SPECIAL REPORT : Part 66March 10, 2015, 5:24 pm
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Alleging that successive Sri Lankan governments had perpetrated genocide, targeting the Tamils, the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) claimed that the Vanni massacre, of 2008-2009, was rehearsed in the Eastern Province, during Aug 2006-June 2007.
The unprecedented claim was made in a controversial resolution adopted by the NPC, on Feb. 2015. Former Supreme Court judge, and Northern Province Chief Minister, C. V. Wigneswaran, accepted responsibility for the resolution. Alleging that genocide of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, had been taking place since 1948, the NPC called for an UN investigation and refer its findings to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further action.
The resolution alleged that the Sri Lankan military had deliberately targeted Tamil civilians with aerial, artillery and naval bombardment, especially during Eelam War IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009) and as many as 60,000-100,000 perished over the course of the 27-year-long war. The much repeated accusation, that cluster ammunition had been used during Eelam War IV, was repeated. CM Wigneswaran’s claim should be examined, along with a declaration made by a UK member of parliament. MP Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Labour) told the House of Commons, on Sept. 15, 2011, that Sri Lanka’s war, in its last five months alone, had claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 40,000 of them civilians. The previous government never challenged this statement, even after the writer brought it to the notice of the relevant authorities.
The NPC alleged the military, on Aug 28, 2006, launched a multi-pronged offensive against the LTTE-held region, stretching from Sampoor to Vaharai.
As usual, the SLFP-led UPFA, now embroiled in a damaging internal dispute over ongoing attempt to secure prime ministerial nomination for defeated presidential candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, didn’t even bother to respond to the NPC’s allegation. In fact, the UPFA had never really countered the LTTE/TNA propaganda campaign, especially after the conclusion of the conflict in May, 2009. For want of a cohesive strategy, to counter blatant lies, the LTTE/TNA had been able to come up with new theories. The Vanni genocide of 2008-09 had previously been rehearsed in the Eastern Province, was a case in point.
While falsely accusing Sri Lanka of genocide in the Eastern Province (Aug 2006-June 2007), the NPC compared Sri Lanka war strategy to that of Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia.
It would be pertinent to discuss the liberation of the Eastern Province in the wake of genocide charges being brought against the government. The NPC’s declaration that the Vanni massacre, of 2008-2009, had been rehearsed in the Eastern Province, during Aug 2006-June 2007, shouldn’t go unchallenged.
The NPC resolved: "The obligation to prevent and punish genocide, under the Genocide Convention, is not a matter of political choice or calculation, but one of binding customary international law. This Council urges OISL to comprehensively investigate and report on the charge of genocide in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council, in March 2015. The UN Security Council should refer the situation, in Sri Lanka, to the International Criminal Court 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."
LTTE readies for war
The LTTE quit the negotiating table, in late April, 2003. The move was meant to disable the Norwegian-led peace process. Having sabotaged the peace process, the LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in early, Aug. 2005. In April, 2006, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The then government had to launch a limited operation to re-open the sluice gates of Mavil Aru, in late July-Aug, 2006. But the government still remained reluctant to go on the offensive. In fact, the military lacked the wherewithal to launch a large scale operation. The Rajapaksa administration engaged the LTTE twice, in Geneva, in the run-up to the launch of a multi-pronged offensive against the LTTE-held region, stretching from Sampoor to Vaharai.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) remained committed to the LTTE’s cause. The TNA did nothing to discourage the LTTE from provoking the government to large scale confrontation. The government had no option but to take military action against an unprecedented enemy build-up in Trincomalee.
CM Wigneswaran had forgotten that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the army to neutralize the LTTE threat, on Trincomalee harbour, in the wake of an attempt to sink the troop-career, Jetliner, ferrying nearly 900 military personnel, in early August, 2006. The LTTE also carried out a massive attack on the Muhamalai frontline, causing heavy losses among the army. This was also in early August, 2006. The President’s directive to clear the Eastern Province was his response to the LTTE threat. Hence, the TNA claim that the military campaign, in the Eastern Province, had been a rehearsal for Vanni genocide was nothing but a blatant, lie meant to discredit Sri Lanka.
The LTTE resumed mine attacks, in early Dec. 2005, less than two weeks after Rajapaksa assumed presidency. In early Jan. 2006, an LTTE suicide boat rammed a Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Trincomalee. So-called political chief, S. P. Thamilchelvan, promptly alleged that a civilian carried out the attack to protest against the ill-treatment of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan military. Thamilselvam’s statement received international media coverage.
Although CM Wigneswaran has now opted to accuse the previous government of genocide of Tamils, during the combined forces campaign in the Eastern Province, the LTTE never made such an accusation. The writer couldn’t remember the Tamil media alleging genocide of Tamils in the Eastern Province. The Tamilnet, in spite of taking a strong stand against the government offensive, never accused the army of genocide. CM Wigneswaran, and all members of the NPC, should be asked to furnish whatever information/evidence they have regarding the massacres carried out by the army, in the Eastern Province, to the new government, as well as to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, released on March 31, 2011, never asserted that genocide of Tamils took place in the Eastern Province.
Now that an extremely serious allegation had been made, it would be the responsibility of the CM Wigneswaran led NPC to prove it.
