UN panel on accountability issues on Sri Lanka-A view from Jaffna - By Muruga.
Many questions have been raised on the recent decision of the Secretary General of the UN to appoint a Panel of Experts to advise him on alleged incidents said to have occurred during the final phase of the humanitarian operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam(LTTE) last year. The SGUN appointed a three member panel of experts to advise him. It is understandable the Government of Sri Lanka was strongly opposed to this move. In an era of unqualified condemnation of terrorism, particularly after the September 11,2001 the whole world united and focused on elimination of terrorism in any form at any cost. Terrorism in Sri Lanka has a long story spanning to nearly thirty years. The terror unleashed by the LTTE has been adequately recorded.
The LTTE was banned by more than 30 countries, including Sri Lanka,India,USA,United Kingdom, Canada, European Union as a terror outfit. It was declared the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization by US Federal Bureau of Investigation because they committed the highest number of suicide attacks in the world, through the use of Black Tigers. They trained ground, sea and air cadres. They acquired technology to carry out a prolonged campaign of terror and violence in Sri Lanka and abroad. The Tigers systematically hunted down and assassinated prominent Tamils who supported a united, multi-ethnic Sri Lanka.They assassinated Rajiv Ghandhi,former prime Minister of India,R.Premadasa,former President of Sri Lanka,former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Kadirgamer and many other renowned people. They butchered civilians destroyed public and private properties and methods and tactics adopted by them defies imagination of an average person. This form of terrorism was pioneered by the Tigers even before the Al-Qaeda and made extensive use of child soldiers and of child suicide bombers. Prabhakaran,the leader was personally responsible for forced recruitment of minors to the "Black Tigers" suicide bomb squads.
It is not an exaggeration to describe LTTE as a terrorist organization which conceptualized terrorism in contemporary political and military history. It is left to the historians and political scientists to make in depth researches on the LTTE’s conceptualized terrorism and its impact on the political systems and human society. The nature of the terrorism propelled by LTTE has become subject matter for research, study and mitigation to many defence authorities across the world.
Final phase of the military/humanitarian operation
GOSL appealed to the LTTE leadership when the security forces captured Kilinochchi to stop fighting and surrender. Subsequently at regular intervals gave ultimatum to the LTTE for surrender. If the LTTE wanted to surrender this could have been facilitated by third parties. Given the courage and decision of the two top LTTE activists Daya master, media boss and Jeorge, translator of the Leader to surrender to the security forces surrender of others would have completely altered the situation and the huge human tragedy would have been avoided. Daya and George master were not harmed. Respected Senior Tamil politician, leader of Tamil United Liberation Front Anandasangare time to time wrote open letters to the LTTE leader to change his violent and intransigent attitude and help protect the innocent civilians trapped by the LTTE cadres.Sangaree was very critical of his former colleagues in Tamil National Alliance, for their blind and deaf attitude, self imposed silence to the suffering of the Vanni Tamil people .The TNA failed to speak to the LTTE leadership to free the people whom the LTTE forcibly kept as human shield. During the final stages of the military operation against LTTE Sangaree further charged that the entire Tamil Nadu was totally misled by a group of TNA Members of Parliament from Sri Lanka who had no moral right to speak on behalf of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. He further accused them that they acted only as proxies of the LTTE and therefore lost their credibility. Actually the TNA earned the displeasure of the Tamils by condoning even the most wicked and atrocious activities of the LTTE.
Bishop of Jaffna urgently requested the Tamil Tigers not to station themselves among the people in the safety zone and fire their artillery-shells and rockets at the Army. He warned that it would only increase more and more the death of civilians thus endangering the safety of the people. He insisted that both parties, military and the LTTE should observe the safety zone strictly.
Humanitarian agencies warned of an impending human tragedy with about 3.5 lakh civilians trapped in the battle zone, and the LTTE was accused of using them as a human shield.UN Office of the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in Colombo urged the LTTE to immediately permit all UN staff and dependents to freely move from the Vanni, warning that denial of safe passage was a clear abrogation of international humanitarian law. UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy, urged the LTTE to allow all children and their families to move to safe areas. She emphasized that a significant number of LTTE fighters were children. Many countries including USA urged the LTTE to avoid the human tragedy and allow the entrapped Tamil civilians to safety .LTTE continued its defiance. The LTTE's denial of safe passage was a clear violation of their obligations under international humanitarian law. So the truth was that the plight of Tamil civilians was due to the LTTE’s callousness.
Strangely, LTTE foreign funded NGO's were silent on these aspects. They were the first to complain of human rights violations by Sri Lanka. They did so because their existence was dependant on acquiring funds from their foreign masters only if they shouted loudly for human rights against Sri Lanka. These were the anti national, anti social, organizations that were supporting the LTTE under cover of protecting human rights. Amnesty International (AI) was unfortunately another organization attempted to distort the factual situation pertaining to the conditions of the civilians. Regrettably, AI failed to present an objective analysis of the challenges and successes of the Sri Lankan Government in addressing the needs of Sri Lankan persons affected by the conflict.
