that time, there really have been zero good faith efforts on accountability by the Sri Lankan government for any of the extensive laws-of-war violations committed by both parties to the conflict.
The above statement was made by the DD-HRW in early November 2011, just two years after a 30-year war. The DD-HRW refers to the agreement between the President and the Secretary-General. There were 12 paragraphs in it with 2-7 containing the main issues
(as may be seen by clicking here ). A first step was forming the LLRC that was to give an over-all plan for post-war reconciliation, instead of taking ad hoc actions. The
LLRC was appointed by 2010, and its report was submitted in an year. Remarkable progress had been made in items 2-6 in that short period, as will be discussed below (when the DD-HRW raises the LLRC again). However, ignoring all these the DD-HRW says, "there really have been zero good faith efforts on accountability by the Sri Lankan government for any of the extensive laws-of-war violations. How fast does the DD-HRW expect governments to act? What is her yardstick? We can perhaps look at the case of a wealthy country which had NOT been mired in war for 30 years, but had been obliged to act when pressured by the UN, on accountability and related issues.
The case of hundreds of deaths of Aboriginal people in Australia (or for that matter Canada's aboriginal commission) could be used to get at the usual time-frames involved in government action. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) in Australia was established in 1987 after representations to the United Nations by the National Committee to defend Black rights. RCIADIC tabled its National Report in 1989. Unlike Sri Lanka's LLRC report, tabled in a month after delivery, the Australian government took two years to table it in parliament. According a report by Elena Marchetti in the Macquarie Law Journal Over a decade after the RCIADIC tabled its recommendations, many of the people who were interviewed noted that there has been little improvement in the lives of Indigenous people. John Pilger, in his documentary movies Utopia tells us the worst. In Australia, even after three decades, the debilitating poverty, abuse of aboriginal rights, excessive imprisonment and deaths in custody etc., have not got corrected! Canadian parliamentarians are no doubt familiar with similar neglects of human rights (e.g., of Canadian Aboriginal people), un-explained deaths, disappearances, IDPs still living in make-shift housing many years after floods in Manitoba etc., and also examples of recommendations of Canadian Royal commissions that have been ignored totally.
In contrast, The Sri Lankan Government established the LLRC in may 2010, just one-year after the end of hostilities, the report was tabled in parliament in December 2011. A national plan of action committee (NPPOA) was appointed within 1/2 an year, taking up 91 of the recommendations of the LLRC by July 2012. Another 53 recommendations were taken up by July 2013 and implementations have begun. It is logistically impossible to have completed them as post-war matters take years, require de-mining, building infra-structure, housing and other needed services, and even psychological support of people, in regions ravaged for three decades by war.
Non-cooperation by the West.
The DD-HRW and other HR-NGO functionaries need to recognize one serious difficulty faced by the Sri Lankan government, especially in implementing accountability issues. Consider the specific cases mentioned by the DD-HRW, drawn from the Channel-4 movie. Sri lanka's position is that large chunks of the movie had circulated previously in North America, and its authors and actors are LTTE agents posing as Sri Lankan soldiers. These LTTE agents are now living in Western countries. Citing witness protection, but trampling the rights of the accused, the western governments are not sharing information about these people, and are not ready to allow cross-examinations even in Canada, leave aside extraditing individuals that the SL_government may name, to carry out investigations into alleged war crimes. If the correct numbers are used, we found that only about 8000±10% were killed in the last phase of the war, with some 5000±10% being LLTE fighters. Hence ~3000±10% are unaccounted for when some 300,000 people were held captive by the LTTE. In our discussion of the LLRC report we address this further.
Western NGOs-critics and Channel-4 spokesmen have claimed that the footage is from those made by Sri Lankan soldiers who had cell phones etc. This notion that Sri Lankan soldiers typically carry cell-phones into the battle-field, and have charging stations for their phones readily available in the battle-field, and snap photos as they occur is a totally unrealistic picture, naively drawn from urban up-risings in the West (e.g., at G-8 meetings), at it is totally inapplicable to the conditions that prevailed in the last days of the Eelam war. Furthermore, it is well-established that the LTTE used camera crews to make propaganda war movies, using proper cameras sometimes cell-phone moves. These movies were shown to the diaspora at fund raisers, as is allegedly the case with the Issipriya footage, shown in 2008.
