Sri Lanka: Vanquished Tiger, Roaring Lion

The stakes of life and death, hope and despair, peace and conflict are now higher than they were when the war was declared “over”. The Tiger was declared dead, and the Lion roars.

We watched this nation dance to the drum beat of the victor, sing triumphant songs, parade the glory of the forces, rejoice at the restoration of the nation while it ignored the lament of the victim, forgot the dead, and disregarded suffering. While a significant portion of its citizenry grieved, the nation celebrated. We, therefore, expressed but a part of our humanity, and a part of the heart of this Nation.

If the nation wishes to forget its festering wounds and ignore a suffering part of its nation – 300000 civilians, men, women and children, the elderly, infirm and dying – languishing in the refugee camps, it probably can. After all, life continues as normal for most of us. It is easy to forget, easy to shut out, easy to go on as normal.

We can ignore it because we are spared images of it on TV, for the censorship and lack of media presence in the camps ensure the absence of visual access we would normally have. In the competing array of visual stimulation, we are visual creatures and the absence of the face of the refugee on our screens means an absence of consciousness throughout our average day, and an absence on our conscience. The authorities know this. The spectacle of the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in USA demonstrates the potency of the visual image as it seared the images ad infinitum on the consciousness of the international community. Remote villages in Sri Lanka would have viewed it on their tiny television screens. It is the potent visual image of the suffering of the incarcerated people that this nation now lacks. We do not “see” the suffering, or “hear” the anguish on our screens, and therefore we do not feel it in our hearts. The absence of the headline news – as was pointed out – of the dire conditions of the flooding in the camps is but an offshoot of the general invisibility of the camps. The silencing of the media and the murder of journalists is but a means of buying the silence, in order to ensure the support of the nation.

The few meagre pictures filtering through are hardly adequate to raise sufficient awareness to move the hearts of the general public. What the puppet media is set up to proclaim is the “danger that these inmates of the camps can be”, the threat that it holds to the nation. We now see a spate of “bomb recoveries” that are certain to put the people into a panic of believing that the LTTE are at large, and, by default, feeling that the camps are absolutely necessary. In the absence of a “national consciousness” of the situation within the camps, many of us believe the incarceration is an inevitable consequence of victory and defeat; we believe it is the conclusion, the logical end of a bitter and searing war with the “terrorists”. Surely now that the war was so “successfully” won, and “peace” so sacrificially bought, it is our responsibility as a nation to ensure that the refugees fleeing the battlefield are weeded of the “terrorists” among them.

While the use of visual images is half the battle, the clever use of language is the other half. The LTTE understood this, as do the present government. All politicians and celebrities understand the need for a successful use of words and images. So they should, for we learn language as children and comprehend the possibilities of its usage. We learn that words can tamper with truth: “I don’t know” we say, when confronted by a deed we have done, or “it must be his fault”. We learn that the “image” and the appearance of things matter; as our parents teach us so we learn to “play our part in delivering the constructed images of “virtuous daughter”, “dutiful son”, “decent family”. And so, having learnt its currency from our birth, we use both language and images well, especially in the media, in love, deception and war. Especially in the media, and most specifically in times of war.

To use the official language of war in our own nation – these languishing lakhs in the now unbearable flooded out camps, are the unavoidable “collateral damage” emerging from the “surgical strikes” in the “offensive towards liberating the suffering Tamil people from the LTTE”. Despite the curious remark from the government, to the effect that there were no civilian casualties from the government forces, the surgical nature of the strikes ripped apart a community with blood and death. But that is neither here nor there in the currency now. The subsequent incarceration, as was the case with Guantanamo Bay, is presented as necessary in the successful “war against terror”. The inevitable netting in of innocent with the guilty and their consequent suffering is unavoidable. Of course there is no torture in the IDP camps (they do not really need it as they are suffering to a high degree)

Yet the “Tamil People who were suffering under the LTTE needing liberation” are the same people now paying a final and terrible price in the ugly conflict of thirty years.  They are now the classifieds of “warspeak” or as George Orwell calls it “doublespeak”, where, as always, the first weapon is language, and the first casualty, truth. The fleeing thousands were, therefore, described with the classic ambiguity of wartime double speak. They were the “unfortunate victims of the LTTE”, experiencing the blessing of being “liberated by the Sri Lankan Army and government”. By some strange twist of fate they are now “suspected members or supporters of the LTTE” and “possible enemies of the State”. In the terminology of warspeak the internment camps guarded with military are “welfare camps”. This is the power of language when used well, and the enduring paradox of official proclamations of warspeak. We take comfort from words and phrases coined; thus we feel less guilty about those in camps when we are told of “necessary security checks”, “slow settlement plans”, “screening LTTE supporters”. Or the most interesting of all “ensuring no future LTTE emergence”. The latter phrase takes the conscience of most kind and decent human beings to a position of believing that this for the good of everyone, including the incarcerated.

The ongoing incarceration of the civilians, with the recent floods and oozing overflowing toilets, is now beginning to feel like an oozing and stinking wound in the heart of the nation. There are, we are told, among the people incarcerated, LTTE cadres or “supporters”, people with “connections to the terrorists”. On the surface this seems an easy enough concept to understand. LTTE supporters need to be “dealt with”…in some way or other. We are not that sure what that means, but we might believe it as necessary.

Nevertheless, we need to ask ourselves who are those with LTTE connections. Take the first complicating factor; the possibility that there are indeed, among the refugees, ex-LTTE cadres. Does it matter at all that some of them were forcibly conscripted, even abducted as children, trained in combat against their will or desire. That they are children taken against their parents’ wishes, may even despise the LTTE and may be desperate to be back with their parents and families. What if they were teenagers forced into combat at gunpoint against their own dreams? Does it matter at all that some of those believed to be LTTE are actually people relieved to be free of the LTTE?

The next complicating factor is that indeed the refugees in the camps may have at some point in their lives supported someone from the LTTE.  Suppose they nursed them, supposed an injured cadre fled for shelter to his mother’s home and she bandaged his wounds, fed him and kept him for a night. Does she too now have to pay the price? Suppose a wife was left by her husband, or vice versa. Suppose they still love and care for them, still feel for them? Still want to protect them…what then?

