By Frances Bulathsinghala/The Sunday Observer
Colombo, March 28: The international community, harping on war crimes allegedly committed in Sri Lanka has done the exact opposite of promoting national reconciliation.
While wars, atrocities and human rights violations in many guises continue in the rest of the world where the perpetrators are often powerful nations, millions of dollars have been raised the world over for lobbying and justifying the UN Resolution on Sri Lanka.
Now, the UNHRC is seeking US$ 2.8 million to set up an office to put together information about the so-called war crimes committed here. All this is money that could have been used for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka towards re-shaping their lives.
For the country to move ahead, there is a need for the Tamil Diaspora, now foreign citizens who hardly visit this country but who are lobbyists for the Resolution, to understand the ground realities. Unbiased assistance by the international community would have gone a long way for Sri Lanka to develop genuine reconciliation and peace-building.
All that the UN Resolution on Sri Lanka may do is further divide the people of the country, increase feelings of suspicion and hate while taking the country away from economic, political and social stability and provide ample opportunities for diverse local and international segments to exploit the country’s quest for national unity to serve their diabolical interest.
UN and its effectiveness
With regard to the UN and its effectiveness, there seems to be scant introspection as it enters its 76th year of existence. Some describe the UN as a failed entity, conceptualized and created for the purpose of controlling the non-Western world for resources, human and material.
The intent to form a UN was first declared in 1942 and further discussed in 1943 where ‘a general international organization based on the sovereign equality of all nations’ was agreed upon. In 1944, the post war Charter for ‘collective security’ was mooted. By June 1945, deliberations for a Charter of the United Nations were completed and on July 28, the US which played a major role in the creation of this organization, approved the UN Charter.
Days later, on August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing over 200,000 persons and maiming thousands of others (and future generations) for life. The UN with aims for a world that valued human rights came into formal ratified existence two months later, on October 24, 1945.
The international community, however, seems to think, selectively, that certain wars are tea parties; sans the death, the misery and the carnage but others bristle with war crimes and atrocities.
Will the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka be a magic wand that will enable justice that the Tamil people? Did they expect justice from the LTTE which tortured and killed anyone who opposed them, insisted on taxes from the Tamil people, recruited children, coerced youth to become human bombs and butchered Sinhala civilians, shot at Tamil civilians who were fleeing for their lives in the last stage of the fighting and drove out Muslims from their homes in North Sri Lanka?
Will this resolution promote any progressive step, like dedicating the month of May to unity, understanding and peace – something Lanka so desperately needs to bring about an honest locally driven discourse between different stakeholders, such as Tamil civilians, Sinhala and Muslim civilians and different political and civilian players.
How will the average life of the Tamil people in the North and the East of Lanka; those without wealthy diaspora relatives and those who are marginalized such as former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, improve as a result of the UN Resolution?
Do these foreign-based persons who created the stage for the resolution to be passed, care about the ensuing danger of the Sri Lankan economy through possible sanctions which would finally be borne by the most vulnerable of its populations, such as Tamil civilians of the North-East?
Much effort has been taken by the Board of Investment (BOI) through the Jaffna office and Tamil officials there to usher in industrial projects during the past 12 years in Jaffna, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu providing jobs for Lankan Tamils of the North East.
The international community had 12 years in which they could have encouraged the Tamil Diaspora to invest in projects that will benefit the Lankan Tamil people, instead of veering off in the opposite direction. During one of the floods that struck the North a few years ago, a Sinhala philanthropist who runs a charity organization was distributing dry rations as well as other goods in the area, quipped that he could not get the Tamil Diaspora to contribute ‘even a single mosquito net.’
Sri Lanka needs trust building between communities. Every ounce of strength has to be mustered by Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim intellectuals, politicians and all others in the society at large, including the police and the Security Forces, to represent the wellbeing of the people and country, giving national harmony utmost priority. Each human being should be an ambassador of peace.
The country should seek peace, fairness and unity because these are assets for stability of a nation and not seek them because the UN or the West wants us to. Sri Lanka should implement local mechanisms locally proposed for justice and uphold the law for national unity.
Sri Lanka has done the groundwork and produced objective reports, such as the Maxwell Paranagama Commission report on Inquiry into complaints of abductions and disappearances and the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in Sri Lanka which held regular hearings in Colombo and the North and the East. These Commissions of Inquiries were the result of an independent initiative of the then Lankan government. It is imperative that all of its recommendations are carried out for the good of the citizens of the country.
These recommendations covered a vast realm from media freedom, societal freedom and the practical implementation of justice within the context of battling terrorism, including steps to be taken on matters relating to missing persons (Tamils – mostly LTTE cadres and the Sinhalese military personnel).
Most of these recommendations by the LLRC and the Paranagama commission have been hailed by many Lankan intellectuals irrespective of political affiliations, as just and progressive.
If there have been aberrations justice should prevail as recommended. We should never give any Sri Lankan citizen, ever, whether it be Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim any need whatsoever, reasons to complain to foreign nations about issues faced by them. Any citizen should feel safe complaining to his or her government, whether that citizen voted for it or not.
With regard to foreign countries telling Sri Lanka what should be done within the country, maybe Sri Lanka too can encourage nations such as America, to look into the human rights of its people, beginning with the original people of that land – the Native Americans as well as Black Americans, so that people do not get killed in broad daylight, like George Floyd was. This will need some serious researching so that any advice to another country on human rights should be aimed at unifying the diverse people of that country and not the reverse which will only encourage destabilization of a nation.
If the international community had been serious about unifying the people of Sri Lanka during the past 12 years, one of the first things it could have done is to encourage the Tamil Diaspora to see the importance of this unity forged through peace, inter-ethnic discussions, empathy and development. This may have changed the status quo.
