News & Updates
Both news media and general public can find important information
about updates, alerts and events that impact human rights in Sri Lanka

UNHRC Puts 'LTTE Rehabilitees' Too In Harm's Way?

2014 Mar 18

By N. Sathiya Moorthy

If the ‘leaked’ draft of the proposed Anglo-American resolution on Sri Lanka to the UNHRC is any indication, the Tamils will have to ask themselves if the ‘international community’ was any more their friends as they had believed. This does not mean that the Sri Lankan Government has got off the hook straight. Instead, the current draft if carried further in a similar vein could at best become the bargaining-chip for the West to negotiate whatever they otherwise may have wanted to negotiate with the Sri Lankan Government, now and/or later. The Tamils will have no say in it.

No, it is not about the non-mention of the ‘Tamil’ word in the leaked draft even once. It is neither about the references to post-war incidents involving religious minorities, comprising Christians and Muslims. It is true that such references do ‘dilute’ the greater concerns of the Tamils, as perceived and propagated by Sri Lankan Tamil (SLT) Diaspora groups. It is even more true that the Tamils, Diaspora or otherwise, are unclear about what they want just now, though the Diaspora at least is clear as to where they want to head even if it took them years and decades for a ‘separate Tamil nation’ in the Sri Lankan vicinity.

In the name of broad-basing the global concerns on HR violations in Sri Lanka, the US draft takes the ‘core issue’ of the 2012-13 US resolutions slightly away from ‘war crimes’-related ‘accountability issues’, the likes of which are not uncommon in other countries, too, for a variety of domestic reasons, none of them possibly justified either. Yet, the sense of de javu that many voting-members at UNHRC may feel in their domestic context could make them complacent, curious and cautious, simultaneously, when it came to deciding on the merit of the Anglo-American draft.

Instead, it is about the leaked draft referring to UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay’s report mentioning the need for an international investigation into “alleged violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka”. Translated, any international initiative of the kind, if it has to sound credible as against what they call the less-than-credible Sri Lankan processes, could bring the ‘LTTE ghosts’ back from where they are buried, deep in minds and in the midst of the civilian population, with no identity tags hanging around their necks. In such a case, at least the 12,000 LTTE cadres detained by the State at the conclusion of the decisive ‘Eelam War IV’ and ‘rehabilitated’ in the local Tamil society by the Government will be held as much ‘accountable’ as sections of the nation’s armed forces, as the case maybe, on allegations of ‘war crimes’.

The armed forces acted for the State in the protection of the Sri Lankan nation’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the lives of the people. International law, practices and precedents are clear about their role, responsibility and rights, as they are about ‘accountability issues’, which are not as inherent and are more and more agenda-driven in comparison. They have a protection that the LTTE cadres lack.

The LTTE was a non-State terrorist group. Post-9/11, the international community has clear ideas and clear-cut ideals in dealing with such outfits and their members. Sri Lanka is possibly the only nation in the post-9/11 era to have ‘rehabilitated’ ex-terrorists of the kind, and in such large numbers. Either the international community should hold these terrorists accountable for their ‘past acts’, or hold the Government ‘accountable’ for letting ‘em all get off the hook after ‘reformist’ training, including vocational rehabilitation – or, both.

Is it what the Tamils want, Diaspora or no Diaspora, the Government having concluded, or at least seemingly so, that the West is no more a friend of Sri Lanka? Is it what the ruling Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the Northern Province bargained for when they wanted the ‘international community’ to come to their help? And is this the way out of the Tamils’ eternal problems, or is it the way ‘in’ for more problems, much of it being self-inflicted precisely this way?

Fonseka’s reiteration

Ahead of the UNHRC session, Sarath Fonseka, commander of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) all through ‘Eelam War IV’ and at present leader of the Democratic Party, has reiterated thus in a local media interview: “If there are allegations of war crimes against the army, I have said that I am ready to answer that anytime to anybody because I don’t agree that the army had committed any war crimes. I deny that. If somebody has a specific complaint and any credible evidence, then we can always conduct an inquiry like we have done in the past….If there are war crimes allegations and somebody goes to the electric chair, it will be me because I commanded, I planned, I monitored, I directed, I supervised the battlefield activities and I gave orders.”

Political as it may sound, that too during the current run-up to the 29 March Provincial Council elections in the West and the South, Fonseka’s reiteration raises questions. One, why are the Tamils, particularly the Diaspora, that had gone after him with a vengeance on ‘accountability issues’ through those three-plus years of ‘Eelam War IV’, silent about it all? Independent of Fonseka’s rightful political ambitions and his personal justification drawn from the experience of four World War Generals becoming elected President of the USA soon afterward, what made both the Diaspora and the TNA to back him in the post-war presidential polls of 2010, all of a sudden, ignoring their own ‘accountability-related’ allegations against him and the armed forces that he had commanded?