The most troubling and complicating factor is what methods, if any, can the government use to determine which of the 280000 people are LTTE or not? Direct questions “are you an LTTE member?”, looking into their faces and thinking “aha this is definitely an LTTE member”, sticking pins under their fingernails till they confess out of fear (methods used by the police in Sri Lanka), threats of death, promises of freedom? How these can be determined from among a mass of humanity – especially in the absence of weaponry, distinctive clothing or activity. It is unlikely that the government has records of all the LTTE members left. It is even more unlikely that the LTTE members will confess to their affiliations – not least because the same government forces that shot at blank range those emerging with white flags of surrender. So…where does that leave us?

It leaves us with 300000 humans standing behind the barbed wire fences in disgraceful conditions. They may or may not have or have had some distant relative, who may or may not have entertained a young man or woman, who was a terrorist, in their house, knowingly or unknowingly, many moons ago. They may have even dreamed of a homeland, of safety and believed what was told them by the LTTE. Yet links with “terrorists” are often fragile…and even unwilling. A long lost daughter, visiting briefly, before she left to join the LTTE, never seen again. The parents grieved but now in the refugee camp they are by a vicious twist of the dice, named as terrorist supporters and asked to sip a bit more from the chalice of suffering.

Are we supposed to believe that these 300000 refugees, or should I say “camp inmates”, or “prisoners of war”, should have no such family or filial love towards their own? Is the requirement of “having no LTTE connection” an inhumane standard imposed with the expectation of inhuman betrayals? Should all Tamils be damned because they do not betray their children or walk forward boldly and hand them over to the army to possible death (as the past has taught them)?

Is it not the mark of our common humanity…that we do not betray our loved ones, and that we love and are loyal to those who are “family”? That we care deeply and faithfully for the ones who belong to us? Admittedly those taking the oath to fight as Terrorists – be it JVP or the LTTE – are trained to deny our common humanity in the pursuit of their goals. Should their living loved ones, now suffering bereavement, loss of home, life and future, in the refugee camps be expected to have just such a dehumanised nature?

So it is as suspects of the human race, guilty of sustaining human feelings towards their families, their children or spouses, or parents that most of the languishing Tamils suffer in the refugee camps. After all they might have or have had, or could even in the future have links to the terrorists. Or worst of all, the horror of it, they might have human love towards LTTE members or may have protected them. Or believed in the cause or accepted the governance of the LTTE. So they are to be punished, treated as criminals. Some of them will die. No, let me correct that, many will die – especially grandparents of the terrorists, or their infant children, or toddler siblings. Recent figures give an approximate of 5-10 avoidable deaths from malnutrition and common illnesses. Pregnant women commit suicide apparently. But they must all somehow deserve it because they dared to have love, to be loyal, to sustain some form of human emotion and demonstrate some aspect of humanity in the midst of their long nightmare.

These are civilians, who by some travesty of justice, are considered “guilty until proven innocent”. No one really understands what proof is required. For those who have visited the camps, these are desperate people; desperate to locate children, parents, brothers, sisters, spouses who have been separated – and living now with no knowledge of whether their loved ones are dead or alive. A simple census and record of those considered missing, photographs of lost children would have done much to alleviate the emotional anguish of these people during the last 3 months. The process of re-uniting families could have begun. Instead, they are held at gunpoint now.

What we will soon begin to hear is of “suspected terrorists being shot” as desperate inmates of these camps attempt to leave in a bid for freedom, or as language continues to be used diabolically we will be told that there were “accidents”, “uprisings of LTTE” and such like and that “x number of LTTE members were killed. What will be the fate of these people who are now ironically prisoners of their liberators?

Expecting liberation from the clutches of the Tiger, they are now held immobile in the jaws of the Lion.

  • In Your Face

    What nonsense! Most of us by now are tired of this sanctimonious repartee. There are IDP camps in Sri-Lanka today because of callous individuals like you who never spoke up when Prabhakaran and his gangsters were on the loose killing innocent Tamils. You are to blame for the misery of the IDP’s. You are no different from the government you are criticizing. You are to blame for the death of innocent Sri-Lankans. I know that if the government were to give you a high post with a swanky lifestyle, a person like you would switch sides in no time. I think no job offers came your way; hence we have to deal with your pathetic article.

  • punitham

    Tamils,
    Remember this is a Sinhala Buddhist land.
    1.1948 – accept oppression/internal colonialism
    2.1949 – if you seek federalism – have much more oppression
    3.1977 – if you seek separation – draconian laws will crush you
    4. 2009 – don’t even think of any form of freedom – we won’t let you run away from us – you MUST survive as sub-human beings in THIS island.

  • veedhur

    @ in your face

    “There are IDP camps in Sri-Lanka today because of callous individuals like you who never spoke up when Prabhakaran and his gangsters were on the loose killing innocent Tamils”

    There will be IDP camps in Sri-Lanka TOMORROW because of callous individuals like you who never speak up when Mahinda and his ‘government’ lock up innocent Tamils

    Who knows there may even be an LTTE the DAY after TOMORROW because of the collective cruelty that we are showering upon these innocent Tamils.

  • Castedeus

    Puthinam,

    What you say of the past is true but it is old. There’s no point in repeating the same manthra. What is required of Tamil politics is not to reinforce the separatist mentality or to resign to the fate of the ‘suppressed.’ It needs to think afresh, to learn from the futility of violence and put politics back in command. If there is no space for such thinking during the lifetime of this regime, remember nothing is permanent. The battle of the guns has been laid to rest. Unless a battle of ideas is revived and new life injected to the process, you will have no choice but to repeat your mantra. But remember it can bring no positive change.

  • undergroundview

    @inyourface

    If there is anything sadder than a cause so intellectually and morally bankrupt that it can only be supported by attacking its critics instead of their arguments… it’s a cause where even the ad hominem attacks are entirely invented.

    Or are you projecting your own motivations?

    It really does look like a Sinhalese society (I’ll not say Buddhist, since it seems to ignore the teachings of the Buddha) that does not want its Tamil fellow citizens to belong… Can it be that you actually agree with that policy?

  • punitham

    Castedeus

    Sincere thanks for your genuine concern. The past is mentioned ONLY to show that there is NO change of heart on the ”ruling” mass.