The role of the Tamil print and media needs special mention. Generally the Tamil(private) media chose to portray the LTTE as freedom fighters and glorified their acts as heroism. They conveniently avoided publishing the news such as massacres, abductions ,child conscriptions and other terrorist activities. They twisted the news. The LTTE forcibly chased the Jaffna people out of Jaffna towards other parts of the Jaffna peninsula in end of October 1995 and this was recorded as “great exodus”. The tactic adopted by the LTTE in Vanni was not different from what they did when the security forces were advancing to Jaffna city area from Palaly military base from September 1995. On that occasion the LTTE was retreating to vanni area. LTTE wanted a human shield. The sufferings of the people amounting to more than 300,000(1995) were not less than sufferings of the Vanni displaced civilians in May 2010.Tamil print and electronic media twisted the great exodus and diluted the event as merely a displacement of Tamil civilians from Jaffna and adjoining areas. Tamil media played a significant role as projecting the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala people as racists. The irony is the owners of the private Tamil media have been living among Sinhalese people in Colombo and other places. There are thousands of Hindu temples, mosques and Tamil medium schools outside north and eastern provinces. Tamils and Muslims own residential and business properties in plenty outside North and eastern provinces. A minor incident is enlarged and blown up out of proportion by the Tamil media and marketed abroad for the consumption of the global media. The principles of ethical journalism truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability have been dumped by them . The Tamil media was publishing inaccurate news on the civilians death during the last stages of the military operation quoting unknown websites and non existing welfare workers from the war zone. The Sri Lankan media activists loudly shout that the Sri Lankan media does not have freedom. It is not acceptable. Our media habitually publish news criticizing the government and leaders and go to the extent of publishing offensive articles of even the family members of the Sri Lankan president. International media organizations awarded Sri Lankan journalists for couragely exposing the misdeeds of the government. None of the Tamil journalists so awarded wrote any thing about the atrocities of the LTTE ,but still they were commended for journalism.
Silent revolution of the Tamil civilians
The aid to the war zone was usurped by the LTTE and distribution to the civilians was done under the strict control of the LTTE. It was a well known fact that LTTE had been exploiting the aid distribution to extend control over civilians. LTTE kept their own community in starvation and also they recruited the same starved children as child soldiers. LTTE carried out forced child recruitment, forcing elderly people to join the fighting cadres and using civilians as shield against advancing troops by controlling food for them. This method alienated the people from the once powerful LTTE and people realized LTTE were really anti people forces, not freedom fighters. This situation tarnished LTTE's image and respect among their own community. The LTTE lost their important base, the peoples support. This was mainly the staring point of the end of the LTTE. Despite the LTTE goons oppression and suppression Tamil civilians started flowing into the area controlled by the security forces in their hundreds, indicating that the LTTE was no more able to exercise tight control over them. The entrapped people had the courage to risk their lives and cross over to the government controlled areas. In other words the Tamil civilians entered the war on the security forces side against their one time rulers LTTE.
The alliance of the Tamil civilians of Vanni and the Sri Lankan security forces successfully defeated the evil forces. Hopefully this had created the ending of LTTE dreams in the north and east. Many analysists failed to comprehend this factor. What would have been the position of the security forces if the Tamil civilians chose to stay with the LTTE during the last stages of the operation?. Security forces could not have mounted military attacks at the LTTE. It is the people who decided the outcome of the military operation. Rejection of LTTE by the Tamil civilians and defeat of terrorism was self made by the powerful tigers which were proved to be paper tigers at the end.
Resettlement of IDPs –a massive challenge
Having liberated the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE the GOSL had to face a bigger challenge to provide the urgent and basic amenities to the 300,000 internally displaced population. GOSL had to face twin problems of liberating the Tamil civilians from the terrorists and attending their immediate needs. The challenges were huge. With many logistical and financial constraints, the GOSL was successful in attending the immediate needs of the displaced civilians to a somewhat satisfactory level. Of course the Herculean task was not without shortcomings. It is understandable. It is very unfortunate that the stake holders, international community, UN and other powers should have intervened to extend a helping hand to GOSL which proved to the world that terrorism could be eliminated while protecting the civilians more than 300,000,entrapped under the LTTE control. Instead the responsible head of the UN chose the wrong path which only satisfy the sympathizers of terrorism and the unseen elements working under the guise of champions of human rights. However the GOSL showed the world how a tiny island with limited resources could handle a huge humanitarian crisis within a comparatively short period. Of course the experience gained in rehabilitation of IDPs for the last two decades and the Tsunami rehabilitation contributed.
