Photo courtesy: Guy Calaf
By Gordon Weiss | The Australian
The parallel is apt when I write that, with the release of a UN report, Sri Lanka has reached its "Srebrenica Moment".
In August 1995, a month after the mass execution of 8000 Muslim boys and men by the Bosnian Serb army, the full proportions of this notorious crime began to break to the wider world. David Rohde, an US reporter, had hiked through frontlines to reach the outskirts of the empty town.
Evidence of the systematic killing of males as they tried to flee the siege lay all about. The journalist wrote of prayer beads, human remains, bullet casings, shopping receipts and clothing scattered like confetti through the fields and forests. There were survivors. For days, weeks and months skeletal wraiths continued to emerge from their woodland hideouts. A young Bosnian friend of mine was Rohde's translator. She spoke with men as they appeared at the edge of forests near the town of Tuzla, held by Bosnian Muslim forces. They listened in disbelief at the stories of those who could barely believe their own tales of survival. They had been shelled, picked off by sniper fire, corralled into groups of hundreds who were then shot and machine-gunned.
Gradually, each dazed survivor tale confirmed the others. US spy planes photographed Bosnian Serb units trying to conceal their crimes by shifting the human refuse of bone, tissue and clothing to even more remote locations such as mine shafts. Rohde confirmed the facts from the ground.
When the graves were uncovered by foreign forensic teams, the pieces literally fell into place. In November, the UN's Hague Tribunal indicted the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. A trophy video of the Scorpion death squad executing crying young men emerged only in 2005. Karadzic was finally arrested in Belgrade in 2008, and sent to The Hague to stand trial. There are thousands of survivors from what a UN panel of judicial experts now alleges is likely one of the 21st century's large-scale war crimes. By January 2009, the army of Sri Lanka had penned the remnants of the Tamil Tiger guerilla forces into a pocket of land the size of New York City. It was the culminating moment of a 30-year civil war. For five months, determined to kill the Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, the army pounded Tiger positions and about 330,000 Tamil civilians.
By then civilians were being held hostage by the rebels, but the army continued its assault. According to the UN report, the army also systematically shelled hospitals and denied humanitarian aid to civilians. It finds credible claims that tens of thousands were killed by shelling.
This was no Libya. The scale of the crime, committed behind the shutters of frontlines that were sealed by the army of Sri Lanka, and from which independent humanitarian workers and journalists were excluded, is just beginning to leak out. Using as a justification the fraternal jingoism of the global war on terror, the government of the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, unleashed death squads on domestic dissenters and sent gangs to attack newspapers and TV outlets.
It choked off visas for foreign journalists trying to reach the island, and stopped those already there from meaningful access to the battlefield. It dispatched its eloquent English-speaking and Oxbridge-educated emissaries to plead in diplomatic assemblies that its "humanitarian" war was "bloodless". If any civilians were killed, they said, it was the Tigers' doing.
In May 2009, with Prabhakaran dead, the remaining 290,000 people were interned in camps. The government prevented the UN legal experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from visiting Sri Lanka. Many survivors bribed guards and fled abroad, where their testimony formed some of the 4000 submissions to the panel. Sri Lankan soldiers gave information on probable atrocities.
The final UN report, an advance copy of which was provided to the Sri Lankan government, was leaked this week by a Sri Lankan newspaper. The full report of some 200 pages, to be released imminently, dismisses Sri Lanka's domestic judicial process as a decoy, and calls for a full international investigation.
The government of Sri Lanka duped the UN, foreign journalists, diplomats and world leaders. Like the perpetrators of Bosnian crimes, their first line of defence remains a concoction of blanket denial, smooth assurances and indignant bluster.
Two years after the end of the war, foreign reporters and humanitarian workers still do not have access to the alleged crime scene, the final battlefield.
The Sri Lankan government has had ample time to destroy the confetti of evidence. Meantime, it touts its brand of the war on terror as a self-evident success.