    While attention is on the ”Vanni-displaced”,

    ”On 18th June 2009, the Divisional Secretary (DS) together with the Police and Military had forced around 57 families to resettle in Pullumalai area…… At least two families who had children in school were forced inside the buses without their children. ….. These people were told that those who do not resettle will not be provided any food rations by the Government and that no NGOs will be allowed to provide food rations. People who managed to avoid being forcible resettled and remain in Savukady confirmed that they had not received any humanitarian assistance for more than three weeks, at the time I met them.
    ….. Fear was also expressed of being surrounded by Sinhalese villages and threats caused by wild elephants. …. …
    On 16th June, a similar incident had happened, when representatives of the Eastern Provincial Council and security forces had forced displaced people to vacate the Kirimutti IDP camp, threatening and shouting at people that their rations would be cut, shelters destroyed and that they would have to eat sand and live and in the dust unless they left Kiriimutti. The alternative promised had been a private land after 2 days of staying at the Kiliwetti transit camp in the Trincomalee district. The displaced people had pleaded to be allowed to stay in Kirimutti, citing bad infrastructure at the Kiliwetti transit camp, that their children were attending school in Kirumutti and they have been displaced several times over a long period of time and that they wish to get back to their own land or to a place which will serve as a durable solution for their displacement. These pleas were ignored and officials had forced people to leave, beating side parts of the houses with sticks, removing and destroying shelter and infrastructure in the camp and forcing people into buses.” -
    http://www.groundviews.org/2009/08/01/forcible-resettlements-in-east/

    There are laws to protect non-human living things in this world, but NONE to protect the oppressed human beings around the world – except the mercy of the oppressors.

  • Observer

    im seeing this standard template being excessively used over and over and frankly bit sick of it. in prose and poetry forms on gv. before criticising let’s consider some facts.
    are they dying due to a war now? no! are they losing limbs and suffering like the glory days of ltte reign? no!
    are they still suffering to a lesser extent? yes! but… it’s a process. no country ever recouped from a war over night, especially one that dragged on for so long. it takes years. the authorities are trying their best to resettle them, after ltte so callously dragged them away from their homes in their immediate clothes. despite the dooms days exaggerations, ngos and independent bodies are active in these camps. sure they can’t run it like they own it and it bugs them like crazy, but why should they be able to?
    instead of spreading propaganda if you actually bothered to help sri lanka, these people will have a quick exit from these camps.
    end of the day ltte hard liners aside, many people are happy just not to get blown up and are looking forward to carrying on with their lives. in fact it’s some of these people who helped bring down the ltte in various ways, from supporting clandestine military units operating behind enemy lines to passing on crucial intelligence betraying the ltte. contrary to popular belief they are a patient bunch. these people were incarcerated in a virtual internment camp of ltte where the conditions were much worse. instead of dealing with flooding they had to hand over their children for a statistically impossible task. they were stuck in it for 30 odd years, with broken promises and corruption. things can only get better from that hell hole.

  • Concerned Humanitarian

    Observer:

    You must have just got up from your long sleep. Let us not talk about the figures given by others, but the UN documented 7000 civilians died during the last phase of the war, through indiscriminate shelling by the SLA. The LTTE shot and killed some of the escapees while some got caught in the crossfire but by and large it is the SLA that caused the massacre and that is why it denied access to the UN or any independent newsmedia.

    Also I would pardon your ignorance that the mainstream newsmedia parroted the official verson for fear of being “burnt down”. So, authoritative news would not be within your knowledge and your blurting comes as no surprise.

    No sane person can have love for the LTTE or its methods of punity, including children being forced to carry guns but displacing civilians through bombing, promising a free and better life if they crossover, and then only to lock them up like caged animals cannot be celebrated as freedom and news emanating does not subscribe to your belief that they are a “patient lot” There appears to be a lot of restlessness, if you really care to open your eyes and ears. That was one of the reasons cited why there was a very low turnout at the recent polls – people did not have the mood to vote while their loves ones are becoming statistics in the camps.

    I sincerely hope that the SLG considers the seriousness of their internment as this is going to be its curse, unless it is settled quickly.

  • Humanist

    Amazing that Smoulderingjin gets accused of being sanctimonius. He has merely expressed (rather eloquently) the anguish that some of us feel over the questionable existence and continuation of camps. The point is not that it is difficult to deal with 300,000 refugees and the government is doing the best job under the circumstances. The point is what the government or any of us are gaining by engaging in this futile exercise of making those people who have suffered and are suffering enough, suffer more.

    He has asked an important question. By what criteria are the chaff going to be sorted out from the grain? What criteria could be used to establish 300,000 individuals’ complicity with the LTTE? If people are supposed to be exorcising the LTTE ghosts out of their minds and bodies, how does it help if they are kept in a camp with “hard core” LTTE elements waiting to be discovered? It is simply not a rational line of thought. Far better to let people go where they can go (and keep an eye on some of them if there is adequate cause to believe that they might be “hard core” LTTErs who do not respect the lives of others). If the government is not competent enough to identify the “hardcore” now, they certainly won’t be in another three months time.

    It is also quite clear that the government is incapable of providing the care that these people need. There are three large national NGOs in the country respected for their grassroots work. They are not perfect but they have accumulated a lot of experience through the years and are more competent and committed than government in providing both immediate relief and longer term rehabilitation. Why note trust them and give them sufficient space? Instead we have the proverbial dog in a manger approach from the regime.

    The question we need to be increasingly asking is: which is the bigger threat to national security – keeping people in camps or keeping them out of camps?

  • In Your Face

    Undergroundview,

    Why don’t you stop wasting time and volunteer at the IDP camps. I am tired of your odious lies.

    Humanist,

    You really are cluess, aren’t you?

  • Humanist

    I beg to differ with Smoulderingjin on one point.These unfortunate people are in the jaws not of a lion but of a dog – the kind that doesn’t eat grass but doesn’t let the cow do either…

  • Atheist

    Ho! Ho! Beelzebub is working overtime, eh? Trying desparately to hatch up ways of destroying Eden another time.

    Today’s Adam and Eve won’t fall for this garbage! Nice try anyway…

  • SomeOne

    Dear Observer,

    “…. the authorities are trying their best to resettle them,… ”

    Are you sure what you are talking about? I must go home. It is my birth right. I don’t need a permission from any one to go home. It is simple as that. I am sick of this term “Resettlement”.

    Stop talking this nonsense.

  • punitham

    When tamils are in various types of camps all over the Northeast(free access to journalists still barred) ICRC has been asked to SCALE DOWN and it has closed some offices in the East. At the same time the government is appealing for to the international community for FINANCES.

