The separatist conflict in Sri Lanka and
the souring of Canada against Sri Lanka.
Here we review the presentations made by two officials of Amnesty International, as well as a presentation made by Roy Samathanam who had been detained in Sri Lankan prisons for three years, under the charge of importing communication equipment (cellphones with GPS) and being linked to the LTTE at a time when the Government was at war with the Tigers. He was fined and freed when he confessed to the importation of GPS telephones. We compare it with the Canadian case of Maher Arrar who had simply been acquainted with some one who had been suspected of exporting communication equipment to al Queda. Arrar was kidnapped and held for nearly one year, and subject to torture by US and Canadian authorities. Although Canada apologized to Arrar and compensated him some 5 years later, no responsible officials were criminally indicted, while the USA has rejected any wrong-doing.
We argue here, within the context of the HR-committee review, that (i) Canada has lost its capacity to influence Sri Lanka because it has been widely viewed, for several decades, as a hostile power by a majority of Sri Lankans. (ii) The yardstick of Human-Rights accountability that can be applied to a prosperous, peaceful educated society cannot be blindly applied to societies that have been subject to two generations of war and thereby impoverished both economically and morally. (iii) In many cases, the "facts" as presented by AI and other advocacy agencies prejudge the issue, ignore the rights of the accused, and would not hold water in a judicial setting. (iv) That prosperous, peaceful nations like Canada, Australia and UK have done little to prosecute the LTTE ex-terrorists or fund-raising fellow travelers who live on their own soils. Even UN officials were complicit in channeling money channeled to the LTTE. Western governments have not implemented accountability recommendations of Royal-commission recommendations to restore the rights of their own depressed peoples, while demanding accountability elsewhere. (v) The calls for accountability vehemently pursued by the Human-Rights NGOs are counterproductive and Shylockian in nature. The pound of flesh is dictated by strict retributive accountability; for instance, it does not ask how much harm and dissension it would create in the aftermath of such interventions, imposition of sanctions etc.
Indeed, 25 years prior to this discussion, AI worked by identifying individual prisoners of conscience. AI in its pristine days stood away from government patronage and political advocacy groups. Today the situation is very dubious, with close connections between AI and the US state department. In 2012 an ex-official of the US-state department, Suzanne Nossel who advocates `smart power' based on 'military force' and R2P was executive Director of AI-USA. Madeleine Albright, ex-US secretary of state (who confided to Leslie Stahl that the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including an estimated 500,000 children was a price "worth it" to weaken former U.S. ally, Saddam Hussein), was the lead speaker in an AI 'shadow-summit' held in Chicago in May 2012. AI mounted posters justifying NATO's invasion of Afghanistan. These showed the extent of impairment of AI's moral judgment by 2012. Suzanne Nossel resigned when protests mounted with Rowley and Right exposing Amnesty's Shilling for US Wars. Amnesty's current policy towards Sri Lanka is also well-aligned with that of the US-state department.
In Canada itself, AI had no hesitation of joining with the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) in a fund-raiser. Many leading members of the CTC were also leading members of the World Tamil Movement (WTM) which was banned in 2008. Ms. Jo Becker of HRW (see, The Globe and Mail, March 16, 2005 report by Timothy Appleby) stated that "In Canada, families were typically pressed for between $2,500 and $5,000," Ms. Becker wrote, "while some businesses were asked for up to $100,000". Nevertheless, by 2013 we have AI accepting some $50,000 from Sri Lankan Tamil-separatist groups now living in Canada. So today, the original AI, fiercely independent of power blocks and advocacy groups, has now become a very different beast. Nevertheless, we are thankful to AI for its focus on Sri Lanka in the 1980s.
At that time there were two types of terror movements in Sri Lanka creating disappearances, assassinations etc., associated with rapid surge in unemployed youth populations. The first was an armed Sinhalese Marxist-youth insurrection that began in 1971; it was quelled without much bloodshed. But when it re-appeared in the late 1980s, it was put down with great brutality by the pro-Western `United National Party (UNP)', with the tacit consent of the West, led by Ronald Regan. The other was the armed insurrection of Tamil youth inflamed by Tamil nationalism that developed into the LTTE. Both ideologies (Marxism and Tamil nationalism) exploited the high-demographic hump among youth. The LTTE initially had the support of Indian politicians, but by 1987 they had decided to rein them in and sent an army, the IPKF, into Sri Lanka.
