Sydney University lynches the truth and human rights

Open letter to Associate Professor Jake Lynch, University of Sydney

By H.L.D Mahindapala

Associate Professor Jake Lynch, BA, Dip Journalism Studies, PhD
Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
Room 121, Mackie Building (K01)
The University of Sydney, NSW, 2006

Dear Associate Professor,

(August 14, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Many thanks for your e-mail. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to reply the issues raised by me.

However, I must confess that I’m rather disappointed with your refusal to balance your forum with competing points of view, particularly when you have taken care to overload your seminar with only one point of view – the view that has been promoted aggressively by Dr. Sam, Pari, the egregious activist who had campaigned in defence of the Tamil Tigers as the saviours of the Tamils. The three gentlemen speakers on your panel too have appeared on common platforms with her and also signed petitions pushing the known political agenda of the Tamil separatist lobby linked to the Tamil Tigers.

This alliance of like-minded campaigners on single issues is a common feature of some of the so-called human rights activists and academics engaged in their pet political agendas. A good local example is that of Prof. Damien Kingsbury of Deakin University who was one of the chief mourners at the funeral of the Godfather of the Tigers in Australia, Thillai Jeyakumar. In fact, Jeyakumar was the recipient of the Mahamanithar (Great Man) award for services rendered from Australia to Velupillai Prabhakaran. Which academic or human rights activist would dare to deliver a funeral oration on the death of a recipient of the Iron Cross from Hitler? Knowing Jeyakumar’s background Prof. Kingsbury had gone along with him when he was living, of course, citing texts and principles enshrined in the canons of human rights.

Doesn’t this sound very much like the devil-worshippers quoting the Bible to justify their bloody rituals and dehumanizing perversions? As to how goody-goody pretenders to throne of human rights can espouse principles of human rights under the flag of a tiger snarling out of a ring of 33 bullets with two crossed gun, fixed with bayonets, in the background, is something that is beyond my comprehension. Isn’t this a sign of human rights being hijacked by devious partisans who will use any self-appointed do-gooders’ forum, any naïve ideologue, any misguided icon for their political purposes? Exasperated by the manipulation of NGOs by the LTTE, Mr. Asbjorn Eide, the Human Rights advisor to the Norwegian government told the Sub-Commission on Human Rights in Geneva (August 6, 1998): “What baffles me is that there are still international nongovernmentsl organization who lend their support to this movement (LTTE). They are then not supporting the Tamil cause but an utterly undemocratic movement unable to contemplate peace in any form.”

The common saying that birds of a feather flock together applies, without reservation, to ideological mates who gang up singing hosannas to some of the world’s worst political criminals. Of course, all this is done in the name of the high moral standards prescribed in international conventions, UN resolutions, and other human rights instrumentalities, including INGOs and NGOs housed in academia and other privatized research centres (a.k.a NGOs).

As you are aware, human rights have become the leading secular religion of the day. Consequently, the developing world and conflict zones are swarming with armies of unemployed blow-ins from abroad parading as human rights activists. These Western do-gooders have taken upon themselves, with missionary zeal, the task of teaching the natives how to conduct their affairs, including wars.

In the colonial era the Western do-gooders came dressed in the garb of holy men marketing the Divine gospel. Now they roam the land of the natives in four-wheelers that drive straight to the nearest watering hole, or to the latest diplomatic cocktail party in town, after a short stint at a seminar on human rights where the like-minded scratch each others back in an incestuous celebration of their questionable role as God’s gift to mankind. I’ve been with these NGO do-gooders. Their political pieties in backing the political criminals stink to high heaven. I’ve known them and seen how they go laughing all the way to the bank carrying Rs.1 million per month in Sri Lanka. Not bad, eh, for just posing as the panacea for the nagging evils of humanity?

