War Crimes Investigations in Sri Lanka: An Unpopular View

“In trying to do good, we have been living beyond our moral resources and have fallen into hypocrisy and self-righteousness” — William V. Cannon, commenting on the Vietnam War, New York Times, February 6, 1966

“Conquer the angry man by love, Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness. Conquer the miser with generosity. Conquer the liar with truth.” — The Dhammapada p. 223

Despite the best efforts of the Sri Lankan government, the claim that Sri Lanka is a “Killing Field” is fast becoming a social and political rallying point for diverse interest groups. Allegations of government war crimes outlined in the Darusman Report, the now infamous Channel 4 video, and the case filed by Tamils against Genocide (TAG) with the Department of Justice in the United States, as well as electronic reports published across the world have by now overshadowed the victory over the LTTE. The government’s uncompromising resistance to investigate war crime allegations by any external body could turn out to be counterproductive to national interests. It may invite unwelcome foreign interference, threaten peace, reconciliation, and development efforts, and enmesh the country in colossal waste of financial and human resources. Refusal to hold inquiries may even threaten the stability of the ruling regime.

Allegations of misconduct are not proof of the same. There have been other moments in which the international community was receptive to highly sensationalized claims about war crimes made by the international media and the United Nations. We know those bodies are inconsistent in their treatment of human rights and tend to reproduce the views of powerful, rather than weaker states.  At times, accusations of human rights violations have been exploited by powerful states to control and harm weaker ones, and the intent of some allegations is to promote the selfish economic, political and cultural interests of the accuser, rather than to protect universal human rights.   But the struggle for human rights must not be viewed only as derivative of state and its national interests. The state alone cannot be the sole guardian of human rights and, in cases where violations take place; the state must be held accountable.  A strong state acknowledges malfeasance and punishes wrong-doers, thus promoting the sense in citizens and the international community alike, that it abides by the rule of law and pursues justice.

Many of the current justifications for refusing an investigation are based on unrealistic, exaggerated, and mystified fears. If we handle the allegations intelligently, Sri Lanka will find itself with an historic opportunity to make a tremendous contribution to the protection of human rights globally.  If we cooperate in impartial investigations into war crime allegations, we will not face investigation alone – all global human rights actors will stand trial.   To make the best of the situation, we must be self-critical: Nearly three years after the end of the war, how and why has Sri Lanka reached an impasse in investigating war crimes? What can comparative history teach us about war crimes committed by the State and militant groups? Why do people so far removed and ‘ignorant’ of the context of the Sri Lankan civil war believe we committed war crimes and demand an investigation? Is protection of national interests the only reason the current regime opposes an investigation? What are the social, economic, and political costs of avoiding an impartial investigation? And, most importantly, can a credible investigation guided by a sincere desire to safeguard human dignity yield win-win results for all stake-holders? Can it isolate those who would exploit human rights arguments for selfish gain?  Maintaining a sense of humility while we deliberate these complex questions will help us avoid turning Sri Lanka into a battle ground on which various interest groups seek to exploit human rights in harmful ways.

It is now clear that the euphoria that sprang from Sri Lanka’s victory over LTTE terrorism cannot be sustained in a manner that will overshadow war crimes allegations. The government’s confidence in the power of their victory has led to its failure to make unified, consistent and nuanced diplomatic responses to the charges. Too many politicians, diplomats, and military officials have relied on simplistic explanations and high-flown rhetoric, and these have not been well-received by their audience.  No single institution (not the Ministry of Defense, nor the Foreign Ministry) speaks with an authoritative voice. Government rebuttals and explanations vary and change over time, straining the credibility even those who initially found the allegations suspicious, and leading them to favor an investigation.

The Darusman report was leaked to the newspapers. Neither the UN nor so called allies of Sri Lanka were able to stop dissemination of the report.  After it was released, the Sri Lankan government immediately rejected it as biased and fundamentally flawed. A few days later some politicians said that the government had not received the report. One minister warned that there would be protests, while another claimed, “It is not the Government’s intention to create any ‘mass protests’ and agitation relating to the ‘Darusman Report’ as alleged by some. We are not instigating hysteria nor violence or embarrassment to the UN community and to foreign Missions.”

At the same time some of the protests protest rallies held in Colombo were organized by government ministers, although it is unlikely that they or the majority of the public (including the protestors) had access to the war crime reports or the time to reflect on them.  The protests were sporadic and protesters lacked focus.  Some asked for the removal of Ban Ki Moon, some were strongly anti-UN, and others were trying to separate the UN and Moon from the Darusman report.  All groups distorted the report by ignoring the fact that it accused both the government and the LTTE of war crimes. Protestors raised fears of punitive action against Sri Lanka when the report called only for investigations.  The leader of the opposition simply tried to score points from the situation by saying that it was him who refused to ratify the ICC, while a number of prominent religious leaders were too quick to condemn the report.  They failed in their duty to help the government to find a constructive response.

The UN report notes that there is substantial evidence of war crimes.  But the only action demanded in the report is that our government conducts an impartial investigation.  The anti-investigation lobby gives credibility to the allegations when they claim that those who issued the report are actually punishing Sri Lanka. Punishment cannot be meted out unless guilt is proven. The anti-investigation faction claims that the UN is trying to execute its leaders and impose economic sanctions, and accuses the authors of the report of being jealous of Sri Lanka’s victory against terrorism.  A cynic might say that politicians such as G.L. Peiris actually provide justification for an impartial investigation when he says ‘that justice, fair play and morality should be embedded in international law and it should not be the subject of political interference.  The international community is unreasonable because it expects Sri Lanka to react quickly when Cambodia, for example, took decades to adhere to international standards.’  Ironically, while the government is persistent in its refusal of an international investigation, on the 24th July, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, presided over by Sri Lanka’s Former Chief Justice, Asoka de Silva, convicted former military chaplain Emmanuel Rukundo and sentenced him to 25 years in jail!

