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INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA
The Charge is Ethnic Cleansing
Sri Lanka's Undeclared War on Eelam Tamils
...in the Shadow of the Ceasefire: 2002 - 2007
Responsibility to Protect - R2P gained ground when a group was commissioned by the previous Secretary General of the UN to look at how governments were to be held responsible for the welfare and life , literally of their citizens. This was a point emphasized over and over again by Francis Deng when he promoted the guiding principles for the protection of the internally displaced persons. It has made its way now into the open in the questioning of the failure of governments in protecting the lives and welfare of sections of its population. Recently at the last Neelan Tiruchelvam memorial lecture Gareth Evans spoke of this . Many angles were propounded of the why and the what he had in mind following the lecture with the ICES Colombo receiving flak from some quarters.
At a recent discussion of close on two and a half hours a group of legislators spoke their minds on what they thought of international NGO’s and their programmes for peace, human rights and reconciliation work including whether Governing Boards were actually ‘clubs’ of the groups for the groups, a point emphasized by the Head of SCOPP who commented on interlinked Boards and ‘friends and the merry doling of funds amongst the ‘known’. Given such perceptions, when R2P is propounded by anyone who is even remotely connected to the work of an international NGO additional connotations assume importance.
As far as this columnist is concerned, R2P becomes no laughing matter when, the Honourable Chief Justice says, ’A tolerant society wedged between ruthless terrorism and the abuse of authority has lost the taste of freedom. It is only through a respect for human dignity and freedom guaranteed by the Constitution to all segments of our society that peace and normalcy could be restored. The quote is from a memorable judgment by the Honourable Chief Justice which will be remembered for many more years to come.
It comes on the heels of a devastating report by the UTHR (Special Report No.28) on Jaffna and eye witness testimonies. .
• On 22nd October 2007, among the eight persons who chose to remand themselves through the Human Rights Commission were a family of five, including a man of 55, his wife of 52 and their three children. Reason – the Army had questioned them three days earlier. Such pathetic decisions reflect a climate where state killers often kill or abduct persons even though their age and circumstances render their being parties to violence very remote. S. Jebanesan, an employee of the de-mining group Halo Trust went into voluntary remand. On 18th October, gun men who came in a white van abducted his wife in Thinnevely leaving her two young children helpless. She was released the next day.
• About this time, a mother taking her son to Colombo had got through all the security clearance, booked their passage and followed the usual routine of taking the assigned buses at the Sinhalese School to be conveyed to the boarding point. A soldier on duty, looked at the son’s identity card, returned it and told him that he cannot go. He wrote something on the boy’s ticket and told him to report to the security clearance office. They took the ticket to someone who could read Sinhalese and found that the soldier had written that the boy was a suspected Tiger. The mother promptly took the boy to the JHRC and had him remanded.
• Old lessons learnt at great cost in this country are being forgotten. A politically sensitive approach would on the other hand treat terrorists and potential terrorists with clemency, allow them to reflect and repent. Given time such persons have become some of the ablest leaders. This approach would be in the spirit of the teachings of Buddha rather than the bizarre contortions of Buddhism advanced by the supporters of this government to attack human rights concerns as Western colonialism.
• There is nothing Eastern or Western about repugnance for torture or murder, which are the main issues at stake. Against the contempt and ill will shown by the Government, it is natural for the people in the North-East to regard the Army as the enemy.
• Ruki Fernando’s testimony is found in full here. Some selected quotes include:
• I had spent a fair amount of my youth travelling to various countries, including “hot spots”, taking hundreds of flights – and been through some arduous visa and immigration procedures. But no procedure was as frustrating as this. I spent 8 hours to reach Jaffna – from the time I reported to the airline office and the time I was finally allowed to be free in Jaffna – the flight was actually 70 minutes. My phone and camera was confiscated in the early part of the journey. In what was similar to a “visa on arrival” procedure, I was photographed, and given a special pass to keep with me while I was in Jaffna.
Unlike in other countries, I didn’t have to fill a form, but security forces wrote up the information I gave at the several interviews. Coming back, we had 4 bus rides, the last two of which had curtains drawn so that we could not see the outside, pass through 5 counters in the checkin area (the old Railway station) and our bags were checked several times.
• Life in Jaffna
All around the town, I saw bombed out buildings, barbed wire and what once would have been residential houses now occupied by the military. One man I met on the plane told me his land and house had been taken over by the military in 1990, and no compensation or alternative land or housing had been provided. He has given up hope of ever getting it back.
In terms of hearing, nothing can beat the shelling. Whether it was while I was trying to sleep, , or even while playing a friendly cricket match, shelling continued.
Daily, there is a power cut at a specified time. But I also experienced unannounced power cuts, in the night as well as day time. There are mobile phone signals, but the signals are cut off regularly without advance notice – mostly, it was for around an hour or less, but on one day, there was no signal from about 9 am to 4pm.
People are being reduced to starvation due to exorbitant prices and there are forcible restrictions on livelihoods. Eggs were being sold at Rs. 24, Rice around Rs. 200, and fish around Rs. 700 and potatoes around Rs. 180 per kilo. My pen torch batteries were confiscated and not returned at the security checkpoint in Ratmalana, but pen torch batteries in the peninsular are rare and costs around Rs. 200 in Jaffna. All these, in a context where many fishermen can’t fish due to fishing restrictions of the military, the lands of many farmers have been occupied by the military and shops closedown before sunset as the town and streets are deserted as darkness descends and curfew starts.
This columnist has refrained from giving in full measure more statistics and facts which could be termed less flattering for those who claim R2P is running at full throttle in this State which is a Democratic Socialist Republic in which all persons are equal. The facts speak quite differently.
The Daily Mirror has of recent times had some memorable cartoons. They also convey serious messages. In this context one cannot but help notice the number of times the Apex Court of the country has` had to come forward dispense justice when citizens find themselves been short changed of their legitimate claims to equality before the Law. E.g. would not the vast quantum of Police Officers who are experts at traffic offences and have numerous ways of stopping and charging motorists, been totally and absolutely unaware of the complete illegality of the No Parking by Order by S.S.P Traffic? The proper procedure if one were not to permit parking for a considerable period would be to seek the authority of the local authorities to prohibit as was mentioned by the SC Order. Slowly but surely illegal acts assume permanency .Likewise R2P is undermined by this very permanency which transgresses life, limb and liberty. It is this struggle which is commented on in quotes found earlier.
Make no mistake, those who canvass rights are under considerable danger from an assortment of afflictions including character assassinations, quiet lateral interventions which discourage engagement by key authorities, downright intimidation and harassment and serious threat to limb and life. For these reasons a few courageous souls continue this struggle, for many the will to canvass has waned and for those seeking justice it remains a distant dream if not possibly a mirage. A very miniscule set of males and females play it both ways, a mata hari game, peddling and at times misrepresenting information and influence in the parlours and boudoirs with the VIP’s and or VVIP’s, a just critique particularly of two political parties of this charmed group.
What in the world are we doing to ourselves and which Divinity granted the transgressors the right to inflict such suffering? Not Arahat Mahinda. By extension R2P seems as comical as the cartoons depicted in the Daily Mirror as we lurch to the end of one inglorious year.