    For any Sri Lankan government international help going to the Northeast(even at a time like the present) is an ABERRATION. That’s why they are ASKING the ICRC to scale down. ICRC is there to fill the gaps in humanitarian work of governments around the world.

    So, what’s the message.

    We’ll crush the Tamils as we please. We won’t let outsiders help them.

    Please let the Tamils leave the island. Have the PEARL of the Indian Ocean to yourselves. Promote tourism and have the PARADISE to yourselfves.
    Then go to heaven with Chinese, Pakistanis and Iranians.

    Now, please leave the Tamils alone.

    People who have access to the Internet are discussing about the people who don’t have even the minimum dignity of being a living organism.

  • Heshan

    ”instead of spreading propaganda if you actually bothered to help sri lanka, these people will have a quick exit from these camps.”

    Why can’t Sri Lanka help itself? If we acknowledge that it can’t help itself, does this not point to certain internal weaknesses that require remedies? It seems to me that by giving Sri Lanka weapons and virtual immunity from sanctions, what the world has really done is allowed Sri Lanka to lose a leg, and then handed it a pair of crutches.

    Now Sri Lanka is hobbling along and the patriots, out of sheer frustration, ask for outside help…

  • President Bean

    Heshan…
    What if….
    the roles were reversed and the Tamils were the majority and the Sinhalese were the minority; and Prabahakaran was President of the country and Rajapaksa was the leader of a terrorist group called the ‘Liberation Lions of Sinhala Eelam’ (LLSE) fighting for a separate Sinhala state in the South?

    answer:

    1) There would probably have been a war similar to the one that lasted over 26 years.

    2) President Prabahakaran and his supporters would euphemistically have called the war a ‘Humanitarian Operation.’

    3) Rajapaksa’s suicide bombers would be called ‘Bloodthirsty Lions.’

    4) ‘Orange Vans’ would abduct Sinhala civilians suspected of being Lion terrorists.

    5) Tamil journalists who report about the war would be abducted, beaten and killed; and maybe a few newspaper presses and TV stations would be torched.

    6) Over 20,000 Sinhala civilians would have been killed in the ‘No Fire Zone.’

    The list is endless. I leave it up to the readers’ imagination.

  • Observer

    Concerned Humanitarian, I haven’t been sleeping. I have been following this conflict for a while now and I try to see the picture through the sea of propaganda.

    The UN figures are estimates as far as I know and they don’t have a clue which side caused them. They accused both sides because they could not point a finger. It’s only tabloid journalists that work at Times Online said its SLA shelling that caused it – and boy didn’t the propaganda arms pick that one up! That’s about what I know. If there are 7000 documented cases by the UN, can you please direct me towards where I can read those 7000 case files? I’m intrigued! Because there was no possible way of that to happen since UN wasn’t there!

    Let’s not get hung up about access issue during the war. No advancing army let unwanted people go into the war zone to make their life more difficult. And when/if they die sure as hell it’s the SLA that’s gonna get blamed. Not even NATO forces compromise vanguard missions like that. Operations at the front and beyond enemy lines are always highly classified – for good reason. For those armies who march along with hippies, good luck!

    By patient I do not mean they are happy campers. You can be unhappy yet patient! If these people are let go today – some will die due to still active land mines (unless they have ex ltte carder who planted them to advice them), hard core carder will unearth still undiscovered weapons and run amok, things will get rather disorderly and very messy and hey, that’s what some of you want! But that’s not some of the people in these camps want. Some of them risked their lives to bring the LTTE down so they could eventually have normality. That’s not gonna happen until all the land mines are cleared, all the weapons and explosives are unearthed and all the ex LTTE carder are identified and rehabilitated. I know! It sounds impossible to do! But there is no viable alternative.

    On top of all this, most houses are in ruins. Their homes were vandalised by the LTTE as they retreated or damaged due to intense fighting. Didn’t you see the daily video updates from the war front, village by village as SLA entered them? So just letting these people just go back to their “birth right homes” isn’t good enough. You have to make sure they have a roof over their head!

    I agree with you on the last point. I really do hope things are sorted out asap as well. My realistic expectation soon after the war finished was that this is going to take about a year. I’ll have to wait and see if my estimates were right. They won’t be patient forever! Only slightly more patient than their diaspora.

    SomeOne – Read above.

    And my dear Heshan, good to hear from you again. The man that promoted the sainthood of US so vehemently in one of our discussions. Did you read the declassified reports of CIA’s interrogation techniques today? I’ll leave you to read it. Here are the highlights…

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090824/ap_on_go_ot/us_cia_interrogations_highlights

    It was so bad the CIA has been stripped of interrogation capability and it’s been handed over to the FBI now. I still remember how you used to say that US stuffed candy in their POW’s mouth to get information out.. and we should follow suit. hahaha. Welcome to the real world!

    Yes Sri Lanka needed/needs help! In war and peace! We are a 3rd world country. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Its more arrogant not asking and suffering.

  • Disgusted

    The interesting thing about CIA torture is that Americans themselves disclose their own evils. It’s called transparency and accountability. There’s some ethics there that you seem to be missing in a big way. When was the last time any SL government declassified information about SL army’s treatment of Tamil civilians or their methods of torture?

  • In Your Face

    Heshan,

    Sri-Lanka is not asking for outside help. You need outside help to save your own a**. You must be tired of tasting sour grapes…

  • Heshan

    Exactly. In the SL case, there are no preventive measures in place to ensure further abuses will not transpire.

  • Heshan

    @Bean:

    The analogy you bring up is entirely fallacious. It is similar to saying, what if the Jews were SS guards, and the Germans were victims of concentration camps. Every war is unique, and every war reflects a particular historical paradigm. Therefore, you cannot simply switch the roles of victor and loser and expect an identical outcome.

  • Concerned Humanitarian

    Observer:

    No access during the war to UN and newsmedia – can see your point but what about after the war? To this day, it appears to be a problem. Today, a video clip has surfaced showing extra-judicial and shooting at bound persons at point-blank. Is this what the SLG and the SLA wanted to hide? The UN figures are claimed to be estimates precisely because of this – denying access even after the conclusion of the war. Whatever it is, surely you are not suggesting that these “estimates” cannot be far off from the actual casualties, can they? Tell the truth and shame the devil – strangely the SLG nor the SLA do not fare any better than the LTTE – both from its conduct of this war nor from its historic perspective. There is this gut feeling that SLG/SLA have a lot to hide and that many innocent civilians have become sacrificial lambs just because two murderous parties decided to pit one against the other – both the SLG and the LTTE. No matter what is said and done, eventually the truth will prevail, although not the entire truth. In the minds of many, this is a murderous regime.