Government claims about selectivity and bias, fakery, and technical manipulation were hastily made and lacked professionalism or any pretense to the kind of strategic diplomacy that is required when dealing with powerful institutions. It is useful, in this case, to look at an example that was more judiciously handled: President Bush called the allegations of abuse of Iraqi soldiers in Abu Ghraib “abhorrent” and promised to punish those responsible for them, even after Specialist Joseph Darby, a member of the U.S. Army’s Military Police Corps, delivered a CD full of documentary photographs to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antony Taguba’s report of investigations into abuses at Abu Ghraib, internally released March 12, concluded that U.S. soldiers committed “egregious acts and grave breaches of international law.” These acts were “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” and included “keeping detainees naked, pouring cold water on naked detainees, using military dogs without muzzles to intimidate and frighten, and threatening detainees with loaded guns.” Later President Bush issued a public apology to Iraqis and a few soldiers were punished. But the US response was one of strategic diplomacy — it negotiated between its geopolitical interests and the demand for human rights.   This was possible because the US government did not prevent the flow of information to its public and used the media to create a broad-based consensus within the United States, that it should penalize those responsible for the abuses at the same time that it must maintain the good character of its security forces and the promote patriotism. Many argued that the punishment was not proportional to the crimes committed, and that because of its power the US avoided facing public scrutiny of its abuses by the international human rights industry. This may well be true, but it does not detract from the argument that the U.S. handled allegations of war crimes in a sophisticated fashion, as should Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government’s response to allegations of war crimes was “zero civilian casualties,” a position that is simply not credible.  On 15th June, Government MP Rajiv Wijesinghe noted, “There were several levels of civilians who were killed.  Some of them were put deliberately in the way of the forces by the LTTE.”  Wijsinghe’s response elaborates only on one level and does not comment on the “other levels,” though presumably civilians were also killed in some other fashion.  A recent report issued by the Ministry of Defense makes a clearer admission of civilian casualties. Civilian deaths are inevitable, particularly in a war between conventional and non-conventional armies, particularly when the war is over-determined by the technology. When US and NATO forces bombed civilian targets prohibited by international law, they admitted the truth, made an apology, and conveniently avoided the scrutiny of the human rights lobby and peace movement.  But back-tracking from our government’s absurd initial claim of zero casualties forces even those critical of the UN and Western media to doubt the government’s story.

Reports of events are always shaped by deliberate choice of language, are grounded in history, ideology and power relations, and are shaped by social and technological determinants.  The description of an investigation as “impartial” represents a variety of different perspectives while it examines a body of evidence.  “Truth” is found by making space for shared norms and values across different cultures about rights, rather than allowing power holders in a given culture to cover up abuse and escape from external scrutiny.  The emerging global solidarity in the demand for an investigation is a rejection of the tyranny of cultural relativism. The latter politicizes human rights in the name of culturally specific national interests, and refuses to discuss the existence of universal human rights.

The international state system reflects a skewed distribution of economic and political power. Strategic diplomacy requires contentious negotiations between human rights and the particular interest of the states. The tendency is to subordinate the former to the latter, but human rights pose a fundamental challenge to states because human beings universally desire justice and equal rights.  Human rights-friendly strategic diplomacy requires a cadre of foreign policy actors with experience and skills different from those whose loyalties are primarily to the military, business, academy and kinship.  If states are to be held accountable to ‘international institutions’ we must embrace strategic diplomacy and prevent the process from being hijacked by jingoistic nationalists and sub-nationalists groups.

War crimes allegations do not implicate the entire security establishment, but only the individuals who are responsible for them.  The majority of soldiers in most armies are disciplined individuals take great care to avoid civilian casualties and abide by the rules of law.  Some have risked and sacrificed their lives to save civilians, and our justifiable pride in the qualities of our security forces will not diminish even if allegations of war crimes are proven against a few individuals.  The conviction of the commander of the Armed Forces by a military tribunal was not considered an insult to the image of the military.  On the other hand, highly politicized refusal of an impartial investigation does tarnish the military and potentially obstructs its own institutional development.

Militaries are an arm of the state and obey the state’s orders — without unvarying obedience a military is worthless.  The actions of the military need to be understood in relation to the social and political underpinnings of the state, and often allegations against the military are actually allegations against the state.  Modern nation states are the guardians of capitalist interests and do not exist purely to protect the common interest of the population.  Nor are they autonomous from the forces shaping asymmetries of power and wealth.  In the era of globalization, neoliberal institutions rely heavily on the state to discipline and punish those acting contrary to their interests. Sometimes the decisions of the state may force the military to violate the rules of war.  Under these circumstances, state power may not protect national interests, but instead frame particularistic interests as national interests. In such circumstances the national security apparatus is a screen to hide the real agenda.  It is especially difficult to separate these interests while conducting a war because the boundaries between civilian and military institutions are blurred, and the military apparatus itself is often closely allied with private industry (as was evident, for example, in Dick Cheney’s connection to Halliburton).  Under these circumstances military flexibility is limited, and the ‘deadlines’ for military targets are determined by economic and political interests.  In its coverage, the media often fails to make this distinction because media it is also “embedded” in a highly politicized global military industrial complex.

Neither are military personnel entirely free from culturally specific social forces including education, social upbringing, historical consciousness, racism, and exclusive nationalism. When hybrid and cosmopolitan national histories and consciousness are racialised in multiethnic societies, the “war against terror” ceases to be simply about terrorism, and becomes a clash between cultures and an extension of a dominant culture over weaker cultures.  At the same time, history is full of examples of military personal refusing to bow to jingoistic, racialized, and gendered national conscious and acting as whistle-blowers against their own institutions colleagues. When well-meaning military officers resist their own racialized cultural conditioning and chose to strictly obey the rules of war, they run the risk of being branded traitors and are subjected to judgment by highly politicized military tribunals.   Recent uprisings in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries have shown that the conformity of the military with the ideologies of the state (its exploitation of religion, xenophobia, national security, development, and nationalism) cannot be taken for granted, as the military might align themselves with, or turn a blind eye to, anti-state forces or even directly support them.  War crimes investigations can actually protect soldiers, and help place the blame for violations where it belongs.  In the 1980’s Professor, Newton Gunasinghe pointed out the importance of understanding the sociology of security forces in relation to the hegemonic national culture.