HRW: The government has established a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), but this lacks the mandate to investigate serious violations such as war crimes. Instead, the mandate of this commission is to look at what were the failings of the 2002 ceasefire agreement. The members of this commission also lack independence and impartiality. The UN panel report has described the process of the LLRC as deeply flawed.
The government has really used the LLRC as a delaying tactic. After several delays, the report is now expected to be presented to the Sri Lankan president on November 15 of this year. So far, interim recommendations that have been made by the commission have not contained a single recommendation relating to accountability.
|Comments about the LLRC
Compared to the time scales that typically occur with investigative commissions (e.g., we discussed the Australian Royal Commission on aboriginal deaths). The Sri Lankan government, even after emerging from a war, has acted much faster than Western governments faced with similar issues. When the DD-HRW says 'after several delays ...' can she cite a typical real-life example where things have happened faster that with the LLRC, with the ending war in 2009, appointment of the LLRC in 2010, and the tabling of a comprehensive report in 2011? Now, in 2013 we have more progress in implementation than, say, the Australian commission referred to had in ten years. The internationally important Chilcot report in the UK may never see the light of day. We can also consider yardsticks from Canada's aboriginal commission.
Canada's Aboriginal commission
The Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was set up in 1991, one year after the Oka crisis, and it reported only in 1996; it set a 20-year time frame for implementation. However, the report called for a first-ministers conference within six months. This was ignored by the Canadian government (which, unlike Sri lanka, had not emerged from a 'war' during the Oka holdout!, and the report remains a major research effort that has NOT been implemented to any significant extent!) Hence, comparing the performance of Canada and Australia, (i.e., nations with a lot of resources and not wounded by a long war), Sri Lanka has actually enacted the recommendations of the LLRC commission at break-neck speed. The statements of the DD-HRW simply echo the prejudiced statements culled from Tamil-separatist websites and NGOs (like the Center for Policy Alternatives) that the West itself has nurtured in Colombo and elsewhere.
On the question of accountability, paragraph 7 of the agreement between the Secy. General and the President says that: the Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances. It does not talk of just the last phase of the war, as made out by subsequent documents that have manipulated the narrative and even the UNHRC using NGO pressure.
Bishop Francis, i.e., the Bishop of Kurunegala who is a Tamil, has stated that "this is not a war that began and ended in a couple of years. The war lasted more than 30 years. If we are talking about accountability, then we have to start from the very beginning. There was a terrorist movement that became powerful enough to take on the elected government. hey possessed the most powerful weapons and good combat training. They also had enough funds. It is obvious that the international community gave the terrorist arms, motivation and funds and just watched the scene for 30 long years. People were getting killed every day. Now when peace has been achieved with great difficulty, you get people coming from nowhere and asking for accountability for some skeletons found on the last days of the war". "How can anybody be held accountable for the last few years while at the same time ignoring what went on before?" asked Bishop Francis.
We may mention that the establishment of the Commission to investigate the disappearances is one of the recommendations by the LLRC. The Presidential commission probing disappearances had reportedly received 11,500 complaints on disappearances and 7,500 of them are from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This was in spite of a strong and sustained campaign by the Western-funded pro-separatist NGOs in Colombo that campaigned to boycott the LLTC, claiming no confidence in the LLRC, exactly in the same manner that the DD-HRW has rejected the LLRC in her statements.
HRW: Since 1977 the Sri Lankan government has established 14 government commissions, and usually these commissions have been established in response to international criticism of its human rights record. The work of these commissions has been tainted by political interference and has mainly served to exonerate government security forces.
The last such commission prior to this one was the Independent International Group of Eminent Persons, the IIGEP, which had a broad mandate, but even they in the end terminated their work, citing a lack of political will on the part of the government to take any action on their findings and recommendations.
We can compare the yard-stick of other comparable countries (or advanced countries) form 1977 onwards, to show that the record of the Sri lankan government cannot be faulted. However let us just look at the specific case of the IIGEP raised by HRW. While the DD-HRW says that the IIGEP had a `broad mandate', HRW itself had criticized the IIGEP for its limitations! The IIGEP did not have independent access to witnesses or did not seek to conduct independent investigations, and the Commission of Inquiry indicated that the IIGEP were to "observe and not investigate". It had been set up in 2007 at a time when the war was raging in North Sri Lanka. It suffices to say that the main concern of the country at the time was fighting the terrorist, while the main concern of the Western countries, and their NGOs was to force the Sri Lankan government to reach a 'political settlement' with the LTTE (which could not be done, even with India sending a military force, the IKPF, to do so). The IIGEP was rightly seen by Sri Lankans as such an `external-pressure' organization. The details of the Muttur and Trincomalee cases, and how the IIGEP failed very badly, and how NGO agents sabotaged the trial may be accessed by clicking here.
