Now, right to life!

By Sathiya Moorthy

(April 27, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) If figures are accurate – and there is no way of verifying them – it’s the ‘largest hostage-relief operation’ anywhere in the world, and hopefully for all time to come. Yet, available figures show that the number of trapped civilians in the ‘No Fire Zone’ was closer to that provided by the Sri Lankan Government than claimed by the LTTE, which was in actual control of the area. Propaganda again, but then the plight of a couple of hundred thousands fewer was no less than what it would have been otherwise.

Their total numbers may vary, so can the number of victims in each of the incidents involving the SLA and/or the LTTE – and so could be the immediate cause. That does not give any licence to anyone to assume that these people, all citizens of Sri Lanka, have no right to live, and could be freely be made cannon fodder in a war that was increasingly becoming as much of an ego trip as it was military superiority.

Credit should go to the Government and the Government troops for delaying the final assault by weeks and months, if only to minimise collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties. If the LTTE had any serious concern for civilian safety, it’s they who would have announced a pause in the fighting. The Government instead did so, twice in three months of lowered intensity in fighting.

If decades of Tamil suspicion desired that there should be external guarantees for the safety and security of the evacuees, then the LTTE could have even demanded an international presence while letting off civilians to relative safety and security. Instead, they who had sought UN intervention began talking about ‘UN approval for Tamil genocide’ when the unprecedented Security Council deliberations were not to its liking.

Considering that a separate nation was the LTTE’s goal, and considering that many Tamils thought that the LTTE too was their only hope, it is anybody’s guess what the Prabhakaran leadership would have done to their citizenry when faced with adversity of the kind. Add to this the fact that the de facto LTTE power-structure in place during the ceasefire period was keen on institutionalising its dictatorship, when not busy with rearming and regrouping, rather than on building hospitals and sending Tamil children back to school, it needs no imagination to guess where the road was headed.

For its part, the Government had designated ‘No fire Zones’ only for ensuring the safety and security of the entrapped civilians. The LTTE was not in its mind. Having claimed that the LTTE has been militarily neutralised since – and having demonstrated that not many LTTE terror cells might remain even outside the war zone -- no great harm should come its way if the Government allowed independent observers to oversee the registration and rehabilitation of the escapees and earlier batches of IDPs.

The Government should also demonstrate its confidence and maturity now by allowing the international community to get directly involved in relief, rehabilitation and restoration measures. If the Government could acknowledge IMF conditionalities before acepting credit, the situation could not be any different with international donors who want to help Sri Lanka rebuild itself, this time after what turned out to be an ‘ethnic tsunami’. And, Sri Lanka needs external aid and help, now and for a long time to come – full-stop.

The international community has lessons to learn from the Sri Lankan situation. They need to draw the line between yielding to professional propaganda of pro-terror groups nearer home -- whether ignorance or indulgence was the reason – and acting upon the genuine concerns of the affected population. In the weeks and months to come, they may also want to re-visit and re-evaluate third-nation Diaspora demonstrations on their streets and also their lobbying capabilities, against the medium and long-term impact of the same on what essentially are homogenised and not necessarily homogenous, societies.

Caught in the web of global demands for international inspection of registration and care of the IDPs, the Rajapaksa Government can begin well by constituting a high-power national committee with credible personalities on board, to do precisely the same job that it is afraid of handing over to outside agencies. It is the non-military verification mechanism that would matter the most. The Government would have to do, or not do – much more than what it did with and to the International Committee of Jurists, earlier. The latter was intended to supervise individual probes into unexplained deaths and ‘disappearances’ across the country. It flopped, or was intended to flop.

The Government could have built greater confidence in the Tamil civilian population, if only it had accompanied civilian resettlement efforts with political processes. This should have been particularly so after the troops broke the LTTE hold on Killinochchi first, and Puthukudiyiruppu, later. The ‘Eastern experience’ was already there, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to apply only the dots to the i’s and cross to the t’s, to make it work, But, yes, in the case of the Northern Province, those i’s and t’s do matter much more than in the East.

It is an acknowledged fact that an acceptable political solution with power-devolution at the core was the main component of the post-war package for the East. If the focus later shifted to capacity-building, no great effort seemed to have been made to achieve that either – not that the Sri Lankan State could be seen as interfering with the will of the people, which it wanted exercised in the first place. Anyway, Rome was not built in a day – and if only the colonial rulers of Ceylon too had thought in terms of capacity-building, the nation might still have been under the foreign yoke. So would have much most of the colonised, Third World nations.
-Sri Lanka Guardian