Civilian-military relations in the theater of war are complex, and it is impossible to judge such relations entirely in terms of civilian laws.    But we must be cautious when militaries and militant groups justify carpet and suicide bombing, torture (water boarding, stress positions, abdomen slaps, the “attention grab,” the “attention slap,” the cold cell) and recruiting child soldiers in the name of military strategy.  During the hearings conducted by the Citizens Commission of Inquiry on United States War Crimes (Washington DC, December 1-3, 1970) Colonel Oran Henderson, the highest ranking officer to face court-martial for the My Lai Massacre, and others presented US military strategy as a tactical necessity and claimed that actions that could be potential considered war crimes were merely “tragedies” — unintended consequences of military action.  In sanitized language, bombing villagers was renamed “prepping the area.”  The American Lieutenant-Colonel who directed the operations admitted, “We sort of shoot it up to see if anything moves.”  New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple said, “Anything that moves and has a yellow skin is an enemy, unless there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary,” and that this was based on the general policy of “no villages, no guerrillas.” Prolonged stay in the theater of war causes psychological damage to soldiers and their fatigue, frustrations, and fears can easily draw them to actions that lead to war crimes, just as sometimes civilians go on shooting rampages.

Is it sufficient to dismiss these actions by calling them tragic and an aberration? Do the ends justify the means? Is there no atrocity that is off limits if it serves our ends?  In conflicts in multi-ethnic societies, both ends and means are decided in a complex historical process out of which the conflict was born.  Means used in the war, by militaries and terrorists alike, can also be tactics to create the geo-spatial context for a solution deemed desirable even before the conflict began.  Arguments that ends justify the means do not invalidate human rights discussions.  Assessing the cost of war is still important. Transparency and accountability allows reconciliation after legitimate military ends are achieved by building trust between groups.

The institutional memories of violence in Sri Lanka shape diverse responses to war crime allegations.   Sinhalese memories of LTTE massacres of villagers, young Buddhist monks, and unarmed holiday-bound policemen influenced their support for the war and reaction against the war crime allegations. The memories of Tamil reaction to war crimes allegations must be understood in the context of violence against Tamils and the fact many were driven into Diaspora. They remember the state failed to prevent violence or to hold those responsible to account, and that these events predate the fascist behavior of the LTTE.  Tamils could not possibly forget the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the LTTE.

We Sri Lankans will not have any difficulty coming to terms with whatever is revealed by an impartial investigation because we already know about the murder of thousands of innocent Sinhala youth by the state and the JVP, and the violence against political dissidents and critics by our successive governments, particularly since 1977. But both communities seem to suffer from selective amnesia, invoke some past memories and burying others.  Memories are reconfigured to serve many different interests, and stories pass from one generation to another.  Their potency as a destructive force can be minimized by meaningful reconciliation, empowering people to come to terms with the truth rather than suppressing it.

Lessons cannot be learned, and parties at odds cannot be reconciled unless there is a genuine attempt to know and acknowledge the truth. Burying the past only widens the space for doubt.  Propaganda turns doubts into fears by distorting the truth. A lack of humility and inability to accept the truth can turn selective memory into a vindictive and unforgiving force.  If the world had buried all the horrors of its wars, slavery, racism, sexism, and other oppressions, we would never have made progress in protecting human rights and we would all be closer to extinction.  Genuine commitment to truth democratizes history. When history is no longer a monopoly of the powerful, the past can become an important source in building ethnic harmony.

Reconciliation is also a social-psychological process.   It is about personal and interpersonal healing that involves empowering the people to come to terms with the years of hurts, fears and anxieties, all of which are predicted on commitment to explore the truth.  The top-down suppression of truth is an insult to capacity of the humans to turn their negative memories into a force of peace and justice.

It would rather naïve to suggest that reconciliation automatically trickles down from development, or that an investigation into truth undermines development.  The neoliberal development model is incapable of creating conditions for reconciliation because it is predicated on inequalities on gender, race, and class lines. In fact, neoliberalism has been a major source of conflict around the world as it conquers and plunders resources, and disrupts peoples’ physical environment, along with their symbiotic relationships with identity.   Ethnic reconciliation is essential if we are to oppose such economic forces and build solidarity among all citizens.  Earned trust between communities makes possible just and equitable development.

Those who oppose the war crime investigation make claims about the hypocrisy and double standards of Western countries, the human rights industry, and the United Nations. Many of these complaints are legitimate: some Western developed countries have patronized the world’s most brutal regimes and, as in the case of Chile and Pinochet, the United States maintained deep silence during war crime trials.  The U.S. and other Western nations are notorious for supporting brutal regimes around the world, condemning them only when they are no longer useful or relevant to their geopolitical interests.   The world’s most notorious dictators have been supported by advanced industrialized nations.  Almost all the members of the UN Security Council are large exporters of weapons, and manufacture and trade in arms constitutes a good part of their GNP.  Yet we must also recognize the domestic opposition to human rights abuses by these countries and the existence of space for deliberation of justice, perhaps far more than the emerging supper-powers.

The state has a reasonable desire to prevent the Diaspora from exploiting war crime investigations.  But it is unfair to depict all calls for investigation as conspiracies by the LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora.  There is enormous diversity within the Diaspora.  Tamils who despise the fascism of the LTTE would inevitably join the pro-investigation lobby — they do not see calls for an investigation as indicating support for the LTTE.  For them, the history of the ethnic conflict predates the LTTE, although later that history was revised by the LTTE in ways detrimental to the interests of the Tamils. Nor do Diaspora Tamils have reasons to believe that rejecting an investigation would bring a political solution to the conflict: they haven’t seen evidence of that for last 50 years. In their eyes, the country has gone backward from the federal solution to a simple call for a parliamentary select committee.  While the LTTE lobby is unlikely to push the international community to investigate its own conduct, the government’s compliance with an investigation will help isolate Tamils who are sympathetic towards a settlement within a unified Sri Lanka from the pro-LTTE lobby.  The LTTE lobby may also not be too concerned about the international community investigating the LTTE for war crimes, because none of those who could be held directly responsible for war crimes are alive, except for Karuna and Pilliyan!

