Granting the Sri Lankan government legitimacy like this is grotesque

In November a British delegation including the Queen is set to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, hosted and chaired by the accused government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. If Britain wants to live up to its self-proclaimed commitment to human rights, then it should move quickly to cancel its delegation to Colombo.

Emanuel Stoakes is a freelance journalist based in New Zealand

Four years ago some of the worst war crimes in recent history allegedly occurred in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka as the island nation’s decades-long civil war entered its final stages.

Investigations by authoritative sources point to a series of wartime abuses from that period which cumulatively amounted to, in the assessment of a UN panel of experts, “a grave assault on the entire regime of international law”.

A compelling body of evidence indicates that hospitals were repeatedly and systematically shelled by the Sri Lankan army, according to one account, 35 times; that extra-judicial killings, rapes, horrific mutilations  and torture occurred.

The most disturbing and well-established allegation is that the Sri Lankan army ferociously shelled Government-declared “no fire zones where non-combatants were told to take refuge, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths.

These claims are supported by material detailed in the reports of leading human rights groups, the UN and the international media.

To this day, however, the accused Rajapaksa administration and its representatives have angrily denied all allegations of wrongdoing, often making unsubstantiated claims of an international conspiracy against their country.

Despite the seriousness of the charges outlined above, in November a British delegation including the Queen is set to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, hosted and chaired by the accused government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In recent days the Queen has made the news as she signed the new charter of the Commonwealth, which affirmed the intergovernmental organisation’s commitment to human rights and democracy in a ceremony that was attended by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner.

Granting Sri Lanka the legitimacy of playing host to the CHOGM later this year- especially given the provisions of the charter- is a move that has been described by Amnesty International as “absurd”, and by David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary at the time of the violence, as “grotesque”.

These are certainly fair assessments.

No member of the Sri Lankan political or military elite has been made accountable for their role in the alleged crimes of 2009. The only high-ranking figure to be prosecuted for war-related offences under Sri Lankan law has been former general Sarath Fonseka, whose “crime” was to tell a newspaper that he had been informed that the defence secretary had ordered atrocities.

Mr Fonseka was sentenced to three years in jail in 2011 for “spreading rumours and causing public disorder”.

Meanwhile, Colombo continues to resist calls for an independent international investigation and appears as utterly reluctant as ever to deal meaningfully with the extremely serious charges it faces.

If Britain wants to live up to its self-proclaimed commitment to human rights, then it should move quickly to cancel its delegation to Colombo and alter several aspects of its policies toward Sri Lanka.

Arms sales to the Rajapaksa government, recently revealed to be permitted once again after a brief hiatus, should be immediately halted and the UK’s policy toward asylum seekers, many of whom appear to have been returned to Sri Lanka to face torture and rape, should be immediately reviewed.

Ultimately, the UK and the international community as a whole should pressure Colombo to accept an international investigation into the events of 2009.

If this does not occur, the prospects for accountability, reconciliation or peace between the ethnic communities divided by the civil war looks set to remain ominously grim.

10 Responses to “Granting the Sri Lankan government legitimacy like this is grotesque”

  1. laddu

    Most of the Tamil people still live among Sinhala people.It was ltte who wanted war.They not only killed innocent Sinhala people but also killed Tamils to achieve a separate country.Where were these reporters then?The Tamils who live outside Sri lanka still provide money in the hope that they would be able to start war again and kill their own.So who is planing for peace?When someone come towards you with a weapon threatening to kill you ,are you sure you would be interested in protecting your enemy’s human rights ? Please be kind enough to show the world one such example from your so called ‘developed’ world Mr.emanuel

  2. JoeLad

    Most of the Tamil people living amongst the good Sinhalese neighbours and carrying on their businesses were mauled by periodic pogroms with govt. connivance to eliminate them for reasons best known to the politicians. Paul Seighart in his report “Sri Lanka: A mounting tragedy of errors” said “All these are characteristics of a situation that is getting worse rather than better. Communal riots in which Tamils are killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless are no longer isolated episodes; they are beginning to become a pernicious habit” adding “One of the most striking features of the episodes of communal violence has been the lack of retaliation by Tamils against the Sinhalese in their midst…with the result that virtually all the victims on each of these occasions have been Tamils”.