Investigation cannot be carried out without the cooperation of Western governments where individuals alleged to be terrorists have taken refuge, and whose actions need to be investigated, as we already noted. . The Western governments have declined to work with Sri Lankan intelligence officers, share data etc. As another example, the managers of a French NGO who irresponsibly sent its local staff into harm's-way in the Muttur (Moodu-thara) arena refused to be present or provide material to an investigation that was to be observed by the IIGEP.
HRW: If we return to that example of the video of summary executions aired on Channel 4, there is information posted on the website of the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka implicating the 53rd division of the Sri Lankan army in the killing of several of these individuals. Yet there has still been no credible investigation, either by the military or by the civilian authorities. Incredibly, the government continues to dismiss the footage as fake, despite several UN experts who have found it to be authentic.
It is useful to look at HRW's full discussion on the 53rd division of the Sri Lankan Army.
Contrary to the claim of the DD-HRW, there is NO information on the said defence website implicating the army. Also, the army has spelt its position clearly in an official communiqué.
We already discussed the case of Issipriya and other issued raised by the Channel-4 videos, and reviewed how they had been used in propaganda movies produced by the LTTE Nithrasanam, and circulated within the Diaspora for fund-raising, several years prior to their reappearance in the Channel-4 video.
The HRW website also claims that the war had no witnesses, while it was covered by Indian Journalists like Mudlidhar Reddy, a Reuter's correspondent, as well as Sri Lankan journalists. Tamil Medical doctors who worked in LTTE hospitals have spoken out from England, under Oath. So it was "not" a war without witnesses as labeled by HRW.
HRW, Channel-4 and others refer to "several UN experts who have found it (Channel-4 video) to be authentic". Since it is challenged in such detail, a transparent investigation into its authenticity, with critics allowed to interrogate the experts, should be mounted by the HR agencies before they accept such matters as face value. The US and UK had `experts' establishing evidence as "slam dunk certainty' by top US officials and accepted by the UN, only to find that the material had no foundation.
HRW: Now I will turn to the current human rights situation in the country. The human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains bleak, despite the end of the war. Constitutional amendments passed last year have expanded the president's powers and reduced the independence of key institutions such as the judiciary, the National Human Rights Commission, and the Elections Commission.
The Rajapaska family has really consolidated power and extended their authoritarian rule. They hold key government portfolios, and about 94 government departments are in control of various members of the family.
Severe restrictions on free expression remain. People are unable to express views opposing those of the government. This year there have continued to be several reports of independent journalists and editors who have been severely beaten or threatened. Opposition political candidates have also faced violence in Sri Lanka.
The armed forces continue to have police powers, and there's a strong military presence in the north. While most of the internally displaced people have left the detention camps, there hasn't been a permanent durable solution for those who come from areas where the final stages of the fighting occurred.
Two years after the end of a 30-year war, at the time this complaint was lodged by the DD-HRW, when not even a census of the people had been done, and not even the de-mining of the areas of the war has been achieved, the DD-HRW complains of a lack of a "permanent durable solution for those who come from areas where the final stages of the fighting occurred". To compare with with other calamities, even a wealthy nation like the USA had not found a "permanent durable solution" to the ~275,000 rendered homeless by Kartrina", with many still living in inadequate temporary housing, trailers etc., even 5-6 years after the event ; Canada is still holding aboriginal people displaced in Manitoba floods in make-shift shelters. So it is difficult to for Sri Lankan's to believe that the Western agencies are acting in good faith when their yardstick is so flawed.
