Clutching the last straw

Govt. has a hope in hell thwarting UN probe into war crimes

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(September 17, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) was created through the General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251 replacing the Human Rights Commission which proved ineffective and by 2011 had reviewed all 192 member states under Universal Periodic Review. Each state will be reviewed every four years and Sri Lanka’s second session of the review is due in May 2012 since it was first reviewed in 2008. Therefore the UNSG commissioned report presented to the Council to make its own decision should be taken seriously as a step towards making the State accountable to its alleged war crimes and if found guilty take appropriate action against the State to ensure these are addressed and justice meted out.

A definite victim of rape this writer met in Oxford early this year is a 19 year old girl of low IQ who was consistently raped by several soldiers for 18 months and as a result she gave birth to a baby girl.
It is under this resolution 60/251 that UNHRC is given wide powers to charge States accused of war crimes before any court of law. The UNSG commissioned report on Sri Lanka has serious allegations of violations of human rights according to international guidelines pertaining to the conduct of war from both the LTTE and the government but the government’s atrocities far exceeds those of the LTTE.

During the current session of the UNHRC running from September 12 until September 30, Sri Lanka was taken up on September 15. The outcome of this session will no doubt be added to the review due in May 2012.

The death knell for the present government is ringing loud and clear. War crimes whether committed in the name of sovereignty or territorial integrity do not mitigate the government in the eyes of the international community; particularly not since the West had to deal with terrorism at its doorstep. No more can the West condone nor give leeway that militancy borne out of decades of subjugating minority populace could earn kudos for a nationalistic outlook.

UNSG Ban Ki Moon was seen as pussyfooting on the issue of Sri Lanka’s war crimes but his best diplomatic checkmate vis-a-vis Sri Lanka had been presenting the Darusman Report to the UNHRC and allowing it to decide on its own will. The conduct of the government leading to this report has been denials of civilian casualties, barring media and humanitarian NGOs in conducting a secret war against not just the LTTE but innocent civilians thus fuelling speculations, consistently denying access to war zones by the UN, foreign state dignitaries and watchdogs from human rights groups.

When the euphoria of victory celebrations including the parading of weapons and war machines used in this horrendous war subsided the government set up the showcase LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) to exonerate itself from the mounting evidence of serious violations of human rights in Wanni.

The Sri Lankan contingency which attended the UNHRC meet argued and kept its mantra that it wiped out terrorism from its soil which other countries should emulate. It also showed cause that it set up the LLRC to counter allegations of human rights violations such as war crimes which included killing surrendering civilians and LTTE carrying white flags. But the mandate ofthe LLRC falls short of accounting for war crimes and instead it has been instructed to probe into government conduct from 2002 until May 2009 and find ways to peace and reconciliation rather than admitting its security forces acted with impunity and circumvented the code of conduct accepted by the UN and international laws during times of conflict.

It is pertinent to note here that Sri Lanka’s conduct of the war and its blatant disregard for human rights parallels if not supersedes that of countries like Congo, Ivory Coast and the Arab nations now in revolt against their elected governments. Both the DRC and Ivory Coast have been hauled up before the UN for its war crimes atrocities. Of these facts there is no doubt. Enough testimonies and evidence are available for the UN to charge Sri Lankan government with war crimes.

And there are first-hand witnesses among the 300,000 surviving Tamil civilians who would vouch for the fact that the government security forces wilfully bombed and sprayed noxious gases on civilians asked to converge in safe zones. That no-go areas such as hospitals and schools were carpet bombed. That women taken to detention camps were systematically raped by sex-starved soldiers.

A definite victim of rape this writer met in Oxford early this year is a 19 year old girl of low IQ who was consistently raped by several soldiers for 18 months and as a result she gave birth to a baby girl. This writer saw the scars of cigarette burns on her private parts and the evidence she gave to the psychiatrist, her vacuous and blank expression, her apathy towards her own baby and last but not least her frightening scream when she saw a bell boy in uniform and running for her dear life from the hospital lift is proof soldiers acted worse than animals towards Tamil women in detention camps.

Colombo based media including the independent ones were fed government propaganda in the absence of independent verification due to the total ban on the media inside Wanni. Successive governments chose to muzzle media whenever they set out to wage war on the LTTE or when it went on an all-out offensive to crush Tamil militancy. Starting from the July pogrom of 1983 when Tamils were driven out of their homes in their thousands in the south where they had been living for decades amicably with the Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays and Burghers, the ploy of the governments had been to silence the media. The fact more than 36 media workers were killed and not one of their perpetrators brought to justice places Sri Lanka on the top list for endangering the lives of honest journalists who want to tell it as it is.

The witch hunt for independent journalists starting from Richard de Soysa in 1990 when he was brutally dragged out of his house in broad daylight by uniformed men believed to be government security forces and shot point blank on the beaches of Colombo is still ongoing. His crime was sending videotapes of JVP members massacred in their thousands by Black Cats (headed by DIG Udugampola) of the Premadasa Government in ‘89/90 to a third world news agency.

Toe the government line or else face consequences is the unwritten message for independent journalists. Hence the government-sided slant in reporting from the otherwise independent media.

No more can the government sit pretty and pretend all is well. No more can it hide its heinous war crimes behind show-case development of ports ,highways and Colombo City. The truth will come out not in the distant future and it had better prepare itself for a complete regime change or even a UN mediated green zone to protect the rights of every citizen of this country.

Source: UN homepage website

(The writer is Asia Pacific Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, California and a print journalist for 21 years. She can be reached at

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