In recognizing the role of the Tamil diaspora in propagating the idea that the Sri Lankan government is guilty of War Crimes, we must also recognize the rationale behind their stratagem. And to some extent, though we need to combat their falsehoods, understanding should lead to some measure at least of forgiveness, since they certainly suffered much in the eighties. It is as much our responsibility to disabuse them of the notion that nothing has changed since then, as it is theirs to get rid of an outdated mindset that has done so much damage to the Tamil people left in Sri Lanka, abandoned as they were for so long to the rapacious Tigers.

With regard to the mainstream Sri Lankan political opposition however, forgiveness is less easy, because their stratagem has been based not on suffering and bitterness but rather on laziness and greed. A few years back they seem to have concluded that trying to persuade the Sri Lankan people to bring them back to power democratically was not possible. They decided then that they had to rely on what they think of as the international community to bring down the elected government, so that they could take its place.

They were helped to this conclusion by the belief that some Sri Lankan politicians at least give in to the slightest pressure. Financial incentives help, as they did in bringing down elected governments in 1964 and 2001, but the opinion of those Sri Lankans think of as their superiors also counts. Hence the request to the American government to continue to pressurize Sri Lanka, hence the frequent visits to Europe to report adversely on conditions in the country, hence indeed the confident claim that the European Union would restore trade concessions if only the bountiful and warm-hearted Sarath Fonseka were elected President.

It should be noted that the political opposition did not have to conduct this campaign on its own. It was helped to the utmost by what are termed advocacy groups, which are funded massively by the very audiences they then help to convince. Thus we had the marvelous phenomenon of the European Union claiming that sources they could not reveal had told them local elections should not be held in the East: they refused to fund Sri Lankan humanitarian agencies working there while bestowing largesse unstintingly on those who could advise them against efforts to help the area that had been liberated from terrorism.

Much of this, I should note, was our fault, since we allowed this game to be played without quarter, with no effort to monitor or check what was going on. We have no clear idea of how much money is given to agencies that advocate for sanctions against the elected government. We do not ensure that the beneficiaries of such assistance account to government for what they receive, supposedly on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, and we allow them to avoid paying tax on their massive salaries and the perks they enjoy, including foreign travel to report adversely on the country. We are astonished that Sarath Fonseka had so much money at his disposal, but do not bother to check on the fact that agencies funded supposedly to promote Democracy are managed by precisely those agents who run the political party which sponsored him.

There is also another area in which we have failed to deal firmly with the canard about war crimes. This is in failing to investigate crimes that do occur, and in ensuring that justice is done. This is particularly noticeable not in what might be termed the sphere of war, but in other areas. Evidence of abuses, let alone of crimes, is thin on the ground with regard to the actual war, as indeed we can see from the absence of specifics in most claims made against us. As I have pointed out before, the main areas in which allegations are made, with regard to the No-Fire Zones and Medical Facilities (as laid out in an early Human Rights Watch Report), or events in the last few days of the conflict (as noted in the US State Department Report and in the report of the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights) can be responded to without much difficulty, the reports themselves often providing evidence as to what really occurred. Indeed, as I have often pointed out previously, the very first Human Rights Watch report on our campaign in the East made clear that their press release consisted of deliberate falsification, and that anyone carefully reading the report in full would realize that our armed forces had done a more decent job than any others in the field against terrorists at the same time[1].

But, while our record with regard to war is much better than that of most, we have not done well in other areas. With regard to abductions and disappearances, whilst I have shown that the situation improved dramatically from 2006 (when internecine fighting became intense between former Tamil militant groups and the Tigers, who had earlier decimated these rivals after having been given an easy ride by the Government that signed the Ceasefire Agreement), there is now no excuse, with the Tigers destroyed within Sri Lanka, for not swiftly investigating all cases. As the Civil Rights Movement[2] said so eloquently some years back, if the police are unable to make any breakthroughs, then we must acknowledge that something is wrong with the police, and take remedial action to develop them professionally.

So too with attacks on journalists and media institutions. Again, the worst statistics with regard to journalists relate to 2006, for similar reasons to those given above, but again it is obviously unacceptable that similar incidents should recur now. Apart from the moral imperative to ensure proper investigation and accountability, government should also realize that failure in this regard, when the war against terrorism in Sri Lanka no longer rages, will be connected with previous shortcomings. Lapses in investigation that were understandable then, when other concerns had priority, will be connected with lapses now, and will contribute to perpetuating corrosive suspicions.

Unfortunately there is a feeling in Sri Lanka that this does not matter, for the simple reason that, whatever we do, we will continue to be given a bad name. This is unfortunate, and we should get over such feelings, and ignore the barbs to which we are subject, and instead concentrate on what is right. Certainly investigating crime and ensuring justice and accountability is always right, and we must concentrate now on improving our institutions so that they can fulfil their obligations in this regard.

However, while we must recognize our shortcomings in these areas, we must also hope that the so-called international community will recognize its own shortcomings, in continuing to persecute us relentlessly. The manner in which this has been done, and the possible reasons for it, will need to be looked at separately, in the hope that some changes at least will be forthcoming.

 


[1] Having studied the work of Human Rights Watch over the last few years, I believe it is basically a subtle instrument of American Foreign Policy. The subtlety is most marked in its treatment of Israel, where it certainly does not allow Israeli fundamentalism a blank cheque, but where it loads the dice against the most effective campaigners against Israel. I began to wonder about its techniques, given the generally positive image it has amongst Arab nations, when it refrained from involvement in the document about Gaza produced by several other agencies in early 2009. Instead it concentrated its fire on Sri Lanka, which allowed all those who, wracked by their own guilt about the Holocaust (that is kept alive as I have described previously), never say a word against Israel, to salve their consciences by attacking us. Most recently, I have been intrigued by an Iranian called Sam Zarifi who has moved from HRW to Amnesty International, and spends a disproportionate amount of his time attacking Sri Lanka, most recently proposing that the American government detain the President and charge him with War Crimes. I believe careful study of the individuals involved in Human Rights advocacy will show how a few with particular agendas can divert the energies of their generally more idealistic colleagues to areas which in fact fulfil the agendas of powerful (and relentlessly subtle) countries and interests.

[2] A body that had consistently spoken out against abuses, which deserves our respect since it is clearly not trying to make partisan political points

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