The Diaspora is seen as a constant threat. The use of LTTE flags by the Tamil Diaspora during their protests against the Lankan Government show that they are not neutral but supporting a terrorist group that many of the Western countries had proscribed. Many Tamils may have forgotten the life under the LTTE. The documentary film “Demons in Paradise” by Lankan Tamil Jude Rutnam speaks of certain aspects of these realities, beginning with the darkest scar on Lanka, the 1983 riots which should never have occurred. It led to the rise of the master of terror, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Any Tamil citizen who has lived under the LTTE or any unbiased human rights activist would be able to come up with countless stories of how lands of Tamil citizens were confiscated by the LTTE, often for not paying up what was euphemistically called ‘taxes’ but was in reality extortion.
No Tamil businessman, either in the North or the East or in Colombo or abroad, was free of the long arm of the LTTE money collectors. The response to not contributing as demanded could be lethal. The killings of hundreds of other Tamils – Tamil intellectuals, such as Rajani Thiranagama and Neelan Thiruchelvam and scores of members of rival militant groups, the forced recruitment of children for terrorism, the butchering of Sinhala villagers in the night are some of the acts of the LTTE.
It is possible for a Diaspora member to dismiss these writings as those of a biased Sinhalese. However, what I am writing is not theatrics. I could write tomes on what the Tamil people went through under the LTTE because I have visited these areas independently countless times from the time of the peace process to date in connection with my work in the media, research and capacity building. My interest in comparative spirituality and national heritage has involved countless visits to the North and the East.
Because I am familiar with the everyday issues of the North, I am aware of the kind of exploitation that goes on there. Wealthy Tamil men of Lankan origin who are now holding foreign passports visit the country for short spans time and lure these women with false promises of marriage. Do human rights activists and the Tamil Diaspora know the number of children born to young North East mothers through these liaisons? Mothers are now helpless, abandoned and culturally ostracized.
It is a senior Tamil government official who gave me the information in detail. This person; a Tamil who has held high ranking government positions based in the North during the last phase of the battle against terrorism, had been frank. These comments were thought of as being ‘traitorous’ to the LTTE to the extent that the social media used by the Tamil Diaspora had denounced this Lankan Tamil using the worst possible foul language, resulting in the traumatizing his children and other family members who were studying abroad.
On the question of the numbers of missing Tamil persons (those also referred to as the disappeared), this Tamil official explained how many parents did not know at the last phase of the fighting in 2009, whether their children who had joined the LTTE were living or dead. They did not know the locations of LTTE camps which kept shifting in the last stage of the battle. Every parent imagined that his or her child escaped alive.
Also described was how large graves were dug daily for hundreds of bodies to be buried during the last lap of fighting. ‘Naturally, the parents were unaware of these developments as they were not eye witnesses. To date, they think that their children were alive on May 18 when the hostilities ceased.
A young girl, an LTTE child recruit who was about 22 years when I interviewed her about five years ago, shuddered when she explained that she too could have been classified as one of the ‘disappeared’ if the LTTE cadre who was carrying her to safety listened to her and left her to die in the jungles. She could have died and animals would have eaten her and there would not be definite proof she was dead. She would be categorized as ‘missing’ by her relatives.
Justice and compassion when it is selective can be sour. Last week, this writer highlighted how Thamilini, the head of the LTTE’s women political wing division who surrendered to the military along with many others, faced difficulty in getting international agencies to give her the same amount of importance as they did to other LTTE members caught in the last phase of the battle.
A well known Sri Lankan Tamil lawyer retorted to Thamilini’s appeal for legal assistance by saying he would be only able to represent her case if she pays him the usual feels charged! Thamilini was finally assisted free of charge by a Sinhala Marxist oriented lawyer, with another Tamil lawyer later supporting them.
There are hundreds of rehabilitated LTTE cadres who cannot get jobs in the North, obstructed by issues such as caste. The LTTE saga can be analyzed in the context of caste, money and class. Lankan Tamils who had the benefit of so-called high caste, money, class and international connections went abroad and supported the battle in the North. The Sri Lankan Tamils who had none of it stayed here and fought. A Tamil commentator once described the Tamil Diaspora’s role as being akin to a spectator ‘paying the ticket’ to watch a war movie. Interestingly, the most vociferous defenders of the LTTE I have heard were those who never lived under them.
Epitome of evil
If the aim of the UN Resolution is justice, this cannot be sought by abnormally sainting one side who spearhead the violence and arbitrarily, making the other which countered it as the epitome of evil.
One cannot talk of alleged civilian deaths by the Security Forces when combatting the Tamil Tigers and be silent on the constant strategy adopted by the LTTE in positioning themselves within large groups of civilians, especially children – a strategy that was increased towards the last days where they dragged children and orphans wherever they set up fighting positions so that they could claim that the air-force was bombing schools and orphanages.
It is time Sri Lankans began creating an active and honest mechanism of dealing with internal issues pertaining to the concerns of our people – Lankans can no longer leave the rights of their people to the impaired judgment of the international community. It is time they realized that every single citizen and their grievance – whatever it is – should be looked into – with honest determination – within this nation – which is a sovereign nation that needs no foreign entity telling us what to do.
Honest determination in doing this will be the defining factor for Sri Lankans. Every human life lost in the past 30 years and before as part of violence was a valuable human resource that could have been used for the betterment of the country if the circumstances were different.
We can take a cue from the man who transformed the fishing village in Singapore and made it one of the richest places in the world. Lee Kuan Yew’s miracle was achieved by carefully drawing up a national framework where no civilian gets trapped in violence. He has maintained Singapore’s national sovereignty, economic independence and the wellbeing and dignity of all of its people.