This is a "Srebrenica Moment" for the international community of nations, too. The UN report says that the alleged crimes of both the warring parties and subsequent cover-up by the government constitutes "an assault on the entire system of international law and security".
By that, it means that should the government of Sri Lanka be allowed to get away with it, the system of international justice built on the back of the crimes in Rwanda and Bosnia is weakened.
Srebrenica recalls a painful and costly UN failure. In a month during which the UN swiftly forestalled potentially disastrous internal conflicts in Libya and Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka cannot be allowed to erode the basic tenets of international peace, justice and security.
Gordon Weiss was the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka. His book, The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers, will be published in May by PanMacmillan.
© The Australian
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
He stated that these funds would be utilized for the development of education, health and many more sectors.
Amunugama also stated that they hope to increase the economic growth rate of Sri Lanka to 9% by next year.
He further added that at a time when most economies in the world were facing a crisis situation the performance of the Sri Lankan economy has indeed been exemplary.
© Ada Derana
Sunday, April 24, 2011
By Usha S. Sri-Skanda-Rajah | South Asia Analysis Group
The regime has used every tactic in the book before, during and after its brutal war with the LTTE to cleverly out-maneuver the UN and twist Ban round its fingers. All this at a high cost amounting to colossal loss of lives; untold human suffering; obstruction of justice including distortion of the truth. The UN Panel of Expert’s Report has turned out to be an expose of the Rajapaksa regime’s conduct of the war and the aftermath. Although cornered, the Rajapaksa.
regime is defiant; while denouncing the report and in a last ditch effort to prevent the publication of the report is engaging in political and diplomatic maneuvers in a multi-pronged attack against the Panel’s findings. The regime described the report, according to AFP, as “fundamentally flawed and patently biased,” and adding that it was “presented without any verification”.
Also hitting hard at the UN and its organs and bodies, the Panel lay blame on the UN for not protecting lives.
There was indeed a manipulation of the United Nations system by the actions of the Rajapaksa Regime and a few individuals and nations, fraught with lies, intrigues and cover-ups which led to the failure of the system to protect lives and enabling however the passage of a “deeply flawed” motion, put forward by the Rajapaksa regime in May 2009 soon after the war at a special session of the Human Rights Council, prompting the Panel to call for both a reconsideration of this resolution believing it was “acted on the basis of incomplete information” and a “comprehensive review of the humanitarian and protection mandates” of the United Nations.
But in direct contrast G L Peiris, Sri Lankan External Affairs Minster resisting publication of the report said the release of the full report would actually damage the UN system.
Jeeva Skandamoorthy in an article titled ‘Sri Lanka Tamil Genocide and the Failure of the UNand International Community to Protect’ alludes to Ban’s low-key rhetoric and implicit support of GoSL’s conduct of the war, the TIMES revelation that Ban was told in advance that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels: “Mr. Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground on 23rd May 2009,” and “never mentioned this figure to his Sri Lankan interlocutors” (Gulf Daily News, 7th June 2009).
Skandamoorthy also refers to Prof. Boyle’s criticism of Ban for not appointing a commission of inquiry: “UN Secretary General has an obligation to act to prevent criminal activity and either refuses to or fails to do so, that would render him ‘complicit’ with the underlying criminal activity- in this case genocide - article 111(e) of the 1948 Genocide Convention which prohibits, criminalises and calls for the punishment of those ‘complicit in genocide’.”
In addition he cites the revelation by “THE TIMES, relating to Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to Ban, in his role as a UN envoy and his dealings with GoSL which was called into question since his brother Satish has been a paid consultant to the Sri Lankan army since 2002 and was a close supporter of General Sarath Fonseka (Commander of SLA forces).
Jeeva also cites TamilNet which on 30, May 2009 carried an item from the French paper Le Monde, which quoted Vijay Nambiar as telling UN representatives that the “UN should keep a low profile” and play a “sustaining role” that was compatible with the (Rajapaksa) government”. He refers to Prof. Boyle’s comments about the complicity of both the UN and its officials in aiding the Rajapaksa regime: “In other words both the United Nations organizations and its highest level officials are guilty of aiding and abetting Nazi-type crimes by the GoSL against Tamils.”