Pointing fingers at the faults of the “other” as a way of evading an investigation is ineffective.   Once serious accusations of war crimes are made public, especially when issued by legitimate bodies like the UN, the state is under increasing public pressure to respond.  Globally, there is a growing community of people who believe that human rights violations should be investigated and that perpetrators should be punished without regard to the geopolitical, cultural, and economic interests of states.   They believe human dignity does not derive from the state and that the international state system is responsible for safeguarding human rights.  Electronic media makes it difficult to interrupt the flow of information among pro-human rights groups or to prevent the formation of global solidarities.  Events in the Middle East have shown the limits of state use of religion, nationalism, and xenophobia as excuses to prevent global solidarities from becoming counter-hegemonic forces against the state. One flaw of the state-centric analysis of human rights (akin to the fundamentally flawed Realist perspective in international relations) is that it does not pay much attention to the norms and values of transitional communities that share common values and are unwilling to subordinate them to the interests of their respective states.  Just like “whistle blowing” military officers, citizens are not always willing to support the state at the expense of universal norms of equality and justice.

While one cannot entirely dismiss the fear of external conspiracies, conspiracy theories are often counter-productive to the state’s national interests.  If one is to understand foreign policy maneuvering regarding war crimes allegations, one needs to begin by investigating domestic social, economic and political structures.  If we focus only on external threats we will arrive at only a partial understanding, and fail to see the motivation behind domestic responses to international pleasures. Chomsky asks, “Who sets the foreign policy? Whose interest do they present? What are the domestic sources of power?” There exist “propagandists who labor to disguise the obvious, to conceal the actual workings of power, and to spring a web of mythical goals and purposes, utterly benign, and that allegedly guide national policy.”  The propagandist model represents the nation as a universal category that responds to threats to security, order and stability, “by awesome and evil outside forces.”  Atrocities are explained away as unfortunate or tragic deviations from national purpose, the resolution of which does not require external interference.   The resulting culture of fear and its refusal to allow external interferences is really all about centralization and domestication of state power.  Generally, it does not help to mitigate the negative implications of external interferences.

The superficial distinction between Western enemies and non-Western friends makes the anti-investigations lobby optimistic that it can avoid an investigation.  They ignore the fact that the Western and non-Western dichotonomy is used as a screen by the capitalist system to ‘indigenize capitalist development’ and make the management of its contradictions exclusively a responsibility of individual states. This allows capitalist institutions to escape from any responsibility for the crises it generates.  The dichotomy also obscures the close relations and interdepencies between the ruling bloc and Western counties, and so-called Western enemies and non-Western friends, providing an indigenous mask for the ruling block.  We must keep in our minds the remarkable positive correlation between the rise of anti-Western rhetoric and the colonization of Sri Lanka by transnational capital.

The anti-investigation lobby applies the labels of neo-colonialism and conspirators only to selected Western countries, rather than to India and China. China’s reputation as a supporter of the world’s most brutal regime makes its policy difficult to separate from those of Western countries.  Indian involvement in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict has been far more intrusive than any Western country and Indian and Chinese have no less a neo-colonial relationship to Sri Lanka than Western countries, though perhaps the former could be more debilitating to Sri Lankan interests than the latter.

In a world of unequal power relations between states, smaller states find it extremely difficult to avoid pressures to respect human rights. Smaller states will always be at a disadvantage and will be unfairly treated.    The only way smaller states in economic or geopolitical competition with the accuser states can withstand human rights accusations is by aligning themselves with other states with the same interests. But these alignments always are not free of costs: they always mean significant compromises of a country’s economic, political and cultural sovereignty.

China, Russia and India can afford to play geopolitical games in response to accusations of human rights violations because they command economic and political power.   Sri Lanka cannot take the support of these so-called friendly states for granted — these countries will drop Sri Lanka as soon as it suits them. If Sri Lanka becomes a battleground for geopolitical contests between Western and non-Western Countries, the cost will be far greater to us than the benefits.  If friendly non-Western countries feel that the market for their products in the West depends on improving their image among the Western countries, then they will not hesitate to join the call for investigations.  The same situation could arise if there is a growing constituency in these non-Western countries, including opportunistic politicians, who put pressure on their states to support investigations.

Relying on unpredictable friends also deprives Sri Lanka of the freedom to take a stand on human rights abuses by its friends, even in situations where these “friends” violate the rights of the Sri Lankan citizens and deprive them of control over their own resources.  Is it really worth ceding the high ground in order to play international geopolitical games?

If we proceed with a war crimes investigation, this willingness to take human rights seriously will do more to legitimate our complaints about the exploitation of human rights issues by rich and powerful countries than any act of resistance could do.  We have the opportunity to set a good precedent the human rights movement worldwide.  It is best to approach the question of an investigation from the perspective of truth and justice, and to make sure that we ground our actions in our philosophical and religious teachings, rather than in the rhetoric of nationalism and development. Letting the latter frame the discourse of war crimes allegations is simply an insult to the former!

Long Reads

Long Reads brings to Groundviews long-form journalism found in publications such as Foreign PolicyThe New Yorker and the New York Times. This section, inspired by Longreads, offers more in-depth deliberation on key issues covered on Groundviews.

  • Ward

    Thank you, Jude.

  • Shiva

    Thank you Jude.

    Justice is again denied to the victims and Tamils.

  • Shiva

    The failure to conduct an independent international war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka proves that the international community’s failure to deliver justice and accountability.

    These same leaders were crying against the LTTE’s actions and banned it despite it was initially supported and trained by Indian forces under visionary leaders Mrs. Indra Gandhi and MGR as they felt that the Sinhala leaders deny Tamils’ rights, equality and no rule of law. The ruthless LTTE too committed crimes but it was defending Tamils’ rights, mitigating state terrorism and attacks by the Sinhala Apartheid army.

