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UNHRC and Sri Lanka

UNHRC and Sri Lanka

The upcoming UNHRC will very likely vote a resolution against Sri Lanka. The US had made clear it is a procedural on and we can expect India to align itself with the Western countries. What does it mean? Absolutely nothing. This is the masterpiece of diplomacy by US, Europe and India, to support the criminal regime of Sri Lanka. In fact all this manoeuvring in Geneva, all this supposed actions against Sri Lanka, in reality are nothing. The 2013 resolution will be merely procedural: it means it won’t bring any novel fact, only it will require to implement the 2012 resolution. It is the case that 2012 resolution, the big betrayal of India against Sri Lanka, was in fact another joke. In 2012 the US sponsored resolution asked the government to implement the LLRC. Now, LLRC was the recommendations for the government by a committee nominated by the government. As you can image, the most serious allegations and issues weren’t touched even marginally: the LLRC was a toothless instrument.

rajapaksa smilingThe focus on LLRC is a diplomatic mirror to elude the reality of fact: the US, Europe and India can confront Sri Lanka on that irrelevant field. Sri Lanka will respond, UN will make more pressure, finally they will find a compromise. Everybody is happy, the West shows it has forgot Sri Lanka, India can say that they fight for the Tamils on the international stage and Colombo can cry on this fake diplomatic defeat.

Can we remind ourselves that the problem in Sri Lanka is not burocracy, or the implementation of a recommendations made by the government to itself, but the serious allegation of war crimes and genocide.

Can someone tell the Tamil diaspora that fighting these risible battles doesn’t make any difference? That if you “defeat” Rajapaksa on this, you are actually losing? Rajapaksa will accept this pressure after long negotiations: do you know that after such compromise, you can’t start to ask something else immediately?

You will win the Geneva vote in 2013 and that will have zero consequence in the process of accountability and even less in the protection of the Tamils in Sri Lanka now.

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“Nemo tenetur se ipsum accusare”

There is a juridical principle that is described by the Latin form: “nemo se tenetur detergere (/se ipsum accusare”. The English equivalent is the right to silence. It is a norm dealing with the statements of a person under accusation: nobody expects that you surrender yourself. On the contrary it is always quite suspicious when someone gives himself to the police. You have two cases of self accusation: authentic confessions and mythomania. The latter is when you are seeking attention, inventing your culpability. Only the former is a true, self accusation. It happens when someone did commit a crime, but was under strong psychological stress and after realizing what happened, he regains full control of himself and assesses correctly his position as guilty. On all the other cases, you expect that someone tends to save himself. No judge is really looking for a confession: that’s why even torture was banned. The perpetrator of a crime is not a reliable source, hence you need to build around a system of evidence that will prove his culpability, without his direct admission.

18th Century English Judge Overwhelmed by Criminal Defendants

The English form states the condition of silence: if you are asked directly, you can stay mute, to prevent a formal self-accusation. But I’m intrigued by the Latin expression. “Detergere” means to clean. Therefore the expression has a broader application. The English form implicitly recognizes that the right to stay silent; but if he speaks, he should tell the truth.

The Latin one, instead, alludes to the fact that the accused is not a (complete) reliable source in anything that he says. Because it is a even too natural temptation to save yourself. Even subconsciously! The facts you decide to mention, in opposition to what you ignore, the words you use, the connection you’ll make, everything could be part of a strategy where you are in conflict of interest to reach the truth. You don’t to unmask the facts, you don’t want the clean, real version. You prefer facts as they benefit you. You can expect the accused one to bring the truth, the clean version of what happened.

Mullivaikal Massacre, 2009 Sri Lanka

Now, in Sri Lanka more than 40 000 people have been brutally massacred outside any possible legal framework. In the United Nations, in the USA, in the Europe, everybody recognizes that those people have been killed outside the justification of a war, because they were civilians. There is a responsibility attached to those deaths. In other words we have a crime.

If we have a crime, then someone is responsible for that. It’s not politics, it’s not diplomacy, it’s not Tamil nationalism: it’s logic!

