Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Wigneswaran's resolution alleging genocide of Tamils and President's visit to New Delhi



by Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Supreme Court judge and first Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) C.V. Wigneswaran, on Feb. 10, 2015, tabled a resolution alleging genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils, since 1948.

Having overwhelmingly endorsed the resolution, the NPC requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) to inquire into genocide allegations and submit a report at the March session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and refer its findings to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further action.

The NPC demanded that the UN Security Council should refer accountability issues in Sri Lanka to the ICC for prosecutions, based on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Alternatively, or concurrently, domestic courts in countries that may exercise universal jurisdiction over the alleged events and perpetrators, including but not limited to the United States, should prosecute these crimes, the NPC declared.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comfortably won the first NPC poll, held in Sept. 2013, five years after the conclusion of the conflict. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK - led) bagged 30 seats, including two bonus seats in the 38-seat council. The SLFP-led UPFA (seven seats) and SLMC (one) hold the remaining seats.

Wigneswaran launched TNA’s latest initiative amidst Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s first official visit to the US, where he had an opportunity to meet Secretary of State, John Kerry. The NPC project was meant to thwart President Maithripala Sirisena-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s coalition government from reaching an understanding with the US, ahead of the next Geneva session.

The controversial resolution condemned former Presidents JRJ and Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as President Maithripala Sirisena. The NPC pointed out that the then SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, had been acting Defense Minister, in May 2009, during the peak of the government’s attacks against Tamils. It would be pertinent to mention that Maithripala Sirisena had functioned as the acting Defence Secretary for just two days (May 15, 16, 2009) during the then President Rajapaksa’s visit to Jordan.

New govt taken aback

The NPC move surprised the government. In the run-up to the Jan.8, 2015, presidential poll, two lawmakers, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha as well as Wijeyadasa Rajapaske, PC, declared that the Geneva issue could be successfully tackled once the country got rid of the authoritarian Rajapaksa regime. Prof. Wijesinha made the declaration on a live discussion on Al Jazeera even before Maithripala Sirisena quit the government, whereas PC Rajapakshe made his assertion at a media briefing in Colombo during the campaign.

Obviously, the new government had miscalculated the TNA/NPC’s intentions and therefore it couldn’t ignore the urgent need to re-examine its position. The TNA/NPC also timed the resolution for President Maithripala Sirisena’s first official visit to New Delhi.

The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to pay a very heavy price for failing to take tangible action to counter TNA propaganda. In spite of glaring shortcomings being brought to the notice of the then government, those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence ignored the threat. Instead of a change of strategy, the previous government outsourced Sri Lanka’s defence to expensive US public relation firms which did nothing to improve the situation. The government never realized that it couldn’t bribe the US through PR firms. The idiotic leadership went to the extent of paying a colossal amount of money even to US - based middleman, Imad Zuberi, to influence the US policy through PR firms. Zuberi is believed to have received $ 4.5 mn for his services. Had the previous administration at least closely studied the enemy’s strategy, it could have taken counter measures. But, unfortunately, the government wasn’t bothered. Instead of addressing existing accountability issues, it created fresh issues, such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). The previous government also hired a group of international experts. That project, too, had been a failure, though a massive amount was paid. The Sunday Times political column last week revealed that four international experts had been a staggering Rs 400 million for their services during seven months. The previous government should be investigated as regards these payments.

NPC right to move int’l court

The NPC’s right to call for UN intervention should never be challenged. Let, the learned retired Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran move the international community against Sri Lanka over the injustices caused to his people by successive Sri Lankan governments. It would be a great mistake on Sri Lanka’s part to deprive him of an opportunity to seek justice. The new government should request Wigneswaran, as well as those having whatever information/evidence to prove genocide, to make them available to the UN and the new government. President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday (Feb.13) reiterated his commitment to a new domestic inquiry mechanism. The assurance was given at his first formal meeting with Colombo - based representatives of diplomatic missions.

The TNA/NPC resolution was meant to bring maximum possible pressure on the new government ahead of President Maithripala Sirisena’s first official visit to New Delhi, and the next Geneva session in March. However, the resolution conveniently left out several issues, which the writer believes should be raised by the government. The government should seriously consider making counter submissions to the UN. The previous government never realized the requirement to counter specific allegations propagated by the TNA/NPC or point out what was left out. The UN call for an external investigation into accountability issues had been based on allegations made by faceless Sri Lankans.

Let me examine contentious issues which hadn’t been mentioned in the 11-page resolution.

*Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in this predicament if not for Indian military intervention here in the 80s. India recruited, trained and armed thousands of terrorists in training facilities, both in India and Sri Lanka. India also provided funds. No less a person than one-time Foreign Secretary, J.N.Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ launched in 2004, admitted India’s guilt. Sri Lankan politicians had never referred to ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ by HarperCollins Publishers though it was undoubtedly the most authoritative statement as regards the Indian intervention here. Perhaps, our politicians and officials are busy in enjoying perks and privileges of office, they couldn’t be bothered with what the former Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka revealed. Dixit’s statement was nothing but an indictment of India. Dixit alleged that Sri Lanka’s relationship with the US, Israel and Pakistan prompted New Delhi’s intervention. But Dixit faulted the then Premier Indira Gandhi for giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil terrorists.

Perhaps Wigneswaran should urge the UN to inquire into India’s accountability, particularly in the backdrop of an international war crimes tribunal sentencing one-time Liberian President Charles Taylor for a 50-year jail term for sponsoring terrorism in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Taylor is now held in a British prison.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed by former President Rajapaksa failed to examine the origins of the war.

