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mullivaikal

More than 80000 Tamil civilians were killed during the last attacks of the Sri Lankan civil war.

One may be tempted to say that it is not the first case of impunity, not even in recent history. True: in Syria for example there are concurrent narratives of propaganda blaming alternatively the government and the rebels. But the novelty in respect of Sri Lanka is the absence of competitive perspectives. It is well known that China protects Sri Lanka; a little less divulged is the Indian protection of Sri Lanka. But the real point is that the West is actually not interested in accusing Sri Lanka. The US made very bland recommendations to Colombo, in comparison what is at stake. The impression is that the Sri Lankan government shall be charged for mishandling the behaviour of its troops. The boys went too far in certain circumstances, but we don’t have the political will to scold our naughty soldiers.

500 000 Tamil civilians were chased out,through shelling and starvation.

500 000 Tamil civilians were chased out,through shelling and starvation.

The accusation is far from this insipid criticism: the government of Sri Lanka launched a heavy military offensive against hundreds of thousands of civilians. Again, it’s better to have clear in mind that we are not speaking of isolated episodes: the plan was to bring war in the middle of Tamil inhabited areas. The operation was designed to bring havoc in every Tamil house. At the peak of the Vanni operation, almost half a million of people has been chased, starved and bombed out. It is less about the casualties and more about the intentions. The carnage of 80000 civilians is still not the most horrible part of the truth. Soldiers massively brainwashed and put under extreme psychological stress, can eventually go crazy and out of control. This is still criminal and to blame. But the Sri Lankan case is worst: the government planned to massacre the civilians. We are not discussing episodes of crossfire: we are accusing the government of Sri Lanka of heavy shelling on harmless population. Repetitively. It was a decision, it was planned.

united nations

The silence of the United Nations is a crucial accomplice in the massacres.

And the United Nations, the government of USA, UK, India, France, Norway and Japan know what happened. The UN actually published a report where it estimates at 40000 the number of civilian casualties[1]. Moreover an internal inquiry from the UN provided even more critical observations about the accomplice negligence[2].

New Delhi provided military intelligence, electronic surveillance and field support on the ground: India was informed in real time. Actually, it was New Delhi that was informing Colombo about the development of action.

Now such carnage won’t be sanctioned.

Why? Several reasons for the convenience of geopolitical equilibrium. We have some suspicions that the oil discovery in the LTTE[3] controlled area could have been a game changer, especially for India (with Vedanta and Cairn) and European countries, like the UK (again with Cairn and Vedanta, both London-listed), France (with Total); but also Malaysia, with its powerful Tamil presence, was involved through Petronas[4].

The estimated reserves of the Mannar Basin oil field  are up to a billion barrels.

The estimated reserves of the Mannar Basin oil field are up to a billion barrels.

Aside this allegation, the undisputed outcome is that Sri Lanka will walk away from a planned massacre with total impunity, because it made the right diplomatic move. Namely, it sought agreement with every power involved. With the US, Colombo justified the operation with war on terror (it was actually a civil war). With China, it sold out a port facility (to be included in the String of Pearls). With the other Sri Lanka exchanged attractive economic deals (the exploration rights have been ceded at bargaining price). In fact during the final phase of the war, the duo Kouchner-Miliband improvised a timid protest[5], but already in 2011 France was pledging support to Sri Lanka[6] (in 2012 Paris collaborated with Sri Lankan secret service in the extra-judiciary killing of an Ex-LTTE member Parithi[7] and in 2013 Total is ready to join the Mannar Basin deal[8]), while UK was deeply compromised with Colombo for arm trade (see the scandal that led to the resignation of Defence minister Liam Fox[9]) and economic interest (Cameron lobbied in favour of Cairn and Vedanta with Indian government[10]).

This episode will establish an important precedent in international jurisprudence: heavy diplomacy with all the parties, with all the regional and global powers will give you clearance on everything you do. Everything.

Mullivaikkal Massacre May 2009

Mullivaikkal Massacre May 2009


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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.

