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chavezIt is nice to have legions of commentators, punters, analysts to discuss and to deconstruct the international relations of states. All this convoluted deployment of intellect is a way to entertain the public opinion, which is growing more and more educated and can be fooled easily.

Take the Bolivarian revolution of Chavez in Venezuela: roaring speeches on one side, “world public enemy number one” on the other. 70% of Venezuelan oil goes to the US; Chavez has been Swissly through and precise in the repayment of Venezuelan bonds: Goldman Sachs and the other made a fortune with the socialist revolution[1].

In Sri Lanka, the government of Rajapaksa is strenuously resisting the siege of Western powers; Sri Lanka stands the assault of foreign interference in national sovereignty. But the substance of the critics is: where are the 80 000 civilians missing. Of course nobody mentions this; the confrontation in the diplomatic sphere is about government-sponsored recommendations that the government doesn’t implement. President Rajapaksa is using the international stage to re-affirm the right to develop: de-colonized nations to choose their own destiny. Standing ovation.

Cairn India Chairman Sundeep Bhandari and Executive Director/CFO Indrajit Banerjee presents the documents to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and Petroleum and Petroleum Resource Minister A. H. M. Fowzie are also in the picture.

Cairn India Chairman Sundeep Bhandari and Executive Director/CFO Indrajit Banerjee presents the documents to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and Petroleum Resource Minister A. H. M. Fowzie are also in the picture.

In private he sold at bargain prices concession for oil exploration. Cairn-Vedanta will pocket 90% of the sales from the Sri Lankan oil[2]. Now, if you are a colonial power, will you prefer to have a hard confrontation on the matters that count, like oil or empty speeches about principles and human rights?

Rajapaksa is working hard for colonial powers and the colonial powers are benefitting with sound, material profits. In public they accuse each other, reinforcing the perception of a clash: European citizens are satisfied of fighting (diplomatically) the right cause and unknowingly (?) pocketing the money; Sri Lankan citizens are happy of maintaining their independence and unknowingly (!) to be stolen once again by the Europeans. When the two parties are extremely happy of the contract, either the deal is very good or it is a scam.

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war tourism

War tourism in Sri Lanka.
Photo BBC

In Sri Lanka a new sector is booming: war tourism. On the site where the last bastion of the LTTE was crushed by the Sri Lankan army, a holiday resort has been built to cater for an audience eager to see with their own eyes these places. The advert reminds that on this lagoon, the heroes of the army, the terrorists of the LTTE and many others, died.[1]

November the 27th was the usual “Martyrs day”, a festival instituted by the Tamil Tigers to commemorate the soldiers fallen for the cause. This year students of the Jaffna University lighted lamps in public in their honour and they were jailed in rehabilitation camp, with the accuse of fomenting hate and the resurgence of terrorism.

tamil victims 2

Tamil victims in Sri Lankan civil war.

In this two episodes it is possible to see all the contradiction of the post-conflict process in Sri Lanka. The government hails as heroes its soldiers; all of them, including the ones responsible of the massacres. It is beyond any reasonable doubt that a huge number of civilians has been killed. The UN first referred to 40 000, but a recent book of Harrison, based on unpublished studies from the World Bank corrected the figures to 70 000. In any case, the death toll is enormous. And they were civilians, Tamil civilians. Therefore any celebration of the state for the “heroes” is a painful reminder of the personal losses for the Tamil community. At the same time, the “terrorists” were fighters for secession of an independent Tamil Eelam, after 60 years of oppression and abuses. Not to mention the fact that they were relatives of many in the

Pro-LTTE rally in London, 2009.Photo BBC

Pro-LTTE rally in London, 2009.
Photo BBC

Tamil population. And they are eager to commemorate their husbands, fathers, brothers and sisters. But the government banned any public sign of mourning the dead. And imposed a rigid silence over the civilian massacres.

The reconciliation will always be in a stall, until these positions will change. The fallen soldiers of both camps died for a cause, some of them committed crimes and most important all the civilians killed, were innocents. This is the source of the crime! The LTTE’s attacks in Colombo and other cities were criminal because they targeted the harmless Sinhalese population. Equally despicable was the involvement of hundreds of thousands Tamil civilians in the military operations led by the Sri Lankan army.

The war is over, but not the tension which caused it. Open hostilities were the symptoms of the disease, not the root. The government recurring theme of the war on terror was a successful brand to convince the West. But the troubled 40 years of independent history preceded the military struggled. The Tamils suffered persecution with communal riots, pogrom and discrimination by the state. The inability or lack of will to fix these grievances are the origin of the military response of the Tamil community.