It is pretty clear that the chain of command during the events of the IV Eelam War, must be seen as it follows: the military chief was general Fonseka, his immediate boss was Gotabaya Rajapaksa and ultimately he was responding to the presindent himself, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Either the chain of command has been respected or it was mutiny. The brothers Rajapaksa never complained, so they explicitly endorsed the operations of Fonseka. My conclusion is that the chain of command goes directly to president Rajapaksa. I’m not controversial: everybody thinks the same, the US ambassador, just to mention one. Quoting The Guardian, WikiLeaks cables: ‘Sri Lankan president responsible for massacre of Tamils’, 1st December 2010:

President Rajapaksa and General Fonseka

in a cable sent on the 15 january this year [2010]2 the US ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that the president and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible. “There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power,” Butenis noted.

I’m sorry if I’m stating the obvious, but when we are discussing the LLRC, the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, appointed by the government, to me it is even too clear that as long as Mr Rajapaksa will be in office, there is not a single chance that he will accuse himself. Never ask an accused man whether he is guilty: it’s human nature to appoint a commission that will dodge facts indefinitely. The international community asked to implement at least what your commission recommended. And we needed a UN resolution for that. And now slowly, and with a welcome by the US (and India, I suppose), finally Rajapaksa will comply with his own version. Latin people would say that it is not the clean one.

On Augutst the 4th or the 5th 2006, 17 aid workers were killed in Muttur, a town close to Trincomalee. At first the Sri Lankan army denied any involvement. But the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, an independent international agency with the mission of controlling the ceasefire. This body war formed after the Peace Talks and its members were primarily from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, difficult to image more neutral observers.

The Head of the Mission, Swedish Major Ulf Hericsson described the incident one of the most serious recent crimes against humanitarian aid workers worldwide”(source: Huggler, Justin (2006-08-31).” Europe accusses Sri Lankan army of assassinating aid workers”, The Independent, UK London) and clearly suspected of governmental forces. The Organisation >u>“University Teachers for Human Rights”, that distanced and criticized both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government for atrocities, released a report about the massacre. I strongly invite everybody to read it, because it is a vivid testimony of the struggle to bring justice in Sri Lanka and it is as well a good work of investigative reportage. The government maintained that the killing happened early in the morning, when the perpetrators should have been the LTTE. Patiently putting all the pieces together, the report is convinced that the massacre was committed later, in the evening of the 4th or in the morning of the 5th, when governmental forces were in control of the area.

Here I’ll quote the result of their investigation:

“On 4th August 2006 17 aid workers were extrajudicially executed in their Action Contre la Faim (ACF) compound in Mutur town. Through blatant cover up by the Sri Lankan authorities, their experts, Attorney General and diplomats overseas the facts of killings have been suppressed along with any potential association between this massacre and the killing of five students on the Trincomalee foreshore on 2nd January 2006.

Muttur Massacre.
From the Sri Lankan Guardian

With the support of individuals equally interested in bringing out the truth and finding justice we have uncovered information that reveals that the 17 aid workers were killed by at least one member of the Muslim Home Guard (Jehangir) and two police constables (Susantha and Nilantha) in the presence of the Sri Lankan Naval Special Forces. Four different types of guns were used. Evidence suggests that the killers had prior approval from ASP (Sarath Mulleriyawa) and OIC (Chandana Senayake) for their vile enterprise. But it is highly unlikely that the ASP and OIC would have taken a reckless approach or that they had any particular reason to want the aid workers killed and they had earlier received orders from Trincomalee to ensure the safety of the aid workers. We believe they may have received an instruction from their superiors in Trincomalee (namely the DIG Rohan Abeywardene and SSP Kapila Jayasekere) that the aid workers should be killed. The commandos must have been informed by their superior to let the killings take place and may be directly responsible for firing the bullets that killed at least one of the aid workers.”

The course of justice has been impeded many times, with disappearance of evidence, perjury down all along the hierarchy of the Attorney General’s Department, the Police, with the government promoting people involved instead of punishing them.

In September 2006 President Rajapaksa launched a commission to investigate the case, remember one the most “serious recent crimes against humanitarian aid workers worldwide”. The Sri Lankan government stated that they don’t need foreigners expertise to carry on this inquiry. They rhetoric of:

”We have our Supreme Court, our judges, our own Police Force, Attorney General, forensic pathologists and ballistic experts. We don’t need foreign help in investigations that are progressing well’.”(from the UTHR report)

This is really a lesson to be learnt and is that the commissions for reconciliation are dead tracks. The killing of 17 aid workers don’t have a responsible: Do you think that the massacre of 40 000 will?

In some part of the North, the soil is actually red. You could mistake it for a Martian ground. But the real sense of estrangement comes from politics.