 

 

 

no war franceFrance became the global defender of peace and international justice when it antagonized the USA for the war in Iraq. Legions of citizens looked at Paris as the guardian of civilization: again the nation of liberte egalite fraternite stood against the brutal, warmongering forces which regularly try to strangle the universal values of citizenship and human rights. Very well, nice, lovely. Only, France didn’t oppose USA for those reasons; it is true that they considered the war in Iraq as unlawful: but the big problem was that they were excluded from the loot, not the war itself!

In fact France is not against colonial imperialism: it was one of the major colonial forces in the past; what France object is to be left behind in the race. In Iraq Paris could clearly see that the Iraqi oil was going all in American pipes. Mon Dieu! Never again!

france warSo when the Arab spring shook the region, France was more than ready to invade another country and to plug French pipe in the Libyan oil wells. The war in Mali signifies a new commitment of France in Africa. Mali’s undersoil is supposed to contain uranium, oil, gas and gold[1]; it is also a neighbour of Nigeria, which has an increasing agitated scenario by its own Islam groups[2]. Whatever the reason, France is on the move to re-assert its sphere of influence[3].

kouchner milibad

France and UK foreign ministers Kouchner and Miliband meet Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa.

So I have a rule of thumb: if you see a French diplomat on the move, ask yourself what business is in sight. During the last days of the Eelam War, we saw Kouchner and Miliband (respectively France and UK foreign ministers) running to make pressure on Colombo’s government. What kind of pressure? Well some photographic posing, speeches in favour of human rights and the rule of law. In brief, absolutely nothing. Now, Great Britain has very clear economic interests: they sell weapons to Sri Lanka and they are actively involved in the oil exploration in the Mannar Basin. Cairn and Vedanta are listed in London, though they are Indian companies. But France will remain seated while others are making money in the usual colonial way? Mon Dieu, impossible!

Parithi killing in Paris

LTTE member Parithi Killed in Paris, 2011

Last year a former LTTE leader (the secessionist Tamil movement, defeated in 2009 with the massacre of 80 000 civilians),  Nadaraja Matheetharan alias Parithi was killed in Paris by agents of the Sri Lankan secret services[4]. My big question was: how France can allow such a move on its soil? Especially after Sri Lanka should maintain quite a low profile with the international community and the West… What happened?

Well Cairn and Vedanta don’t hold an exclusive of exploration: they have concession for ONE zone. In the 2013 Sri Lanka will organize another round of auctions. Which are the front-runners? Exxon and Total[5]. I think we’ll hear a lot of noise in Geneva about committee and votes, and alignment, and new resolution and all this sort of empty talking. I suspect that the murder of Parithi was a “gesture of good will” from France in the perspective of the oil exploration rights bidding. totalHuman rights declaration is not worth the paper is written on if you don’t have the political will to enforce it. Mon Dieu, colonial times are over, can can’t interfere in internal matters, we only give wise, impotent advices. Of course the farcical clash of interest is merely superficial: the government of Sri Lanka can show its citizens and supporters that they stand against the old colonial power, the European countries can show their own citizens, they stand for the right cause, but diplomatic route will take time. And we have plenty of time, don’t we? History is not written in a day, oil contracts are. Anything else left to discuss in Geneva?

children of warIt’s not about the Tamils, even less the LTTE. The war is over and the plight of an independent Eelam is not part of the debate now. But we have a carnage of innocents. Even the UN, the most cautious and cowardice institution of the planet, recognized that a huge number of innocents died. Estimate from the World Bank put the number even higher, 100 000. The bishop of Mannar reached 140 000. But this is not bean-counting: these are other human beings. The final figure is less relevant than the meaning of what happened.

