Tuesday, November 03, 2009

SL Government should be investigated for committing war crimes - Arundhati Roy

By Nilantha Ilangamuwa - In an exclusive interview with the Sri Lankan Guardian, Ms. Roy has shared her views on the present situation in Sri Lanka.

First of all, welcome to Sri Lanka Guardian and thank you for accepting our interview request. We'd like you to share your thoughts with our readers on the present political and military climate in Sri Lanka as well as your thoughts on the ongoing war against Naxalite in India, that is considered as deadly threat to the internal security of India, according to the Leaders of the Government of India.

Q. So how do you summarize the present political developments in Sri Lanka six months after the elimination of the Tamil Tiger rebels?

A: The situation sounds absolutely grim. I have not visited the camps myself, but from the reports that are emerging it is obvious that there is an unconscionable humanitarian crisis unfolding which the world seems to be turning it's eyes away from. For hundreds of thousands of people to be herded into camps and held there by a government that is so blatantly gloating over its military victory over them is a terrifying situation. Mind-numbing. The use of the term 'concentration camp' does seem appropriate given the few testimonies that have made their way out of the steel wall of silence the government has erected around them. If these testimonies are untrue, and if the Government of Sri Lanka has nothing to hide it should allow the media free access to the camps so they can see what is going on.

Q. How is the Naxalite terror impacting on India?

A: Many of us here feel that the Indian Government has paid close attention to the Sri lankan government's methods and will try to reproduce them to some extent in the region where the Maoist (Also called Naxalite) guerillas are, which also happen to be the mineral rich forest regions which the government wishes to clear for mining. I have just written a very long piece about it that you may like to read (click here to article) it’s too a complex situation to discuss in a couple of sentences. However, unlike the Rajapakse Government's openly Nationalist almost fascist rhetoric, which is even more extreme than the rhetoric of the Hindu nationalists—the BJP and its goon squads (the VHP and the Bajrang Dal)— the current Indian government has a different rhetoric, a different self-image. ..it is in a way, far more sophisticated and would not penly use such language. People in India are very disturbed by what is happening, and we hope our protests will be heard. But there are huge corporate interests at stake, running into trillions of dollars. So they won’t back off all that easily. In this part of the world, so many countries are falling into civil war...Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now India. It is very worrying.

Q. The Government of Sri Lanka is saying it will resettle all Internally Displaced People (IDPs) before end of January 2010. It is interesting to read that the Government is ready to offer Colombo schools to ex-Child Soldiers of Tamil Tigers. Always we can hear victory euphoria from the Government side and its tune all the time is very optimal. Meanwhile, many Rights groups and some countries like the United States criticized the action of the Government of Sri Lanka, and are saying the Government is violating basic human rights, as well as there are some critical issues over war crimes by the Government in the final battle against the Tamil Tigers. But it seems the Indian civil society is having very little sympathy to the suffering of Sri Lankan Tamils. Let me know your views on War on Terror in Sri Lanka and the minority’s future in the Island Nation?

A: Indian civil society is a vast and varied creature. Most people in India have absolutely no idea what happened in Sri Lanka, because the Indian media was careful not to report it. The section of the Indian establishment - those with a 'voice' are increasingly developing a ghoulish fascination for State power and its ability to crush people. There is a great admiration for Israel and its methods among this crowd. It is shameful. So this section has no problem with what ha been done to an ethic minority. They have tolerated a huge amount of state brutality in their own country, in Kashmir, in Nagaland, in Manipur for years. My views on the Sri Lankan War? I believe that the Government of Sri Lanka should be investigated for committing war crimes.

Q. It is claimed by some quarters that India was behind the conflict from the beginning and gave weapons and other logistical support and also training facilities in her soil for the Tamil militancy few decades ago. But later India went against the Tamil militancy and went close to the Government of the Island nation. Let me know your views on the India’s approach towards its southern neighbour in the future?