Skandamoorthy recalls certain anecdotes which clearly reveal Sri Lanka’s strategy to get the member nations on board for its war of attrition against the oppressed Tamil population by depicting it as a ‘war on terror’ and preventing the application of the principles embodied in R2P – Responsibility to Protect: On UN failure with R2P in Sri Lanka, Norman Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of linguistics at MIT said at the UN General Assembly the “hypocrisy was so profound, it was suffocating.”
The International Crisis Group said in its report dated 11, January 2010. “India and Western governments may yet come to regret giving Sri Lanka the green light and even assisting it to fight a ‘war on terror’.”
As the world waited on Thursday 21, April to finally see the official version of the UN Panel’s report in full, what it got was a late briefing from Ban’s, Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq telling the media that the Sri Lankan government “is being given another chance to respond.” This was contrary to Haq’s position just the previous day that the Rajapaksa regime’s lack of response, “doesn’t need to tie our hands down regarding when we are going to put out this report. As we have said repeatedly, we’ll put it out this week.”
The Executive Summary of the Panel’s report and parts of the main document were mysteriously leaked after it was delivered to the government to look at first. Kusala Perera journalist explains: Ban Ki-moon's Independent Advisory Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka, that is not based on any UN resolution and is not binding on UN to follow up on, is being hyped and carried as an official investigation by the UN, to give MR the space to go on a blitzkrieg that would once again have the Sinhala majority running behind Rajapaksa patriotism. For this, there was a necessity to have some "leak" to work on, make statements and start a campaign. The Sunday Island seemed the immediate pick. Its Editor Prabath Sahabandu has told ICP, his newspaper has no issue like other
news papers with this government, as they see eye to eye on the war.” The UN itself thinks the leak was orchestrated by the regime.
In another new development it seems going by the Trancurrents website the release of the Panel’s Report has been put on hold “pending discussions between Ban and External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris scheduled for April 23. According to sources the portal said the story is that G L Peiris wants to discuss an issue with Ban. G.L Peiris is also expected to persuade Ban not to publish the report and Ban on the other hand wants to publish the report in full whether the response is ready or not: “Pressure exerted by powerful western nations and International human rights agencies on Ban would ensure such release.
Sarah Smith reporting from New York for Channel Four News UK describes how the Rajapaksa regime orchestrated a sabotage of UN’s plans to release the report on 21st April, before the Easter weekend: The Sri Lankan government “knew they were about to be accused of war crimes and insisted that they be allowed to publish their response at the same time and they had so far refused to come up with that response so they have deftly managed to avoid having the report published and embarrass the UN at the same time.”
Sarah Smith alluded to the regime’s tactics of finding a good time to bury bad news: “They have had a copy of the report for nine days now. They have had time to leak substantial sections of it to the Sri Lankan newspapers. They have had time for the Foreign Minister to have a press conference denouncing the report’s conclusions and insisting that the UN don’t publish it. But at the same time not coming out with their official response, he has done that and stopped the UN from publishing it. And it means it is likely to come out over the Easter weekend getting a lot less attention than it would have otherwise. And it is a pretty clever way to find a good time to bury bad news to the Sri Lankan government.”
The so called “bad news” for the Rajapaksa regime being the Panel’s findings of “credible allegations” which “if proven, indicate war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed,” both by the Rajapaksa government and the LTTE.
While buying time, advancing its cause and using its persuasive powers and influence, as before amongst certain member countries in the UN at the expense of further sullying the reputation of this august body and its officials, the Rajapaksa regime is busy pursuing political and diplomatic maneuvers to try to scuttle due process. The regime though cornered is defiant as ever, denouncing the report and engaging in a multi-pronged strategy against the Panel’s findings at home and abroad:
At home it’s planning a massive May 1st Rally mobilizing the faithful to protest against the Panels findings of credible allegations. Although according to BBC a “Rift over Sri Lanka president's call for anti-UN rally” has emerged. Trade unions affiliated to Sri Lanka's ruling coalition are divided over the president's call for mass protests against a UN report.