    The claim of mines impeding the resettlement is a hollow one. When IDPs came out from the clutches of the LTTE, pray tell me how many of them got blown-off because of the mines. It was more of inconsiderate cross-fire between the two parties and incessant shelling by the SLA that caused many deaths. We have to stop this charade of fooling people by this often stated mantra.

    The adversary during the war was the internationally discredited LTTE but today the international community see this problem as it should be – that SL is locking up its own citizens in internment camps and the goodwill it had gained in combating LTTE terrorism is fast vanishing and this headache is not going to go away until it is resolved – sooner than later.

  • SomeOne

    Dear Observer,

    “…So just letting these people just go back to their “birth right homes” isn’t good enough. You have to make sure they have a roof over their head!…” . “SomeOne – Read above.”

    Heaven sake, I wish to ask the same question which I asked before.

    Even the birds have the freedom of coming back home when the night falls. I hope that this will give you some idea about the degree of freedom which this people have lost.

    You may argue that they can find freedom in these notorious camps guarded with army and razor wire. This is the beauty of using the words.
    .
    Wanni people are native people. Wanni people did find their own roofs for generations even before you born. Leave them alone.

    I recommend you to read the above article 2, or 3 times with open mind and digest.

  • billy

    these people may b suffering but they were suffering even worse under the ltte human shield and these bleeding harts were no where to be seen then…right to live and security of 20mil people is more important than freedom of movement of 200000 people and even when we speaks forces are discovering hidden weapons from these areas. so until the govt apparatus and the control is fully established in these areas no sane govt would let these people move to those areas when there is a credible security threat.
    further more, for the last 30 years these people were not abide by the govt rules, so this is kind of a collective rehabilitation for them!

  • http://www.commonway.org Sharif

    Greetings;

    I found this to be a very thoughtful and well-written article.

    S.

  • undergroundview

    @in your face

    Why don’t I stop wasting time and volunteer at the IDP camps?

    It’s surprisingly difficult to get permission to even visit the camps – never mind work there. I’m not sure the government would want an argumentative type like me wandering round the camps, helping people, listening to the accounts of refugees, and taking photos. But maybe you know better? In which case I’m sure someone could suggest some journalists (or even actual aid workers) who would cheerfully go to the camps for a while to do what they can…

    And which “odious lies” are are you tired of?
    All I did was

    a. Point out your unsubstantiated ad hominem attack on the author (was I lying about the way you ignored the point and went for the person?)

    b. Mention that today’s society seems to ignore the teachings of the Buddha (which Buddhist virtues are shown by interning a quarter of a million citizens without trial, in poor conditions, and in secrecy?)

    c. Observe one might conclude from the rhetoric that Sinhalese society did not want its Tamil fellow citizens to belong, and ask whether you would actually agree with such a policy?

    I can see how you might be tired of being challenged, but where are the lies?

  • undergroundview

    @Disguisted: “The interesting thing about CIA torture is that Americans themselves disclose their own evils. It’s called transparency and accountability.”

    Sometimes they do, at any rate. At least, when the press write about it, they are not assassinated, and their papers are not closed down.

    Another interesting thing is that their own experts point out that torture is actually a surprisingly poor way of extracting useful intelligence. Usually all it gets you is what the victim thinks will end the pain – what he or she thinks the interrogator wants to hear. Not – and please note this carefully – not what has actually happened.

    It seems that America, for all its military might, is not immune to stupidity and self-defeating policies. It’s not only Sri Lanka that can mess up a post-conflict nation-building exercise.

  • SomeOne

    Hi Billy,

    “…..for the last 30 years these people were not abide by the govt rules, so this is kind of a collective rehabilitation for them!…..”

    Well, well, well, I believe that this is “jungle justice”, “devil’s justice”, or what ever the justice you may call it.

    In my view, one section of people (majority) is dealing with another section of helpless poor people (minority).

    The current “Law of the land” and “Human right records” are such that even this sort of incarcerated camps are accepted norm. This is same as justifying Nazi concentration camps.

    You may say that it is not quite like that. In my view, even a single person should not under go this kind of treatment.

  • Disgusted

    billy,
    “right to live and security of 20mil people is more important than freedom of movement of 200000 people”

    Not within a democractic system. In democracy, every single person’s rights are important. There is belief in the dignity of every single citizen. That’s why minority rights are an issue in a democratic system, because minority rights are considered to be of EQUAL WORTH and RESPECT as majority rights. Otherwise, without that protection of minority rights, what you have is a totalitarian system, or a dictatorship–but not a democracy. That people voted for a dictator doesn’t make it a democracy. And obviously, considering that half a century hasn’t been enough to resolve the minority rights issue and that of power-sharing, the SL people (or at least more than half of them) are not even now ready to practise democracy. They prefer a dictatorship and cultural chauvinism.

    “even when we speaks forces are discovering hidden weapons from these areas. so until the govt apparatus and the control is fully established in these areas no sane govt would let these people move to those areas when there is a credible security threat.”

    No sane government would insist on winning a war when terrorists are using citizens as a shield. A sane government would know that discovering hidden weapons is not a sufficient method to ensure security. Political solutions must be found for true security. A sane government would know that economic opportunities must be provided for citizens. When everyone has the scope to live a fulfilling life, they will not want to waste it through violence. That’s sane government.

    “further more, for the last 30 years these people were not abide by the govt rules, so this is kind of a collective rehabilitation for them!”

    No doubt, someone with your moral decrepitude will be proud of saying something like this that is as stupid as it is vile. So people are to be blamed for obeying rules that are against their interests, their rights? Isn’t it the responsibility of government to formulate rules that protect and support citizens? The question is what punishment do we mete out to irresponsible governments and politicians.

  • Heshan

    “these people may b suffering but they were suffering even worse under the ltte human shield”

    The only way to affirm that would be to ask the people themselves. Taking this argument to its logical end, ask the people do they prefer to be citizens of Eelam or Sri Lanka? This is not a trivial argument – 70,000 lives could have been saved with a simple vote. Of course, there is that question of how do you ensure a free and fair vote, but that is secondary to the main premise.

