Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Vavuniya

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.