So, if I may repeat, it is not surprising to find like-minded ideologues appearing on a forum coordinated by Dr. Sam Pari, who after the death of Jeyakumar, has taken on the role of God-mother of the Tamil Tigers running a mobile “transnational government” in airy-fairy land abroad with no fixed abode. The least that the seminar conducted under your auspices can do is to appear to be non-partisan.

You keep repeating that you don’t have to follow the previous precedents where the opposition had a chance to present their points of view. In other words, you are saying that your team must be allowed to play tennis with the net down for them to hit the ball only in the direction of the opposition’s court to make you look like champions of the game. Besides, you claim to be human rights champions standing up for freedom of expression. But you are behaving like Stalinists going all out to censor opposite points of view that undermine your one-sided version of human rights. Why are you so afraid of other points of view?

In your reply you mention the names of the three gentlemen billed to appear on the panel – Mr. Bruce Haig, the Hon John Dowd and Dr John Whitehall – describing them as “eminent humanitarians”. I take the point you make. But their record known to me confirms that they have swallowed hook, line and sinker the propaganda touted by the likes of Dr. Sam Pari. Besides, I do not think that being “eminent humanitarians” would help to free them from being partisans of a political agenda.

You have, no doubt, assembled a front of “eminent humanitarians” to grace your forum. By extension, you imply that these “eminent humanitarians” are in possession of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Like Dr. Sam Pari who believes that her hero, Prabhakaran is the “sole representative of the Tamils” you seem to accept the view that these “eminent humanitarians” should not be challenged because they alone are “the sole representatives of human rights”. You should be aware that the era in which Papal bulls were issued claiming infallibility is over. This kind of bulls issued by you won’t wash with others because the reality in the IDP camps is vastly different from what you and your partisans describe.

You also cite Martin Shaw, the genocide expert, who had condemned the IDP camps as “concentration camps”, as if he is the last word on IDP camps in Sri Lanka. Unlike you I do not accept his expertise in “genocide” as qualification to pass judgment on IDP centres in Sri Lanka. The use of this phrase indicates to me that he is merely repeating what others had said. I am no expert on “genocide” but I’ve visited the IDP camps and I can tell you bluntly that if you accept his authority, without examining the reality, then you should think again. As opposed to Shaw may I quote a great teacher from ancient India? He told his disciples: “Don’t accept tradition. Don’t accept authorities. Don’t even accept what I say. Come in and see for yourself (ehi passako, in Pali) and then if you are convinced you may accept it.” His name was Buddha. Which authority do you think is reasonable, pragmatic and closer to the truth?

According to your political calculations this exercise of yours is aimed at putting pressure on the Sri Lanka government by using the names of your “eminent humanitarians” (about whom I have more to say later). If you think that this is a smart move to make the Sri Lankan government surrender to your pressures may I say in all sincerity that you are living in another planet. Sri Lankan governments failed in the past because they relied on these gurus of human rights. None of their theories and formulas worked as viable instrument to restore normalcy and peace. Why? Because the agents of Tamil Tigers were manipulating human rights issues and the NGOs to serve their political agenda. The front men/women of the Tamil Tigers are skilled operators in using human rights issues to gain political mileage without, of course, respecting any of the issues on which they plead for separatist politics. It has come to a point when the dirtiest four-letter word in the political vocabulary of Sri Lanka is NGOs.

So what chances have you of influencing the Sri Lankan government and the public with your “eminent humanitarians” allied to Dr. Sam Pari – the mother of Australian Tiger cubs draped in the barbaric Tiger flag? If she is also the mother of Tamil human rights, then her hero, Prabhakaran, must be the father of human rights enshrined in the UN charter. In the eyes of the knowledgeable Australians of Sri Lankan origin, your alliance with her condemns your Center, rightly or wrongly, as a partner in the conspiracy to exploit human rights for the Tamil Tiger agenda.