  • Observer

    As for this video that has “surfaced”, you got to be so naive to think it’s not fake. Two things to ponder. Why cannot the source verify it? All the “source” has to do is identify the soldier who took the video and they will have to be dealt with.
    Also why did it take so long to surface? Me thinks the pro LTTE propaganda arm tried to recreate a “Iranian woman dying in the streets” kind of Internet sensation/moment to garner dwindling attention. Alas, it’s a massive fail! I was monitoring news feeds and only Channel 4, Times on line, Guardian and BBC carried it. Surprise, surprise! AP carried with much caution. That is just plain bias and most independent analysts cannot rely on those British media for unbiased point of view any more.

    As for what Obama did by declassifying that information, I think it was wrong. Either way he is a weak leader. History will judge him and let’s not get into that. Obama’s popularity is declining and shenanigans like this helps him take the media pressure off stuff that he’s entangled in. Like healthcare!
    Mark my words, if UNP get into power someday, they will try to carry a witch hunt against the now gov trying to discredit the war effort. Politicians are cheap like that and you can’t expect any better. So it’s not some ethical high ground that the US traversed.

    I honestly do not think those CIA torture methods published are that harsh. I also know they use much harsher techniques and they’re not declassified. Psychological torture is necessary to break people to get information. Afterall these are people who gave up on their life when they take up brutal violence against another human being.

    Back to the IDPs – Everyone in these camps are now documented meaning their existence is on record. These are monitored by some NGO’s. So all this BS about them disappearing is not accurate. I can also tell you these people are probably being treated slightly better than those Hurricane Katrina victims in the US. There were rape cases among them too. No fresh water too for a long time. No sanitation, they were living in tents. And yes they were US citizens (their own people) in the richest country! How dare US even question our IDP situation? Really makes me laugh. Things like that happen in normal society. They’re called disasters. Sri Lanka is recovering from a 30 year disaster, so cut some slack! I just hope some of you take as much of an effort to help these people in anyway you can much as you try to discredit the government! Shame!

    It’s over. If you think enough blood hasn’t been spilt yet, you have the power to ensure more blood spill. Make it miserable for Sri Lanka. I don’t doubt that. It’s really what you want isn’t it? Sri Lankan state will never be divided without 90% of the entire island’s blood wetting the soil. I know that much. It’s common sense really….

  • Observer

    Heshan, Eelam is a made up place. It’s good as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. So you can’t have a vote asking to chose between a real place and a virtual place. There is Sri Lanka. if they chose no, migration would be the other option. I dunno is Nova’s ark an option?

    The sort of referendum you’re proposing can be carried out not just in Sri Lanka but also in Canada, UK and US as well. You just hypothetically pick an area, i.e. say Toronto. Then you tag it as Eelam, and then just ask the people if they’d like to live in that virtual place? Futile exercise…

  • Hari Narendran

    Observer,

    Your reaction to this latest video is exactly what the sinhalese souths reaction was when allegations about the Trinco student murders, the diyawanna oya bodies, krishanthy kumaraswamy and numerous other cases of abuse by military personnel first emerged. Facts and history proved those to be accurate.
    It astounds me how many in the South who have seen and in many cases experienced the scorched earth/spare no innocents policy the army took in crushing the JVP insurgency or see even today how the police treat ppl in custody on mere suspicion, all in full view of the press and southern society, suddenly assume that the forces conduct themselves impeccably in the northern theatre, far away from prying eyes (deliberately kept away by gov’t policy). It is simply beyond belief.
    The video that emerged clearly has some disturbing footage that needs to be honestly investigated to verify its authenticity.

  • Heshan

    Actually, Observer, the name is irrelevent. Whether its called Eelam, Happylam, or Bandalam, the point remains the same: you have a statistically significant bunch of people, with a distinct culture… the referendum you speak of has been held in Canada and the UK. The US had federalism built into its Constitution from the very beginning (due to the influence of the “Federalist Papers.” No Western nation I can think of is afraid to discuss federalism; where the rest of the world is concerned, almost 50% of all nations have embraced some kind of federalist model.

    Unfortunately, in SL, the “People’s President” is in favor of “home-grown” solutions. What exactly that is supposed to mean, we will “see” after the next election. But if it is comparable to his Mihin Airlines project, barbed wire treatment of Tamils, and farewell parties for journalists… one should not hold out much hope.

  • Heshan

    “you got to be so naive to think it’s not fake. ”

    Either the video is fake or real. Unfortunately, corroborative evidence leans in the real direction.

    - 10,000 ex-LTTE combatants held in secret detention camps, without their names being released

    - 300,000 Tamil civilians being held behind barbed wire

    - Already many of us saw the famous video of SLA troops abusing the dead bodies of female LTTE cadres in a state of undress

    - Most of us know how the SLA paraded around the naked bodies of the Black Tigers who attacked the Anuradhapura Airbase

    Based on the above evidence, is it difficult to assume SLA would execute some Tamil civilians at point-blank range?

  • Heshan

    “All the “source” has to do is identify the soldier who took the video and they will have to be dealt with.”

    Is that why Vas Gunawardena got transferred and his wife is enjoying luxury perks in the hospital? If the simplest case goes to the dogs, what is the probability that a more complex one will lead to any significant conviction? I am not a lawyer, but the precedent part, from any angle, looks rather poor.

  • undergroundview

    @observer

    It’s good to hear that the imprisoned IDPs have been “documented”. So exactly how many are there now, and are the names being made public? How many are in “welfare” camps, and how many are being held as LTTE-connected-persons? I’d hate for my only protection against vanishing without trace to depend on a secret list that nobody can check.

    You criticised the USA for its hurricane relief failures, and implied that they therefore had no right to criticise Sri Lanka’s IDP failings (by the same logic, one might argue you probably should not criticise the US, but we’ll let that pass).

    The problem is – it’s not just “evil westerners” or “incompetent americans” who are criticising the IDP human-rights and logistics nightmare – it’s Sri Lankans as well. Their concerns are legitimate, and deserve a hearing.

  • jmn

    Observer,

    How can the source identify the soldiers? It obviously has no access to government and army records and profiles. When a ‘source’ (who cannot openly identify themselves because they fear for their lives) brings out such a video which at least ‘looks’ authentic, shouldn’t the correct process be that the government investigates the matter and look to identify the parties involved?

