Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Accountability issues: Culpability of int’l community




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The previous government had been widely criticized for directing the UN and other INGOs, excluding the ICRC, to suspend operations in the Vanni in Sept. 2008. The government issued instructions in this regard amidst fierce fighting on multiple fronts in the region.

The government decision was announced on the morning of Sept. 16, 2008 by the then Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe at a special media briefing held at the Meteorology Department on Bauddhaloka Mawatha.

The government informed the UN and INGOs on Sept. 8, 2008 to suspend their operations by end of that month. Responding to a query by the writer, Minister Samarasinghe revealed that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had accepted UN Resident Representative Neil Bhune’s request for three weeks to complete the withdrawal.

Minister Samarasinghe declared that the decision wasn’t negotiable (Govt wants UN, INGO pull-out completed by Sept. 29-The Island, Sept, 17, 2008). At the onset of the briefing, Minister Samarasinghe said that he had received a message from Bhune that UN personnel were in the process of leaving Kilinochchi.

Subsequently, Sri Lanka was told UN and INGO expatriate staff quit Vanni on Sept.16, 2008. In other words, the UN had quit the region after having reached agreement on pull-out within three weeks. However, the LTTE prevented Tamil employees of UN and other NGOs from leaving the Vanni as part of its overall efforts to discourage offensive military action (Attempts to evacuate Tamil INGO, UN workers thwarted-The Island, Sept. 2008). The Colombo based international media agencies as well as other media ignored these developments. The mainstream Tamil media refrained from reporting anything inimical to the LTTE’s interests.

Report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka confirmed The Island report which dealt with the UN and INGOs pulling out of Vanni well ahead of the date agreed with the government. Let me reproduce the relevant section from PoE report released on March 31, 2011: "The United Nations decided to suspend operations in the Vanni and move its offices from Kilinochchi to Vavuniya. Other international organizations withdrew their international staff as well. Nonetheless, the LTTE refused to grant permission to allow United Nations national staff to leave. A large number of national staff from several INGOs, around 320 in total, and their dependents also remained in the Vanni. As the United Nations international staff prepared to leave Kilinochchi, aerial attacks were staged in close proximity to the United Nations premises. On the day of their departure, on or about 15 Sept, 2009, a large crowd of civilians gathered around them, begging them not to leave, afraid of what their absence would mean."

The PoE comprised Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Steven R. Ratner (US) and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa). The PoE inadvertently mentioned the UN-INGO pull-out as Sept. 15, 2009, though the actual withdrawal took place year before. Obviously, the PoE never bothered to re-check its report before its release.

The Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion in May, 2009, several months before the date mentioned in POE report. Although, it was certainly a genuine mistake, it would be pertinent to reiterate the PoE never bothered to verify allegations before accommodating them in their much touted report.

The previous government has been repeatedly accused of compelling international workers to quit Vanni to enable the Sri Lankan military to engage in indiscriminate action. The PoE report alleged that Kilinochchi pull-out represented what it called a pivotal point in the final stages of the war. "From that moment on, there were virtually no international observers able to report to the wider world what was happening in the Vanni", the report claimed.

This was however contradicted by the POE, when it acknowledged that ICRC international staff had remained in the Vanni east until February 10, 2009. The PoE also admitted that ICRC international staff subsequently accompanied food ships to Puthumathalan until May 9, 2009.

The issue will certainly come up before proposed war crimes court. Did Sri Lanka order UN and INGO international except those with the ICRC to give a free hand to the military as a section of Western powers and human rights have activists alleged?

If Sri Lanka didn’t insist on pull-out, would they have remained there during intense fighting for Kilinochchi, the last LTTE stronghold along the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road in the wake of famed Task Force I/58 Division liberating Pooneryn in February 2008.

The situation in wartime Sri Lanka should be re-examined against the backdrop of recent controversy over the UK, Germany and Sweden withdrawing their nationals serving UN police deployed in violence-torn South Sudan. Based on an internal UN memo obtained by the AFP, the news agency recently revealed the circumstances under which those countries quit UN peacekeeping mission thereby causing ‘a serious blow to the morale’ of the force known as UNMISS. The UN memo severely condemned the British action.