A: That the Indian government armed and trained the LTTE is well known. But then it switched sides. India has done everything it can, including blocking the demand for an investigation into the possibility that the Sri Lankan government might be guilty of having committed war crimes in this war against the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. India, China and Pakistan came together to block it. International politics is a cold, unforgiving game.

Q. The Prevention of Terrorism Act–or as you have called it, the ‘Production of Terrorism Act’–is still in force in Sri Lanka, whilst hundreds of youth, most of them ethnic Tamils are being arrested under the PTA and held prisons or in undisclosed clandestine camps. It seems Patriotism, National Security, Humanitarian Mission etc of the government are overshadowing the Law and Order in the country. It is easy for people to be branded as patriots or traitors by under these missions thus undermining the law and order needed at this difficult juncture. If this continued what will be the long term consequences for Sri Lanka?

A. That is exactly what anti-terror laws are meant for. They are never meant for real terrorists. They are meant to terrorize ordinary people, to criminalize democratic space.In Gujarat in 2002 after Hindu mobs massacred Muslims on the streets, only Muslims were booked as 'terrorists'. Today India is passing laws that allows the government to call anyone it wants to a Maoist, a Naxalite. In India the bogey of 'Islamist terrorism' had an inherent flaw - the minimum qualification for a person to be booked was that he or she had to be Muslim. Now with the 'Maoist Terror' bogey that flaw has been rectified. The media’s wild stories about Maoist terror has allowed the Indian Government to vastly expanded the catchment area of suspects. It can apply to any one of us. In Sri lanka the long term consequences cannot be good. I don’t believe that people who have been brutalized and robbed of their dignity will just keep taking it. The Tamils will rise again, not now, but some years from now.

Q. Whenever you came out with your views on the ground realities, you came under severe criticism of the Sri Lanka government as a supporter of the LTTE. Is this because your comments are considered pro-LTTE sentiments?

A. That is a pretty standard, self-serving way that most right wing governments have of dealing with criticicm. It’s the old Bush doctrine ‘If you are not with us you are with the terrorists.” I refuse to submit to it. I am in no way pro LTTE nor have I ever been. I cannot admire those whose vision can only accommodate justice for their own and not for everybody. However I do believe that the LTTE and its fetish for violence was cultured in the crucible of monstrous, racist, injustice that the Sri Lankan government and to a great extent Sinhala society visited on the Tamil people for decades. I also believe that the LTTE must take at least some responsibility for the cataclysm that has befallen the people it claimed it spoke for, and fought for. The tragedy of Sri Lanka’s Tamil people is one that all armed struggles, including the Maoists of India ought to learn from.

Q. My last question in this worthy meeting is about former US President Goerge W. Bush’s comment in the Hindustan Leadership summit that “the US recognised India's nuclear weapon's programme and it is considered India's passport to the world,". While in her resent visit in Pakistan, US state Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton said, Pakistan has failed in its mission against Islamic militancy while the Pentagon is giving millions of dollars to Islamabad. However, Pakistan has blamed India for fueling the war in Pakistan. What are your views on the cold war between Delhi and Islamabad, and the current US’s Foreign policy towards South Asia.

A. My views on this are well known. What I fear, just from reading some stray signs, is that given the worsening of the sitation in Pakistan, the Indian Government may be being 'persuaded' to send Indian troops to help the US out in Afghanistan. I really hope I am wrong. I also fear that the ratcheting up of the rhetoric between India and China may result in the US offering India 'protection' (which actually means India offering the US use of its airbases on the border…) And that like other countries that have been thus 'protected' by the US in the past- Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - India too will devolve into chaos. I fear that greatly. We have enough trouble brewing internally without this added catalyst. I hope this Indian government can reign in its almost child-like desire to please the US. India’s nuclear weapons did not make India a superpower. They made India buy into a game that it cannot hope to win. Once it was a proudly Non-aligned country. Now it is completely aligned, and feels no embarrassment in calling itself the ‘natural ally’ of countries like the US and Israel. Sad.

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