Furthermore, it is often suggested, especially by organizations controlled by wealthy Tamil land-owners, that the IDPs should be resettle in their own hamlets. This ignores the sociological fact that traditional Tamil villages are organized according to the vicious Caste system, with the "lower-castes" confined to slum-like outer village tracts, while the upper-caste individuals (often enough living in Colombo) own the major part of the land. If returning IDPs are re-settle in their old villages, it would simply lead to the re-creation of the caste-based land-tenure and discriminatory social hierarchy ordained by the despicable Manu Dharma of ancient India. This has been denounced by many Tamils who have called for Land reforms and social reform in the North and East of Sri Lanka Instead, the TNA and other groups that acted for the LTTE have opposed any land reform.
The DD-HRW complains of the "strong military presence". The majority of the army personnel is used in processes which may be classified as "civilification" of the army; the army is used for building infra-structure, clearing mines, and running local services that are not yet well established. The main highway (A9), and the railway had been destroyed and mined by the LTTE. Even the supply of groceries, medication, basic fuels like candles or kerosine to remote villages had not been achieved in 2011 when HRW and other Human Rights agencies began to complain of the "army presence", lack of progress etc. However, the army's role has been welcomed by many writers. Sebastian Rasalingam, a Tamil writer welcomes the army "Kadiagals" (general stores) as they do not discriminate against caste, as is common in shops run by wealthy local Tamils who are, as a rule, high-caste Tamils. For the nature of caste discrimination etc., please see our note on caste discrimination.
Even in Canada and many western countries, the need to bring back soldiers returning from war into civil life has led to programs like "From helmets to hard hats". A large idle army in the post-war era is unacceptable in a very densely populated small country like Sri Lanka. Hence, their use in civil enterprises (both in the North, and in the South), leads to gradual civilification of the army. Hence this is NOT a militarization of society, as made out by HR organizations who uncritically repeat the narrative of the separatist NGOs in Colombo. The reality is quite the opposite, and history is full of examples where armies were brought back to civilian life via a process of re-engagement in public works, business and the service sector.
The army is deployed in most parts of the country, even for urban development etc., because of neglect over 30 years during the war. However, even in the North, the number of soldiers doing soldier-duty has been cut back, as seen below (Source, Presentation in Geneva by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, January 2014).
However, given the assaults faced by Sri Lankan visitors to Tamil Nadu, its heated tone and hostility, strength of pro-LLTE groups in Tamil Nadu etc., it is natural for Sri Lanka to be on guard against the rise of separatist groups aided by Tamil Nadu activists. Prabhakaran and his associates were strongly aided by Tamil-Nadu connections in building their insurrectionist movement. The leader of the TNA spoke of the LTTE as a "hero" in a recent electioneering campaign in 2013. Attempts by some Jaffna University students to commemorate LTTE-suicide bombers on the birthday of Prabhakaran is a stiff reminder of the real-politik of the North run by Colombo-based Tamil politicians. Hence an adequate army presence in troubled regions is strategic in the aftermath of a 30-year insurrection.
In fact a Muslim observer of foreign affairs and ex-diplomat Mr Izeth Hussain hypothesizes that India might impose a Cyprus-style solution: Indian troops invade Sri Lanka, establish Eelam, after which the Indian troops hold the frontier, in a process comparable to what happened in Cyprus, showing the point of view common in the Island itself. HRW simply does not understand the prevailing Zeit-geist in Sri Lank after a war against foes financed by India, and the Tamil-Diaspora residing in the West.
HRW: While emergency regulations in Sri Lanka lapsed at the end of August, there continue to be very strict counter-terrorism laws that remain in place and that allow for up to 18 months of preventive detention. Several thousand suspected LTTE members are still being held under the lapsed emergency regulations and have not been brought to trial.
This repressive government has really shown no serious effort to address accountability, and it still fails to protect the fundamental rights of its people. Instead of investigating these alleged violations, the Sri Lankan government has engaged in an aggressive public relations offensive against anyone who calls for accountability, summarily dismissing a lot of these allegations as fake or LTTE propaganda.
We once again question the yard-stick used by HRW in its stridently judgmental statements. These statements by HRW were made in 2001. Similar statements are still being made today.
By the end of 2013 there were only 188 detainees in Sri Lanka's custody out of 12,000 combatants and surrendered persons since 18 May 2009. If we take USA as a `yardstick', there are ~160 known detainees in the US in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since ten years, 60-odd detainees are held illegally even though the US judiciary directed their release four years ago! Although there are no "emergency laws" here to lapse, the level of electronic surveillance on individuals and even heads of governments (carried out by Western governments) has increased exponentially.