Sri Lanka needs to examine various situations to ascertain and prove double standards applied by UN and Western powers in respect of accountability issues here. The Sri Lankan issue had generated interest among various segments of the society, including educational institutions. It would be pertinent to reproduce the thesis index of a student of Department of Political Science, University of LUIS Guido Carli, Rome.


* The Sri Lankan Civil War and the Inadequacy of the International Response

* Sri Lanka country profile

* Sri Lankan Civil War

* The outbreak of the War between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

* Description of the LTTE

* Main causes of the outbreak of the War

* Chronological description of the War from 1986 to 2009

* Behaviour of both the parties in the conflict

* Immediate effects of the War

* Intervention by foreign actors during the Sri Lankan war

* Indian role

* Limited role of the United States

* Special case of Norway

* International response to the Sri Lankan War:

* Actors on the stage and their interventions

* United Nations

* European Union

* Civil society organizations

* Proposed solutions to conclude the conflict

* International response: too little too late?

* Details

* Immediate consequences of the Sri Lankan Civil War

* On the institutional and political system

* On the economy

* On individuals

* Alleged commitment of war crimes and violations of human rights

* Categories of violated rights illustrated following the order of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL):

* Unlawful killings

* Violations related to the deprivation of liberty

* Enforced disappearances

* Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

* Sexual and gender-based violence

* Abduction of adults and forced recruitment

* Recruitment and use of children in hostilities

* The impact of hostilities on civilians and civilian objects

* Controls on movement

* Denial of humanitarian assistance

* Screening and deprivation of liberty of internally displaced persons

* Flaws of the national legal system

* Process of Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka

* United Nations’ call for the establishment of a special hybrid court with international judges and lawyers to investigate on alleged war crimes and violations of human rights and to provide for justice

* How should the court operate in order to be effective How should the process of transitional justice take place in Sri Lanka (comparison with previous cases in other countries)


Could more have been done from the national and international fora?

Was the international response to the Sri Lankan Civil War immediate, effective and strong enough?

What should the international action be in the Sri Lankan post-war context?

How can international actors help in the reform and reconstruction of a post-war system?


Possibility of staying in Sri Lanka to do research and to interview political representatives, lawyers, civil society organizations’ spokespersons, victims of the war etc.


Harrison Frances, (2013), Still Counting The Dead, Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War, Portobello Books Ltd Subramanian Samanth, (2015), This Divided Island: Life, Death, and the Sri Lankan War, Thomas Dunne Books Peiris G. H., (2009), Twilight of the Tigers: Peace Efforts and Power Struggles in Sri Lanka, Oxford University Press India bWeiss Gordon, (2012), The Cage: The fight for Sri Lanka & the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers, Vintage


Bala Mytili, (2015), Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka: Rethinking Post- War Diaspora Advocacy for Accountability, International Human Rights Law Journal Centre for Policy Alternatives (2015), Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka and Ways Forward Gowing Richard, (2013), War by Other Means? An analysis of the contested terrain of transitional justice under the ‘Victor’s Peace’ in Sri Lanka", Working Paper No. 13-138, Development Studies

Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science Höglund Kristine, Orjuela Camilla, (2012) Transitional Justice, Globalization and Friction in Post-war Sri Lanka, Paper prepared to be presented at the National Conference in Peace and Conflict Research, University of Gothenburg Shubert Andi, (2013), Victorious Victims: An Analysis of Sri Lanka’s Post-War Reconciliation Discourse, Research Paper No: 6, International Centre for Ethnic Studies

Having being interviewed by the student, the writer felt that she had far superior understanding of Sri Lanka’s conflict as regards international aspects as well as domestic issues than some of our members of parliament. Even over eight years after the conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is yet to produce a comprehensive report on the events leading to the war, successful combined security forces campaign against the LTTE and post-conflict developments.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report cannot be consider under any circumstances a detailed account of the conflict. Due to Sri Lanka’s failure, various interested parties had interpreted events here to suit their agendas. Had war winning Rajapaksa administration commissioned a report immediately after the conclusion of the war in May, 2009, it could have explained the circumstances under which the then government in 2006 finally decided to go on the offensive.

The successful military campaign against the LTTE commenced in early September, 2006 with the seizure of Sampur. Combined security forces relentlessly conducted offensive action until troops finished off terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in May 2009. Had Western powers succeeded in throwing a lifeline to the LTTE, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in the current predicament.

