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Terrorism: Cancer of the Modern World

"A soldier is trained to kill. He may be ordered to, or he may order others to break the Sixth Commandment – “Thou shall not kill”. He can commit, in the course of duty, an intensely personal act, the memory of which may haunt him for the rest of his life. As many of us know only too well, he may hold the enemy in the sights of his rifle and then watch him fall and is not protected by the veil of remoteness and distance that shields the sailor in his ship and the airman in his aircraft."
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by Rohitha Bogollagama

(March 04, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I am delighted to be present at the inauguration of the South Asia Regional Joint Defence International Humanitarian Law Course and wish to thank the organisers for inviting me to make the opening remarks. At the outset, I would like to welcome the Course instructors and foreign delegates to Sri Lanka. I hope that as much as you would gain an in-depth knowledge and insight from the course, you would also find the time to travel around the island and enjoy its enchanting natural beauty as well as experience the warm hospitality of our people.

I wish to express my sincere thanks and profound appreciation to the UK Ministry of Defence for sponsoring and conducting this immensely useful programme, under the direction of the Director of Naval Legal Services, with instructors drawn from the UK Armed Forces Joint Legal Service.

I understand that this is the fourth such programme that the British Ministry of Defence is holding in coordination with the Defence Section of the British High Commission in Colombo. The secret behind the success of this project is undoubtedly the outcome of the meticulous planning and hard work put in by the UK Ministry of Defence, complemented by the indefatigable efforts of the Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Anton Gash and his team of dedicated staff at the British High Commission. My congratulations to all of you for an excellent team effort and a job well done!

The laws of war today are largely contained in the two Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Those documents have laid down the parameters on how wars can be fought, what weapons can be used and what persons can be attacked. These laws, incomplete as they are, can be explained on the basis of two humanitarian principles; First, individual persons deserve respect as persons, using the term person to refer to self-conscious, autonomous, human beings, endowed with rights. Second, human suffering ought to be minimised.

These principles are universally accepted and militaries of all democratic states are bound by international law to observe these rules in the prosecution of war. The soldier is not only subject to the codes of international law, but also those of the law of the land.

A soldier is trained to kill. He may be ordered to, or he may order others to break the Sixth Commandment – “Thou shall not kill”. He can commit, in the course of duty, an intensely personal act, the memory of which may haunt him for the rest of his life. As many of us know only too well, he may hold the enemy in the sights of his rifle and then watch him fall and is not protected by the veil of remoteness and distance that shields the sailor in his ship and the airman in his aircraft. In plain language, the act of killing poses the soldier’s ultimate moral dilemma.

The intensity of the soldier’s predicament is heightened, when we are engaged in internal security operations within our own country. We are then no longer fighting an external, identifiable enemy; we face our own fellow citizens. Furthermore, not only the public, but also, of course, the soldier himself is today far better educated and knowledgeable than in the past. He tends to be quizzical of authority. Consequently, whether he likes it or not, he answers to a more acute and troubling conscience. But, conscience itself is difficult to define. Socrates likened it to an inner voice telling him what not to do. The temptation for a soldier in facing this dilemma is to do nothing and sit back. Thus, “conscience”, in this sense is probably a flawed moral judgement, which if it produces action, only leads to guilt.

The controversy of whether war can be “just”, has raged over centuries. The founder of modern international law, the eminent Dutch jurist, Grotius in his seminal treatise – De Jure Belli ac Paris concluded that although war may be undertaken for a just cause, it may be unjust if it gives rise to unjust acts.

However, the whole nature of war has undergone a drastic change. Today, the innocent are no longer immune. In insurgency, the peasant by day is the guerrilla by night. Terrorism that deliberately targets non-combatants has to be countered with a robust response from the military. Some suggested responses to terrorism also involve the violation of individual freedoms and liberties. The rights of terrorists are infringed in the same manner that the rights of a criminal before the court are infringed by passing a sentence upon him. If violence is employed against terrorists, only as a last resort, both procedural and institutional justification becomes credible. However, when non-combatants are knowingly endangered, even if such risk is necessary to facilitate an effective response, the case is less certain.

In the context of Sri Lanka’s military operations against the terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which the FBI had recently categorized as the world’s deadliest terrorist outfit, the armed forces have scrupulously adhered to international humanitarian law and the law of the land.

