Status of IDP’s and the ‘Right to Protect’

“Man generally resorts to dialogue, compromise and consensus in resolving human conflicts due to his superior intellect. However, it is not uncommon for man, when under pressure, to submit to his baser instincts of survival by resorting to physical confrontation and warfare despite the attainment of a high level of civilization.”

The ‘divide and rule policy’ of the British colonial administration in Sri Lanka covertly took advantage of the country’s ethnic profile to appoint better educated Tamils in key government positions  to act as a buffer against possible sedition by the Sinhalese majority. With the declaration of independence emerged extremist Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism as a response to such discriminatory policy which served as an effective political platform for power hungry Sinhalese politicians. Ever since, the Tamil community has been gradually victimized, marginalized, repressed and regularly subjected to extreme violence by sinhala extremists through pogroms, sometimes state sanctioned, which conveniently served to divert attention from economic mismanagement. Tamil youth who were generally identified as mild mannered and submissive slowly evolved into the ferocious  Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) demanding self rule and independence. Thus commenced twenty five years of armed conflict resulting in massive destruction to the economy and its social fabric. The conflict was   interspersed with attempts at dialogue between the protagonists with both accusing each of other of insincerity and deception in achieving a consensus.

No doubt, the armed forces defeat of the LTTE was achieved mainly on account of applying man power and firepower far in excess of required capacity such as six to seven times the combat force of the enemy together with lethal quantities of high tech weapons, ammunition as well as cutting edge spy technology which in addition, was far beyond the country’s affordability. Months of repeated heavy aerial bombardment of enemy territory resulted in extreme destruction to the ecology and heavy human casualties. Alleged violation of international conventions on warfare through aerial bombing, heavy fire power, particularly in safe zones demarcated for civilians, and non recognition of voluntary surrender by enemy during the last stages of combat has resulted in alleged war crimes that the state is unable to defend in a transparent and accountable manner due to implicating evidence via pre and post war recorded satellite imagery currently available. Hence the state has taken cover under a confrontational stance of defending itself as a sovereign and independent state with no necessity for accountability to the international community.

It is now acknowledged by the United Nations that the global community has‘Right to Protect’ the well being of vulnerable and marginalized populations victimized by autocratic regimes. However, the concept is condemned by the GOSL and other autocratic regimes as a violation of national sovereignty. Consequently, the GOSL has been compelled to align itself with authoritarian regimes which are unacceptable to the democratic world due to their unfavourable human rights records and undemocratic governance. Due to the mutual support of many such regimes in international forums such as the UN, the GOSL has temporarily survived international judicial processes being filed against them for alleged war crimes. The regime’s continued confrontational stance against the democratic west has earned their disfavour by way of delayed development and rehabilitation assistance and threat of cancellation of preferential trade terms as penalty for not abiding by internationally accepted standards of democratic governance. The GOSL has not attempted at positive engagement with democratic pre- conflict allies essential for the nation’s economic survival.  The probable reason being that they fear being subject to international demands for war crimes investigations and  a rapid political solution to the Tamil minority concerns as well as resettlement of IDP’s which they feel may not be politically expedient.

Due to the GOSL’s difficulty  in obtaining commercial borrowings internationally, they have rescinded on their stance not to seek assistance from multilateral lending organizations resulting in the obtaining of an IMF facility of USD 2.5 Billion disbursed in tranches subject to strict conditionality which the regime has not publicized as it will compromise their populist claim of refusing to be subject to intimidation by the superpowers. There is serious doubt whether the regime can comply with the imposed conditionality in obtaining the entire loan due to political expediency taking precedence over national priorities.

The major concern at present is the adverse treatment meted out to IDP’s who are all Tamils and therefore suspect of being aligned with the LTTE. The IDP camps are virtual open air prisons controlled by the armed forces as inmates are held against their will and not permitted contact with outsiders. The camps are overcrowded by about twice their capacity with temporary shelters made of plastic material which is flimsy and unsuited for tropical weather and long term use. Temporary sewage systems constructed with UN support are breaking down resulting in extreme pollution, contamination and threat of epidemics for which the government has found in the UN a convenient scapegoat.

