What Went Wrong In Sri Lanka?

Looking Ahead: After the UNHRC Resolution Mandating the Office of the High Commissioner to Undertake a War Crimes Investigation in Sri Lanka

| by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Following article is based on the speech delivered by the author on 31 March 2014 accompanying the screening of No Fire Zone at the Student-Chapter of Amnesty International at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48864, USA

( April 1, 2014, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) A resolution has been passed at long last at the UN Human Rights Council on March 27, 2014 calling for war-crimes investigations in Sri Lanka. As David Cameron the Prime Minister of the UK has noted, this is a victory for the people of Sri Lanka who need to know the truth. This would not have been possible without the active support of Canada, the US and the UK, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navaneetham Pillai as well as of Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and many organizations which never let the world forget the large scale murder in Sri Lanka in January to May 2009.

First, before I speak, just a reminder on signing the important petitions from AI before you go. These are on human rights activists at risk, the disappeared Prageeth Eknaligoda, the five bright Tamil students from Trincomalee murdered by Sri Lankan forces between high school and college, and a more general one on Prevention of Terrorism Act detainees long after the war. As someone supported and helped by AI, I tell you that these petitions help. So please do sign before you go.

As a speaker I can claim a kind of neutrality. In 2006 the Tamil Tigers came after me and I had to flee my homeland. In 2011 again, I had to flee when the government issued an open warrant for my arrest because I wrote of the election rigging that I was witness to. I aver a firm opposition to anyone violating human rights, be it the government or the Tamil Tigers.

But this is a moment for looking forward, not gloating. We Tamils and Sinhalese of Sri Lanka come from great civilizations. We Tamils speak one of the oldest languages of the world and the Sinhalese possess a very old civilization credited with massive irrigation schemes. Although reluctant to concede, we were all largely Buddhists once. But many Tamils are Hindu today. Our ancient inscriptions bear similar writing. Tamil irrigation achievements in India are similar to those of the Sinhalese. We were joint heirs through the British to a vibrant democracy with a culture of dissent. But we messed it up.

The Tamil militancy in response to state discrimination and ethnic cleansing started with fighting government forces which most Tamils supported, and gradually deteriorated to tit-for-tat killings of civilians. At one end of the spectrum is liberation which we can all support and at the other end is terrorism as represented by the Tamil Tigers.

Living among militants we civilians see criminal militant activity daily but do not report it to the government which we know will resort to torture and extra-judicial killings. So our silence does not betoken support of terrorism as the government would have it in justifying its genocidal bombings we saw in January to May 2009.

This war has led to a collapse of our great civilizations on both sides. We Tamils have supported murder and drug peddling excusing them as a reaction to state violence. The Sinhalese have dismantled our democracy while engaging in large scale murder and mayhem, asserting Buddhist hegemony in their descent into necrophilia.

From the time of our Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake who went to Cambridge and is said to have managed with two suits, we have deteriorated …

Now into times when the President uses excessive jewelry and, as Transparency International reports, as Chairman of state institutions, he donates to his son’s charity and the son then uses that money for his father’s elections and a sports-car life style which cannot be supported on his parliamentarian’s salary.

As this UN resolution came up, as if in fulfillment of the saying “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad,” the government seemed indeed to go mad. A normal government would have made at least some token gestures to accommodate its Tamil citizenry. But this government flooded the North with troops who behaved like an army of occupation. They engaged in rape. Then instead of punishing the rapists they offered the women marriage to their Sinhalese rapists. It was demographic alteration camouflaged as justice. Just last month the army arrested prominent human rights activists, one a Roman Catholic priest. Their release without charge under intense publicity showed that the arrests were to terrorize. The passage of the UN resolution became assured as a result of this government’s blind, hateful madness.

The government says the footage you have seen is fake. But I have met and lived with people who lived through that hell. The lorry driver who transported my goods to the North in 2010 was a former Tiger bus driver. This is how we live in the midst of war. I on the Tiger hit list and a Tiger driver together. Of the many things he described over our 10 hour drive one thing he said is notable. He spoke of being unable to see anything for the flashes from the incessant bombs. Seeing this in the footage authenticated his account.

A university secretary held as a hostage by the Tigers testified to lining up for milk as directed by the government and being bombed by the government. On the left you see the scars of a person tortured.

Right bottom has a soldier playing with the nipple of a dead civilian as can be seen from the clothes. Tiger girls wore military uniforms. The point I make is from the blessed amulets the soldier is wearing on his wrist. He is a devout Buddhist engaging in necrophilia. This is the collapse of civilization I refer to.

Remember, no one kills women and babies or self-scars himself to make a fake film. In deference to your sensibilities I have not put up a clip of a soldier having sex with a corpse. Imagine the depravity of a man who does that and then gets his friend to film it. While Sinhalese civilisation seems to have gone bankrupt, we have to note that unlike us Tamils who have argued for our Tamil rights, it is generally the Sinhalese human rights workers who have consistently stood for universal rights, theirs and ours. Sinhalese redemption lies in that. It is from them that we have these pictures.

