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White-washing war crimes

Dorchester is harbouring a suspect war criminal and British taxpayer is footing his bills

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(December 02, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) White-washing war crimes with the lame-duck of a commission, namely LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) and building post war economy with the two Asian powers China and India who also contributed towards the war victory over the LTTE by supplying arms and ammunition and military surveillance is nothing new in the bloody history against Tamils by governments since 1958.

As the President is being hounded in the UK during his visit to ostensibly address Oxford Union, it is incumbent on the Tamil diaspora not to rock the boat by indicting him at this juncture in courts. Imagine the backlash against Tamils in the South and also in the rest of the island should the President is indeed detained. Sri Lankan judiciary is utterly flawed and the private fiefdom of the President; British justice could be seen to be slow but at least it will deliver. Most importantly much tact and diplomacy is needed to address the war crimes at the international level with as much evidence as possible without being impulsive and show knee-jerk responses.

Something that struck me as quite bizarre was the advice given to me by the immigration officer who granted me political asylum in 2001. He said, “Don’t worry. You will be given refugee status but please do not engage in politics since Britain has bilateral trade agreement with Sri Lanka.”

Trade obviously takes precedence over human rights. On the other hand the Tamil diaspora need to think judiciously and think far ahead of the repercussions to their brethren still living in Sri Lanka. Further bloodshed needs to be avoided at all costs.

Channel 4 is systematically providing increased evidence of torture, rape and murder of civilians by the security forces. Witnesses, government servants and medical staff are coming out with fresh evidence although some are down-playing the horrors of the war for fear of reprisals.

Foreign media organisations and human rights NGOs can speak for us but they should also not jeopardize the lives of Tamils still living in Sri Lanka in their pursuit to get a good scoop. They may win prestigious awards for their bravery but they also have a right to protect their local aides and correspondents. When Marie Colvin of the Times was attacked by the security forces in 2001 one of her Sri Lankan guides was killed. Colvin received wide coverage but the poor guide’s name was not even mentioned.

The 14 aid workers killed from the French NGO were not foreigners. They were Sri Lankans. Nimalarajan, the BBC correspondent was killed in 2000 while the government would not dare lay a finger on foreign correspondents. Chris Morris of the BBC was ordered to leave and his visa not renewed and he should thank his lucky stars he did not suffer the same fate as Nimalarajan.

In all the countries which are at war such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Phillipines the most number of journalists an NGO activists killed are locals. As ever, lives in the developing world are far less important than those in the developed world and this should never be disputed.

The pressure to account for the legitimacy of conducting the military offensive on the fleeing civilians should be exerted at international level and this is being done but one should not be too hasty and take the law into their own hands which could be counter-productive. The majority Sinhala populace venerate their leader for vanquishing the LTTE and many western countries and other players who supported the government would argue that the government acted in the national interest in intensifying military efforts to wipe out the LTTE.

Behind all the façade of the 18 month long celebration the President cannot ignore international outcry particularly when the Tamil refugees who were forced to flee and whom the government thought were good riddance are united in their efforts to make it accountable for war crimes. Some £400,000 was collected from the diaspora to remember War Heroes Day in UK last week.

Every Tamil living in the North and East lost at least one member of their family or relative to say the least during the 30 years of war. Their mourning is real and memories indelibly etched in their minds and passed onto to their next generations.

President Rajapakse has a long road ahead of him and despite his toothpaste grin and larger than life cut-outs on every hoarding he is not a man who sleeps peacefully and even Dorchester’s plush comforts cannot shake of his morbid fear for his future lurking in every corner.

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