The GOSL has not yet made public the names of the approximately 280,000 IDP’s. Donors, both international and local, are providing humanitarian assistance with little or now say in camp management or contact with inmates. It is common knowledge that many IDP’s have escaped by bribing the security forces indicative of insidious corruption. The public have no right to information on the status and management of camps. A serious shortage of supplies, food, services and facilities for inmates exist but is deliberately downplayed by the government as a face saving tactic. Consequently, donations are requested by the authorities only via informal channels of communication.  There is no formal public notification of deaths or health status of inmates. Allegedly; several LTTE suspects who are taken out of camps for interrogation often cannot be traced thereafter by their families. Access to camps by donors, aid workers, family and friends is highly monitored and media is strictly out of bounds. All the above factors are indicative of covert operations.

Under the circumstances, it is imperative that the United Nations exercises its ‘Right to Protect’ such a vulnerable population already suffering from extreme physical and emotional trauma. It would be to the detriment of the credibility and effectiveness of the UN and the democratic world if they continue to turn a blind eye to the true situation of the IDP’s in Sri Lanka.

  • http://citizenlk.wordpress.com citizen

    Indeed, we are governed by a regime whose human rights record is deteriorating by the minute and has fashioned out of undemocratic governance many tools to stamp out dissent, free inquiery and liberal thought and action. A knowledgable and thereby empowered citizenry is perhaps the only way to counter – if not overcome – these vices of the incumbunt government (and the one that would replace it or any violent rebel force that may seek to overpower it). would you agree?

    However,
    “…defending itself as a sovereign and independent state with no necessity for accountability to the international community”
    In the context of the above statement and the entire paragraph, dear concerned citizen, please clarify the following;
    1> Who/what/where is the International community?
    2> What knowledge of the nature of war itself (if you may be kind enough to share with us) – compels you to believe in the possibility of adhearing to “international conventions on warfare” in actual warfare: has there ever been (or how can there ever be) a war where these conventions have been adhearded to? is so, please elaborate?
    3> what would be your formula for calculating the most appropriate amount of firepower to be used in any form of lethal confrontation?
    4> Sri Lanka is where it is today largely because some, many or most Sri Lankans, at some point in our recent history, chose war and violence as the means to resolve our conflicts/seek justice/show dissent. Do you think we can be exempt from facing the consequences of those decisions and consequent actions?

  • Heshan

    The fact that Tamils were better educated than their Sinhalese counterparts during colonial times has more to do with geography than colonial favoritism. It is my understanding that such places as Jaffna do not have vast tracts of fertile land – certainly not in proportion to the rest of the island. Therefore education was the primary means of ascending the social ladder. Secondly, the British were also in the habit of importing (Indian) Tamils to Singapore/Malaya to serve in the civil service and judiciary. This raises the legitimate question – were Tamils simply good workers?

    The rest of the article is generally well-substantiated. The war was indeed propagated with little thought of post-war planning in mind. From a military standpoint, it was “sensible”, in that a decisive “victory” was highly probable. However, from a civilian point of view (as we can see now) the consequences are disastrous. As the article hints, it was a total war, which implies extremes. But in fact, while the total war expedited the perceived outcome, it was not essential for a “victory.” In fact, much of the sophisticated weaponry utilized is sophisticated precisely by way of pin-point accuracy. Logically then, one should be able to take out the target with a smaller volume of firepower in a shorter amount of time – which negates the need for a total war. While the weaponry can obviously be used to clean out the landscape and 30,000 civilians, I am not sure in what sense that correlates to efficiency (assuming that the weapons are meant for a specific target).

  • President Bean

    The Orwellian nightmare ‘1984′ is being recreated in Sri Lanka in 2009!

    The passage given below is taken from George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel “1984.” (Part 2, chapter 9)

    Given this background, one could infer, if one did not know it already, the general structure of Oceanic society. At the apex of the pyramid comes Big Brother. Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration. Nobody has ever seen Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen. We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born. Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization. Below Big Brother comes the Inner Party, its numbers limited to six millions, or something less than 2 per cent of the population of Oceania. Below the Inner Party comes the Outer Party, which, if the Inner Party is described as the brain of the State, may be justly likened to the hands. Below that come the dumb masses whom we habitually refer to as ‘the proles’, numbering perhaps 85 per cent of the population.