It is precisely to avoid civilian casualties that the Sri Lankan security forces have desisted from taking on high profile LTTE cadres who are legitimate targets since they operate from locations using civilians as human shields.

Sri Lanka is a thriving and functioning multi-party democracy. Chapter (iii) of its Constitution covers the entire gamut of fundamental rights, which have been entrenched and made justiciable. Thus, any person aggrieved by an infringement or imminent infringement of his or her fundamental rights can apply to the highest court in the land, namely the Supreme Court and seek remedy.

Moreover, the Defence Ministry had on 12th April 2007 re-circulated to the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force as well as the Inspector General of Police, directives on protecting the fundamental rights of persons arrested and/or detained, which had been issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 7th July 2006. The re-circulated directive is accompanied by instructions from the Secretary/Defence that the Service Commanders and the Inspector General of Police arrange for officers of their respective services to be fully informed of the Presidential directive and to ensure its full implementation.

Ever since the publication of his book, The Soldier and the State in 1957, Samuel Huntington has come to be regarded as an authority on military service as a profession. Every profession involves a client – professional relationship demanding professional adherence to a set of ethical standards and values. Huntington has highlighted the specialized military expertise imparted to officers through their training, which distinguishes military officers from lawyers, doctors, engineers and other professions. Indeed, there is considerable stress in the military upon disciplines concerned with human relations and an understanding of societies. In essence, Huntington defines the client of the military professional to be society and his special responsibility towards the client as that of providing security. The most immediate expression of this responsibility is the subordination of the military professional to the state or government that represents the client.

The celebrated American soldier, Gen. William T. Sherman believed that society without law was chaotic. Perhaps reflecting some of the old West Point ideas that he had imbibed two decades earlier, he wrote in 1860;

“The law is or should be our king; we should obey it, not because it meets our approval but because it is the law and because obedience in some shape is necessary to every system of civilized government”.

Sherman realized that war was not an end in itself, but a means to an end. “The legitimate object of war is more perfect peace under the authority of a lawful, democratic government”. Towards that end, he believed that war must be waged on a psychological as well as a military level. Thus, many of Sherman’s public statements during the Georgia campaign in the US Civil War, were designed to make the enemy “fear and dread us” and may have accounted for the fewer campaign casualties in 1864 than his Confederate adversaries.

Huntington also gives a plausible account of the unique expertise of the military - it is the management of violence. The claim of uniqueness is arguable, since the police are also managers of violence in subordination to the state.

Some of the core values of a military professional could be identified as follows:

§ Always to perform his duty, subordinating his personal interest to the requirements of discharging his professional function i.e. obeying orders and in this sense fulfilling his responsibility for the security of the state under the Constitution.

§ Conduct himself as a person of honour, whose integrity, loyalty and courage are exemplary.

§ Develop and maintain the highest level of professional skill and knowledge. To do less is to fail to meet his obligations to the state and his service.

§ Take full responsibility for all his orders.

§ Strictly observe the principle that the military is subject to civilian authority.

§ Promote the welfare of his subordinates as persons, not merely as soldiers.

§ Strictly adhere to the laws of war in performing his professional duty.

The transformation of the Sri Lankan military from a ceremonial outfit into a professional fighting force was a consequence of the insurgency that the LTTE launched in the mid 1980s through a campaign of terrorism, in order to carve out a monolithic, ethnically cleansed Tamil state in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island. In this terror campaign, thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives, with wanton destruction of property and displacement of civilians.

By necessity, this change in the orientation of the military entailed the incorporation of international humanitarian law and human rights in their training.

As a first step, the Directorate of Humanitarian Law (IHL) in the Sri Lanka Army was established in 1997, to instil in its officers and other ranks, an appreciation of IHL and fair conduct. In 2001, it was renamed as the Directorate of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. Since its establishment, several training programmes have been conducted to educate and train officers and other ranks on IHL and make them human rights sensitive. Altogether 136,584 Army personnel have undergone training in this field, accounting for over 85% of its cadre. Similarly, the Sri Lanka Navy and the Sri Lanka Air Force have also incorporated IHL and HR education, as a core element in the training of their cadres.