Your partisan attitudes, your misrepresentation of the known facts, your refusal to let other points of view in your forum are the very reasons why the Sri Lankan government should disregard the whole lot of you as a bunch of misguided boomerang-benders. If you can’t tolerate the other point of view, if you can’t face the facts and if you are fixated on your righteousness why should anyone respect you, or bother to consider you as credible witnesses or problem-solvers? They see your Center, like the discredited NGOs in Sri Lanka, as a part of the problem and not its solution.

Undoubtedly, there is a head-on clash on the facts, figures and interpretations of the ground realities in the IDP camps. You rely on what you call your authorities and I rely on what I saw and what other independent witnesses, including Tamil expatriates from four continents, have seen. There can be no meeting point on this because the compulsions of your political agenda demand that the IDP centers be categorized as “concentration camps”. Other eye-witnesses, who had worked, lived and visited the camps dismiss your conclusions as obnoxious fixations of a prejudiced mind. Even the earlier critics have commended the improvements achieved within the last three months.

As opposed to that the do-gooders in your forum are rushing to condemn the conditions prevailing in IDPs camps. Since these do-gooders are from Australia it is fair to compare the Sri Lankan situation with that of the Aborigines. You must have seen The Australian of last week which pictured a family of 12 living in a house of three rooms. If after nearly three centuries Australia could not get the housing problem right for their native people – mark you, after throwing millions at the problem -- how do you expect the housing and other living conditions to be perfect for 300,000 IDPs within three months? Shouldn’t there be a sense of proportionality in passing judgments, knowing that Rome was not built in a day?

By and large politics and human rights are inextricably intertwined and only in very rare instances have I found the human rights activists performing that miraculous act of separating milk from water like the swans. Invariably they get tied with the politics of the day and they act naively believing that if the governments are forced to give into the demands of the armed groups, operating outside international humanitarian law and democratic norms, everything else will fall into place.

Take the case of Dr. Whitehall, an “eminent humanitarian”, according to your claim. He visited Vanni when it was under the iron fist of Velupillai Prabhakaran and, as far as I know, he had not seen (Surprise! Surprise!) the terrors and the horrors that were going on beneath the surface or heard what James Burns of The New York Times described as “the latest Pol Pot of Asia”. Dr. Whitehall was taken on a conducted tour of territory controlled by the Tamil “Pol Pot” who claims to have established a state of his own and he blames the Government of Sri Lanka for not providing what the Pol Potist state should have provided in the first place. Prabhakaran fought a 33-year-old war refusing to acknowledge the authority of the Sri Lankan state. He claimed that he is running a de facto/de jure (?) state of his own. Dr. Sam Pari and her followers were waving the flag of Tamil Terroristan confirming it as the national flag of the only state of the Tamils. So who’s responsibility is it to provide medicine, food, schooling, etc?

Dr, Whitehall, a pediatrician, returns from the Tamil Terroristan accused of abducting children by the UN and the international community and he had nothing to say about it. Take also the example of Iraq. According to UNICEF figures, 600,000 Iraqi children died from the naval cordon thrown round its shore to prevent essential goods flowing into Iraq. Australia too was a part of the “coalition of the willing”. It too has a share in this crime against humanity. In order to punish Saddam Hussein this “coalition of the willing” allowed 600,000 children to die under their “humanitarian laws”. Where was the voice of Dr. Whitehall, the “eminent humanitarian” who was also a pediatrician to boot? Shouldn’t Dr. Whitehall be in the forefront of – not one – but a hundred public meetings in every shopping centre in Australia with your centre holding his hand to demand justice for these children? Doesn’t his silence on this enormous and unacceptable crime against innocent children question the status of Dr, Whitehall being an “eminent humanitarian”? Isn’t Dr. Whitehall’s silence tantamount to him being a white-washer of crimes committed against children? I haven’t heard you quoting your “landmark” criteria against crimes like this either? Why?