One should compare Sri Lanka, two years after the end of the battles, with other countries emerging from war, be it Iraq, Lybia, or even countries in the Asian region like Pakistan which are in the shadow of of the Western offensive in Afghanistan. In fact, Sri Lanka is a totally safe place compared to other post-war countries in a similar situation. However it is clear that journalists (e.g., MacCrea but not, say Stuart Bell or Mudlidhar Reddy), Western NGO agents and some Western legislators (e.g., Rathika Sitsabaiesan, but not, say, parliamentarians like Joe Daniel or Chungsen Leung who refrained from making statements that would inflame either side) would be shadowed because the Sri Lankan government regards them as agents of a hostile government visiting, to find fault rather than in friendship. Canada must seriously ask why it is becoming another 'ugly American'.
The DD-HRW seems to regard boycotts and non-communication as the way to transforming the world.
The Prime minister of Canada has stood out for threatening to boycott the GHOGM, and he did boycott the CHOGM. Alone among Western nations, Harper also rejected the international agreement with Iran on Iran's nuclear effort. He is alone in not condemning the disputed Israeli settlements, even in his most recent visit to the region. He is playing the role of the 'Ugly Canadian'. When the DD-HRW presented Harper's stand in the context of human rights, HRW was conveniently ignoring disregard of UN warnings on the treatment of aboriginal people in Canada, Harper's attitude to such violations in Israel, China etc. The declarations of the CHOGM took no account of Harper's purported reasons for the boycott, and HRW's alleged concerns about accountability. This lack of a consistent yardstick shown in HRW's statements is a consequence of HRW's uncritical repeat of the narrative mounted by the Tamil separatist-NGOs in Colombo and elsewhere.
HRW: Firstly, there needs to be an effort at criminal investigations into alleged war crimes that have been committed. It has long been evident that justice and accountability in Sri Lanka cannot simply rely on the government, but depend on strong and concerted actions by the international community. What's really needed is an international accountability mechanism, as recommended by the Secretary-General's panel of experts, to investigate war crimes that were committed in the final stages of the war.
The Canadian government has already expressed support for this recommendation. What we need to see now is for Canada to show some leadership on this issue by mobilizing other countries ahead of the next Human Rights Council session in March. Friends of Sri Lanka would certainly welcome Canada's leadership in establishing such a mechanism.
Given Sri Lanka's dismissive approach, there needs to be international oversight of any domestic accountability measures that may result from the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The victims of Sri Lanka's war crimes have waited long enough and deserve nothing less.
Canada and other the western nations need to begin the accountability process by setting an example.
The UN itself can lead in the effort towards accountability. The UN-Darusman committee claims to have received (between October 27, 2010 and December 31, 2010) over 4,000 written and oral submissions from more than 2,300 persons pertaining to atrocities committed in Sri Lanka. So the UN can furnish specific allegations. But the submissions are to remain classified for 20 years. Even after 20 years, the release of information is subjected to another review. On one hand, the UN wants Sri Lanka to investigate all allegations and on the other hand specific accusations will remain classified for 20 years as recommended by Darusman et al!
There are known LTTE war criminals living safely in the West. For instance, Adel Balasingham, the wife of Anton Balasingham, now living in England is said (even in a book written by her) to have trained women suicide cadre who blew themselves up targeting civilians, and even politicians like Rajiv Gandhi. This is backed by videos and other documentation. The case has been raised by Lord Nesby in the UK. However, neither the UK government nor the HR-NGOs have shown their commitment to "accountability" in this case.
The majority of Tamil "refugees" who have claimed fear of torture etc., in Sri lanka have, within a short time after arriving in Canada, returned to Sri Lanka 'on holiday', or for "family" reasons, or to even engage in separatist activity. Shouldn't Canada prosecute such "refugees"? The Gov. of Canada can begin a credible investigation, in corporation with the Interpol, the Sri Lankan government, and other stake holders to bring these alleged offenders (possibly war criminals) who are living in their own soil. As the DD-HRW has said, victims of Sri Lanka's war crimes have waited long enough, and await concrete action from Canadian legislators against ex-terrorists living in Canada.
But does Canada think such action would create pain, divisions in its immigrant population, and produce further victims if it follows the vengeful witch-hunts of the modern-day inquisitionists who have hijacked the original program of the original founders of Amnesty International?