The writer is of the opinion that UN investigators should be given access to both Northern and Eastern Provinces. In fact, the previous government’s refusal to deny them access had been fully exploited by those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal. The Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, too, caused an irreparable damage because the previous government refused to cooperate with the inquiry. Had the government participated in the processes, it could have had an opportunity to counter the blatant lies propagated by those who supported Prabhakaran’s despicable Eelam project. The previous government never resorted to an efficient strategy. Instead, it played politics with the issue. The UPFA felt that the mere threat of the Geneva conspiracy was enough to entice the electorate. That project went awry at the last presidential poll. Today, the country is paying a very heavy price for the previous government’s foolish handling of accountability issues.
The new government needs to review the entire process. Setting up of a new domestic inquiry mechanism wouldn’t be enough. Justice Minister Wijeyedasa Rajapakshe, PC, during a recent visit to the UK, declared that the government hadn’t decided to initiate a fresh probe, though the government remained committed for a thorough investigative process. Most importantly, Minister Rajapakshe said that the process, undertaken by the new government, too, would be guided by the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as well as the international panel of experts appointed by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
CM Wigneswaran totally ignored the contentious issue of child soldiers. Tamil political leadership never raised this issue. The Tamil media, as well as well-funded civil society organizations, lacked the courage to oppose the use of children as cannon fodder. Now that CM Wigneswaran has called for an UN probe on genocide of Tamils, let me examine, briefly the use of children as STRATEGIC TOOL to achieve military objectives.
All Indian trained terrorist groups enticed children into their ranks. However, at the onset of the war, terrorist groups never had to forcibly recruit children. In fact, they never really targeted children, during Eelam war I (July, 1983 to July, 1987). However, the LTTE had to recruit children as the group rapidly expanded, following the withdrawal of the Indian Army, in March, 1990. Gradual transformation of the LTTE, to a conventional fighting force, compelled its leadership to forcibly conscript children. Prabhakaran deployed children in high intensity battles involving armour, artillery, as well as helicopter gunships. Children perished in large numbers on the northern front.
The situation deteriorated to such an extent that the UN intervened in early 1998, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President. The then UN Secretary-General sent his special emissary, Olara Otunnu, to work out an agreement with the LTTE to stop forcible recruitment of children. Although, the LTTE entered into an agreement with the UN, to discontinue to use of child soldiers, Prabhakaran never stopped the despicable practice.
Tamil political parties remained silent. So-called civil society didn’t utter a word. They obviously accepted the LTTE’s right to use children in combat. They didn’t dare challenge Prabhakaran’s right to command/deploy children.
The LTTE refused to discuss the issue of child soldiers, in accordance with a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed on Feb. 23, 2003 under the auspices of the Norwegian government. The Norwegian government would be able to clarify this issue. It would be pertinent to recollect what Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the Peace Secretariat (Feb.2002 to May 2006) had to tell the LLRC, in Sept. 2010.
The then UNP heavyweights, ministers, Prof. G. L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda hadn’t been able to convince the LTTE to accept four key matters in the drafting of the provisions of the CFA. The LTTE behaved arrogantly. By then CM Wigneswaran’s TNA had recognized the LTTE as sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. Therefore, the Tamil political leadership simply looked the other way, while the LTTE squandered another chance of reaching an understanding with the Sri Lankan government. The TNA did nothing to save the peace process by at least issuing a statement supportive of the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe spearheading the peace initiative.
Gooneratne told the LLRC that forcible conscription hadn’t been added to prohibited activities in accordance with the CFA. Gooneratne, then detailed complaints received by the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) from Feb.1, 2002 to Dec. 31, 2005:
Firing of weapons (18), military related abductions (7), assassinations (117), hostile acts against civilian population (207), torture (22), intimidation (127), abduction of adults (1,187), abduction of children (297), extortion (98), harassment (794) and forcible child recruitment (2,089).
Prabhakaran continued with child recruitment, even on the Vanni east battle front, as the Sri Lankan Army steadily advanced on multiple fronts.
Tamil Nadu political parties remained silent. In fact, none of those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part didn’t urge Prabhakaran to surrender. Until the very end, an influential section of the TNA hoped that Prabhakaran could somehow stall the army until Western powers could intervene here.
The following paragraph, taken from Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, released on March 31, 2011 revealed the mentality of the LTTE leaders. None of those who had been shedding crocodile tears for Tamils never commented on the LTTE’s brutality, even after the UN released the report. The relevant paragraph: "In spite of the futility of their military situation, the LTTE not only refused to surrender, but also continued to prevent civilians from leaving the area, ensuring their continued presence as a human buffer. It forced civilians to help build military installations and fortifications or undertake other forced labour. It also intensified its practice of forced recruitment, including of children, to swell their dwindling ranks. As LTTE recruitment increased, parents actively resisted, and families took increasingly desperate measures to protect their children from recruitment. They hid their children in secret locations or forced them into early arranged marriages. LTTE cadres would beat relatives or parents, some times severely, if they tried to resist the recruitment. All these approaches, many of them aimed at defending the LTTE and its leadership, portrayed callousness to the desperate plight of civilians and a willingness to sacrifice their lives."