Photo courtesy Deshan Tennekoon, Groundviews
The UN panel report or the Darusman report was condemned and rejected. The stand taken by the government was that “not a single civilian was killed during the last stages of the war. If some of those dead were found to be in civilian clothes, they were Tigers in disguise, even if they happened to be children or elderly women. No one can say we committed war crimes because no one saw what happened during the last stages of the war. Therefore we don’t have to answer any questions raised by UN or the international community.” In a way this is true – no one saw what happened at Mullivaikal, Pudukudiyiruppu and Nandikadal in May 2009. There were no witnesses. The UN and the international community actually abandoned those 300,000 civilians, who were left alone to face the LTTE on the one hand and the Sri Lankan army on the other, and God knows who killed more civilians, the army or the LTTE. We are only told that about 40,000 to 60,000 people died during the last stages of the war.
Now, with the appearance of the Channel 4 video, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”, the government is once again plagued by the same questions. Many have seen the documentary and commented. To some it is compellingly indicative of war crimes by the Sri Lankan state. They speak of “credible allegations” that must be investigated. British Prime Minister David Cameron is reported to have said, “the Sri Lankan government does need this to be investigated and the UN needs this to be investigated and we need to make sure we get to the bottom of what happened and that lessons are learnt”. A US embassy official has said, “we are deeply concerned about credible allegations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka. We support a full accounting of and accountability for those who engaged in acts that violated international human rights law and intentional humanitarian law”.
But the Sri Lankan government does not take these allegations seriously, because according to those in power, the Channel 4 video is a fake. Its documentary producer Callum McCrae, anchor Jon Snow and everyone else involved in the production of the video are accused of being on the payroll of the Tamil Tiger Diaspora. Siri Hewavitharana, a Sri Lankan Australian who is described as a leading expert on digital video systems, has debunked the video footage. In his opinion the video shows ‘doctored images’ of naked bodies of women being thrown on to trucks by laughing and joking soldiers. But Channel 4 claims that the footage has been authenticated by four experts: forensic pathologist Daniel Spitz, forensic video analyst Jeff Spivack, fire arms evidence expert Peter Diaczuk and forensic video expert Grant Fredricks. If what our expert Hewavitharana says is true, he is still required to prove that the other four experts are wrong. The Sri Lankan government needs to prove to us and the world that the documentary is a fake, only then can the country’s name be cleared. Vehement denials alone will not restore Sri Lanka’s honour.
While this debate goes on in the south, the situation in the north doesn’t seem to have improved.
TNA (Tamil National Alliance) MPs including Suresh Premachnadran and Sumanthiran have complained to the president that their meeting with their party candidates at Alaveddi on 16th June, was attacked by the army for no reason. “There is no civil administration in the North. Two years after the end of the war, we still live under military rule,” they have said. People are also being forcibly photographed and registered by the army, and they are naturally gripped by fear.
Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, one of the well known and respected intellectuals, too has recently complained to the president that on the 29th of May a meeting organised by the ‘Noolaham Foundation’ was rudely disrupted by the army. Colonel Jayawardena and his men had barged into the hall screaming, “No LTTE commemorations, Ministry of Defence orders, do you understand?” He concludes his appeal to the president by stating, “the government after winning the war is losing the peace – we must point out the irony of our government working with former hardcore LTTE personnel and using some of them as informants while branding respectable Tamil civilians as LTTE”.
When Anadasangaree speaks on behalf of the Tamil people, Tamils are a little sceptical, because he is seen as an ardent supporter of the Rajapakse regime. Yet even he now feels that the army must be withdrawn from the north. According to him, “the people in Jaffna urgently need peace. They want freedom- freedom of speech. Now people in Jaffna can’t even have a temple meeting. The army goes and chases them away. This is exactly what happened 30 years ago, and it drove some youth to take up arms against the government. The military presence there is used to keep the people under subjugation”.
It is also reported that EPDP’s dreaded Charles has resurfaced to terrorize the people. Douglas Devananda (EPDP) who has announced his candidature for the Chief ministership of the North Provincial Council seems to have brought back Charles to instil fear among the people and help him win the election. Charles who had been once with the LTTE later joined the wining side (the EPDP).
Anyone who is even very slightly critical of the government is attacked by the army with the help of the pro-government Tamil politicians. Keerthi Tennekoon, the Director of CAFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Elections,) is reported to have said, “The attack on the TNA public meeting held on 16th June was not an isolated incident but part of a systematic mechanism to harass opposition party members, who are not allowed to travel freely in Killinochchi, Mullaitivu and even in Jaffna. The army and the police are also questioning the opposition party members’ families in an attempt to create a fear psychosis.” (Sunday leader 19/06) In this environment a free and fair election cannot take place.
What then is the future of the Tamils in Sri Lanka? They do not demand a separate state, but a life of dignity and security. More than all they want to be treated as equal citizens of this country. For more than 25 years Prabhakaran controlled their lives and they remained submissive not because they lacked the will or the courage to oppose him, but because they could not place their trust in the successive Sri Lankan governments that had betrayed them many times in the past by breaking promises and agreements, starting with the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam pact in 1958 and ending with Rajapakse’s own APRC (All Party Representatives Committee) report which perhaps is now resting in a dustbin. Mr. Premachandra is quoted saying, “the APRC report contains many positive recommendations. The TNA though not a participant in the APRC deliberations would like to consider them if the government was ready to start a dialogue on the recommendations of the APRC proposals”. However, President Mahinda Rajapakse seems to have rejected his own APRC’s proposals, and instead wants to appoint yet another Parliamentary select committee to find a solution to the ethnic problem, on the advice of one of his favourite ministers – Dougles Devananda. This can only be considered a practical joke being played not only on the Sri Lankans, but also on the UN and the international community!
As long as the Rajapakse regime holds power there will be no solution to the ethnic problem. In fact no Sinhala majority government will grant equal rights to the Tamils fearing that it would lose the support of the Sinhala masses. The majority Sinhalese have been conditioned to believe that the Tamils are ‘foreigners’ who settled down in this country long after the Sinhalese and therefore cannot claim equal status. “They are Elara’s people and we are the descendants of the great King Dutugemunu who defeated Elara the Tamil King. Therefore they cannot be our equals”. School children are conditioned to think on similar lines, and they grow up believing that the Aryan Lion race is superior to the Dravidian Tamils. Until Sri Lanka becomes a truly Buddhist Country believing in the teachings of the Buddha, the Tamil and Muslims will not be granted equality. In the Vasettha Sutta the Buddha declares the unity of human biology and that there is only one human race. He makes the unambiguous assertion that all human beings belong to the same ‘jati’ – the human race. It’s only when the Sinhala majority realizes this truth that they will accept the Tamils and Muslims as equals and grant them equal rights. Will that day of realization ever dawn?