The history of Sri Lanka and the surrounding region, is a complex one. Major interests orbit in the Indian Ocean; China and India are testing each other; India is still a work in progress as a conglomerate of ethnicities, powers, traditions. The elimination of the LTTE was a move that found too many, too powerful supporters. But the problem resides in the way it has been achieved: a military conquest with a barbaric massacre of civilian population and. We have two clear issues in the aftermath of the IV Eelam War.

The first is that war crimes have been committed. Atrocities were common during the civil war, many done by the LTTE as well. This is by no means an excuse to condone what happened in the Vanni in 2009. The Mullivaikal shores are the emblem of such carnage.

President Rajapaksa unveiled a monument in Pudumathalan, not far from the shores of Mullivaikail, where the last massacres took place.
Courtesy to Sudath Silva

The second is that the military operation was conducted against the LTTE, but the Tamil aspirations haven’t been addressed. Actually it looks like that the ‘Sinhalese State conquered the North’ and its  aim was to subjugate any form of alternative to the majoritarian culture.

Anybody who is dealing with the situation in Sri Lanka knows very well that the army is an oppressive presence; that Tamils are struggling to have the same rights of the Sinhalese, not more, as in the case of the provincial councils . The government wanted to punish the Tamils to reassert a dominion, not be questioned anymore.

Then it comes the circus of media mainstream. On July the 26th, the government issued a plan to implement the recommendations of the LLRC, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. It is a government appointed commission that should inquiry about any measure to be taken to prevent the occurrence of another conflict. In other words it’s a judgement about what happened and what should be done to prevent another ethnic conflict. The reason for the conflict are quite simple: the Tamil minority has been oppressed and cornered to such an extent that its reaction went out of control, in the form of the armed struggle of the LTTE. The IV Eelam War saw the total annihilation of the LTTE and also the complete subjugation of the Tamil civilian population. President Rajapaksa is the architecture of this final, extreme solution. So you shouldn’t expect that a commission appointed by him could achieve too much.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa
courtesy Commonwealth Secretariat

But the farce it has only begun. We are discussing the reasons of the conflict on the merit of an inquiry promoted by the very perpetrator of the final massacre. But now the subject is precisely this: we are discussing the LLRC. And supreme irony, the government struggles to implement even the farce it has established.

The commission has no power of investigating correctly what happened and even less the will to go to the roots of the discrimination and the oppression. But just talking about that, just mentioning the facts is too embarrassing for the government. And it should be. Only in Sri Lanka you can really debate about those facts: they did happen, everybody knows (everybody, including the USA, Europe and the UN), and yet we are arguing about the LLRC.

Buddhist monks, supporters of the government, march towards the U.S. Embassy, to urge the United States to withdraw its support for a proposed U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on alleged abuses during the country’s civil war, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

In March 2012, the UN commission for the human rights approved a resolution ‘against’ Sri Lanka. Much of the Tamil community was ecstatic for this victory, especially because India sided against Colombo. The crude reality of facts is that New Delhi fooled the Tamils, because the vote was powerless. You can celebrate the mere happening of such a friction between Sri Lanka and India, yet if you are waiting for concrete intervention, don’t hold your breath. But the votation actually stated that Sri Lanka should at least implement its own recommendations.

On the 26th of July president Rajapaksa decided to issue the new action line for the implementation of the LLRC, dismissing that it did because of international pressure, you don’t know if it’s time to smile or to cry.

It seems really a parody to discuss the Tamil issue and the situation in the Northern Provinces on the bases of the LLRC. Let’s start with demilitarization. Civilian officers are replacing military ones. “95%”, or so they say. And we are discussing these figures? If you ask the people in the Northern Provinces, they’ll tell you a different story. You need to ask the permission of a army commander to do everything.They are militarizing the mind. Between 60% and 75% of the Sri Lankan army is stationed in the North.

Constant abuse, from intimidation to rapes are normal stories in the day to day life of the Tamil. Most recently, the problem of land grabbing from the army. It is a growing phenomenon that attract some attention. The army is confiscating land from the Tamils. These are just few examples, but the message is that the government has no intention to take seriously the Tamil issue. You don’t need to be an extremist to see that this is simply preparing the ground for a growing tension. Far from reconciliation and unity, it’s just another chapter in the oppression of the Tamils. The LTTE took a wrong path, but you can easily see why it all started. Yet, the LLRC is telling you another story. And bear in mind, they can’t even implement that.

courtesy Daily FT