Government War Memorial near War-Tourist Site Mullivaikal Mullaitivu District

Government War Memorial near War-Tourist Site Mullivaikal Mullaitivu District

At the same time 30 years of violence and war didn’t bring the wished end of that condition. The military option has been defeated and living in the hope of taking arms again won’t change the past. The possibility to mourn the Tamil Tigers should be a right of the community, to remember relatives. But it should be clear also that the LTTE was ruthless organization, that suppressed any form of political freedom and killed any single opposer to their plot.

Until the Sri Lankan state will feel obliged to celebrate its victory against the Tamil, any reconciliation will be clearly impossible. It will reinforce in that community the perception that only armed struggle will bring justice.

On the contrary if both community will realize that victims were the innocents of both camps, that could become the turning point for a real resolution of the tension. The conflict of interest in Sri Lanka can be eased only by a mutual recognition: the legitimacy of the Tamil to maintain their cultural and communal identity and the the right of the state to guarantee the security of its citizens, all of them.

tamil protest

Protests in Tamil Nadu continue over Sri Lankan Tamils issue.

Recent history showed that it is very difficult to try bloody leaders when they lose the war: Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, Milosevic was tried, but died before the verdict, Gaddafi killed in a summary execution. Only Charles Taylor has been convicted and for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, not his own (Liberia). Bashir in Sudan could be the next one, but with strong opposition from the Arab countries. As you can see, it is almost impossible to put on trial state leaders. And these had lost the war, they were on the wrong side. Croatian leaders with very similar responsibilities of Milosevic haven’t been even mentioned; Kosovar gangs of criminals have been rewarded with independence. It goes without saying that misconduct, abuses and tortures committed in Iraq and Afghanistan are out of the agenda.

Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation

360 000 Tamil civilians have been chased, bombarded and starved out.
Photo: Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation

So the idea of starting such a process in Sri Lanka is remote, very remote. Further on it is very clear that the chain of command points straight to the top: President Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya.

More than 80 000 Tamils have been massacred; the army targeted civilians on such a scale, that mass graves are visible from the satellite[1].  And the government was talking of a “zero civilians casualties policy”. You wouldn’t expect from the Rajapaksa administration an outspoken confession; but from US and Europe a more resolute stance to bring justice and accountability.

Rajapaksa won the war and is winning also the post-conflict. I’m convinced that war crimes have been committed: only independent investigations could verify this claim. Given the procedures currently on-going in Geneva, we have almost the certainty that a war crimes case against Sri Lanka will never take place.

 

mullivaikal massacre 2

More than 80 000 Tamil civilians are missing from the last assault in the Nandikadal lagoon, where the people have been bombarded by heavy artillery.

 

 

 

An article of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge will always protect my conviction in the power of words.1 In his last column, Wickrematunge denounced his killers and linked it to the president Rajapaksa. He was aware of the danger of his editorial freedom and his last gesture stands as a temple of courage, intelligence and justice. His magazine’s mission, the Sunday Leader was the critical conscience of civil society in Sri Lanka. After his death, Frederica Jansz, took over and you can say she maintained the spirit of the founder.

In a famous article, she questioned the almighty defense’s minister, state brother Gotabaya on a petty incident. The reaction of the Rajapaksa was arrogant, brutal and violent. Few months after, the struggling Sunday Leader accepted a new owner. And in weeks, the new publisher sacked Frederica.

On the 18th of November it published an apology for the episode2.

It is clearly a heartache for me to read on the same column of Wickrematunge such cowardliness is painful.

But paradoxically this apology screams even louder the arrogance of power, the oppression over freedom of expression and the danger of criticizing the regime than a polemic editorial.

 

Sri Lanka is heading rapidly towards an authoritarian regime and this apology represents a desperate call for freedom.

I just hope that any member of the civil society in Sri Lanka realizes the danger of supporting the Rajapaksa regime, regardless of the short term benefit that could obtain. Any dissent is increasingly seen as anti-patriotic.

This article one time more is denouncing the climate of rising fascism in Sri Lanka. In a convoluted and sad way, the Sunday Leader is still accusing the government, but what a shame that we need to hear it with such oxymoron.