    In today’s age of cell phone cameras, amateur videos like this surface everywhere documenting important events that are hidden to the mainstream media. It is up to the powers that be to investigate if it is legitimate and investigate it. If the SL government doesn’t have the capability to identify the perpetrators of the white van abductions and the journalist murders that happen right HERE, then why on earth would you demand that an independent source that has to fear for his/ her life in order to publish this video be held to such a high standard?

    Why are you so naive to believe that this HAS to be fake? We all know the history and bloodiness of this country, and we all know much worse has happened and still happens. ’83, the JVP uprisings, the IPKF stint here – we don’t have to go so far back. A certain ‘doctor’ openly attacks a TV station, and proudly accepts responsibility for the recent high profile murder of a newspaper editor – yet he is more powerful now than before. The entire nation knows the truth about this man, but he is yet not brought to justice. Would you agree that the evidence for these crimes do exist, but to no avail?

    No, I do not expect this government and people like you who give lip service to them to ever investigate and demand accountability for this video. Your excuses will always be that we are a 3rd world country and we cannot be held to high standards, and then point out the shortcomings of the west to justify it – the poorest and weakest argument a person can make.

    If you want to hold yourself to such low standards, then go ahead.

    Reality is reality and I accept that such things may happen in war, when young immature men of 18 and 19 are given weapons and power over a powerless people whom they consider the enemy. I am really more upset at the dismissive attitude people like you have towards any allegation that goes against your agenda.

    Go ahead and pay homage to those in power. Go ahead and treat them like your monarchs and lords, and not like the officials that you elected who should work for you. People like you refuse to understand that by ignoring accountability towards people different from you, you are ultimately weakening your own self.

  • required

    This is outrageous. Fantastically barbaric footage turns up and the government does not even hint that an investigation is even required to verify whether it may, at the very least, be errant soldiers who should be punished. In fact one high-up official said it was a matter to laugh about. He sees footage of people being murdered and says it is a laughing matter?? Because they are tamils from the north the rest of us should laugh? If the Sri Lankan public are happy to swallow that response then they are truly doomed to a murderous dictatorship. If it was fabricated, why not try to identify the suspects who fabricated it? This is video footage of murder – is an investigation into who committed it not necessary? How suspicious then, to just brush it off and state it is a hoax without even indicating the desire to find out who did this, without one shred of evidence either which way.

    The real issue here is that secretly most Sri Lankans might feel that the footage is probably genuine. The tragedy is that the majority of the country probably believe it was justified, and that the soldiers who might have carried this out deserve to be rewarded for meeting out such callous brutality. The LTTE did it right? So we can do it? Who started it anyway, I forget… everyone do it and the whole world just might go blind. It’s ok to kill them, just like the IDPs that no one in the country seems very concerned about, they are all probably terrorists right? Let the tamils of the north die and laugh while you do it. And lets all laugh about the fact that anyone would take such a matter seriously. Such is the state of this revolting country today; so deep its rot, so foul its soul.

  • Das

    About the video – the government says that LTTE were wearing SLArmy uniforms (presumably) towards the end of the conflct. This means that LTTE in army uniforms, were executing unknown naked men while speaking and joking in sinhala,audible in the video.This “LTTE wearing SLArmy uniforms”surfaces only now! What a fantastic explanation.
    Recently a hindu priest and family were kidnapped at fort railway station by men in a van and have now disappeared,as reported by a tamil news website which was banned earlier – this was not sufficiently newsworthy for others which reported extensively about two urban youth having been shot dead by police & about a youth being abducted by the son of a police officer and many policemen and assaulted in the latter’s residence even by the police officer’s wife!
    What Hashan says (above) is correct.
    I beleive that the video is authentic. Many more atrocities were commited on tamils in the past,more brutal than this and are documented elsewhere. In 1971 and 1987/88 thousands of sinhala youth were killed by the police/army squads & even burned on tyres by the roadside. These are the same guys who faught the recent war and are quite used to commiting atrocities.
    The ruling of the supreme court last year,to resettle those displaced by the ‘high security zones’ has not been carried out so far. Now the supreme court wants to know why MPs of all communities wish to visit the IDPs – while outsiders are being allowed to do so.
    In the eastern province, muslim IDPs settled in Eachilampattai have been chased out by the local pradeshiya saba. Tamil IDPs have been forcibly taken and left in a jungle area where they cannot live.
    The president has cancelled his proposed trip to UN to address the general assembly sessions, as US has threatened not to issue visas to many in his proposed entourage.
    The world knows all this – but the government politicians think that they can fool everyone.

  • Observer

    Ahem, why should anyone protect the person who took such a video? Despite leaking it he still should be punished for being part of it. But it’s FAKE! That’s why they can’t verify it (conveniently)! If I had the will I could have easily concocted such a video as well. A good film director can do even better job than this shoddy attempt. Such evidence in a law of court is thrown out the window. And rightfully so Sri Lanka does not need to respond more than a statement highlighting the obvious inaccuracy of it.

    Plus even to investigate such a thing you need at least a small lead. Which the people responsible for this video does not provide. No date, time, who, where? NOTHING! What can the government do? Ask every single soldier, yo did ya do this? This is why it is so obvious this is poor propaganda material!

    Just to tell you another thing, I know the armed forces are not allowed to carry mobile phones in their standard gear into battle. It’s a serious security and intelligence risk! Plus the recent battle areas had no mobile reception what so ever. So it kind of defies the whole purpose of carrying your iPhone or Blackberry into the battle field, especially when you have Radio communication links. Duh!

    Heshan, nothing leans towards the authenticity of the video. In fact I believe it’s the other way around. Most your examples are similar LTTE propaganda items. Oh well… what can you do. Bias is a blinding thing.

  • Disgusted

    Observer,
    The NGO is not interested in protecting the soldier who took the video, but rather the person who received the video and passed it on to the NGO. From what I gather, the soldier took the video to celebrate his own and his group’s grand achievement in life–stripping people naked and shooting them from the back. He passed the video around to his like-minded friends, but it got into the ‘wrong’ (i.e. right) hands, who smuggled it to the NGO.

    The shoddiness of the video is actually what convinces many people of its authenticity. Obviously, one can see a film director didn’t take it–i.e. an amateur, who hardly knew how to video an incident, recorded it for his own private purposes. If it was a put-up job, it would have been a more polished effort.