For a little bit of history now. As state and militant terrorism grew in the 1980s, Israel and Apartheid South Africa, badly short of friends, came forward to help Sri Lanka. Israel using Tamils in its arms trade trained us as well. According to Mossad agent Victor Ostrovesky, Israel trained both sides in the same camp in Israel at different times of the day! India, leaning towards the Soviets and suspicious of US designs in Sri Lanka moved in. Remember that at that time Israel and the Apartheid regime would have been perceived as US proxies by India. Seeing herself as a big power, India trained and armed Tamil militants. I have friends whose training with the PLO, India arranged. Those trained in Uttar Pradesh to this day are described in whispers as “UP Trained,” meaning a very tough guerrilla. When our militants devised a mine to take out a supposedly mine-resistant South African armored car used by Sri Lanka, India arranged for SWAPO guerrillas to be trained by the militants around New Delhi.

India has its own separatist problems. So Indian support for Tamils was carefully calibrated: enough support to force Sri Lanka to settle the problem, but not enough for Tamils to form a separate state. As such the Tamil Tigers were soon estranged from the Indian government.

When the India-calibrated war reached a stalemate, India forced an agreement on Sri Lanka for devolution and the Indian Peace Keeping Force, the IPKF, arrived in 1987. Soon the IPKF was fighting the Tigers. Ironically the Sri Lankan Army quietly helped the Tigers because Hindu India’s intrusion was resented by Buddhist Sinhalese. Sri Lanka then bought arms from Britain. The containers were not opened at customs but taken by rail and left in the jungles for the Tigers.

The IPKF left in 1990, deliberately leaving behind large caches of arms for the Tigers. The Tigers and the SLA now resumed fighting. The Tigers suicide bombed their two former benefactors, the Indian Prime Minister Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President Premadasa. The Tigers grew into a large organization making money from extortion, drugs and arms smuggling. They ruled larger swathes of Tamil area.

The government of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga enacted many reforms like signing on to the UN human rights conventions. But her reforms merely shut the stables after the horse had bolted. She too was targeted by the Tigers.

The war out of control, Kumaratunga agreed to a ceasefire. As she finished her final term in 2005, her successor Rajapakse seemed likely to lose the Tamil vote to Ranil Wickremasinghe who seemed less of a warmonger. Neither the Tigers nor the Rajapakses liked that. Through Tiran Alles whose father was a Tamil at St. Anthony’s Katugasthota, US embassy Wikileaks cables suggest, multimillions in dollars were paid to the Tigers to order Tamils not to vote. Rajapakse was elected. The Tigers misread Rakapakse as a friend whom they helped win. They moved to take over water schemes supplying Sinhalese settlers on Tamil lands. Rajapakse launched a war where he used the same tactics as the Tigers – attacking civilian supporters of the other side. That proved to be a winning stratagem.

India and the US helped Sri Lanka win. How far did they go? We do not know but the rest we have seen in the movie.

That 2005 election meddling was the Tamil Tigers’ undoing. They were banned as terrorists in many countries. Sri Lanka received logistical support from India and the West. It appears that India even manned radar systems on the battlefield. The US supplied satellite data helping the government interdict and destroy four important Tiger weapons supply ships.

The expectation of western and Indian allies was that Sri Lanka after winning the war would go for reconciliation. But the SLA has used it to strengthen Sinhalese hegemony.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal has found the US and the UK complicit in genocide. The UK and the US actively pushing for the UNHRC resolution I think betrays their own sense of betrayal by their ally Rajapakse.

The Tribunal’s hint of Indian guilt might explain why India panicked and abstained from the HRC vote after voting for the resolutions of 2012 and 2013.

To everyone’s surprise India pushed at the HRC for key amendments that weakened the resolution last week. India asked for and got recognition of the 17th amendment that she had imposed on Sri Lanka in 1987. But she seemed to have buckled down to Sri Lanka’s threat to inquire into IPKF atrocities if there are war crime inquiries. India therefore pushed for an amendment to limit inquiries to a period excluding her 1987-90 IPKF debacle, her greatest foreign policy failure. Rather surprisingly India voted for Pakistan’s failed amendment to remove the key paragraph 10 calling for an international inquiry.
The final vote tally showed the list of countries that are Sri Lanka’s friends – the unsavoury likes of Pakistan, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Cuba. It is indeed sad that democratic India was unable to uphold her duty to maintain a minimum world order through human rights protections for ordinary citizens.

What now? If the inquiries are done right, the Sri Lankan polity will be purged of all those who supported terror to recover the old Sri Lanka we all love. But after all this hatred and murder, I do not know if a united Sri Lanka is possible any more. The best alternative to separation that we can realistically hope for is a federal model.

Sri Lanka’s friends on the Security Council, Russia and China, have no veto over the HRC. They can only block any attempt to take the murderers to the Rome Tribunal.

If Sri Lanka does not cooperate, the accused can have travel bans and their accounts can be frozen. There can be sanctions against Sri Lanka. India’s role can be examined.

The accused presently have impunity through the immunity they have in government and from their plum diplomatic postings in embassies and the UN they received as reward for the butchery of innocents.

If found guilty, they cannot survive except by running back to Sri Lanka – and even that protection will not last after this government goes out of office as it surely will one day.

What then of the brutal Tamil Tiger leaders who according to UN analyses were also guilty of war crimes? Do they have impunity through their own cold-blooded murder after they surrendered with white flags as arranged by the UN, Norway and Times Journalist, the late Marie Colvin?

That is unfortunately so. But …

… recall the wise words of Louise Arbour of the International Crisis Group who pushed hard for this resolution – that this inquiry will deflate the romanticisation of the Tigers among us Tamils.

On that note I say

“Thank you!” to all those who helped this day dawn.