Was it just the absence of the LTTE at the time of presidential polls that made the difference to the Diaspora/TNA perception about Fonseka’s candidacy, or was there more to it? What made them conclude that Fonseka was better presidential material for the Tamils than incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, under the circumstances, for them to join his campaign openly? Is there any linkage now to the Diaspora and the TNA maintaining stoic silence about their war-time charges against the then army commander and their backing for him in the presidential polls? Or, are they plain and simple embarrassed?

In this context, other questions too remain: What about the much-rumoured and seldom-publicised MoU signed between Fonseka and the TNA leadership, if there was any ahead of the 2010 presidential polls? With the PSC process on – meaningfully or otherwise – would either or both of them care to present those purported proposal for the greater consideration of the larger polity from across the nation? Or, what would they have answers if someone were to ‘leak’ what may then be claimed to be a copy of the document (if at all one was actually signed)?

It is a moot question now, but would things have been different for Sri Lanka – and in Sri Lanka, too – on the ‘accountability’ front, had Fonseka won the presidency in 2010? Independent of whoever, from within the country and outside, had backed him in the poll, his position even at the time was that the armed forces did not wrong or crime on the scale imagined and mentioned – 40,000 Tamil civilian deaths by UN’s Darussman Report, and 186,000 by local Tamil claims, purportedly based on a ‘door-to-door census’, both culled out later. At the time of the elections, the rumoured figures of Tamil civilian casualties was 7,000-8,000, confirmed by an initial UN reports from the ground.

The reference to Fonseka and the armed forces assumes importance, not only in the immediacy of yet another UNHRC session and resolution. Some Church groups in the Tamil areas have now started specifically demanding ‘accountability’ action against the armed forces. Prominent personalities of the ‘Tamil Church’, if it can be called so, as against the jurisdiction, if any, of a Colombo-based Cardinal just now, have continued to be more direct in demanding an ‘international probe’ and a ‘referendum’ from and by the UN, though couching their intentions in avoidable verbiage. Such a complex relationship and a complicating environment can have consequences, which needs to be avoided, too.

De-militarisation and de-mobilisation

At discussions with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Myanmar recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of neighbouring India has reportedly underscored the need for de-militarisation of the Tamil near-exclusive Northern Province. Elsewhere, suggestions and demands have been made by individuals and nations alike, advocating large-scale de-mobilisation. In a recent media interview, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has outlined how such de-mobilisation may lead to social upheaval that the nation cannot handle.

There may still be a need for demilitarisation of the North to a considerable extent, if not wholly. Some may have happened already, as claimed by the Government, but inconsistent figures cited by different top-level officials have questioned the credibility of those claims. It is also unclear as to the kind of message that the ‘Weliweriya incident’ and attacks on Muslim establishments, for instance, sent out last year.

The Anglo-American draft now mentions Weliweriya in the Sinhala South, where army personnel, called in to assist the civilian administration to control a public protest, reportedly went berserk and attacked the local population – most of them Christians – on the road and inside a church, where they sought refuge. Drawing upon the Navi Pillay report, the Anglo-American draft also mentions non-military attacks on mosques and other Muslim establishments in the country, but those observations may have been beyond the UN High Commissioner’s mandate, to begin with.

The question is this: Would tempers and temperatures be relatively low if the war-time military camps were confined to war-weary areas, or are spread out even more to war wary areas? Yet, answers have to be found and implemented before it became too late all over again. Pending it all serves no good purpose for the Tamils if the more irresponsible among them inside the country start talking about ‘accountability’ by individual field commanders for alleged ‘war crimes’.

After the commanders, it could be the turn of individual soldiers. There are 200,000 soldiers. Targetting them would not help resolve any issue or even alleged ‘war crimes’. They too have families. They have friends and admirers, too. Such a course as is being mentioned now is not only mischievous but also possibly aims at undermining whatever ethnic reconciliation that may still be effected post-UNHRC. The movers and shakers behind such moves do not understand the consequences. Instead, it may be in line with their perspective and agenda for a ‘separate nation’, even decades later.

Nations and INGOs waxing eloquent on ‘accountability issues’ could instead share credible information on creditable post-war demilitarisation and demobilisation plans, both with the Sri Lankan Government and other stakeholders in this process.
Otherwise, the international community, having contributed in no small measure to the emerging air of permissiveness in Sri Lanka all over again, cannot escape the moral blame, if not any legal charge, should the plight of the suffering Tamils become worse in the coming years and decades for no fault of theirs – or, possibly the stability of the Sri Lankan State and Government, polity and society, too, goes that way in these months and years to come.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi.

Search News & Updates
Keyword
Date
Date