    If the Tigers had made this video, it would have surfaced in time for the UN discussion of the resolution to investigate SL for war crimes.

    The same technology that allows people to produce fake videos has also generated the technology to decipher what is fake. So the truth will be out soon.

  • Observer

    Disgusted, Authenticity of anything is ONLY proved by proper & accurate ATTRIBUTION and acknowledgment! Not by the level of amateurishness. It is most likely a put up job and obviously you’re not going to polish it if you’re going to say it came from a camera phone. The argument here is who is in the video. That can’t be proved by technology alone.
    Let’s face it, ultimately your beliefs are enforced by your allegiances. I admit so is mine. But so many fishy things about this video that casts serious doubts!
    Coming from a scientific background I only believe in things that are proven beyond doubt and I have no shame in stating that nothing is proven about war crimes in this video. The video or “sources” provides no useful information to conduct an inquiry either. Therefore you can’t blame Sri Lanka for not taking action. So time to move along until some credible evidence of these outrageous allegations surface.
    So let’s just agree to disagree on this matter.

  • Somewhat Disgusted

    Sadly, some uninspired individual seems to have hijacked my erstwhile pseudonym: “Disgusted”. Since I’m now only “Somewhat Disgusted”, I suppose it no longer matters.

    It looks like this issue must join other similar issues (the ha-ho over Lasantha’s murder comes to mind) in being difficult to “analyze” based on current evidence, an ever convenient excuse for not having to pursue it further. What’s funny however, is the apparent “shock” at this particular incident when people have been weathering events likes this for the past 30 years. All the more reason to be glad the violence is over?

    My take on it? Fancying themselves modern-day Cassandras, the NGO types were fond of uttering dire warnings to the rest of us “idiots” and “unsophisticated yokels” on how this situation could not be resolved through war, while having vodka and caviar at the Hilton and simultaneously shedding crocodile tears over Prabhakaran’s refusal to compromise. The rest of the populace, having scratched their heads in puzzlement for many a decade, and not really seeing any result from all this idealistic rhetoric, seized every opportunity available to finally see an end to the scourge haunting their lives, eventually managing to place a bet on a winning horse.

    Now that the portentous warnings have proven to be as hollow as the heads which thought them up, what else can they do but latch onto these events, none of which are particularly new to us Sri Lankans, and adopt a “holier-than-though” approach and/or say “I told you so”.

    The only useful outcome of the bilious, face-saving bleatings of these NGO types is that it provides some counter-balancing force in hurrying on the resettlement of the refugees. To that end, it’s useful to tolerate it.

  • Heshan

    “nothing leans towards the authenticity of the video. ”

    In law school, the students spend a great deal of time studying so-called precedent cases. The law did not evolve overnight; to be able to truly interpret it, one must understand something of its history. Now in the Sri Lankan case, the only precedent for an investigation, let alone a conviction, is the Krishanthy Kumaraswamy case. It is quite extraordinary that despite 30 years of war, tens of thousands of disappearances and kidnappings and dozens of mass graves, only one man in the military was ever convicted for misbehaving.

    Of course it is worthwhile to ask “why.” There are two main reasons: the law is inherently flawed, and the law is not properly enforced. By flawed I refer to the so-called “Prevention of Terrorism Act.” How does one ensure that such a piece of legislation is not abused, when in fact this law is essentially a violation of the fundamental notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” Secondly, special provisions are to be found in the PTA which allow for ministers to unnecessarily interfere in victims’ cases. Finally, given the general acceptance of nepotism in Southern politics, the “Executive Presidency” does not pave the way for accountability when a single family is running most of the show. As for why the law is not properly enforced, this is certainly related to its inherent flaws. How does one enforce laws which are essentially unfair in the first place?

  • Observer

    Heshan, did I really read you say that “innocent until proven guilty.” mantra? Glad you brought it up! So going by this principle, isn’t the Sri Lankan Army entitled for innocence until some hard evidence of war crimes are produced? Attributable evidence? Not unverified crap?

    None of this speculation change the FACT that it is unverified! This video is good as a youtube videos of UFO sightings. IMHO some of them have a more believable back ground story. Unless someone can come forward and provide more information that will authenticate or AT LEAST provide some information to conduct a meaningful investigation this video is just a good juicy FALSE news item. Because all of them start with “allegedly” and then go onto say a lot of outrageous things. Typical…

    In fact when the verified images of Gitmo detainees propped up, U.S. just attributed it to a few “rouge” elements in the Army, gave them few years and that was it. In fact there were no changes to the chain of command! No cries of war crimes. They blatantly violated Geneva conventions. I mean there are always rogue elements right? So a video of 1 or 2 soldiers perpetrating something doesn’t mean a whole army is responsible for that. So U.S. should not even comment about this video if they wear clothes for a meaningful reason. I don’t think they have.

  • Heshan

    “So going by this principle, isn’t the Sri Lankan Army entitled for innocence until some hard evidence of war crimes are produced?”

    There is plenty of evidence for war crimes (apart from this particular case). In this particular case – execution of unarmed hostages – the victim is obviously not the SL Army. The SL Army stands as the accused. The victims are all dead – in which case it is up to the military to initiate its own investigation.

    “None of this speculation change the FACT that it is unverified!”

    “In fact when the verified images of Gitmo detainees propped up, U.S. just attributed it to a few “rouge” elements in the Army, gave them few years and that was it. In fact there were no changes to the chain of command!”

    Gitmo did not violate any conventions. All of the Gitmo detainees had access to lawyers. They had access to the Red Cross. They were able to write letters/exchange correspondence with family and friends back home. Some of them have now been freed. The rest will soon be transferred to normal US prisons. Now what about the LTTE cadres being held in Boosa.. how many will be freed, how many will see daylight again. What about the 10,000 other LTTE being held in secret camps. You can’t compare Gitmo to this execution video. Every single inmate in Gitmo has been accounted for. Nice try though!

    Only an impartial investigation can establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that the video is fake. Given that this is now a widespread video, it is not difficult for the culprits in the video to be identified – either by their superiors or fellow soldiers. At the very least, it is not difficult to identify which regiment was responsible for this execution. As long as such an investigation is not carried, people are free to speculate. When all is said and done, however, given the general of culture of impunity prevailing in the armed forces, most people are inclined to believe the video is real.