Given AI's long interest since 1971, since the first JVP (Marxist) youth uprising, it is surprising that AI had very little to say about the human-rights violations by the so-called 'Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) that arrived in Sri Lanka to dis-arm the Tigers (LLTE) and end the conflict. That was surely a typical example of a failed R2P operation that went horribly wrong. Instead, a brutal affront between the IPKF and the LTTE led to HR-infractions that have been documented by the University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna (UTHR-J) , as well as other organizations. Similarly, in the aftermath of the the IPKF leaving Sri Lanka, 600 policemen who surrendered to the LTTE were massacred in cold-blood by the LTTE, thus triggering the Eelam war-II in 1990. However, many Human Rights NGOs (including HRW and AI) began to demand an investigation into these crimes after Karuna, the Eastern LTTE commander broke ranks and later jointed the government. Similarly, at that time the ICRC also pushed for a demilitarized zone in Jaffna and justified its silence regarding LTTE atrocities in the name of getting an accord!
Thank you, Mr. Reid, and members of the committee. I'm very pleased to be here. As Alex said, I'm a volunteer coordinator with Amnesty and am focused on Sri Lanka. I've been to the country ten times. It's been a fascinating and pleasurable experience for me to be there, notwithstanding the horrible things that have been occurring there for the last 30 years or so. I've been there as a tourist, actually, just visiting out of interest. On each occasion I've been there, I have looked up the Canadian High Commissioner to get her or his advice about where to go in the country and where it is safe, but also to discuss the human rights situation, as I became active within Amnesty.
Clearly, during his ten visits as a tourist, John has not been "followed" by the police - has he? He went about freely, and associated closely with people from the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), and other Western-funded "civil-society" activists who are looked at with great suspicion by the state because of their well-documented support of "peace at any cost" with the LTTE. He has, of course, not seen any of the horrible things that have been occurring there for the last 30 years. But people have told him these things rather freely. So is there no free speech compared to other countries at war or in civil turmoil (say, taking the yardstick of Egypt today) ?
There was a parliamentary national election in Sri lanka in 2004. Mr. John Argue should mention the continued guerillas activity by the Tigers, and how The LTTE did not allow any one to oppose the candidates of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who where their political proxies, and election monitors reported this as a a serious infringement. The same TNA, strongly supported by the Tamil diaspora in Canada that ran the walk-a-thon for AI is again in power in the Northern province. In fact, the same land-owning class (and caste) has been continuously in power in the North since the 19th century. (So, the victory of the TNA in the 2013 provincial elections shows that voting in the North is still largely controlled by the same land-owning castes).
So, is Canada "engaging" the Sri Lankan government in a fruitful way by boycotting CHOGM? AS we discussed in in our introduction , and as will be clear from Mr. Samathanam's testimony, the majority of Sri Lankans regard Canada as a hostile country, and have, unfortunately, disengaged themselves from Canada. Even Britain and Australia disagreed with Canada in how to engage with Sri Lanka. When the Lessons-Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was launched, Alex Neve, John argue and friends refused to even make a token gesture and pick up the challenge of the Sri Lankan government. They cannot really "engage the Sri Lankan government", since they have closed all avenues except just one mechanism - an invasive international inquiry forced on a regime which has strong support of Sinhalese, the "plantation" Tamils, Muslims as well as many urban Tamils in Colombo.
|Aboriginal people of Canada have been agitating for their rights, over the years, even before WWII (click to enlarge)||
Here again we ask John what is the yardstick? Let us take Canada, which has NOT been facing a 30-year war that has seen the rise of two generations of youth violence where all human-rights have been violated. In such situations, there is simply no `public opinion' about human rights as civil society itself has been fractured. The flow of arms, rampant terrorism etc., creates a gun culture and rule by strong-arm tactics. Yo see it in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in the middle east. How long will Iraq taken to settle down since the "mission was declared accomplished" by the Bush administration?