    That is why the some Tamils unable to withstand repeated assaultrs took the law into their hands to protect themselves against state tyranny just like Nelson Mandela of South Africa or Menachi Begin of Israel; once branded as terrorists, to become leaders of their country. Let us not talk ad infinitum of the effect but also of the cause.

  3. malla

    Just like many others who have recently discovered an interest in SL, the writer seems to have no clue of the atrocities the LTTE carried out for nearly 30 years. The fact that that the SL government is a democratically elected entity by almost 21 million ppl (including Tamils) is ignored. As is the fact that no fire zones have to be accepted by both sides. Gaddafi’s violent death was hailed as democracy in the West, so one must wonder why there is such an interest in a tiny nation when for 30 years no one gave a damn about their suffering!

  4. Emanuel Stoakes

    Sorry, you’re assuming (well, actually, no you stated rhetorically as if was a fact) that I have just discovered an interest in SL, and that I have no idea how utterly brutal the LTTE were. I am, in fact, very aware of their various crimes and abuses- i.e. suicide bombings, killing civilians en masse, their own people, PM of India, etc. and much more besides… Unless you imagine that you have psychic powers then you have no idea about what I think, or how long I have been following this issue.

    Let’s address a few of your other points:

    -Why would I mention the fact that SL is a democracy in a piece about human rights? How is that relevant to the piece- a short one, c. 600 words- which is intended to focus on urgent issues concerned with unaddressed atrocities?

    -The aspect to the NFZ issue that appears to aggrieve you so much is absurdly unimportant in comparison to the larger issue that you appear to want to ignore- i.e. that thousands of people were very likely shelled to death in one of the most execrable war crimes of the 21st century. The LTTE’s ‘agreement’ was more tacit than official- and nobody said “okay, we’re happy to get bombed”, did they? So what is your point here? It seems like you are clutching at straws to me.

    I am frequently amazed, frankly, at the desperation with which people who apparently want to defend the indefensible will go to find a way to assert peripheral issues in order to efface urgent ones, esp. those that are painful to acknowledge. Although, you haven’t yet suggested that this article is part of a huge Tamil Tiger-funded conspiracy, which is what myself and others usually get subjected to- I’m grateful to be spared that. But there you go, cognitive dissonance is a very powerful thing.

    Finally: “Gaddafi’s violent death was hailed as democracy in the West”, although this statement technically makes no sense, I think I understand what you are getting at. It’s a common theme. Somehow all the westerners who write about war crimes committed by SL are somehow hypocrites who suddenly won’t criticise their own countries. In my case, that allegation can’t be substantiated as I have criticised UK, US etc. foreign policy quite explicitly in print, just google me.

    Can I ask you a question, Malla- do you accept that no matter how bad the LTTE were- and given that you now know I criticise my government as much (in fact, more) than Sri Lanka- that bombing hospitals, food distribution lines, no fire zones and so on, killing tens of thousands of people, including childten are disgusting criminal actions and worthy of criticism- or not? Do the means justify the end- or do you just think none of this happened at all? I’m genuinely interested.

  5. Emanuel Stoakes

    I was born in 1983, so I couldn’t really have covered the beginning of the war, surprisingly enough. Others from the west did, actually. Your narrative about how the violence started is certainly tendentious, but let’s leave that alone for a moment. “The Tamils who live outside Sri lanka still provide money in the hope that they would be able to start war again and kill their own”- please provide some evidence, thanks. “When someone come towards you with a weapon threatening to kill you ,are you sure you would be interested in protecting your enemy’s human rights?” Even a child could discern the fundamental dishonesty of that scenario- and accurately infer why such a comforting, reductive travesty would be proffered in order to justify something that bears virtually no comparison to it. In any case your question, can be easily answered with a simple observation: bombing hospitals, supply lines, the NFZ full of civilians is not an act of self-defence, it is a war crime. That amounts to going and killing the family of the enemy that threatened you- and attacking his home, his places of refuge where his friends live, etc. Is that so hard to see? This is all extremely obvious to me at least.