On the contrary, Sri Lankan governments have provided essentials to its Tamil citizens even though the territory was held by Pol Potists who claimed that they were running a state of their own. Sri Lanka has been in the forefront of rescuing Tamil children. According to figures 80,000 children held as potential child soldiers Prabhakaran were saved as a result of the “greatest humanitarian operation” conducted by the Sri Lankan forces. Subsequently, Sri Lanka provided shelter, food and medicine in the IDP camps. In terms of accountability may I ask how many children have been saved by Dr. Whitehall with his studied silence? How many children do you also hope to save with your one-sided seminars? And how many children are watching TV and playing cricket today because of the action of the Sri Lankan government to rescue them from the grip of the Tamil Pol Pot?

The high moral ground you take in pointing a finger at the lapses in the IDP centers without looking at the big picture in which 80,000 children were saved, along with another 200,000 Tamil civilians is a remarkable achievement by any standards. The other option was to let the 280,000 remain in the clutches of the Tamil Tigers. According to your morality the Sri Lankan government has committed the heinous crimes of rescuing these civilians. No criticism would have come from Dr. Sam Pari and your Center if the Tamil civilians were left to suffer and perish in the clutches of Tamil Pol Pot. In short, Dr. Sam Pari and her cohorts have joined hands with your Center for saving the Tamil civilians and providing them alternative accommodation which I concede is not up to five-star hotel standards. Sorry about it. But have you ever paused to ask what the fate of these Tamil civilians would have been if the Sri Lankan forces failed to save the Tamil civilians? In that event Dr. Pari would have sold you the lie that the Tamil civilians had decided to stick with Prabhakaran out of a commitment to the cause. Mr. Eide is right: “What baffles the world is that there are still international non-governmental organizations who lend their support to this movement”.

Yes, there are many lapses in the IDP camps. However, your objection to the conditions in the camps implies that the Tamil civilians would have been better off if they stayed behind to boost the army of Prabhakaran. If this is not your position, your moral duty then is to evaluate the conditions from a non-political point of view and render whatever assistance you can to help the Tamils in the camps.

Besides, I must point out that your complaints are insignificant when compared to the manner in which the Allies exploited the poverty and misery of the German children and civilians at the end of World War II. Americans who had plenty were taking the Germans of all ages to bed in exchange for a packet of cigarettes. The German kids and the oldies were picking left-overs from the rubble of flattened Berlin and fire-bombed Dresden, if there was any left at all.

In a controversial book written by James Bacque General Dwight Eisenhower was accused of starving German POWs to death. Even Bacque’s critics conceded that the Allies ill-treated the German POWs violating the Geneva Conventions. One critic wrote: “There was widespread mistreatment of German prisoners in the spring and summer of 1945. Men were beaten, denied water, forced to live in open camps without shelter, given inadequate food rations and inadequate medical care. Their mail was withheld. In some cases prisoners made a "soup" of water and grass in order to deal with their hunger. Men did die needlessly and inexcusably. This must be confronted, and it is to Mr. Bacque's credit that he forces us to do so.”

It took more than five years for the Germans to lift themselves up from the relentless fire-bombing of the Allies in the last days of World War II. Obviously, you and your “eminent humanitarians” have very short memories when it comes to the crimes committed by the Western allies who now cry from roof tops about human rights violations of countries that had faced identical situations. Before passing judgments it is only fair that Sri Lanka should be judged by the way the pontiffs of morality treated their fellow-man under similar conditions.

Selecting hand-picked patches from contemporary times serves only the favoured political agenda of partisans and not universal human rights which belong to the whole of humanity. At the end of a 33-year-old war Sri Lanka annihilated the world’s deadliest terrorists with the minimum of casualties. How did the Allies end the 6-year-old World War II? And, more importantly, how did the Allies treat the Germans, Italians and Japanese they defeated?