    Those of you who have read the book and have been living in Sri Lanka for the past three years will understand the similarities between the passage given above and what is happening in Sri Lanka today. For those who may have not read the book, just reread the passage given below with the changes I have made. (My changes are in capital letters).

    Given this background, one could infer, if one did not know it already, the general structure of SRI LANKAN SOCIETY. At the apex of the pyramid comes MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA. MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration. Nobody has ever seen MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA. He is a face on the hoardings, a voice on the RUPAVAHINI. We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born. MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA is the guise in which the UPFA chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization. Below MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA comes the PARTY SUPPORTERS, FAMILY MEMBERS & HANGERS ON its numbers limited to six millions, or something less than 2 per cent of the population of SRI LANKA. Below the PARTY SUPPORTERS, FAMILY MEMBERS & HANGERS ON comes the BUDDHIST CLERGY, which, if the PARTY SUPPORTERS, FAMILY MEMBERS & HANGERS ON are described as the brain of the State, may be justly likened to the hands. Below that come the dumb masses whom we habitually refer to as ‘THE SINHALA BUDDHIST MAJORITY,’ numbering perhaps 85 per cent of the population.

    This is the sad state that this beautiful country has fallen to. To understand more read the full book. It can be read online by clicking on the following link,

    http://www.literaturecollection.com/a/orwell/1984/1/

  • punitham

    @author
    ‘‘divide and rule policy” is an interpretation. Please give the statistics.
    The Britsh probably went by merit and people in the North(Tamils) were forced to work hard by their hostile geography and geology compared with theose in the South.

    @citizen
    ”Sri Lanka is where it is today largely because some, many or most Sri Lankans, at some point in our recent history, chose war and violence as the means to resolve our conflicts/seek justice/show dissent”

    i. How long can an oppressed people put up with structural violence?

    As far as Sri Lankan Tamils are concerned they put up with political and economic oppression of (beginning with the late 40s)the 50s and 60s before the oppressors saw and heard the guns of the Tamils in the mid-70s?

    ii.The problem was CREATED and PROPOGATED in the first place by ”leaders”:
    a.SWRD Bandaranaike needed an issue to get the votes switched from the UNP to the SLFP in the early 50s.
    b.Had the power gone down seniority/experience, CP de Silva et al would have most probably ”corrected” their path. But strangely ”handing down to widow” policy put the power in Sirimavo who danced to the tunes of extreme nationalists.

    @Heshan
    i. ”more to do with geography than colonial favoritism”
    Yes.
    Also development of Colombo and suburbs as the commercial capital in colonial time combined with the development of tea/rubber/coconut offered employment for the Southerners (and drew Tamils away from the Northeast into the South)

    ii.”Tamils to Singapore/Malaya”

    I am under the impression that it’s the lower rungs of government service that Tamils were in higher propoertion(paralleling higher proportion with SSC) than their population ratio and the upper rungs have been with the higher proportion of Sinhalese in the ”pan-Sinhala cabinet/Anagarika Dharmapala era”.
    That drove the Tamils to seek pastures outside the country. So the British had ample (Tamil) fodder for emplyment(my grandfather went to Malaysia110 yrs ago after studying at Jaffna College).

  • punitham

    Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) in Jaffna has barred around 2,750 fishermen to fish during night time in their seas without installing radar reflectors on their boats and catamarans, according to S. Tharmalingam, the Deputy Director of Fisheries and Sea Resources in Jaffna, 25 August 2009 ??

    Mhhhh… choice: barbed wire camps or barred seas?

    This is NOT the ONLY FORM or the FIRST TIME there is an embargo on fishing in Jaffna in the last 3/4 decades.

  • niranjan

    The IDP’s are in the hands of the Government. So what can the general public do other than send clothes to them through the catholic church and a few other organisations.

  • punitham

    Dayan jayatilleka, UNHRC, 24th September 2007: ”We did not have concentration camps and did not set out to conquer the world. We do not need lectures from those who did. Whether or not to establish a field presence, is a matter for Sri Lanka. The Office of the High Commissioner cannot be the new equivalent of an East-India company.”

  • punitham

    DUDLEY SENANAYAKE MEMORIAL LECTURE, Dominic Chilcott, British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, 10 December 2007:
    “…. I dont think we will ever regard genocide wherever it occurs as not our business. The excuse that the fate of other people who are facing genocide or humanitarian catastrophe is not our business will not run”.