    “Please be kind enough to show the world one such example from your so called ‘developed’ world Mr.emanuel.” Such a rejoinder has become tediously familiar. Insinuating hypocrisy is another great way to avoid looking at the issue at hand. In any case for my part, such a charge doesn’t stick as I frequently, quite openly and regularly criticise the inhumanity and unlawfulness of western foreign policy, including its multitude of war crimes, many of which have shamefully gone unpunished. Read some of my other articles. I actually make this point quite openly in an article I wrote in the Independent regarding Sri Lanka a while back.

    Anyway, while we’re on the subject of alternatives to crushing “terror” other than committing wholesale murder on a massive scale, the Brits do have a bad record on this front but it seems they did end up adopting a sensible policy re: the IRA in the end. The tactic was to address the legitimate grievances of the population that supported the terrorists (that is not to say that the Terrorists behaved legitimately or that they could be forgiven or engaging in massive terrorist crimes) and inducing them to pursue the cause of the people they see themselves as representing through the political process. There are, in any case, may alternatives to killing civilians brazenly on a massive scale in order to achieve a political aim- something that, I feel should be emphasized again, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the picture of a man being attacked by an assailant somewhere.

  6. WT

    Sure. Atrocities of LTTE should not go un punished . TheKaruna , Pilliyan and KP

  7. Mylvaganam Mahendran

    LTTE TOOK ARMS IN THEIR ARMS BECAUSE ALL PEACEFUL NEGOTIATIONS FAILED. (1) CHELVA DUDLEY PACT (2) CHELVA BANDARANAIKE PACT (3) PEACEFUL SATYAGARA AT GALLE FACE. ETC……………………………………THIS IS DRAGING FOR THE LAST 50 YEARS. FINELY INDOCELON PACT WAS NOT IMPLEMENTED. MAHINDA PROMISSED THAT 13TH AMENDMENT WILL BE ENDORSED IN PARLIAMENT WHEN HE VISITED INDIA AND MET MANMOHANSINGH. RECENTLY WHAT HE SAID AT THE INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBERATION HELD IN TRINCO WORLD KNOWS. UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES SRI LANKA WILL NOT SOLVE ANY PROBLEMS. THEY WILL DRAG THE ISSUE FOR MANY MORE YEARS, UNTIL THEY COMPLETE SINGALA COLONISATION IN NORTH AND EAST, AND ALSO ERECTING BUDHA STATUES IN ALL CORNERS.

  8. Romesh Hettiarachchi

    I’ll bite.

    1. The Panel of Experts Report was never billed as evidence even by the authors. its always been “credible allegations of war crimes”. See comments by Steve Ratner here: http://nathanson.osgoode.yorku.ca/programs/conferences-workshops/2012-2013/sri-lanka-challenges-panel-february-2013/. The Panel of Experts was not a commission of inquiry and did not have the mandate to engage in formal fact finding. What they did was sift through the various allegations to figure out which ones were credible to figure out what required further investigation. There were no findings of fact.

    2. You should also be aware that there are “credible allegations” that the Tigers positioned weaponry in hospitals – hence the bombing. If these allegations are in fact proved, then the bombing of hospitals and medical services may not be war crimes.

    3. You have also conveniently forgotten to mention the LTTE’s role in the violence. Specifically that there are credible allegations against the LTTE: using civilians as human buffers, killing civilians attempting to flee, positioning military equipment in proximity of civilians etc.

    While I am not going to defend the GoSL’s actions, it would be nice to have some balance in your piece.

    As for your question (do you accept that no matter how bad the LTTE were bombing hospitals, food distribution lines, no fire zones and so on, killing tens of thousands of people, as SL are credibly accused of doing, are disgusting criminal actions and worthy of criticism? Do the means justify the end?) you are mixing causation with correlation. The reasons why SL are facing credible allegations are inextricably linked to the reasons why the LTTE are facing the very same credible allegations. There can be no justification for either.

    That being said, why is it that your piece does not mention the Tigers?

  9. jb

    Man, I don’t know where you got your facts if you were born after 1983. I am sure you have been paid by those tamils who funnelled money or something. Just try to find a girl friend and learn how to fly kites instead of putting hands on other peoples shit you imperialist. you are the kind of journalist who creates problems all over the world instead of trying to help. if you don’t know how to fly kites, learn how to surf!!!

  10. noname

    Who is this guy????? Are you a journalist or some new kid on the block ” a wanna be”

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