Worst is yet to be told with some probing questions. Pray tell me, Professor, what was Dr. Whitehall doing when parents were forcing their under-aged daughters to get pregnant to avoid being recruited forcibly into the “baby brigades” of the Tamil Pol Pot’s ruthless army? Furthermore, what was Dr. Whitehall, who had visited the Tamil Terroristan, doing when Prabhakaran’s cadres were forcing to abort these pregnancies? The Pol Potist cadres forcibly got the children to jump from trees, or run marathons, or go through rigorous exercise to abort the babies, after feeding them with raw pineapples. Why didn’t your Centre activate its antennae to monitor and put pressure on the Australian government to stop using Australia as a base for the agents of these cruel beasts? Is it only after you caught the Tiger’s tail that you galvanized into action?

Take also the case of Mr. Bruce Haig, another Rip Van Winkle. As the former Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, he should have known these crimes like the back of his hand. Or is his partial knowledge limited only to the lapses in the current situation which, in any case, is far superior to girls being forced to jump from trees to get rid of their babies? In what part of Australia was the jurist, Hon. Dowd, when the Tamil Pol Pot was committing these crimes? Have these “eminent humanitarians” opened their eyes only after the Sri Lankan government rescued them from the hell of Prabhakaran and provided a haven of sorts, which has its quota infirmities, no doubt? Isn’t anything – just anything – better than what Dr. Pari’s hero, the Tamil Pol Pot, gave the persecuted Tamil children and elders?

According to official reports, Australia has been a centre for collecting funds for the Tamil Tigers. There are criminal charges instituted against Tamil agents of Prabhakaran for raising funds in Australia. According to Jane’s Weekly the total collection from the world-wide Tamil diaspora amounted to $300 million per annum. Yet Prabhakaran did not give a panadol or a slice of bread to the Tamils under his grip. All the essential care – from food to health -- was given by the demonized Sri Lankan government. So what was the great hero of Dr. Sam Pari doing with this money? Isn’t it his duty as the head of his Terroristan to provide the essentials for the Tamil civilians? Predictably, Dr. Whitehall returns to Queensland after the conducted tour of Terroristan and blames the Sri Lankan government.

Now where’s the logic in all this? Dr. Whitehall should know that you can blame a state only for neglecting its citizens. If they are citizens of Terroristan then the head of that state is solely responsible for the care of its citizens. So why was he blaming the Sri Lankan government? However, if he was a credible human rights activist he should have got his facts straight – you can’t serve human rights on lies – and acknowledged the positive role played by the Sri Lanka government in supplying essentials, free educations, health services and social and administrative support to a terrorist-held territory. UN officials have formally commended the Sri Lanka as the only government that provides supplies to a rebel-held territory. So was Dr. Whitehall ignorant of these facts? Or was he being naïve?

I concede unequivocally that the Jaffna Tamils – and not all the Tamil-speaking communities – have faced the brunt of violence from all actors involved in the north-south crisis in Sri Lanka. This includes the violence unleashed by the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the Sri Lankan forces. But the most horrendous crimes against the Jaffna Tamils were perpetrated by the so-called liberators, the LTTE. As you may know, since you claim to speak knowledgeably on Sri Lankan affairs, leading Tamil political activists concerned about the human rights conditions of the Jaffnatics, like V. Anandasangaree, the UN peace award winning president of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), and S. C. Chandrahasan, the son of the father of Jaffna Tamil separatism, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, are on record saying that Velupillai Prabhakaran has killed more Tamils than all the others put together.

Your knowledge of global politics and issues related to human rights would have also informed you that none of us live in a world where everyone of us take each step of the day strictly according to the black letter prescribed in the UN Charter. In short in an imperfect world and the best we can hope for is a choice not between good and evil but between evil and evil. Without going into in-depth analysis of this position may I draw a simple comparison from World War II: the choice was between the fire-bombing of Dresden or prolonging the war with Hitler leading to more casualties on both sides. The Allies opted to shorten the war and “Bomber” Harris was knighted and became “Sir Arthur”.

