Reality check on Sri Lanka war crimes

How will the West swing

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(February 17, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is the June 2012 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN which would determine whether Sri Lanka could be hauled up for war crimes. This month’s session at the UNHRC (Unitend Nations Human Rights Council) could be easily thwarted with Russia, China and possibly India supporting Sri Lanka in its latest proclamation that it is subjecting its defence forces to scrutiny way ahead of UNHRC special sessions beginning February 22, 2012.
This sudden announcement that Sri Lanka would investigate its own defence forces well past two and a half years after unleashing them on innocent civilians in the name of wiping out the LTTE should not ameliorate the hard facts.
If the investigation into possible atrocities by the defence forces began in January why was it kept under wraps until Wednesday.? All politicians lie; but seasoned politicians know how to lie without being detected and with panache. Heaping on lies, retracting statements made and ministers and public officials contradicting each others’ statements to the media has become a habit with the government.
There is clear evidence of war crimes. There are first-hand witness reports of rapes of captured civilians in Wanni. There are satellite images of war crimes atrocities monitored by the US. Then there are the Tamil refugees abroad providing testimonies of human rights violations. Channel 4’s Killing Fields documentary has been passed by Ofcom, the independent media regulating body of the UK, as authentic.
Most authenticating of these evidences are the fleeing Sinhala journalists who have the chutzpah to speak for their Tamil brethren since they have the gumption not to genuflect before the ruling powers and who strongly rely on their journalistic integrity than paying subservience to the government relying on garnering support from Sinhala masses who were shut out of the goings-on in the war which annihilated thousands of Sri Lankans in Wanni.
If Sinhala journalists are intimidated by the government is it any surprise Tamil journalists keep shtum.
Impoverished Sinhala soldiers from the outbacks of rural villages who fought the war for a measly Rs200,000 compensation were brought in body bags to their villages whose families thought they were fighting a war against their arch-enemy, the LTTE. How wrong were they. They fought a war not for the eradication of terror but a war to ensconce the Rajapaksas who sold their very own Sinhala soldiers in the name of sovereignty. Once the war on terror was won they were left with a war on sustenance.
Without sustenance and what one could call a living they are forced to become contract-killers as means of employment. Hence we see these mysterious disappearances of government dissenters including journalists openly murdered and bodies displayed in Diyawanna Oya and swamps if not strangulated by tourniquets inside Defence Headquarters’ toilets in the heart of Colombo.
Compare the current ministers to the previous leadership. Three are former militants; namely Douglas Devananda, human trafficker and mastermind behind white van abductions, Pillayan aka Muralitharan who demands ransom from arrack tavern mudalalis and Karuna who was jailed in the UK for forging his passport and who is known for partying and bed-hopping with anything in skirts, sari or osari, his allegiance to the LTTE long forgotten.
All the above are serious human rights violations amounting to war crimes the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) failed to address adequately.
Question Time at the UN as to Shavindra De Silva who was a front-runner in masterminding the war being appointed to the peace-keeping force has raised many eyebrows whether the UNSG Ban-Ki-Moon has any say in his appointment which places the UN in very awkward position.
Member states had approved his appointment. Does this go for or against UN mandate?
Let us examine this dialogue with questionnaires from Matthew- Lee, the muck-raker at the UN in January 2012.
Question: Okay, it has to do with, again, Shavendra Silva, but also something new. There has been an open letter by Edward Mortimer, who used to be the Communications Director for Kofi Annan, saying and stating as a fact that the UN investigating itself under Thoraya Obaid is… has been disbanded, did not proceed. I wanted you to confirm if that’s true. And I also, the organization that Mr. Mortimer is the chair of, called the Sri Lanka Campaign, has provided… has given a quote about Silva saying that “very surprising that the Secretary-General would accept Mr. Silva given the allegations against him of war crimes in a Secretary-General’s report that hasn’t been acted on”. So I wanted to… I mean, you said various things before. I have actually looked at the GA resolution; it doesn’t seem to on its face say that the Secretary-General has to accept it. So I want to ask you again, given that former UN officials are saying it’s a black mark for the UN to have alleged war criminal as an adviser on peacekeeping, what’s the thinking in the Secretariat? Is there any attempt being made to defuse this, to seek another individual from Sri Lanka, or are you simply saying we have no power, we accept it whatever the consequences?
Spokesperson: Matthew, it is not a question of accepting or not accepting. It is a question of the Member Stats deciding. It is a question for the Asia group among the Member States to decide — and that was their decision. And I suggest that you take it up with them.
Question: I had, and there was no election in the Asian group, and I guess, the reason I think it’s legitimate to ask you is that this is a former UN official saying it is surprising that Ban Ki-moon accepts this, i.e. his thing having had experience in the UN system that clearly the Secretary-General, he can make calls, he can attempt… and I just wanted to know, if in fact there is a switch, which may take place to Mr. Kohona, is the Secretary-General in any way involved in that or entirely [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: Well, with great respect to Edward Mortimer, whom I know, he is not in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General any more. And so he cannot be privy to what may or may not take place there, at all. The fact of the matter is that there is a resolution from the General Assembly, and it states very clearly and it sets out very clearly who does what. And the Secretary-General is responsible for selecting and nominating five eminent persons. This, he has done. The other people on that panel or group were to be selected by others. And that has also taken place. And I think that’s really what I have to say on the matter.
What does it mean to preserve the basis of the review. Principles and objectives of the UPR (Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka); Any changes that would result from this review should take effect after the end of its first cycle (Sri Lanka). Preserve the human rights nature of the UPR mechanism; UPR should not be misused with the purpose of advancing the political agenda. States should touch upon only their own human rights issues, not others (Azerbaijan).
So many questions remain unanswered and so many truths buried. UN has the ultimate responsibility to mete out justice to the minority civilians who were massacred in the name of wiping out terrorism. What is the fine line between state terrorism and insouciance of the West all because Tamils are but a an expendable minority not unlike Chaggosians in Diego Garcia who were booted out to Muritus overnight.
UN appears to appease the West and its trade interests in developing world. It certainly needs to justify its actions and it has a lot to answer for.
(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)

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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