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Ivory Coast President stands trial by ICC

Sri Lanka is next in line

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(December 02, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Former President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, is now on trial at the ICC (International Criminal Court) facing four charges of crimes against humanity committed by his camp as recently as between December 2010 and April 2011 since he refused to conced victory to his contender in November 2010 presidential elections. The charges against the President and his camp are murder, rape,sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts.

"The world is not blind to the fact that media and humanitarian NGOs were barred from the theatre of war in the name of that euphemism `national security' since war intensified."
Gbagbo ruled over the African state for 10 years and the charges the ICC is currently bringing against him and five others relate only to election violence since November 2010. However his rule was beset with `economic crimes' such as looting, armed robbery and embezzlement and is being investigated by Ivorian justice officials.

A noteworthy and unique position the state has is that it is not accepted by the ICC am0ong its 192 members but Ivorian officials willingly handed him over to the ICC when requested to do so by the ICC prosecutor.

Therefore the development in Ivory Coast is a warning signal to Sri Lanka and it cannot ignore international eyes and particularly the UN whose actions are unpredictable and answerable to all its member states. At one point UN appeared to be pussyfooting on the issue of war crimes during the latter stages of the three decade oldwar and Tamils were vexed by its lethargy. The relationship between the UN and ICC are intertwined and of this fact there is no dispute.

By May 2012 Sri Lanka could become the ninth country to face ICC when UN decides on the course of action to take against it, should the evidence gathered so far for war crimes were proved to be bona fide. None other than the UN Secretary General, the ultimate authority, Ban-Ki-Moon's presentation of report on Sri Lanka's conduct of the war would be carefully scrutinised along with independent INGO reports.

Countries which the ICC launched in 2002 is conducting investigations, charging leaders or have already been charged and brought to trial are Uganda, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur, Libya, Kenya and Ivory Coast and Serbia.

The UN and the international community eagerly await the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) report, a domestic fact finding mechanism, instigated by the government in the wake of damning evidence emerging from war witnesses and victims of torture and families of those disappeared between 2008 and 2009 when war intensified.

Although the LLRC has forwarded its report to the President, its mandate stipulated by the President does not require it to be made public.

INGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Internatinal Crisis Group have raised serious concerns over LLRC's transparency and accountability and there is grave suspicion it is an eye-wash and a futile exercise in providing redress to war victims. 

Defence Secretary and the President's brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has gone on record as saying that Sri Lanka is quite capable of dealing with any misconduct of its security forces during the war internally and that it is not a matter for outsiders. It is a fact that Sri Lanka is a member of the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) and in May 2012 it is the turn of Sri Lanka to be reviewed under UNHRC's Universal Periodic Review which occurs every four years for its 192 member states.

Confounding the government's attempt to exonerate itself from the serious allegation infamously known as the White Flag Case where surrendering civilians were ordered by Gotabhaya to be shot point blank is the further court sentencing of the former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka who led the security forces in vanquishing the LTTE thereby ending over three decades of terrorism for three years. General Fonseka is purported to have disclosed to a journalist that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa gave orders to shoot surrendering civilians in Wanni.

His sin was daring to contest President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2010 presidential elections. Further he is on trumped up charges for engaging his relative in procuring arms from Hicorp, a US arms trader. Ironically it is the President's brother and Defence Secretary, a US citizen, Gotabhaya who had direct dealings with Hicorp.

Too many cans of worms are crawling out of the cupboard that even Bell Pottinger, the upmarket and horribly expensive advertising firm hired by the government, cannot unleash its copywriters to erase the indelible stain on the government's shady deals.

The world is not blind to the fact that media and humanitarian NGOs were barred from the theatre of war in the name of that euphemism `national security' since war intensified.

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.

The INGOs (International Non-governmental Organisations) which are largely funded by philanthropists and businesses and to some extent by governments are compelled to show results for grants received before the financial year ends in March 2012. Hence they are busy wrapping up reports gathering intelligence, revisiting war zones and in the case of Sri Lanka giving the final touch to the largest international investigation in its history into the deaths of well over 40,000 civilians in Wanni and the conduct of both the LTTE, the Tamil separatist guerrillas fighting for a traditional homeland in the North and East for the ethnic Tamils perceived to be victimised by the majority Sinhala government, and the government in fighting to a finish, a bloody and merciless ethnic war which lasted for well over three decades.

The West failed to intervene in the massacre of Tamil civilians since it was largely reeling from Islamic militancy since the nineties but mostly it also provided arms, ammunition and intelligence along with Sri Lanka's neighbours India and Pakistan and sympathisers Russia and China.

On the other hand Tamil refugees who began their exodus since the bloody ethnic riots of July 1983 have grown in significant numbers to swing votes for western political parties and hence part of its concern other than humanitarian is attributed to the fact their votes are crucial and they it should be seen to be showing sympathy towards ethnic Tamils still living in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has an uphill task to placate the international community that its war on Tamil separatist rebels was justified and the massacre of over 40,000 civilians earned itself a reputation as ending terrorism on its own soil which super powers such as the US and UK should emulate.

The frogs at Diyawanna Oya should swim out of the river and see for themselves there is a whole universe out there and take Ivory Coast as a warning signal.

(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 pearltheva@hotmail.com)

Sources taken from
1. BBC News
2. UNHRC website

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