  • punitham

    Human Rights as part of Citizenship Education will help prepare the country to accept R2P.

  • Kalana

    I believe the author is trying to refer to the notion popularly known as the ‘Responsibility to Protect’(R2P) (not ‘Right’) – which has not yet gained the status of law. It would have been useful had the author referred to some of the ways in which the UN could have exercised this ‘Responsibility to Protect’, because if s/he had gone through the very useful ‘Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty’, s/he would have noticed that there are a number of ways in which ‘R2P’ could be applied within the State. One such way is through the assistance of the UN agencies (UNHCR, UNDP etc.) – which goes to show that ‘R2P’ is indeed operational in a certain way, to a certain extent. So asking the UN to apply ‘R2P’ means nothing – if one does not make clear how it should happen, in practical terms.

    Also, I think it’s rather unfair to criticise this govt. as well as ‘autocratic regimes’ for speaking against R2P. The author would do well to read the excellent work of Ramesh Thakur titled ‘The UN, Peace and Security’ (he was also a member of the ICISS which drafted the R2P report) – wherein he sets out very clearly the reasons why States overwhelmingly oppose R2P from gaining the status of ‘international law’. The problem has much to do with the aspect of ‘military intervention’ that is triggered in extreme circumstances – which is part of the R2P concept. Perhaps what those who advocate the application of ‘R2P’ should do is to stress on the non-interventionist aspect of the concept, or else, express clearly what part of the concept that s/he likes to see being applied/implemented.

    Thanks, Kalana Senaratne

  • gadin

    The Sri Lankan authorities refer to these camps as “welfare villages”- this rather benign term suggests some benevolent institution, such as a drop-in hospital, for example, but let’s investigate the reality behind these words. The reality is that three hundred thousand innocent civilians are detained in appalling conditions with severely limited medical care and medicines. A question: what would one name such an arrangement if it was transferred to the land of western democratic country- we would name it a prison, perhaps? Certainly basic human freedoms are being denied, but at what justification? In fact, there is no justification for such contravention of basic human rights, but let’s considers the rationale given by the Sri Lankan government.
    Firstly, they argue that the Tamil people are being detained for their own good. They argue that the proliferation of mines makes many of the settlements uninhabitable at the moment. The government line is that troops in their thousands are being deployed to detect and destroy each and every bomb, which may take many weeks and months to complete. In fact, Tamil politicians claim that 80 per cent of the conflict zone of Wanni was free of mines and therefore free for immediate resettlement. Dr Nimalka Fernando said: These people came through the mines and if you simply release them they will go back through the same path.
    A recent article sheds light upon the government’s true aims:
    “A source close to the (Sri Lankan) President said that the release of IDPs has been postponed indefinitely with the government focusing on a plan to resettle them along with the new Sinhala and military settlements that are to be set up in the north. The source further noted that the plan is to resettle people in areas in Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, below Mannar and above Vavuniya , where there are currently no people. The plan is said to remove all the old Tamil villages that existed in the respective areas.”
    Secondly, the government maintains many LTTE terrorists are numbered amongst the detainees. They wish to take their time to identify and root these elements out. This, apparently, justifies the detainment of vast majority of clearly innocent people, including tens of thousands of women and some sixty thousands children who have just experienced unimaginable horrors and, still, must continue to suffer. They are treated as war criminals when, in fact, they are victims of war.
    If we return to the prison analogy, this would be equivalent to detaining the families and wider community of suspects for an indeterminate time. Seen as such, there can be little argument, I’m sure you agree, that there is in fact any justification for the denial of these people’s human rights.
    Furthermore, such practices are demonstrably counter-productive in the fight to suppress the cause of the LTTE.
    In my opinion, they are using exaggerated and overblown claims to persuade the rest of the World to look away whilst engaging in practices which are similar in effect to ethnic cleansing and colonization of the land. They are robbing the Tamil people of their land, their tradition, their identity, making them subservient slaves and second-class citizens.
    I think any right-minded neutral observer would agree that such a state of affairs is abhorrent and should not be allowed to continue by the International Community.

  • gadin

    Channel 4 News 25 August 2009 shows footage claimed to show Sri Lankan forces executing Tamils earlier this year. Jonathan Miller reports.