    But after the defeat of the LTTE with the collaboration of current Indian regime under Italian Sonia Gandhi, the International community has shown their Apartheid mindset to the Tamils who are at the receiving end since the war ended in May 2009.

    Hundreds of thousands on innocent Tamils have been raped, tortured, murdered and simply disappeared. The Rajapakse regime continues defy international law (R2P) and deny unrestricted access to media, journalists, NGOs, human rights groups and diplomats to Tamils areas to report independently. There is a culture of impunity and no history of any investigations or jutice delivered to hundreds of thousands of crimes committed against Tamils.

    Shame on the International Community!

  • justitia

    Sri Lanka must as soon as possible, establish democratic governance in all parts of the country and end the military dictatership.
    The emergency being allowed to lapse is a good sign.
    Abolition of the PTA and allowing the normal laws of the land to prevail will be another.
    As long as one part of the country is ruled entirely by the military – with suppression of civic rights, with support from quasi-military political groups, minorities in and out of sri lanka will support the call for an investigation into the allegations of ‘war crimes’.

  • Patriot

    I hope to see the day that Sinhalese will recognize that they too have a stake in the independence of the NE. Here are some reasons:

    No more TNA, 13th Amendment, Devolution talks, PSC, or visits by Indian Politicos, ever.
    No more Tamil as a 3rd language or as a language of Government. It will be Sinhalese and English.
    Emergency law, PTA, will be rendundant. The large army will also be redundant and unnecessary. De-Militirization will finally be a reality. No more $2Billion defense budgets.
    Jobs, Jobs, and more Jobs: The scale of construction that will take place in the NE post independence will be unprecendented, and will only be matched by construction in Colombo. SL companies are best positioned to take advantage of this.

    What independence of the NE will not mean:
    The NE will not be physically carved away from SL. Jaffna, Trinco and Batti will be the same distance from Colombo that they are today. There will be no visas required to travel there, or work permits required to work there. How can we so sure? Simple, because people from the NE will have the same interest in working and visiting Colombo.

    • sambar

      Patriot,

      You forgot another advantage: the Sinhala south will be safe from India with the NE buffer in place.
      The independence of the NE will have to be broken before that of the south can.
      But now there is no barrier and it is only a matter of time that SL is run from India and shortly after the Sinhalese too will become Indianised.
      Premadasa knew what he was doing when he helped the LTTE against the IPKF.

      • wijayapala

        Dear sambar

        You forgot another advantage: the Sinhala south will be safe from India with the NE buffer in place.

        Forgive my ignorance of geography, but how would the NE be a buffer when it is not even between the rest of the island and India (i.e. India is northwest of Sri Lanka, not northeast of it)?

        The independence of the NE will have to be broken before that of the south can.

        But wouldn’t the NE be “broken” sooner if independent, given its very weak economic condition ravaged by war? It would seem that giving independence to Eelam would be an easy ticket to hand it over to India.

        Premadasa knew what he was doing when he helped the LTTE against the IPKF.

        Then why did the LTTE kill him?

      • sambar

        Dear Wijayapala,

        “Forgive my ignorance of geography, but how would the NE be a buffer when it is not even between the rest of the island and India (i.e. India is northwest of Sri Lanka, not northeast of it)?”

        It’s OKK!!
        I will even forgive your ignorance that geo-political control and influence and buffering need not at all correspond to a geographical presence that lies perpendicular to straight lines drawn between concerned parties/countries.
        In fact in these modern time there are even things called planes that can fly really high over any country even if it was physically impossible go across by land over hostile territory!

        “But wouldn’t the NE be “broken” sooner if independent, given its very weak economic condition ravaged by war? It would seem that giving independence to Eelam would be an easy ticket to hand it over to India.”

        Not sure now, but certainly the LTTE was fiercely protective of its independence from India (which the Indians didn’t appreciate one tiny bit!). However with southern Sinhala support and if the Sinhalese genuinely reached out then the independence of both the Tamils and the Sinhalese will be harder to break.

        Then why did the LTTE kill him [Premadasa]?”

        Firstly the LTTE never calimed responsibility.
        Secondly if you investigate the matter you will find plenty of reasons to considerably doubt the theory that the LTTE did it.
        It was quite likely it was the neighbour who dissapproved of independence.

    • wijayapala

      Dear Patriot

      No more TNA, 13th Amendment, Devolution talks, PSC, or visits by Indian Politicos, ever.
      No more Tamil as a 3rd language or as a language of Government. It will be Sinhalese and English.

      What is wrong with TNA or visits by Indian politicos? And why should anybody object to Tamil as a language of govt?

      Jobs, Jobs, and more Jobs: The scale of construction that will take place in the NE post independence will be unprecendented, and will only be matched by construction in Colombo. SL companies are best positioned to take advantage of this.

      Can’t we do this construction without NE independence?

      The NE will not be physically carved away from SL. Jaffna, Trinco and Batti will be the same distance from Colombo that they are today. There will be no visas required to travel there, or work permits required to work there.

      Then why have a Tamileelam at all then?? You are making it sound like all those Eelamists had no brain for supporting separatism, given that it would not physically change anything! :-D

    • SL

      Patriot,

      Can we have fries with that (i.e. NE Independence) too?

  • georgethebushpig

    Brilliant! Thank you for an erudite exposition.

  • Sarath Fernando

    “The government’s uncompromising resistance to investigate war crime allegations by any external body could turn out to be counterproductive to national interests. It may invite unwelcome foreign interference, threaten peace, reconciliation, and development efforts, and enmesh the country in colossal waste of financial and human resources. Refusal to hold inquiries may even threaten the stability of the ruling regime.”

    Well said Jude! This is diametrically opposite to the learned friend “we don’t give a rat’s ass” Dr. Dayan’s contention, as we have all come to know. Hope this (and similar writings such as the recent one from Prof. Kumar David) helps open some of the tightly closed eyes, at least to the fact that a significant share of the population does indeed care!

    • Shiva

      Thanks Sarath.

      Sri Lanka is a failed state under Mahinda Rajapakse.

      Dr. Dayan is a Sinhala Nationalist and not an objective believer in trre democracy.