Paul Harris, one time Jane's Intelligence Review correspondent in Colombo said there was a chance emerging for the international criminal court to bring Velupillai Prabhakaran before justice for personally choosing boys aged 14- 16 as suicide bombers, among other crimes. During the last decade the global press particularly the western extensively carried articles on the Cambodian communists under the Polpot leadership and loads of stuff was written about the killing fields of Polpot. The terrorist cult propelled by LTTE is much dangerous venomous and lethal than the Polpot clique. Though many countries banned the LTTE western countries failed to grasp the nature of the Sri Lankan problem and the front organizations of the LTTE were permitted to operate in those countries. Ethnic cleansing was a key word of the LTTE sympathizers and LTTE was solely responsible for ejecting the Muslims from their traditional homeland in 1990s.The Muslims people are still languishing in many places. There is no more strong case than this to charge LTTE for crimes against humanity.
Pro LTTE Tamil Diaspora
Despite being banned in over 30 countries, the Tamil Diaspora and propaganda machinery enabled the LTTE to promote themselves as freedom fighters who were the ‘sole’ representatives of the ‘oppressed’ Tamils in Sri Lanka.LTTE foreign branches raised vast funds from Tamils in Canada, Britain, Switzerland, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Assortment of weapons were procured from these funds. It was estimated that by some accounts they collected $1 million a month from expatriate Tamils. They also operated petrol stations, restaurants and small shops around the world. They even owned ships through front companies. Human smuggling was masterfully orchestrated by the LTTE with the active participation of pro LTTE Diaspora. The liberal attitude of western countries towards granting asylum status to refugees was totally abused and misused by economic asylum seekers. There were instances even Sinhalese, Muslims of Sri Lanka and south Indian Tamils sought asylum in the western countries with forged and manipulated documents posing as Sri Lankan Tamils. However the western countries did realize after along period the true nature of asylum seeking enterprise.
Panel of Experts
It is a fact that none of the decision-making bodies of UN, the Security Council or the General Assembly asked the Secretary General to appoint such a panel of experts. In fact when a resolution was moved in the Human Rights Council it was defeated by substantial majority 29 to 12. In the circumstances one can not understand how the Secretary General appointed a panel to advise him on issues alleged to have taken place towards the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The Secretary General seems to have been influenced by certain individuals and parties that are hell-bent with applying pressure on Sri Lanka rather than with finding out how the conflict ended. One has to remember that terrorism was defeated after nearly three decades of fighting and there was jubilation among all the people of Sri Lanka.The whole country particularly the northern Jaffna has started to reap the benefits in the new environment after the successful elimination of terrorism.
It was indeed a humanitarian operation where a very large number of civilians were rescued from a very organized terrorist outfit. This humanitarian mission was an unprecedented one in the history of mankind. It is obvious that there have been many attempts by certain countries and NGOs and groups to stop the last onslaught and save the LTTE leadership. The GOSL did not cave into the pressure. The vast majority of members of United Nations have either opposed the appointment of a panel or have not expressed their views. The Non Aligned Movement (NAM) objected to this proposal of the Secretary General. The NAM consists of 117 members of United Nations. That's a significant majority of the total UN membership of 192 nations. It is very distressful that human rights violence is occurring on a daily basis in many theatres of conflicts. There are no moves being made to take constructive steps to prevent these. But steps like the one UNSG has suggested expose the dilemma of the office of the SG. There have many global conferences, forums and workshops on terrorism. The only successful country in the world to have completely eradicated terrorism is insulted and abused by the UNSC. Instead, GOSL should be supported politically and economically to fulfill the tasks of rehabilitating the IDPs and developing the war torn north and east of the country.
Before concluding I deem it appropriate to quote the last para of an article penned by the writer and appeared in the Sunday Times in December,2007 under the caption of Louise Arbour’s visit to Sri Lanka-A view from Jaffna.
“UN Officials in Colombo have to share a significant portion of the blame in their contribution towards the formulation of policy positions and options on Sri Lanka.A typical example was the condolence message issued by the UN at the demise of a senior member of LTTE, Kausalyan who was believed to have been killed by their rival group. Where in the world could you witness the UN, mandated with the solemn duty and responsibility of maintaining world peace and security issuing Condolence message on the demise of a terrorist. As a person living in Jaffna who has undergone untold hardships, I am optimistic peace will dawn in the near future in our motherland. The terror outfit which is being cornered by the international community should not be provided with much needed oxygen by responsible organizations, particularly by UN. I have strong faith in the importance of the rule of law, democracy and good governance. But these noble ideas and concepts should not be in any way place impediments to the elimination of terrorism and bringing to book the leaders of the LTTE for their crimes against humanity.”