In the east President Truman went all out to shorten the war with fascist Japanese by dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima where 140,000 died on impact and 80,000 died of the after effects. The ideal is not to be placed in a position between either/or. Furthermore, you and I can cite authorities (including your “landmark” book) and moralize till thy kingdom come on the choices. But for the moment I would like you to take into consideration the living records of human rights as practiced by the acclaimed proponents of democracy, human rights and liberalism and relate it to Sri Lanka with the objective of arriving at a fair and reasonable judgment. Dresden and Hiroshima are a part of the political heritage of the Western champions of human rights. Why should they be excused for committing crimes against humanity and why should Sri Lanka be taken to task for saving lives?

I can go on in this vein as there are other issues arising from your reply but let me stop at this and await your reply.

Yours sincerely


H. L. D. Mahindapala

PS: After writing a “landmark book” (a self-promoting ad, I guess) on journalism I was wondering how you could refuse to give a fellow-journalist (if you consider me as one) an opportunity to participate in your forum. I’m not asking this as a favour. My argument is your argument: there is a moral duty to rise above the instinctive tendencies to use power unfairly against the less powerful. Long before you thought of it, John Rawls, the American philosopher, put it neatly when he said that the advantages must go to the disadvantaged. To apply it to the current situation, you hold the upper hand in running the forum. So what is your morality worth if those whom you disapprove are not given a voice? You accuse the Sri Lankan government of refusing to let journalists in. Aren’t you guilty of committing the same crime as the Sri Lankan government? Shouldn’t your conduct be above the government you condemn?

This makes me also wonder whether there is a moral center for your Center. It doesn’t look as if it can be located on any part of Sydney University. If it is not on this planet and had spun out of your grip into outer space will I be able to locate it even through the Hubble telescope?

Your excuse is to take the high moral ground by referring to principles that hardly leave the covers of the pages in which they are written. I prefer the more pragmatic and attainable goals with all their infirmities. For instance, any day I would, without hesitation, work with a government that had saved 80,000 children from a fate worse than death. I have no qualms about it because, as I see it, the conditions are improving daily. Of course, many things could be done to improve the conditions. But, as I said earlier, any condition is preferable to the horrors and terrors that prevailed under the Tamil Pol Pot. Accepting this as the norm and working towards incremental improvement is the most sensible and pragmatic moral position that anyone, with their feet on the ground, can accept. Under the prevailing circumstances there isn’t a better option. Any other false expectations would be worse than Waiting for God, don’t you think, Professor?
-Sri Lanka Guardian
Mandawala Hamuduruvo said...

Mr Mahindapala,
I congratulate you for your great article! "White Man's Burden" is still trying to colonize us, the "autochthons!" Their Human Rights are "their human rights" When nearly one million children die as a result of the US embargo, they keep silence as if nothing has happend! Amensty, HRW, now defunct Law Asia,and almost all so-called Human rights organizations are observing Silence when innocent Palestinians are killed and ethnic cleansing taking place.(by confiscating the identity card Palestinians are rendered to countryless situation!)These vociferous do-gooders observe silence!

Sybil said...

Human Rights, Freedom of Press etc issues in developing are very useful tools in Western countries. Firstly, they help take the attention off local economic and social woes which are rampant in Western countries. 'If the neighbour is bad then we must be better off' paradigm help politicians to keep the voters put up with their lot. Secondly, by pointing out poor neighbours problems and telling them what to do, reaffirms what they believe in - ie. they are always right irrespective of what they have done in the past.

It is time that people of developing countries realised this and take charge of their own destiny - just like what Sri Lanka has done recently.

jean-pierre said...

The Tamil diaspora and their fellow travelers are making life difficult for the Sri Lankan Tamils who are trying to forge a life of peaceful co-existence with the majority community. I appeal to you fellow Thamilians to cease and desist. WE Tamils living in Sri Lanka can manage our affairs without your interference. This Interference is camouflaged under the name "human rights"