But countries like Canada or Australia have no excuse. Canada, just emerging from the Oka crisis, appointed a Canadian Royal commission to look into the infringements of aboriginal human rights, treaty rights etc, with a sweeping mandate. But even today, little has been done and there is a ground-swell of an Idle no more movement. If we take the yardstick of Australia, the Royal commission into deaths of Australian aboriginals in custody (see Macquarie Law Journal), appointed under pressure from the UN, is claimed to have achieved nothing even after 10 years. John Pilger is testimony to this in his documentary films. So, what is the yardstick that John Argue, AI, and other "human-rights" NGOs use?
|The Idle-no-more Aboriginal movement claiming fundamental rights in Canada 2013 (click to enlarge)|
Amnesty talks of Twenty Years of Make Believe', while 'granting' that 'there was the problem of the war', as if it was the least of problems!. These twenty-years were a time when most Sri Lankans, kids included, were not certain that they would come home alive by evening, as even southern rural towns were targeted by Tiger suicide squads. It is a wonder that they even appointed commissions of inquiry under such dire circumstances. It is surprising that they did not call up compulsory military service, take the draconian measures that Pierre Trudeau unleashed against the very first terrorist act by the FLQ, or introduce the universal surveillance that came into place in the US after 9/11. In fact, this '20 year period' was one where Canadian politicians allowed the Canadian Tiger organizations like the World Tamil Movement (WTM) or the Tamil Rehabilitation organization (TRO) to collect funds to support terrorism in Sri Lanka, breeding the same culture of impunity and irresponsibility that Canada displayed in regard to Sikh terrorism. In fact, the National Post fittingly carried the article Sri Lankan blood on Liberal hands - National Post 22-July-09. No investigation of the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka would be meaningful if the Canandian funding sources were not investigated. This can be done in Canada. It is not just Canadian politicians, even the
UN Knew that its money went to the LTTE but kept it hushed up.
AI, ICG,HRW etc., are made up of the same family of people, and indeed, they `come to similar conclusions' as they depend on the information fed to them from the Colombo-based advocacy NGOs like the CPA, funded from outside the country. However, other more scholarly voices (e.g., John Thompson, President of the Mackenzie Institute in Ottawa , or Michael Roberts of Adelaide University paint a different picture . But AI, ICS, HRW etc had accepted the Tamil Diaspora narrative. They had already stated that nothing short of an `international investigation' with their own inserts doing the job would satisfy them. Every one knows of the fiasco of the International Investigation by the International Group of Eminent Persons (IGEP) (click to read more).
This is misrepresentation. The UN gave a figure of ~70,000 and Panab Mukherjee used that figure in February 2009 when he called for a cease-fire. Mukherjee underscored India's `grave concern over the humanitarian crisis that is building up with every passing day in Sri Lanka.' He said that, reportedly,
"over 70,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka and there is acute shortage of food, water and medicines"; the government made similar guesses, going up to 100,000 as time passed.
As John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute had remarked, the ` Sri Lankan government fended off NGOs it didn't trust (with reason)'. The impression in Sri Lanka is that the agents of these NGOs come to Colombo, and join up with their link-NGOs in Colombo, and go about the country uncritically amassing 'material' they can use to buttress their pre-conceived beliefs. They almost always head North, while ignoring the 75% of the population who may also have equally valid rights-grievances against the government, or other dominant players. But they do not figure in John Argue's narrative. In out view, it is very unlikely that he could have contributed any useful information to the LLRC commission, in spite of his 10 tourist visits to the country.
It would be interesting to ask if the public opinion in Europe would have allowed a call by some group of people (say, ex-Nazi Diaspora living in South America) to appoint a commission two years after WWII, reviewing the firebombing of Dresden, the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the sacrifice of Eastern European nations to Stalin, or whether any useful outcomes would have arisen if Churchill, Truman and others had been tried as war criminals, even in a mock trial.