      • sambar

        And Dr Dayan Jayatilleke doesn’t understand that Antonio Gramsci would definitely be against Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism!!

  • Channa

    “Struggle for human rights must not be viewed only as derivative of state and its national interests”
    Sri Lankan State in a state of denial. This was the habit and practice of all the Sri Lankan governments from independence

    Thank you jude

  • Rita

    Jude
    Thankssssssssss

  • Off the Cuff

    Dear Jude Fernando,

    Did the Govt say “Zero civilian casualties” or a “Policy of zero civilian casualties”?

    Do they convey the same or different meanings?

    If they are different, what are the differences that you identify?

  • Tissa Wije

    If thegovernment is to investigate the allegation they needtheperson who submitted thefilm to provide more details.

    Unlike some of the more romanticfolkswho subscribe to this website, I do not goalong with the view that the are many shortcomings in governance qualify Sri Lanka to be castigated in such strong terms. The absence of popular uprisings in say Austalia or Saudi Arabia in the past in comparison with UK or Syria does not mean that former belong to ‘successful category’ while latter are ‘failed states’.

  • wijayapala

    Jude, I hardly see why you call your view “unpopular” given how all the SL-haters here are expressing their appreciation for it! I did not understand one of your comments:

    Relying on unpredictable friends also deprives Sri Lanka of the freedom to take a stand on human rights abuses by its friends, even in situations where these “friends” violate the rights of the Sri Lankan citizens and deprive them of control over their own resources.

    Why would SL want to take a stand on human rights, and which “friend” is currently violating the rights of SL citizens? Could you please be more specific?

    • Sarath Fernando

      Hi Wijepala,

      Anyone critical of the regime’s modus operandi is automatically a SL-hater – what a wonderful, astute conclusion!

      Not unlike the case when any one who opposed Iraq war was an unpatriotic America-hater; not merely a Bush/Cheyne critic.

      With brilliant pandering like yours and DJ’s, SL has a fantastic future, not unlike the one we had relished in the past four or five decades. We’ll all owe you a big Thank You.

      • wijayapala

        Hi Sarath

        Anyone critical of the regime’s modus operandi is automatically a SL-hater – what a wonderful, astute conclusion!

        Why thank you, but I never said that anyone who is critical of the regime is automatically a SL-hater. Rather, I observed that the SL-haters here love Jude’s analysis, which therefore makes him far from “unpopular.” Please do not tell me that you do not know the difference.

        With brilliant pandering like yours and DJ’s, SL has a fantastic future, not unlike the one we had relished in the past four or five decades.

        But how can we have any kind of fantastic future without the fantastic LTTE? :-(

      • Sarath Fernando

        Yes Wijayapala,
        The panderers can always find an excuse – it is either the LTTE, or it is the Diaspora wanting to derail our economy, or it is a Western conspiracy wanting to rob us of our sovereignty, and now – it is the demonic SL-haters since they agree with Jude’s rational argument. And, you truly think they are all spontaneous manifestation with no cause? Dream on.

        How do you know that those who wrote in support of Jude’s views are SL-haters? If you have a rational disagreement with Jude’s analysis, meet it head-on and intelligently; don’t resort to cowardice name calling.

        “But how can we have any kind of fantastic future without the fantastic LTTE?”
        What a pathetic response! That is the best youv’e got?

      • Burning_Issue

        Wijayapala,

        Was it just a slip of the pen or Jude F has really rattled you with his erudite analysis in favour of a credible War Crimes investigation? How sure are you that the likes of you are the true Sri Lanka lovers? In line with your ploy, you have pedantically picked out a minor point to discredit the main point to which you have no answer whatsoever!

      • PitastharaPuthraya

        Wijayapala,

        Can you define the term ‘SL-Hater’?

      • PitastharaPuthraya

        Jude,

        Thanks for the true analysis of the situation. I hope that the eyes, which are blinded by the prejudice, will be open by this. However, those who does not want to see the truth may not see it anyway.

  • Cheena

    “And Jesus said ‘turn the left cheek to the suicide bomber'”. Why do writers start with quotations from irrelavent unknown people?
    There is going to be investigation into the things that happened in the final phase of eelam war. But you have to wait. That’s what the government has been saying for the last two years of couse with some pressure from the international gov. and org.
    If I heard what the gov. said correctly, they said ‘we have a policy of zero civilian casualties’. That is not the same as not a single civilian was killed by gov. foreces.
    GV. by the way article is too long. It is one thing to read something that is well written, but to read a bunch of ideas that come to someone’s head is a pain [Edited out].
    If the writers main aim is to say that Sri Lanka needs to do its part to promote global human rights by conducting an indipendant investigation, I think that’s what SL gov. is doing starting with LLRC. For Darusman report to dismiss it as with out any merit is kick in the ball of the whole process. Gov. took it like a man and said we are not going to react to that low blow, but we will go on. That is the right decision.
    Gov. of SL is smarter that many people think when it comes to international relations. Admit it. The reason EU, US and some other contries can’t pin them with regular actions is it may back fire. So they have to wait. And that’s what the gov. wants too. Gov. is mudding the water by reacting one way and then another.
    Gov. is using basic priciples of pitting contries against each other (India, China, Russia, US), spinning the news before it become news (releasing Darusman report), giving little bit at the last minute (emergency law), and taking media head-on(giving interviews by people who speak better English than the news casters).
    Sri Lankan gov. is concerned about human rights and may other aspects of governance. International gov. should keep up the pressure with actual violations that happened instead of fake violations.
    Then sooner rather than later some of the abuses will be accountd for.

  • Shiva

    The failure to conduct an independent international war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka proves that the international community’s failure to deliver justice and accountability.

    These same leaders were crying against the LTTE’s actions and banned it despite it was initially supported and trained by Indian forces under visionary leaders Mrs. Indra Gandhi and MGR as they felt that the Sinhala leaders deny Tamils’ rights, equality and no rule of law. The ruthless LTTE too committed crimes but it was defending Tamils’ rights, mitigating state terrorism and attacks by the Sinhala Apartheid army.

