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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

UN Review On Its Conduct In Sri Lanka: Dire Implications

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Charles Petrie, a former UN Official, was mandated by the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to review the conduct of the UN during the last days of the LTTE in May 2009. That report by his panel in its near final form has been reported on by the BBC. It is ominous for the government.

The earlier report by Ki-moon’s Panel on the conflict during which 330,000 Tamils were trapped on a narrow strip of land, was authoritative. It reported up to 40,000 killed, and called for further inquiry on executions and the bombings of hospitals and designated refugee shelters by the army. It had dark implications to our reputation as a civilized country.
At that time Sri Lanka enjoyed wide support. As Reuters reported, “The U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution [on May 27, 2009] celebrating Sri Lanka’s victory over Tamil rebels, ignoring Western-led calls for aid for refugees and political rights for minorities.” The atrocities were perceived as those normal to the heat of war. Had the state followed up with kindness to its Tamil victims and some kind of reconciliation, such as by at least implementing the provisions for devolution that were already the law, the world might have been forgiving. Perpetrators of war crimes too would have escaped pursuit if Truth Commissions had been used to effect reconciliation as many had urged.
Alas no. The state, drunk with the arrogance of victory, lost all good sense. The President brazenly rewarded those army commanders accused of war crimes with plum diplomatic appointments as if to say “You did a good job,” and made the extraordinary claim that his “troops went to the battlefront carrying a gun in one hand, the Human Rights Charter in the other, food for the innocent displaced on their shoulders, and love of their children in their hearts.” We who met and worked daily with people who had been there knew differently.
That first UN report, Ki-moon, Navaneetham Pillai the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and that report’s three eminent authors Marzuki Darusman, Steven Ratner and Yasmin Sooka, were roundly condemned for cooked up faults in an organized hate-campaign within Sri Lanka as I pointed out (Daily Mirror, 4 June, 2011). The entire Sinhalese communalist establishment moved like a Juggernaut driving fear into anyone who tended to lend credence to that report. Many organizations (e.g., the Bar Association, Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors) condemned it. In the climate of whipped up fear and patronage, officials of the Hindu Maha Sabha and Tamil Vice Chancellors too lent their names to the attacks. Minister Douglas Devananda’s EPDP and the army forced people going about the streets in Jaffna town to sign a statement that no murders happened in battle. Doctors present at the time who had testified to the atrocities were arrested by July 2009 and paraded on TV where they contradicted their earlier statements, now saying deaths were fewer than 700. That they were threatened into retraction became embarrassingly clear to all who believed the prevaricatory government when the census report in February “put the death toll in the north of the country during the final phase of the war at 9,000.” The Tamil doctors who deserved medals for their dedicated service to our civilians under assault by our own government now stand vindicated and the government shamelessly naked. Given earlier claims, few believe even this 9,000.
As if in vengefulness, the army took over all civilian institutions in Tamil areas. Innocuous meetings of Tamils (such as to preserve old buildings through photo-archives where I was present) were disrupted. The TNA’s Local Government Candidates and MPs were assaulted and had dirty engine oil poured on them. A dog was killed and thrown into a Federal Party Vice President’s well.
The Provincial Councils set up for Tamil devolution had only the Northern Council inactive because the TNA would sweep any poll. Even the promise of elections next September and 13 plus by the President seems to be yet another case of the government’s now readily obvious good-cop/bad-cop game of prevarication as presidential siblings root for the cancellation of the 13th amendment, which would remove the Provincial Councils.
Harim Peiris, once Adviser and Spokesman for Chandrika Kumaratunga, declared, “The TNA have demonstrated through several elections now that they are the democratically elected and politically legitimate representatives of the Tamil people of the North and East and hence credible interlocutors with the government regarding the issues of the North and East.”
Yet, the government imposes its own man, Douglas Devananda – who according to the Times of India is wanted there to “face a murder trial,” whose cadres too have been implicated in several murders here – as our representative. For everything from roads to jobs we have to go to him, a man whose party could hardly muster any votes at last year’s local government elections. The short-sighted government simply wants to punish us for voting for the TNA.
To ward off the seemingly inevitable accountability over its murders, the good-cop/bad-cop game is being played with the world too. Promises of reconciliation were liberally made to the US and India. Nothing happened. Indeed, locally these promises were denied. The world’s patience has grown thin. In March this year, the UNHCR “adopted a resolution urging Sri Lanka to investigate alleged abuses during the final phase of war” and “called on Colombo to address alleged abuses of international humanitarian law.”
Eight months since then, there is still no evidence of the government having any good sense. And now the Petrie Report has to be dealt with. While the first UN Panel’s report was portrayed as a colonial move against a tiny powerless country by Ki-moon and his three unethical panelists, the Petrie Panel Report is against the UN and is damaging to Ki-moon himself, saying “Events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN.” It cannot therefore be cast as a plot against Sri Lanka and will not go away. It accuses both the government and the LTTE of war crimes. The draft the BBC has seen “very much reflects the findings of the [earlier] panel.” A large majority of deaths were caused by government shelling, whereas the government has repeatedly denied shelling civilian areas. Even without the 2 reports, with the medical doctors’ incident alone, the entire world knows that the government is a habitual and unreformed liar. As Frances Harrison, former BBC Correspondent in Colombo says, “The only way now for Ban Ki-moon to restore the UN’s tattered credibility on Sri Lanka is to call an independent international investigation into the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in 2009.”
It is almost certainly too late to avoid an inquiry. But with good sense even at this late hour and government cooperation with the world, the Tamil community and our elected representatives, the TNA, perhaps something good for all Sri Lankans can be retrieved from this sordid mess created by our government. It is better to critique this government or let it fall than to make Sri Lankans the horrible laughing stock of the world as we have been made into by denying the obvious – that murders happened and it is time for amends.


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