John Argue says that Amnesty's great problem is that it appointed the LLRC without any consultation with the Tamils. There are Tamil members in government. Over 50% of the Tamils live in the south, and not in the claimed "exclusive homeland". It is the remaining Tamil people, less than 5% of the total population that John Argue is referring to as "The Tamils", ignoring the southern Tamils, plantation Tamils, and the Eastern province Tamils. In 2010 the TNA had no mandate to speak "for the Tamils", as they had meekly sanctioned every atrocity committed (e.g., killing of the foreign minister Kadirgamar) by the LTTE. They lived in Colombo, in fear of the Tigers, and followed the dicta of the Diaspora!
It should now be mentioned that on the 13 of November, Mr. Samathanam, in a decidely political move, caught headlines in Canada to coincide with the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo. That day he declared his intention to take his case to the UN Human-rights committee. He cannot sue any Sri Lankan officials in a Canadian court (even in absentia) as they have 'state-sector immunity'.
According to the diplomat Richard Colvin, Canadian-held captives in Afghanistan have been handed over to afghan authorities for interrogation and certain torture . It is well established that the Canadian government has incarcerated individuals and acquiesced in torture, kidnapping etc. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association website carries a news item stating that "Canada has transferred detainees to the United States and Afghanistan with full knowledge that the detainees would be in extreme danger of torture and that Canada uses and shares intelligence likely obtained through torture". John McNamer, an investigative journalist, provides over 250 documents in support of his allegations that he has submitted to the international criminal court (ICC) in November 2013 "
When foreign individuals engage in political activities in any country, it is normal that the government takes note. The situation in Sri lanka has been much worse.
The government is many-times burnt by NGOs who have surreptitiously aided the Tigers. Even UN officials allowed their funds to fall into the hands of the Tigers. Other NGOs allowed the Tigers to use their vehicles, communication equipment, or earth-moving equipment that they had brought in for "reconstruction", to fall into the hands of the Tigers. Many officials of Amensty International are known to closely associate with Colombo NGOs like the 'Center for Policy Alternatives', 'National Peace Council', `Transparency International' etc. These are justly or unjustly regarded as anti-national un-elected organizations that have always stood for appeasing the Tigers, and down-playing LTTE-political assassinations. So they are viewed as hostile bodies who are to be excluded in the aftermath of the conflict. This is the wish of most people, including many urban Tamils, and politicians have bowed to it by not allowing certain foreign NGOs. Canada also routinely excludes NOGs that it claims are linked to various 'liberation movements' from the Middle East.
John Argue's view of a 'balanced" approach seems to be to say that they have also criticized the "Tigers". What is needed is to ensure that the criticisms are not based on cherry-picking facts and selecting only those that fit their narrative, while ignoring facts which are inconvenient to them. Furthermore, the use of false images and impressions to push falsehoods or half truths as whole truths happen easily as AI, ICG, HRW etc., have no mechanisms to allow independent scholars to interrogate their claims in a judicial setting.
These NGOs, even if they began with seemingly lofty ideals, have now become self-appointed advocacy groups who push the views of those who fund them.
This picture of IDP-camps protected by barbed wire is used even today by various NGOs to discredit Sri Lanka. The 'Campaign for justice and Peace in Sri Lanka, an NGO where Yasmin Soosa is an advisory member still uses it on its home page
(click to enlarge)
|This picture of barbed wiring at an Australian detention center for illegal immigrants should be compared with the casual and almost irrelavant barbed wiring used to quarantine the LTTE-escapee IDPs (click to enlarge)|
It seems that the Sri Lankan authorities have also stated that, if a review is to be made, then it is meaningless to cover just the final weeks of the conflict. They have repeatedly said that such a review needs to cover the previous decades. The accountability has to also extent to those who funded the war, engaged in the war and immigrated out of Sri Lanka. Even people who have moved out of reach of a given jurisdiction can still be named.