    But after the defeat of the LTTE with the collaboration of current Indian regime under Italian Sonia Gandhi, the International community has shown their Apartheid mindset to the Tamils who are at the receiving end since the war ended in May 2009.

    Hundreds of thousands on innocent Tamils have been raped, tortured, murdered and simply disappeared. The Rajapakse regime continues defy international law (R2P) and deny unrestricted access to media, journalists, NGOs, human rights groups and diplomats to Tamils areas to report independently. There is a culture of impunity and no history of any investigations or justice delivered to hundreds of thousands of crimes committed against Tamils.

    Shame on the International Community

  • http://www.twitter.com/ThilinaRa Thilina Rajapakse

    Excellent, well balanced critical analysis of the past in realistic terms and on the future in an Idealistic way. Brilliantly refutes serious realist’s claims that power is its own justification whilst neither implying that power is irrelevant to the spread of ideals.

    Look forward to read the critical response to this from the Realists’ camp.

  • Candidly

    It’s amazing how many people believe in this fairy godmother called “the international community” that’s going to suddenly appear and prove that the Tamil Tigers were defeated not by their own cruelty and lack of morality, but because the Sri Lankan armed forces resorted to so-called “war crimes”.

    Just see what’s now being revealed about the “international community’s” allies in Libya (look at any UK newspaper website today 27 August) and you’ll soon get the idea that neither the UK nor France will want to pursue the issue of war crimes with very much vigour since their own allies (the Libyan rebels) are busy doing the very things they accuse the Sri Lankan armed forces of doing. And I’m sure there’s a lot more still to be revealed about how the war in Libya was conducted by the rebels and the “international community” (also known as “the Western Powers”).

    • Candidly

      Further to the above, see especially today’s (27 August) reports about atrocities in Libya in The Independent (UK) and the New York Times (USA).

  • Shweb Bally

    Thanks Jude. Excellent article. It gives so much depths in a multi dimensional approach really gives us good knowledge on the subjects.

  • sambar

    Dear Jude Fernando,

    You wrote: “to make sure that we ground our actions in our philosophical and religious teachings, rather than in the rhetoric of nationalism and development. Letting the latter frame the discourse of war crimes allegations is simply an insult to the former!”

    Some, taking the position that philosophy and religion are a load of hot air, might of course simply reply, ‘So what! Let us insult and do away with all that phooey! Development is what people need, not pie in the sky, etc.’.

    The point being: Unless there is a prior affection toward religion and philosophy the threat of it being insulted can have no impact. Donkeys don’t dance the tango!

    In fact the sentiments of the International Comunity elites and the SL politicians (the metaphorical donkeys – with apologies to all real donkeys) are overwhelmingly toward development and self-interest, because it profits both the purse and the ego.

    By all means let us speak truth to power, as you have, but let us not hold our breath!

  • sambar

    OfftheCuff and Cheena,

    Not only was there a supposedly a policy of zero civilian casualities, there was also a claim of zero civilian casualties:

    “Sri Lankan government has said its forces have rescued all Tamil civilians trapped inside the war zone in the embattled north without “shedding a drop of blood”.”
    “Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said “soldiers saved all Tamil civilians trapped inside the war zone without shedding a drop of blood”.”
    http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-05-18/south-asia/28195299_1_tamil-civilians-load-sri-lankan
    and elsewhere.

    • Off the Cuff

      Sambar,

      I was not aware until now and I stand corrected. Thank you for showing the idiocy of MS. His statement is idiotic to the extreme.

      However, given the fire power of the SLA, if the Govt did not care about the civilians, the war would have been over long before May 19 with much lower loss of SLA lives and Limbs. It was the civilian shield that held the govt and the SLA back. That would not have happened if they did not care.

      Prabakaran was playing for time and he sacrificed the Wanni Tamils expecting the Indian factor or the Diaspora prodding of the West to save him.

      The signals sent by the Tamil Diaspora by staging massive protests in the western capitols carrying a sea of LTTE flags and their demonstrated ability to disrupt civilian life in the West with road blockages and Death Fasts (while tucking in to fast food on the sly) assured Prabakaran that a life line was imminent. The Wanni Tamils paid the price.

      The terrorist flag waving Tamil Diaspora is equally responsible for the suffering of the Wanni Tamil civilians as much as Prabakaran and the LTTE is.

  • Lakshan

    Anyone dreaming/abetting separatism automatically becomes a SL hater.

    Separatism must not be condoned under any circumstance. Frankly it defies common sense to give 1/3 of the total land area of SL to 6% of population.
    You can dream on with your pathetic hatred for our country.

    But that’s all you can do ,born again HR activists of the Diaspora :)

    • sambar

      Lakshan,

      Soon it will not be a matter of just partitioning the country with 1/3 (33.333..%) to 6% of Lankans, rather, 100% of Lanka will be lost to 0% of Lankans!!

      • Off the Cuff

        Sambar,

        This same cockiness and misplaced faith in Prabakaran resulted in a generation of Tamil children losing their childhood. But then, those were Wanni children and not your own and hence expendable.

      • Lakshan

        Sambar

        Let anti Sri Lankan elements try………………..

        Bring ‘em on ,I’d say

        We are ready

    • MV

      Lakshan,

      Who cares about 1/3 of the land? The whole island, at the rate, will be fully integrated as a part of India sooner or later.
      It is already both economically and militarily integrated with India, or at least seemingly in the process.

      • Lakshan

        MV

        can you please elaborate on above statement. As far as I know Indian Government don’t even want Kachchativ,just those racists from Tamil Nadu

  • wijayapala

    Dear sambar,

    However with southern Sinhala support and if the Sinhalese genuinely reached out then the independence of both the Tamils and the Sinhalese will be harder to break.

    If the Tamils need Sinhala support that badly, then it would appear they cannot handle independence, no?

    Firstly the LTTE never calimed responsibility.

    Since when did the LTTE claim responsibility for murdering civilians?

    It was quite likely it was the neighbour who dissapproved of independence.