The Rajapaksa regime has also initiated a petition the Sunday Leader reported. A government minister C.B. Ratnayake involved in the project launched the public petition aimed at gathering a million signatures against the report at a private bus stand in Pettah.”
The Ground Views web portal was critical of the Rajapaksa regime’s efforts to whip up mass appeal: “This petition, and others that will invariably follow after the report’s official publication, is emblematic of Sri Lanka’s peculiar democracy, where highly emotive issues ratcheted up by expedient politicians with little or no grounding in actual fact are actually able to whip up mass appeal….. and support of Sri Lankans who know little or nothing of what they oppose, reflects the significant challenge of reconciliation and accountability, post-war.” Ground Views ncluded.
The Rajapaksa regime in its most crucial counter offensive to win diplomatic support against the report is ironically using the issue of reconciliation to argue against the publication of the report. Sri Lanka asked the United Nations on Thursday not to publish a forthcoming report on alleged war crimes… saying it could set back reconciliation efforts: “The publication of this report will cause irreparable damage to the reconciliation efforts of Sri Lanka. It will damage the UN system too,” Peiris told reporters in Colombo, stating This UN report is preposterous.” But most human rights defenders and journalist and legislators think truth, accountability and justice is most crucial for genuine reconciliation.
The Rajapaksa regime has dispatched its envoys to persuade all of its allies, especially those countries which supported Sri Lanka in the 2009 UN HRC resolution. The countries which voted for Sri Lanka’s motion were: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay and Zambia. Those who voted against were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and those abstaining were:
Argentina, Gabon, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea and Ukraine.
In Russia’s case according to Sri Lanka Daily Mirror, the Russian envoy in Colombo visited Gotabaya Rajapaksa and is supposed to have said the UN must not complicate the reconciliation process: “We speak not about a 'UN report', since it was prepared neither by a UN body or nor even by its request. It was just a personal initiative of the UN Secretary General”, the Sri Lanka defence ministry said quoting Russian ambassador in Colombo Vladimir P. Mikhaylov. Finally, the Ambassador concluded saying “we believe that now, when Sri Lanka is healing its wounds after long armed conflict, the UN may render its assistance, if needed, and not complicate the process of reconciliation. Our representative to the UN in New York recently reconfirmed this
position.” It’s also interesting to note that Ban is visiting Russia himself and is seeking its support for his re-appointment for a second term.
Well known Tamil Analyst Ithaya Chandran explains the regimes strategy: Rajapaksa purposely leaked few pages of the report through the Island, in order to mobilize the Sinhala masses, religious leaders and politicians against UN. His first move began yesterday to obtain 10 LAKHS signature from Sinhalese to oppose the report. Gotabaya’s planned meeting with Russian Ambassador Valdimir P.Mikhaylov at the Defence Ministry was to get an undertaking from
Russia. Gotabaya has declared that he has got the Russian and Chinese veto powers in hand. Through the leftist Minister, Vasudava Nanayakkaara, he is trying to get the support of left- oriented and anti-US countries, especially from the NON-Aligned movement. By manipulating the friction between Ranil Wickremasinghe and Sajith Premadasa, he would obtain the support of one faction of the UNP. By portraying the UN report as a ploy by western nations and by bringing all the left politics towards his authoritarian center, he plans to ultimately, deny access to any form of 'concurrent international mechanism’ suggested by the UN trio.
Most Tamils are looking to India for its response to the Panel’s finding that tens of thousands of people were killed by government shelling which the Tamils think constituted a crime of genocide. Meenakshi Ganguli, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told PTI that “if India wanted to emerge as a leader on the global stage then the country's leadership would have to show its intention of "protecting the rights of people over government.”