It seems like a game, that the higher the better for the Tamil cause, the lower, a score for Colombo. Wrong, badly wrong. In such a massacre, everybody is a loser. And responsible. This is what people don’t understand in Colombo and to some extent in Canada, Australia and the UK. It’s not about the Tamils and the Sinhalese.

sri lanka war crimes

Summary execution of Tamil men by Sri Lankan soldiers.
Photo: Channel 4/ Getty Images

We need justice for 100 000 human beings and their family. This is a collective mourning. World politics can push two groups to commit heinous mistakes. As the community of citizens of this world it is our duty to find this misconduct and to sanction it. I’m not interested in scoring for the Tamil cause, this won’t take the independence of Eelam a step closer. The Tamil community will think about this tragedy in its own terms. This is not the point.

There are credible allegation that an enormous number of civilians died. Women, children, elderly all non combatants. We need to establish the truth of what happened. And we need to know who decided it to go all the way. I want to know the role played by Mr. Rajapaksa, president of Sri Lanka and Mr. Fonseca, command in chief of Sri Lanka’s army. But also by Mr. Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE and Mr. Singh, prime minister of India. I want to know in details why Mr Karunanidhi, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, didn’t oppose the political decision in support of the offensive. And it’s mandatory to understand why the European governments, in primis the UK, didn’t raise an eyebrow during the worst days of the massacre.

situation_report_25th_april_tamilnational_bannerI want to know all these facts because otherwise I’m an accomplice. It’s not about foreign intervention in a sovereign state: it’s being human and feeling mercy and shame for what happened.

If you can kill all this human brethren and we don’t care, we are not humans anymore.

My appeal goes to the Sinhalese friends: please, help us in restoring justice.

If you think you were on the right side of justice in your fight against the LTTE, if you think that your actions were correct and fair, you want to know the truth more than everybody else. If you are compassionate about the life of every animal and plant, if you spare blood in religious sacrifices, then you have the right mindset to understand the horrible responsibility that all of us share with such a crime. We need to investigate the carnage to restore a righteous course of action. It’s not sovereign intervention. It’s human compassion.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met US foreign secretary HIllary Clinton.
Courtesy Reuters/Cameron

In the last two years Myanmar embarked on a series of reforms that promise to bring democracy and to open up the country. The Burmese people are in desperate need of involvement from the international community, but it is very likely that the first who will come in Myanmar will be the usual suspects. The country is blessed with natural resources, from oil to gems, not to mention its strategic position. In fact China already built port facilities for what the US called “the String of Pearls”. So it is very important to monitor the way investors are coming in Myanmar. In this article1 , civil society groups express their concern for the pace of development, too fast, with no attention for the humanitarian cost. Norway in particular is leading the way in funding peace-building in community affected area. The head of the Norwegian mission, Mr Petrie declared:

 

Charles Petrie, Head of MPSI in Myanmar.
Courtesy: UN Photo / JC McIlwaine

The real concern [of activists and civil society groups] is the fact that the political process hasn’t started or has not been developed sufficiently far enough… On the part of government officials, there does seem to be a commitment to dialogue, but I think that some of the groups want a clearer idea of how that is going to proceed,”

According to Petrie, MPSI’s aim is to provide immediate support for the tentative ceasefires through humantiarian relief as well as building trust between the government and ethnic minority communities through development projects. MPSI is funding projects in Rakhine, Chin, Shan and Mon states.2

Petrie criticized severely the government in 2007 and was expelled. His words are an important warning. And everybody should listen, including Norway. Indeed as recently as a couple of weeks ago, Norwegian prime minister Stoltenberg, vowed to strength cooperation about energy, hydropower, oil and gas, fishery and communication3. This angle of the news came from the Chinese agency Xinhua. Other sources are of course highlighting the Norwegian effort in building peace and easing the tension amongst minorities.4

Norway’s Prime Minister Stoltenberg visits Burma’s President Thein Sein.
Courtesy Myanmar Government

The lesson is that Norway is coming to Myanmar with a real concern for human rights and a real interest in the country’s natural resources. It is a good way to bring attention for the humanitarian aspect when dealing with economic development. You can call it best practices. Yet the Norwegian endeavour is far from being dispassionate. And we must remember this. Very often the West criticized action of other countries, in primis China, but they rarely debate the fact that we are talking of a competition, that the race for natural resources must be win. And one of your tool can be the humanitarian groups, but it is crucial to recognize that is a tool, for the real purpose of economic exploitation.