    So let’s get the story straight- Premadasa was killed by a suicide bomber sent by Indian govt? India uses suicide bombers? Conversely, there are Indians willing to strap a bomb on themselves for the sake of some politician?

    Perhaps you believe that Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a Sinhala suicide bomber! Too bad for those poor buffoons in Tamil Nadu about to be executed!

    • Krish

      Dear Wijayapala,

      Interesting that you say that because I have just been watching a debate on whether to execute them or not. And whether or not Jayalalitha as TN’s CM can intervene to stop the death punishment. Here is the link if you are interested.

      http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/the-9-o-clock-news/death-sentence-not-needed-for-rajiv-assassins/209370

      Of the 5 panelists, Cho Ramaswamy (a well-known journalist) and Pinky Anand think that they should be executed, whereas Mani Shankar Iyer (Member of Parliament) and Karthikeyan (who investigated Rajiv Gandhi’s case) are for life punishment. And DMK’s spokesperson Elangovan thinks they have served 20 years in prison and be released. Interesting perspectives, not sure what the answer is.

      Sorry to go off-topic. :)

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Since Sarath and Sambar have mentioned me, I think I should reply to reply. All these issues will be raised and debated at the UN HRC soon, just as they were in 2009. Anybody remember that scene in Brain de Palma’s remake of ‘Scarface’, where Al Pacino as the anti-hero Tony Montana, besieged by the hired killers of a far more evil and ‘connected’ villain, goes to his gun rack, picks up an M 16 with an M203 grenade launcher attachment, steps out and says “Say hello to my new friend”? Well folks, say hello to my (and the Latin Americans) old friend and Sri Lanka’s new Perm Rep, Tamara Kunanayakam in Geneva.

    • Lakshan

      Dayan

      The example is a bit flawed considering what happens to Montana at the end ,shot from behind by Sosa’s hatchet man:).
      Anyway glad that we have someone to count on in Geneva,considering even your detractors appreciate what you did for our country back in 2009.

    • georgethebushpig

      It’s actually “say hello to my “little” friend”. I’m not sure whether the choice of movie was intentional or an accident, cause it didn’t really end well for Tony Montana…. he went down in a hail of gunfire!

      The only usefulness of the reference to Scarface that I can think of in light of past UNHRC sessions are the following quotes: “so say good night to the bad guy” and “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”

      Or maybe the subconscious undertones: “with the right woman there ain’t stopping me… I could go right to the top”.

      • georgethebushpig

        What I forgot to say was that I wish Ms. Kunanayakam the very best in her new position and I hope that she will be able to uphold the principles that guide the UNHRC mandate.

    • jude fernando

      I think Dayan is absolutely correct about Tamara Kunanayakam. We need people of her caliber in the foreign service.

      Cheers
      Jude

  • justitia

    Tamara Kunanayakam,has in 1987, as a member of the World Student Christian Federation, unequivocally condemned the human rights violations in sri lanka, quoting reports by UN Special Rapporteurs.
    http://www.srilankabrief.org/2011/08/tamara-kunanayakam-sl-ambassader-to.html
    Will she express same now, at the UN.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ThilinaRa Thilina Rajapakse

      Is this true? Can GV/Dr Jayatilleke verify?

      Thanks

    • wijayapala

      Justitia, what is so strange about that? There have been far more bizarre cases like that of LTTE-supporter Shiva Pasupathy, who was the Attorney General under JR Jayawardene and drafted the original PTA that put hundreds of Tamil men behind bars before the war. He went on to become one of the legal luminaries behind ISGA!

  • wijayapala

    Burning Issue,

    Thank you for writing to me, but you did not respond to me in the other thread:
    http://groundviews.org/2011/08/17/darusman-deconstructed-godfrey-gunatilleke%E2%80%99s-critique/

    Was it just a slip of the pen or Jude F has really rattled you with his erudite analysis in favour of a credible War Crimes investigation?

    I was making more fun of Jude’s cheerleaders here than Jude himself. If you’d really like to know how I feel about his analysis, it is ok on the “why” but weak on the “how” (like most of the others calling for war crimes investigations).

    In the past, investigations have been held on “losers” like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan because their soil was occupied by the investigators, and most of the leaders who had survived were behind bars. This is why I recommended holding a concurrent investigation of the Tamil diaspora to show that it is not being one-sided.

    Personally I find honest emotional appeals more compelling than “erudite” words, like V.V. Ganeshananthan’s contribution:
    http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/3513

    • Sarath Fernando

      Dear, dear Wijepala,

      Let’s track your wonderful logic here.

      First, you called them SL-haters because you thought that will be fun (funny?).

      Next, you think Jude’s cheerleaders are SL haters because they agreed with Jude’s reasoning, but you don’t think Jude is a SL-hater, although he is the one who posited those reasons to start with.

      Finally, you waited until now to express “If you’d really like to know how I feel about his analysis” – so, previously you didn’t actually say what you really felt.

      Agreed — you (and you logic) are infinitely funny – thanks for the entertainment!

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear Sarath Fernando,

        Welcome to the surreal world of Wijeyapala argumentation! God help us all!

  • wijayapala

    God help us all!

    Who will help those of us who are atheist?

    • Sarath Fernando

      Dear, dear Wijayapala,

      If you and your comments are to be taken even mildly seriously, you should try to get your elementary logic right instead of attempting weasel out with smart-ass responses that has nothing to do with the topic in question.

      You opted to characterize those who expressed support (cheerleaders) of Jude’s views as SL haters, but in the same breath, you’d like us to believe that you don’t consider Jude a SL hater?

      Do you think you were right on either of those claims? – else accept, even if not apologize for your foolish mis-statements.

      You also conceded that it is your second comment that was “what I (you) really thought”, the implication being the original comment was not your own real thought – whose thought was it? Does that then confirm you were pandering – saying things to please someone else, rather than expressing your real thoughts?

      See, these are questions you should be able to answer – leave the “God” question for some one with at least a tad greater intelligence.

      • Off the Cuff

        Dear Sarath,

        Why are you at Wijayapala when “GOD” came in with georgethebushpig?