    Just three months after the Sri Lankan government declared the country liberated from the Tamil Tigers, video footage has emerged apparently showing government troops summarily executing Tamils.

    Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, which obtained the material, said it was filmed in January – when the international media were prevented by the Sri Lankan government from covering the conflict zone.

    Tonight, the Sri Lankan High Commission denied the government had carried out atrocities against the Tamil community.

    The Sri Lankan government launched a large scale military offensive in January capturing the Tamil Tiger held town of Kilinochchi. The army then steadily pushed the rebels into an small area of the north-east.

    Be warned – there are extremely disturbing scenes in this report from our foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller.hannel 4 News shows footage claimed to show Sri Lankan forces executing Tamils earlier this year. Jonathan Miller reports.

    Just three months after the Sri Lankan government declared the country liberated from the Tamil Tigers, video footage has emerged apparently showing government troops summarily executing Tamils.

    Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, which obtained the material, said it was filmed in January – when the international media were prevented by the Sri Lankan government from covering the conflict zone.

    Tonight, the Sri Lankan High Commission denied the government had carried out atrocities against the Tamil community.

    The Sri Lankan government launched a large scale military offensive in January capturing the Tamil Tiger held town of Kilinochchi. The army then steadily pushed the rebels into an small area of the north-east.

    Be warned – there are extremely disturbing scenes in this report from our foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller.

  • Das

    The alleged “divide and rule” policy of the british was due to the ceylonese dividing themselves into those who were willing to learn and qualify themselves to serve the british administration in various fields and posts and those who were not very keen to do so. Most tamils fell into the former category,as it was the desire of every tamil parent for their siblings getting government jobs. Those recruited proved loyal, hardworking & trustworthy and outnumbered the latter category by a large margin. As this went on and as most posts were filled by tamils,the myth arose that the british favoured the tamils.
    After 1948, as stated,the sinhala buddhist nationalists allegged discrimination against the sinhalese, and thus arose the almost total exclusion of tamils in public service, and also reduction of tamils’ entry to university. The anti tamil pogroms commenced and tamil youth had no alternative other than taking up arms to survive. Even then infighting among the sinhala politicians led to deterioration of education of sinhalese themselves.
    Now the wheel has turned a full circle and tamils are again bearing the brunt of discriminatory policies.
    Whether the Responsibility to Protect concept is the duty of UN and/or affluent nations, is unclear. Tamils are resigned to whatever will happen.

  • myil selvan

    Sri Lankan Army Shooting Naked Tamil Men

    In a stunning video clip revelation Al Jazeera reported on how SLA soldiers were executing naked Tamil men. While the authenticity can be questioned one thing in my mind is for sure. I’m not surprised, is to be expected of the SLA.

    When will these racist sinhalese ever learn???? (Not to stereo type Sinhalese). This is what created the LTTE!

    SHAME, SHAME, SHAME

  • http://www.groundviews.org groundviews

    SL Army calls execution video a fabrication – http://tinyurl.com/nul7wq

  • http://panhinda-samaga.blogspot.com Migara

    And it is removed from the channel 4 site as well. So remove it from your site as well.

  • smoulderingjin

    What makes anyone feel that the Sri Lankan army are incapable of such atrocities? Is it the impeccable record they have?

    If the Police force in the South of Sri Lanka can attack and murder innocent young men in the South, with no punishment from the govt, if they can abduct and kill those who speak for justice …

    tell me again why would we believe it is impossible for an army cadre to carry out brutal executions?

    The brutality of war – whether it be the LTTE or the army – is that it dehumanises the people who wage it, it desensitizes those who carry the gun. Death becomes a sport and entertainment for many who might have otherwise being decent normal humans.

    That is why in a war, there are really no victories. It is “won” at a great “loss” – loss of innocent lives, and the loss of the humanity of those who fight it.

  • punitham

    IDPs emerging from the Vanni have become detainees. They are no more IDPs because international norms say IDPs have freedom of movement. But these detainees have NO freedom of movement.
    While the world’s attention is on the detention camps in the North, IDPs are forcibly dumped in places where they fear to live in the East.

  • davidson panabokke

    They are IDPs= Illegally Detained Persons.