Having co-sponsored controversial Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct, 2015, at the behest of Western powers, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime is now looking for a way out. Can Sri Lanka persuade Western powers, four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the influential Tamil Diaspora to give up their demand for foreign judges, including from the Commonwealth to be part of the proposed war crimes court as envisaged in the Geneva Resolution?

Sri Lanka never bothered to examine the inadequacy of the international response and the culpability of the international community. The foreign student had quite rightly raised the contentious issue of the inadequacy of international response as well as several other crucial aspects such as the US role. Due to Sri

Lanka’s unforgivable failure to examine the war, the culpability of India and those countries which contributed to destabilization never had to address accountability issues.

Let me briefly highlight the inadequacy of international response beginning from early 80s when the then Indian Premier Indira Gandhi had intervened in Sri Lanka.

* UN and Western powers turned a blind eye to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Tamil terrorist groups wouldn’t have achieved the required expertise to challenge the military if not for the Indian intervention. India provided the expertise to mount coordinated attacks using explosives leading to death of 13 soldiers at Thinnaveli, Jaffna in July, 1983. The Thinnaveli killings caused July, 1983 violence. No less a person than former Indian Foreign Secretary

Jyotindra Nath Dixit blamed Gandhi for disastrous Indian intervention in Sri Lanka (Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to

Yashwant Sinha). Dixit launched his memoirs on January 1, 2004. The veteran diplomat however passed away at the age of 68 on January 03 the following year. He had been India’s National Security Advisor at the time of his death. Interestingly, Dixit revealed that Gandhi had ordered the destabilization project due to the then Sri Lankan government’s close relationship with the US, Israel and Pakistan against the backdrop of the long running East-West Cold War with India being in the then Soviet camp.

* Indian trained TELO cadres in early September 1985 assassinated two Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) members V. Dharmalingam and M. Alalasundaram in the Jaffna peninsula. Dharmalingham’s son, Siddarthan, currently a member of the Northern Provincial Council accused India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of ordering the assassinations. Still Western powers and the UN turned a Nelsonian eye to what was happening in Sri Lanka.

* UN and Western powers ignored regional crisis caused in early November 1988 due to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Two boat loads of Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists belonging to PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) stormed the Maldives. Airborne Indian troops thwarted the PLOTE bid to overthrow the then Maldivian government at the behest of a Colombo-based Maldivian business. Western powers and international media praised swift Indian intervention in the Maldives. They conveniently refrained from mentioning that India had to intervene thwart those who had been trained to destabilize Sri Lanka. The Indian navy trapped a merchant vessel commandeered by PLOTE cadres fleeing the Maldives and sent it to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. The exact number of Sri Lankan terrorists killed in Indian action was never known. Some of them could be still listed among the missing persons.

*An unidentified gunman assassinated the then Indian trained PLOTE leader Kadirgamapillai (Kathirkamar) Nallainathan alias Uma Maheswaran on the night of July 16, 1989, in Colombo. The Colombo based diplomatic community never bothered to urge Sri Lanka to arrest the perpetrators of the high profile killing.

* India deployed her Army in Northern and Eastern Provinces to prevent the then JR Jayewardene government from eradicating the LTTE in 1987 through military means. The UN and Western powers allowed Indian military intervention to save the LTTE as the latter was facing defeat in Vadamaratchchy in the Jaffna peninsula.

* UN and Western powers looked the other way when the Indian Army intervened to help puppet ERPLF (another New Delhi trained terrorist group) to win the first ever provincial polls in the temporarily-merged North-Eastern Province in November 1988.

* UN and Western powers allowed India to set up an illegal Tamil National Army (TNA) in the North-Eastern Province in 1989.

* Following the Indian pull-out in March 1990, the LTTE gradually transformed itself to a conventional fighting force and received recognition as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. They retained that title given by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) until the Sri Lankan Army eradicated the menace in May 2009. Western powers went out of their way to save the LTTE until the very end. They brought the previous government under tremendous pressure in a bid to arrange an honourable surrender of LTTE’s fighting cadre. Thanks to the then leader President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka sustained the offensive until it was brought to a successful conclusion. Unfortunately, the former President and his government pathetically failed in defending Sri Lanka’s right to eliminate terrorism, thereby paving the way for Geneva led probe.