If calls for accountability grow, observers have noted that the Indian government would probably discuss the issue privately with the Rajapaksa regime. India's position on human rights has come under increasing scrutiny as New Delhi hopes to get a permanent seat in the Security Council. Recently India, which is currently a non-permanent member on the Council, voted for the first round of sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi but it abstained on the resolution authorising use of force. “There are people in Tamil Nadu who also care about it (India's position on the Lankan war crimes),” Ganguli said.
Although India is keeping silent on the leaked contents of the UN Panel’s report so far, it would be interesting to find out how it would react to the report. Recently Sonia Gandhi who was visiting the UK to deliver a Common Wealth Lecture on “Women as Agents of change” declining to comment on the war crimes issue but replied to concerns raised by Global Tamil Forum about the militarised north, crimes including rape of women committed by the military and the need for Tamil rights to be restored: “I am very, very concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. Tamils should have their rights restored and it’s their rights you know. We are with the Tamils, you must know, we are with the Tamils.” It is these rights that we would examine in part III.
And just today April 22, 2011 Jayalalithaa herself “demanded that the government take 'immediate steps' to make Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa stand trial for alleged war crimes during the conflict between the Lankan armed forces and the LTTE following a UN report.
Slamming her arch rival and DMK president M Karunanidhi for his 'three-hour fast' in 2009 demanding a halt to the Lankan government offensive, she said the UN report "clearly holds that the carnage lasted till May 2009, well after Karunanidhi had made his dubious claim that hostilities had ended following his fast on April 27."
"The Indian Government, on its part, should initiate immediate steps to make Rajapaksa and his cronies stand trial in the International Court of Justice for his war crimes," she said. Jayalalithaa’s statement before her anticipated victory in the Tamil Nadu legislative elections is timely and comes when a high profile statement was found wanting from the Indian sub continent.
While the release of the real, unmodified report in full is being awaited, there are a few measures recommended by the Panel which the Rajapaksa regime must seriously consider taking as an important step towards genuine reconciliation: Making a public and formal acknowledgment of its role and responsibility for extensive civilian casualties and institute a reparations programme. The question is will the Rajapaksa regime be prepared to do it?
Sunday, April 24, 2011
By Raisa Wickrematunge | The Sunday Leader
Jayaratne’s story was splashed all over the newspapers and was taken up by the Asian Human Rights Commission. Jayaratne claimed that one of the law exam papers was leaked, and that preferential treatment was provided to fellow law student, President’s son, Namal Rajapaksa.
In January, the Sri Lanka Law College issued a statement that the allegations were untrue. The office of the Chief Justice confirmed that investigations into the incident had commenced on January 12.
However, Jayaratne insists that he is telling the truth.
On December 3, Jayaratne was at the Law College, preparing to sit for a Commercial Law paper, which was an open book examination. He noticed that an air conditioned room was unlocked.
The exam was starting at 2 pm, so Jayaratne was at the canteen, having lunch and talking to a student from the Open University. At that point, Namal Rajapaksa was also there with security personnel who were dressed in plain clothes. Some of the group proceeded to discuss a difficult question. Later on, Jayaratne discovered that the question they had spoken of was part of the paper. What’s more, he claimed that Namal Rajapaksa had a computer with an internet connection on his desk, whereas the other students were not even allowed mobile phones in the examination hall.
He also claimed that Namal had taken the examination in the air conditioned room, separate from other candidates. Jayaratne added that there was space in the exam hall he sat in, though it was claimed there was none.
Incensed at what he saw as an injustice, Jayaratne went to the Law College Registrar to complain. There he ran into his first roadblock, when the Registrar refused to accept his complaint. Undaunted, Jayaratne went to the Keselwatte police, but there too he met with refusal. Next he went to the Police Headquarters. By this time, the media had got wind of the story, Jayaratne said. The complaint was duly recorded. A fellow student at the Law College telephoned Jayaratne to tell him that the police had questioned the Registrar and Principal.