While the suggestions of the SC-AI is correct in an idealistic way, we think they are way off the mark. What is the yard-stick of post was behaviour that SC-AI is using? Is he expecting the rule of law, accountability etc., that often do not seem to exist even in peaceful, prosperous western societies to hold in Sri lanka emerging from 30 years of internecine conflict? Britain has refused to even publish the Chilcot report, let alone attempt to implement it or take up accountability. The history of attempts to force accountability on various crimes in the Irish-British, Kal conflict is a saga in itself. Canada too has many cases that the journalist John McNamer wants to submit to the ICC. Even though Canada finally investigated and rendered justice after 5 years to Maher Arrar, the US has refused to even admit the existence of a case.
|Including Tamils in domestic reconciliation|
Of the four types of Tamil-peaking people in Sri lanka, it is the Northern Tamils, controlled by the Tamil national Alliance (TNA, whose leaders actually live in Colombo), who are hostile to the government.
The Canadian government foreign-policy experts surely know that just after the fall of the Tigers, the government extended a gesture of good will and did not attempt to prosecute the Tamil national Alliance, made of of Elite (high-caste) Tamils who had worked closely with the Tigers and been their mouth-piece. In effect, an extreme view point would be that the TNA were the equivalent of a Nazi-political rump in the context of World-War II. The government held some half-dozen one-to-one consultations with the TNA in the hope of arriving at a political settlement. Instead, the Elitist TNA leaders, representing a mere 4-6% of the population, continued to make demands that seemed unreasonable to most people, especially in the context of a total military defeat of the LTTE, and when the old-Vaddukkoddai demands had no meaning. The aim of the TNA does not seem to be reconciliation, but retribution and vengeance.
Nevertheless, failing the one-to-one approach, the government has appointed an all-party parliamentary commission which is being boycotted by the TNA.
Roy Samathanam's litany of race riots
While these riots undoubtedly took place, there were always two=-sides to the coin. Nevertheless, we agree that the successive governments failed to establish law and order at each incident and allowed violence to spiral. But separation and the creation of an Eelam would not sole the problem, it would in fact lead to more problems.
Many informed commentators (e.g., K. M. de Silva, Gerald Pieris, Sebastian Rasalingam, Dyan Jayatilleke, D. B. S. Jeyaraj) felt that even if an Eelam were created, it would still lead to explosive border confrontations, battles for fishing rights in the sea, for water which comes from the central hills outside the proposed Eelam, and so on. These sober observations were put aside once India and the West began to support 'a political solution' with the Tigers, and dumped large sumps of money to change public opinion to fit the Norwegian stance formulated by Solheim and Balasingham.
We think blanket statements like "Sri Lankans responsible", or earlier statements by John Argue and others about "without any consultation with the Tamils" need to be revisited with care. Tamils living in Sri lanka are also Sri Lankans, constituting about 12%, while the region claimed to be the "exclusive Tamil homeland" had a population of about 5%. Furthermore, all Tamils are definitely not supporters of the program of action that the International NGO groups and the National Tamil Alliance (TNA) have been advocating. For instance, see (the quote from Bisop Francis). The TNA was the political mouth piece of the Tigers and their narrative has not changed.
However, as we well know, Canada has not succeeded in even dealing with many individuals who have hidden their criminal histories and obtained refugee status. The legal process, run by Human-rights lawyers drag on and on over points of law. In the end courts fail to deal with such individuals. It can be documented that many ex-members of the now banned World-Tamil-Movement (WTM) have gone through this process. Some of them have formed Human-Rights fronts and work hand-in-hand with the established HR-NGOs. So, even though we fully endorse the second objective (case-by case action) stated by SG-AI in response to Hon. Irwin Cotler, it does not happen in the real world.
Again, what is the yardstick that John Argue is using? Sri Lanka, emerging from a long war, should be compared with neighbouring countries, even though they have had relative peace. But that yardstick, Sri lanka seems to run fair elections with much less violence than India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Even comparing with Canada,
John Argue would know that there are always some claims of computer fixing ("computer jilmart") by the Marxist party that lost. But unlike the'Robot phone' scandals here, the
'computer jilmat proved to be a pure fabrication.
What we have pointed out is that the "bilateral relationship" that Mr. Neve, the SI-AI is talking about, has been fractured for about two decades or more. Since about the mid 1990s, Sri Lankans have begun to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Canada is a hostile nations. If you are regarded with hostility, you are unlikely to he heard.
We just have to look back into the testimony of Mr. Samathanam, where he tells us how the other prisoners reacted to him:
see other Sri lankan studies posted on the web.