*The NPC accused the JRJ government of overseeing the massacre of over 3,000 Tamils, rape of 500 women, destruction of 8,000 houses and 5,000 businesses in July, 1983. The NP also alleged that about 500,000 Tamils fled the country. The government also allowed Sinhala prisoners to slaughter 37 Tamil political prisoners, detained at Welikada Prison, the NPC alleged, though no reference was made to the circumstances leading to the attack on Tamil civilians.

Attacks on civilians cannot be condone under any circumstances. Having said that it would be pertinent to stress that the July, 1983, massacre wouldn’t have happened if not for Indian intervention. The LTTE provoked the unprecedented violence by wiping out an army patrol in Jaffna, on the night of July 23, 1983. The army went on the rampage in Jaffna after hearing of the death of 13 personnel, the first major attack on the army. Sinhala mobs caused massive death and destruction in the South. Both the army and Sinhalese should be accountable for atrocities committed during July 1983. But, India’s despicable role in giving wherewith to Tamil terrorists to take on the Sri Lankan army, too, should be examined. The NPC should be asked to make its position clear on the Indian involvement.

*The resolution ignored the atrocities committed by the Indian Army during its deployment in Sri Lanka during July, 1987-March, 1990. The Indian Army was also accused of wanton killings, rape of women as well as running death squads. NPC member, Dharmalingham Siddarthan, is on record as having said that Indian trained terrorists at the behest of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), killed two Jaffna District members of parliament, including his father at that time. Perhaps, Wigneswaran can ask an explanation from Siddarthan, whom the writer associated with since 1989. The Indian Army, too, lost over 1,500 men in the hands of the LTTE, while double that number received injuries.

*Indian destabilization project aimed at Sri Lanka caused mayhem in the Maldives, in Nov, 1988. Sea-borne Indian trained terrorists, from Mannar, Sri Lanka, raided the Maldives at the behest of a Maldivian based in Colombo. Swift Indian military intervention thwarted their plan, with the Indian navy intercepting a ship commandeered by Sri Lankan mercenaries. The Indian navy sent that ship to the bottom of the sea. Some Sri Lankan terrorists perished in that confrontation, while some were rescued, along with the Maldivian leader of the coup, and handed over to authorities in Male.

* The NPC listed several atrocities committed by government forces during the conflict. Among the listed cases were disappearance of 332 Tamils, including 38 children from the Vantharamoolai refugee camp, as well as three villages, including Sathurukkondaan, in Sept, 1990. However, the NPC avoided referring to any of the civilian massacres carried out by Tamil terrorists and execution of prisoners of the conflict, particularly the massacre of several hundred policemen who surrendered to terrorists in June 1990. The NPC also ignored cleansing the Northern Province of the Muslim community in Oct/Nov 1990. The LTTE killed hundreds of Muslims in attacks on Mosques in the Eastern Province.

A Norwegian, sentenced for the murder of nearly 80 men, women and children, in 2011, declared that he followed the Sri Lankan example of driving the Muslims out from the Northern Sri Lanka.

*Although the NPC referred to one Wiki Leaks cable pertaining to war crimes, perhaps one of the most important US diplomatic cables pertaining to Sri Lanka was left out.

The cable, dated July 15, 2009 signed by the then Geneva - based US ambassador, Clint Williamson, cleared the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) of crimes against humanity during the offensive. The cable addressed to the US State Department was based on a confidential conversation Ambassador Williamson had with the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009.

Ambassador Williamson wrote: "The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He could cite examples of where the army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet they chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GoSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians, despite the approach leading to higher military casualties."

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether this particular cable had been examined by a Norwegian - funded inquiry conducted by the CMI (Christian Michelsen Institute) and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). The Ambassador also quoted de Maio as having said that the Sri Lankan military was somehow responsive to accusations of violations of international humanitarian law. The Sri Lankan military was also open to adapting its actions to reduce casualties, but only to the extent that it wouldn’t undermine its overriding military objective to destroy the LTTE, de Maio was quoted in the secret US cable. Now that Norway had accepted US diplomatic cables could help establish the situation in war-time Sri Lanka, perhaps the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) inquiring into alleged atrocities committed here, too, should examine the US diplomatic cables.

The previous government never made a real effort to study Wiki Leaks, though ‘The Island’, on numerous occasions, stressed the pivotal importance of exploring every avenue. In fact, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated to such an extent if the government paid attention to what was going on. The government also ignored the then US Defence Advisor Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith’s declaration MADE IN JUNE 2011, TWO YEARS AFTER THE CONCLUSION OF THE CONFLICT that there was no basis for allegations made against the SLA during the final phase of the assault. The External Affairs Ministry simply sat on it. Although the GoSL often issued lengthy statements in response to various allegations directed at the country, vital and contentious issues were left out.

The GoSL never bothered to take up TNA backing war winning Army Chief, Gen. Sarath Fonseka at Jan, 2010 presidential election after having accused his army of killing thousands of people, with the international community. Had the TNA really believed the SLA intentionally killed Tamil civilians on the Vanni front, the grouping would never have urged Tamils to exercise their franchise in support of Gen. Fonseka, who bagged all five electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Having backed Gen. Fonseka’s and Maithripala Sirisena’s candidate (Fonseka also backed Maithripala) in 2010 and 2015, respectively, the TNA has again raised accountability issue pertaining to Democratic Party (DP) leader Sarath Fonseka.