However, Jayaratne decided to go to the Bribery and Corruption Commission on December 4. Here too, his requests to record a complaint were ignored. Before leaving he spoke to an official who told him to drop the complaint, “or what happened to Aristotle will happen to you, if you tell the truth.”
The warnings didn’t stop there. On December 6, Jayaratne received at least three calls from the Law College Registrar’s office. The caller told him to abandon the issue or leave the college. It was around this time the law student began receiving death threats. He was unable to sit his final two exams, afraid something would happen to him if he entered the College again.
Several times police attempted to take Jayaratne into custody, but he evaded them with the help of friends.
Jayaratne went to the Human Rights Commission on December 15 and filed a letter detailing the threats to his life. The letter was also addressed to IGP Mahinda Balasuriya and the Commissioner Ombudsman.
Finally on January 8, Jayaratne received a letter calling him to appear at the Law College for an inquiry into the incident. They warned him that if he did not attend, legal action would be filed against him. Though he was afraid for his safety Jayaratne went back to the College, accompanied by IUSF Convenor Udul Premaratne amongst others, to tell his story.
A report was later released to the media to the effect that Jayaratne’s testimony was based on hearsay.
Around a month passed. Then on March 3 the Human Rights Commission said they would be taking no further action on Jayaratne’s complaints as it fell outside their purview. The next day, Jayaratne was en route to a family member’s home when two men accosted him. Though they were in civilian clothing, they were very fit and appeared to be military personnel, Jayaratne said. They had asked him to come with them to record a statement. Jayaratne agreed, but asked that he be taken in an official police vehicle. The two refused.
Seeing a 120 route bus passing, the law student jumped onto it in an effort to escape. However, on looking behind him he saw that the two men had followed him onto the bus. He alighted in front of the Boralesgamuwa police station, and seeing no other option had gone with the two men. The two wanted to know who had been contacting Jayaratne. They noted down some details, finally releasing him around 11 pm. A three wheeler parked outside then transported him away.
The Human Rights Commission said the abduction also fell outside their purview, though Jayaratne in a letter said that police officers later took down a statement, supposedly in response to his complaint. However the officer refused to note down Jayaratne’s complaints against Namal Rajapaksa and the Law College Registrar.
On March 28, Jayaratne was assaulted by two people while sitting outside his home.
This was followed by another visit by two people in civilian clothing on April 10. Jayaratne said he recognised one of them, who had also threatened him in March. The duo forced Jayaratne to sign two documents, written in English. As he was afraid for his life, Jayaratne complied. He is afraid the documents might have amounted to a withdrawal of his complaint about the Law College. He has already written to the Asian Human Rights Commission about the incident.
The other side of the coin
The Law College Principal confirmed to The Sunday Leader that an investigation had been held into Jayaratne’s claims. “He was even allowed to bring a lawyer and give a statement,” the Principal confirmed. It was found that his allegations were based on hearsay, he said. “He had absolutely no knowledge. They were unfounded allegations,” he said. He added that as the matter was settled he thought it unnecessary to further publicise the issue.
For his part, Jayaratne continues to insist on the truth of his accusations. “The statement that my complaints are based on hearsay is a lie,” he said.
However Police Spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told The Sunday Leader in January that Jayaratne’s evidence was almost exclusively based on what he had overheard at the canteen. “He has no direct evidence that the paper was leaked. It’s just a rumour,” he told The Sunday Leader at the time.
MP Namal Rajapaksa did not respond to phone calls and text messages requesting a comment. IGP Mahinda Balasuriya was also unable to speak to The Sunday Leader.
Although Jayaratne’s claims have been largely dismissed by the Law College and police as false, he continues to fear for his life. His finances have been disrupted and he has come up against enormous difficulties, he says. To date, he remains in hiding, having abandoned his former residence.
© The Sunday Leader
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