Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lanka’s barbed wire

Indian Express

It is now three months since Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared the country “liberated” from Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels after a 26-year war. He said then that he wanted to settle most of the displaced Tamil civilians within 180 days — but today, with more than half that time elapsed, nearly 300,000 are still being held in “internment camps”, to which the media and humanitarian organisations have virtually no access. One person who was able to visit some of them in May was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. He said:

“I have travelled round the world and visited similar places, but these are by far the most appalling scenes I have seen...”

In mid-August these camps were flooded by downpours which, according to The New York Times, “sent rivers of muck cascading between tightly packed rows of flimsy shelters, overflowed latrines and sent hundreds of families scurrying for higher ground”. “We all knew that the monsoon rain would come,” says Nimalka Fernando, a Sri Lankan human rights activist and lawyer. “Many alerted the authorities. The government should have evacuated the displaced people earlier.”

Further, there is no public list of those being held in the camps, and many families do not know whether their loved ones are alive or dead.

The brutal and violent methods used by the LTTE during the conflict are beyond dispute. But while it was going on the government claimed to draw a distinction between LTTE fighters and the law-abiding Tamil population, whose genuine political grievances it would address later. So far, nothing like that has happened. Although it has screened out those it believes were LTTE cadres and sent them to separate camps, the government repeatedly extends its own deadline for releasing civilians in the main camps.

People who question this inside Sri Lanka, like Ms Fernando, are accused of being traitors in the pay of “the LTTE diaspora”, while outsiders are accused of using humanitarian concerns as an excuse for neo-imperialist intervention. Sri Lankan journalists who criticised the government have been arrested, beaten and in some cases murdered in broad daylight, while many more have fled the country.

In the last weeks of fighting an estimated 20,000 civilians lost their lives. Government forces are accused of shelling Tamil civilians and killing people who tried to surrender; the LTTE are charged with using civilians as human-shields, forcibly recruiting them as fighters and shooting those who tried to flee. There are rumours of mass graves but no independent observer has been allowed into the war zones to investigate.

As one of the five “Colombo Powers” which organised the historic Bandung Conference in 1955, Sri Lanka was, for many decades, a model member of the international community. Surely, the people of Sri Lanka do not want to compromise that enviable status, and with it their good standing in the groups, like NAM, that represent the developing world.

Friends of Sri Lanka worldwide, especially in the developing world, do not understand why President Rajapaksa chose Burma/Myanmar as the first country to visit after winning the war. They were concerned to read, on his own website, that one reason for this choice was that “the [Burmese] generals are increasingly finding it difficult to contain insurgent groups in the country’s northern frontier and are willing to learn some fresh lessons from President Mahindra Rajapaksa on how to defeat the enemy.”

That is not what the international community in general, and the developing world in particular, wishes to learn from Sri Lanka. Rather, friends of Sri Lanka were — and still are — expecting the country to be faithful to its democratic tradition and act on President Rajapaksa’s promises that the rights of minorities would be respected, that the displaced would be helped to return home, that prisoners would be treated humanely.

We do not believe that most in Sri Lanka agree with what some are saying in Colombo that developing-country governments can best deal with internal opposition by crushing it ruthlessly and treating any advice to respect universal principles of human rights and humanitarian law (which Sri Lanka agreed to uphold when it signed and ratified many treaties and conventions) as hypocritical.

This puts a heavy responsibility on all who are close to Sri Lanka’s ruling elite and on Asia’s key powers — India, Japan and China — which have been staunch supporters of the Rajapaksa Government and have channelled large sums of money in its direction (much of it, recently, for humanitarian purposes). It is time for the people of these countries to insist on a full account of how their money is being spent, and for their governments to say clearly that further economic and political support will depend on the following conditions being fulfilled:

First, the UN, Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full and unhindered access to care for and protect the civilians in the camps, and then help them return to wherever in their own country they choose to live.

Second, a list of all those still alive and in custody should be published, so that families can stop searching for loved ones who are dead.

Third, any who continue to be detained as alleged LTTE combatants must be treated in accordance with the provisions of international law, and urgently given access to legal representation.

Fourth, accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted.

Fifth, the Sri Lankan government should invite regional and international specialists in conflict reconciliation to help rebuild lives and communities.

Sixth, Sri Lanka should request or accept a full UN investigation into war crimes committed by all parties during the war.

The government has won the war, and the world shares the feeling of relief visible among Sri Lanka’s people. It remains for them to win the peace, and the rest of the world must help. That is the purpose of the demands listed above. World leaders as well as public opinion must insist on them, not only for the benefit of Tamils in general and the detainees in particular, but also for the hopes of democracy and human rights throughout Sri Lanka, and beyond. Peace won by the brutal humiliation of a people is rarely secure.

The writer is a former foreign minister of Algeria and UN special envoy.

This article was co-written by Edward Mortimer, senior vice-president of the Salzburg Global Seminar.


mawatha silva said...

The ruthless Sri Lankan regime slaughtered thousands of innocents.

Now we (IC) are letting the Tamils to languish in the concentration camps is another example that we have become real hypocrites who have corrupt souls.

Playing cricket for an example, with a country that is flowing with the blood of the innocent men, women and children, shows that we no longer have any moral principles to guide our lives.

We are now even quite comfortable to sit and have tea with a Hannibal while his hands are still stained with the blood and his room is filled with the stink of rotting human flesh

mawatha silva said...

A malnourished IDP child slowly dying..

out_sider said...

Well, I notice that control of the web site has been turned over.

Best of luck to the new moderator. I hope that you may publish some original work in the future,

I'm not Bhairav said...

1) who's the editor of this site?

2) what happened to Peter? Did he follow his masters to the grave?

Bhairav said...

For the time being, i maintain this blog. Once the blog owner, Badri, comes back, he will update it frequently.

Anyone who has interesting articles or something that highlights the suffering of Tamils back home, please send it to me, i can post it here.

Thank You!

SL boy said...

“I have travelled round the world and visited similar places, but these are by far the most appalling scenes I have seen...”

This statement was about the war zone and not about the IDP centers. Trying hard to misinform the world, ha.

Miss Information said...

I found the article to be reasonably balanced and well informed... quite unusual for this site given the history of its many propagandist fabrications.

(Whatever happened to operation "Kiss of Death"... hehehe)

Yes, there is an element of bias but for the most part it is a useful reminder that the GoSL have failed to live up to their sworn and promised duties and instead have turned Sri Lanka into something of an international pariah.

Miss Information


Revenge said...

"This statement was about the war zone and not about the IDP centers. Trying hard to misinform the world, ha.

Then why did your backward tribal state kick him out?

Bahirav good on you to keep this alive.

Revenge said...

" the GoSL have failed to live up to their sworn and promised duties and instead have turned Sri Lanka into something of an international pariah.

Dear Miss Information, I must say did any of your open mouth babes think there would be any other outcome? LOL we all knew that when the Sinhala state has the upper hand this is exactly what they do, because they are trapped in a middle ages mentality of conquest not fit for the modern world. I mean really what other world leader stuff baboon tooth temples with baby elephants or what have you based on astrology....totaly backward barbarians.

raveendran nair said...

International community and Organisation fail to stop this atricities.

mawatha silva said...

You are doing a good job and don’t waste your time on Sinhalese racists, visit many good blogs and live your link there.. I ‘ll sent your link to all my Facebook friends. Have you seen the funny comments on this site?

ashokkumar2103 said...

Hello Bhairav,

You have done the right thing in reviving Puligal Today. All the best. I will be in touch regularly.