Petrie led the internal report on the UN action in Sri Lanka.
Courtesy: Sky News

Otherwise the objectivity of the debate becomes very questionable. It is worth to mention that Petrie issued a very critical internal report against the UN agency in Sri Lanka during the end of the civil war in 2009. The UN intervention in Sri Lanka was a massive failure, missing the very purpose of its presence, namely protecting civilians. So it is more than welcomed the internal review of such misconduct. Yet, the fact that Petrie was appointed to lead the committee raised some question about conflict of interests5. Especially if you consider the past involvement of Norway in the Sri Lankan peace process. If you advocate for the principles, then be careful to follow your own preaching.

The international community faces a curious challenge with regards of Sri Lanka. In fact we are in presence of a massive violations of human rights, happened during the end of the war, not to mention also the continuous incidents of unlawful abductions, suppression of press freedom and abuses from the military and organized thugs. The point of the clash is about sovereignty on internal affairs; the argument from Sri Lanka, China and Russia is that any state is absolutely sovereign in disputes within its borders. The way to deal with internal dissent, discontent or even open revolt is entirely national. So not matter how disproportionate can be the reaction against these dissenting forces, it would be always regulated by internal mechanisms.

The West challenges precisely this notion, that any kind of violence is admissible. But it is a opposition largely on principles. In fact it is always too well known that the West screams loudly against violations of rival countries, whilst with allies and friends the protests are definitely quiter.

People’s unrest in Bahrain has been stopped with brutality
courtesy BBC

The example of Lybia and Syria on one side and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the other. You don’t need to be a genius of geopolitics to see that the cases are precisely the same and only a decision of convenience makes them different.

You can consider Sri Lanka as a test. Colombo is leaning very clearly towards the non-Western front of China and the World South (Africa, Asia and Latin America), but is not yet a enemy. And this indecision is becoming an accusation against the West. Evidences of violations and war crimes during the end of the conflict are there. Even the UN, even Ban Ki Mon is (almost) tempted to say something. Satellite pictures, mobile footages, Wikileaks reports are so in front of your eyes that it seems almost a joke their denial.

The killing of civilians in Syrian civil war has been firnly condemned by the West and largely publicized.
REUTERS/Shaam News Network

And now we come to the point. Why it is so difficult to make a move and tarnish Sri Lanka with the same accusations? The main justification is about diplomacy: it will cause more harm than help to the victims and to the refugees, such a direct confrontation. It is better to wait. Why? In Syria and Libya you didn’t need any time to wait. With Saudi Arabia and Bahrain the case is already closed. The supect is that you can really decide whether Sri Lanka is an open rival or a distant friend. Only when it will be sorted out, then you’ll know whether Sri Lanka committed the crimes or not. In other terms the violations are against the alignment with the West, not the human rights.

If you can’t decide whether a violation has been committed or not, because you can’t decide on the alliance, then you reinforce the arbitrariness. The defence of human rights is becoming more and more a soft power of the West against China, Russia and other countries of the World South.

China’s vote in the United Nations’s security council
Xinhua

But rapidly this hypocrisy will backfire. The protection of human rights is a principle; if it can be bent to arbitrary necessity, then it is not a principle any more and countries like China are entitled to see these accusations merely as an intrusion.

The case of Sri Lanka reflects even too much this duplicity: the pressure is directly proportional to its distance from the West. The paradox is that if you raise the tone, the country will quickly move far away, so the necessity of escalating the case will make duplicity even more patent. If you remain silent, you’ll gain “points” in other cases, but then you’ll reinforce the negotiable nature of your battle for principles. This is the paradox of Sri Lanka, that prosecution on its violations will uncover the hypocritical fight of the West.

The solution to paradox is of course very simple: you need to stand for human rights always. It is a principle, therefore is not negotiable. The argument is that those principles are better protected by the West, even when they are violated. I don’t know your opinion, but to me this sounds dramatically unconvincing.

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