While HRW is a respected body, it is important to shed the view that HRW is always a 'neutral, objective' organization, and review critically what they say, and glean out what facts there may be, in a judicial and forensic manner. HRW arose from the needs of the cold war, and its drum beat is essentially that of its corporate and political financial backers. This aspect has been discussed by Alan Dershowitz (Felix-Frankfurter Chair in Law, Harvard University) in asking "who is watching Human Rights Watch, one of the world's best-financed and most influential human rights organizations? It turns out that they cook the books about facts, cheat on interviews, and put out pre-determined conclusions that are driven more by their ideology than by evidence. These are serious accusations, and they are demonstrably true". Similarly, HRW has white-washed the LTTE when needed, and transferred the crime to the Government forces, when ever this fits HRW ideology, as discussed in John MacKinnon, and in other articles.
|A Day at the Front Line in Sri Lanka - Reuter correspondent (Photographer's Blog), April 27, (2009)
|The Illegality of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's approach to Sri Lanka' OnlankaNews, (2013)
|How Moon panel gathered "war crime' information revealed, The Island, April 20, (2012)
|Macquarie Law Journal, Vol 5, p. 103 (2005)
|The films and journalism of John Pilger
|The Secretary General's initiative is based on the purported agreement with the President. The document consists of 12 paragraphs, and 2-7 are most relevant and are hence numbered and given below.
2. With regard to IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons], the United Nations will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the IDPs now in Vavuniya and Jaffna. The Government will continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies. ... The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government expressing its intention to dismantle the welfare villages at the earliest, as outlined in the Plan to resettle the bulk of IDPs and call for its early implementation.
3. The Government seeks the cooperation of the international community in mine clearing, which is an essential prerequisite to expediting the early return of IDPs.
4. The Secretary-General called for donor assistance towards the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) jointly launched by the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations, which supports the relief, shelter and humanitarian needs of those in IDP sites.
5. President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General recognized the large number of former child soldiers forcibly recruited by the LTTE as an important issue in the post-conflict context. ... The Secretary-General expressed satisfaction on the progress already made by the Government in cooperation with UNICEF and encouraged Sri Lanka to adopt similar policies and procedures relating to former child soldiers in the north.
6. President Rajapaksa informed the Secretary-General regarding ... rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants. In addition to the ongoing work by the Office of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, a National Framework for the Integration of Ex-combatants into Civilian Life is under preparation, with the assistance of the United Nations and other international organizations.
7. Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances.
The army position regarding alleged human-rights violations.
NGO writers have made various allegations and insinuated various infractions by the army, without presenting evidence other than pointing to to Channel-4 videos etc.
The claim by the DD-HRW, that the 53rd division had posted information implication its soldiers on its website is without substance. There is no such information.
(The following is an army communiqué that we received via H.E. Ravinath Ariyasinhe, Sri Lankan envoy in Geneva.)
The Army and/or Ministry of Defence have not accused any field formation (Division or Brigade) on any specific incident alleged to have taken place during the last phase of Humanitarian Operations. We only have maintained that there never was a case of deliberate targeting of civilians. Taking a step further we have made several public statements saying that the available evidence that the international community is talking of, i.e. Channel 4 sources were inadequate to implicate any specific person or formation and therefore we have openly called for further evidence such as dates & places in order to be able to carry out further investigations leading to identifying formations or perpetrators, if any. There have been no responses to such claims other than calling for international investigations. We have also maintained that reluctance on the part of those leveling allegations is indicative of the fact that their real objective is not seeking justice but justifying their demand for international investigations.
About Cluster Munitions we have constantly maintained that we have never used any unconventional munition throughout Eelam War (I to IV). In 2012 there was an article by one Nessman (AP) who claimed that Mr. Alan Poston of UNDP had reported that cluster munitions were found in Sri Lanka. However, when Defense Ministry spoke to Mr. Poston on this matter at that time he informed that the report was not true and that it was possibly based on a report he sent to New York seeking additional training assistance for deminers on clearing unexploded cluster munitions. The only time this resurfaced after that time (end April 2012) was during recent visit by Amb. Stephen Rapp where Rt Rev Rayappu Joseph submitted his allegations. The line that we have taken as mentioned earlier is that "the Sri Lankan forces have not employed unconventional means in defeating terrorism".
see other Sri lankan studies posted on the web.