“Every powerful country should realize the difficulty in defeating terrorism…What we faced was a more serious and brutal challenge than they ever faced. The difference between them and us was that we instructed the security forces to give the highest priority to protect the lives of civilians.
“Those powerful countries took 50 to 100 years for reconciliation after civil wars. We have to ask the world, whether there is any country that has progressed so much on the path of reconciliation in just four years.”
These words of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his address to the nation on the 66th anniversary of Independence, sums up the reality of the post-conflict situation in Sri Lanka. It is a telling rejoinder to those in haste to dictate terms of accountability and reconciliation to the Sri Lankan state and people.
Not shying away from the key issue facing Sri Lanka in the coming weeks, the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, he saw the use of information provided by those committed to separatism and defeated by the people, to level charges of war crimes and other alleged offences against Sri Lanka as a grave offence.
“I see the attempts to level charges of war crimes against us in Geneva today as the triumph of those who are not in favor of peace. This seeks to drive fear into people and nations committed to peace and working to safeguard a country’s independence and freedom. These are not founded on peace, fair play or justice,” he said.
Referring to the North that is the focus of attention from those interested in the pursuit of a questionable agenda on how terrorism was defeated in this country, President Rajapaksa said: “It is necessary for the people in the North to be aware that certain foreign forces are attempting to use them as human shields. The invaders always came to our country shedding oceans of crocodile tears. They interfered in these countries putting forward claims to protect human rights, establish democracy and the rule of law.”
There was a record of home truths about the situation in this country when terrorism held sway in the North and East, that had to be described by President Rajapaksa, considering the concerted efforts to mislead the world about the actual struggle that Sri Lanka, which is home to the Tamil people too, had gone through to defeat terrorism and bring peace to the land and people. “When we defeated terrorism and won freedom for the people in the South, we said that it was our responsibility to make it a greater victory for the people in the North…Nobody came forward to give the freedom to the people of the North that they enjoy today. When their human rights were violated, there was nobody to restore them. Only we were concerned about it. Nobody raised the issue of human rights when the former opposition leader Amirthalingam, Sam Thambimuttu, Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and Rajiv Gandhi of India were assassinated.
- Before 2009, every family in the North had to provide a member to the LTTE. Thousands of children of school going age were forcefully recruited to the LTTE.
- The children returning home from school were forcefully dragged away to the LTTE training camps.
- The LTTE grabbed the subsidies sent from the South to North. LTTE even levied a tax on celebrations held for a girl’s attainment of age. The entire family was not allowed to leave Kilinochchi together for any purpose.
- On pay day, the LTTE waited near the Kachcheriya to grab a portion of government employees’ monthly salary. They also forcibly used Northern civilians to build bunkers.
“Where did these people come in search of their freedom? They came to the midst of Sinhala community. Places such as Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya, Wellawatte, Modara and Mattakkuliya in and along the suburbs were full of the people who came in search of peace.
If we did not eradicate terrorism in 2009, children in the North could not have attended school or enter the universities as freely as they do today, when people in the North enjoy wide ranging freedom. You can see this when you visit the North.
“Three decades of suffering ended on May 19, 2009. Since then there has been no bomb explosion or shooting by terrorists. And no white flags of mourning in our villages”, the President said.
This is a record that is most relevant to any attempts at achieving reconciliation with restorative justice at the end of three decades of terrible brutality, carried out in the name of the Tamil people, and hugely suffered by them.
It is with apparent ignorance or deliberate blindness of such reality that Nisha Desai Biswal, the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the USA, made her observations on the build up to Geneva during her recent visit to Sri Lanka. She did carry out the now ritual visit to the North and met the regulars from whom material suitable for the US agenda could be obtained and underscored. There was also the added impact of the resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council calling for an independent international investigation on issues of accountability and reconciliation, which was also echoed by the Bishop of Jaffna, Rt. Rev. Thomas Savundaranayagam, possibly with a gush of Christian charity that has little relevance to Christian teaching on love and forgiveness.
It was with such added inputs, apart from the brief she had already brought from Washington, that Biswal told the media in Colombo of a “lack of progress” on these issues, stating that patience was wearing thin in the international community with the pace of the Sri Lankan Government’s progress on addressing reconciliation, democratic governance, justice and accountability in the country. She promised a third US resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva in March this year.
There is no question that much remains to be done in Sri Lanka, especially on issues of accountability and reconciliation. But these are the very areas being addressed by action taken to implement the National Action Plan on recommendations of the LLRC. It was most surprising that Biswal had to make this statement after being briefed on this by Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, only a few days prior at Washington, on progress on the LLRC implementation.
Talk of such impatience by the “international community” about issues that have developed through a thirty year long battle against terrorism, and confining such special interest to the final stages of the battle to defeat LTTE terrorism, does not give any impression of a genuine desire to find proper reconciliation in the spirit of restorative justice, that is the spirit of the LLRC recommendations. The attitude of the US and its allies on this matter becomes even more questionable, and clearly anti-Sri Lankan, when the allegations made are largely based on what has been said by the pro-LTTE – i.e. – pro-terrorist – Tamil lobbies still functioning in the West, that claim to be the “Tamil Diaspora”. These are the unquestioned representatives of the separatist terrorist organization – the LTTE – that carried out all the brutality in Sri Lanka, and were the cause of so much tragedy, pain and suffering among the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.
The decision of the US to proceed with this line of antagonism towards Sri Lanka, despite some kind words thrown in by Biswal that the next Geneva resolution “will be carried out in the spirit of friendship with the Sri Lankan people… as we see Asia taking on a leading role in the global economy, we don’t want to see Sri Lanka left behind,” is hardly the stuff of genuine interest in the resolution of issues that can lead to actual reconciliation, and not plunge this country into the chaos that Lalith Weeratunga warned of, in Washington.
This raises again the issue of what is meant by the “international community” when referred to by Biswal and those acting in concert with her. There is little doubt this refers to some countries with strong links to the US and UK, which are largely economic and political – with neo-liberal policies and little regard to the wider issues of economic justice and fair play that also matter in human rights and democracy. It is necessary to state here that a much larger community of nations and peoples is certainly lacking in patience, especially with the US and its principal ally the UK, on their duplicity on matters that affect human rights such as the use of drone attacks that continue to kill civilians in several countries. There is also little patience in the world, or even a readiness to look with any sympathy, at how these countries have caused chaos in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen in their armed intrusions and moves to battle terrorism or establish democracy.
One wonders how Nisha Biswal could have undisturbed sleep at the numbers being killed daily in Iraq – 20 more deaths were reported in Baghdad as this is being written and the total last month in Iraq was more than 700 - long after Obama pulled out the US troops who went there for a regime change and establish democracy, and unleashed sectarianism instead. How is the concern of the US for democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, accountability and free movement of people displayed, when it refuses to admit the military coup that overthrew the elected president of Egypt, and accepts the result of a referendum that gave more than 98% (a figure well related to polls under dictatorships) to a constitution drafted by its current military rulers, and how it can be silent about the same military ruler now seeking election as president?
There is obviously something other than democracy and human rights that interest the US, UK and other political forces that demonstrate a re-emergent colonialism in an economic era that is different to the former colonialism of the post-industrial revolution. The name of Edward Snowden certainly haunts these purveyors of the new colonialism, as evidenced by the poor efforts to divert focus on him by Barak Obama. These are not the forces of democracy, justice and human rights. Whether they act in the UNHRC in Geneva or the World Economic Forum at Davos, these are powers that value their economic and military clout, more than the Rights of Man in a world much larger than their own definition of the “international community”.