1http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/13/wickrematunga-final-editorial-final-editorial

Episodes of unrest in Greece.
Courtesy BBC

In States governed by the rule of law, governments have a monopoly of violence, but it is restricted to specific occasions and circumstances. It is a failure of the rule of law when a state commits a murder. Always. There are countries which consider themselves at war; this is the case of Israel. Recently a leader of Hamas has been killed1. What is the legitimacy of actions like that? In principle, very low. A governmental entity should always bring to justice any person that is labelled an enemy. A proper tribunal will verify the charges and eventually, sentence to death. This is legitimate.

You can advance an exception when there is an immediate danger for public security: killing one man to save many. To our knowledge, this wasn’t the case. But Israel claims it is in a permanent state of war. The consequence we can draw is that Israel is in a state of suspended legality.

Osama Bin Laden

A second situation in recent history is the killing of Osama Bin Laden. This is a high profile case. Two wars have been declared on the basis of his responsibilities; he wasn’t an immediate threat. The whole event is surrounded by mystery and suspicions. The impression is that the dimension of his personality was growing completely out of control. He was an icon and the US were quite disturbed by his popularity, which was extending beyond the Middle East. His statements about his own actions but also his involvement with the US secret service would have helped a lot in understanding the recent events of world history. The killing of Osama seems very much like cleaning up an uncomfortable and disturbing presence, more than the elimination of a security threat. Legitimacy absent, but not even in discussion: it’s the case of national interest and it’s a curtain on truth and legitimacy.

Killing of Top-LTTE member Parithy in France.
Courtesy of SL Defence Ministry.

And we have a third, recent case. The killing of Parithy, a Top LTTE member in Paris2. War in Sri Lanka is over; there is more than one issue, but they are grievances of the Tamil community, not of the Sri Lankan state. On the contrary, the misconduct of the government during the final stage of the conflict is dragging down also the UN, with an internal report due to be published in weeks, highlighting the failure of the United Nations in protecting the civilian population3. So no national interest was involved, on the contrary Sri Lanka should have better adopted a low profile. If you want justice and reconciliation is always better to bring to the judiciary authority any person, who is deemed responsible for crimes. And the Sri Lankan state should have also captured the leader of LTTE, Prabhakaran, instead of murdering him. Very much like Osama, the government was uncomfortable in dealing with a personality that could have cast more than shadow on the government’s doing. The LTTE was considered a terrorist organization; the trial of its leader could have been a opportunity to come to terms with its own history for Sri Lanka. Of course this is a painful process and it was much easier to eliminate the problem.

UK and France Foreign Ministers Miliband and Kouchner in Sri Lanka, during the attacks on civilians.

I want to conclude with a small observation with regards of killing of Parithy. Sri Lanka is not the US or Israel; it doesn’t have the negotiating power to impose a killing on French sovereign territory. Parithy has been jailed for a couple of years on the accuse of terrorism; he was freed. The Sri Lankan secret service killed him with the complete consent of Paris. This was an act outside the rule of law, so France is an accomplice of the killing. The clue is important to clarify the European position with regards of Sri Lanka. The West was quite moderate and mild in condemning the massacre of 2009. More than 40 000 have been killed, but it could be a staggering 140 000, according to the respectable source of the Bishop of Mannar. Miliband and Kouchner (UK and France foreign ministers at the time) staged a consequenceless drama during the most severe moments of the killing. Europe was culpably silent. This last favour to Sri Lanka shows that they were also associate with those actions.

The last responsibility is for the civil society and for the Tamil diaspora for not being able to convey this simple message to the public opinion in the West, which sleeps in a state of oblivion with regards of justice, accountability and legitimacy.

 

Tamil civilian victims in Mullivaikal, 2009 Sri Lanka.

courtesy indianexpress.com

The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE became entangled in a vortex of violence and brutality. It is undeniable that the blatant disrespect for human life and dignity as the ferocity of the atrocities escalated is the responsibility of both sides.  The difference is that Pranhakaran’s Tigers were an underground, clandestine organization, whilst the Sri Lankan government is part of the international assembly – it is a democratically elected institution regulated by internal and external treaties and normative systems.

The Sri Lankan government had the legitimacy to eliminate the LTTE, who were executing targeted attacks against the civilian populace in alleged retaliation to civilian deaths by the hand of the Sri Lankan government.

courtesy ATP/Getty Images

Herein the problem lies, as you need to morally distinguish your actions from theirs.  Instead, Colombo mimicked the spirit of the cancer it wanted to destroy, retaliating indiscriminately and unnecessarily murdering tens of thousands of civilians.

The LTTE and the Sri Lankan government were so similar that they become one the mirror image of the other”.

(Dr Saravanmuttu, Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, interview for the documentary ‘A Sri Lankan Quest’).