These training programmes have been conducted in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Center for Human Rights Studies of the University of Colombo and the Institute of Human Rights. At the end of a five-year training programme on the Law of Armed Conflict, the ICRC Armed Forces Delegate for South Asia and the Sri Lanka Army conducted a joint field evaluation in August – September 2005. Following this study, the ICRC had highly commended the commitment of the Sri Lanka Army to the promotion of IHL and recognized it as a model for other countries.

Perusing the programme for this regional IHL Course, I am encouraged to note that it covers a broad range of topics, including the application of humanitarian law, maritime and counter terrorist operations, as well as rules of engagement. The syndicate exercise component of the programme would, I am sure, facilitate bonding and networking among the participants, who hail from different nationalities and cultures, which is a sine qua non for effective cooperation between militaries at the international level. Such cooperation is readily seen in joint military exercises held between friendly countries as well as in multi-national peace-keeping operations around the world.

Sri Lanka has participated in a few such peace-keeping operations, albeit on a limited and modest scale. At present, 11 Sri Lanka Army officers have been deployed in UN peacekeeping operations in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Western Sahara, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Its largest presence is in Haiti, where a battalion comprising 950 officers and other ranks has been sent. Moreover, we have 64 police officers deployed in East Timor, 24 in Sudan and 11 in Liberia.

As the military operations are proceeding to flush out the LTTE from the pockets in the Northern Province, which it is still holding and bring freedom to the long-suffering people of the North, the Sri Lankan security forces are acutely conscious of their responsibility to adhere to international humanitarian law and protect human rights.

The thorough training and education in IHL that the armed forces have acquired over the years, is I believe a key factor, which had enabled the forces to successfully liberate the Eastern Province in 2007, with remarkably minimal civilian casualties, which had even confounded those Cassandras of doom and gloom who had predicted a humanitarian disaster. The liberation of the Eastern Province is a tangible manifestation of a highly successful and effective “hearts and minds” campaign of the Sri Lanka military, which can be held out as a model in post-conflict development, to other countries, which are engaged in counter terrorist operations.

I am glad to note that this course would also afford an exciting opportunity to further enhance and deepen regional cooperation and understanding on these issues. I am particularly encouraged that for the first time officers from Indonesia and Thailand have been invited to participate in this programme, at the request of the Sri Lanka Navy. As all of you are aware, maritime terrorism has assumed alarming proportions in recent times, and multilateral cooperation is essential to combat this growing menace. The Sri Lanka Navy on 7th October 2007 successfully conducted an operation 1700 k.m. in the Southern seas of Sri Lanka and destroyed a 3000 ton capacity LTTE ship laden with sophisticated weapons including electronic warfare equipment, high explosives and ammunition.

We believe that with the sinking of this veritable floating warehouse, the LTTE maritime supply lines have been effectively crippled, which in turn, would enable the Sri Lanka military forces fighting on the ground, to bring a quick end to the armed conflict and thus enable the people of Sri Lanka to enjoy lasting peace.

Under the murky moral conditions of counter terrorist operations and the prosecution of low intensity warfare, the moral dimensions of military activity have become harder to discern. We may have very well reached a point at which a formally published professional ethic would benefit the military services. If such a code of standards and ethics were to provide a focal point for teaching and as an effective guide in difficult situations, it would be of immeasurable utility and value.

It is my considered view that counter terrorism operations by democratic states should be carried out with maximum force and clinical efficiency, since in today’s context, terrorism is not confined within the territorial borders of nation states. In recent years, terrorism has manifested itself as a threat to international peace and security. Paul Johnson calls it “the cancer of the modern world”. If we are to prevent it from destroying the societies, it attacks, we must apply drastic and radical treatment to eliminate what is clearly a malignancy. At the same time, as democratic states, we have to ensure that our responses to terrorism do not injure the moral fabric of our society.

A clear understanding of the moral structure within which we operate, constitutes the most effective means to that end.

A man of character in peace is a man of courage in war. As Aristotle said, character is a habit, the daily choice of right and wrong. It is a moral quality that grows to maturity in peace and is not suddenly developed in war. The conflict between morality and necessity is eternal. But, at the end of the day, the soldier’s moral dilemma is resolved only if he remains true to himself. In this struggle, Humanitarian law serves as a moral compass for the soldier.

Finally, I take this opportunity to once again thank the organizers for inviting me today, and extend my best wishes for all success in your deliberations.

(Speech of the Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka , at South Asia Regional Joint Defence International Humanitarian Law Course)

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