The BBC this afternoon requested a response to some questions arising from the latest report on Sri Lanka issued by the International Crisis Group. This had to be produced on a blackberry, since I was traveling, but given the reptilian viciousness of Nagini Keenan, who covers Sri Lanka for ICG (and the fact that he now twitters), it seemed best to provide some answers, however hastily. The three queries are each followed, in quotation marks, by the passage in the ICG report to which they refer, and then my responses. At the end I make a brief comment about another passage from the Report.

Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
Adviser on Reconciliation to the President

BBC – The ICG report says the SL govt has destroyed the LTTE by “adopting the insurgents’  brutality and intolerance of dissent”.  Please respond/comment.

The regime destroyed the Tigers by rejecting the more conciliatory approach of prior governments and adopting the insurgents’ brutality and intolerance of dissent.’

A most nonsensical statement. The more conciliatory approach of previous governments was traduced by the Tigers, who used this to build up their strength and broke agreements arbitrarily with exceptional brutality – the killing of policemen who surrendered and the massacre of Muslims in the East and ethnic cleansing of them from the North.

Sri Lanka is a parliamentary democracy which saw massive criticism of the government throughout the conflict in Parliament (including by LTTE surrogates the main Tamil political party finally parted company with after the destruction of the LTTE) and forceful attacks on government policies as well as practices by many media groups, some of which had nothing positive to say. This approach continues. Clearly Alan Keenan, who has been responsible for Sri Lanka throughout, and wrote the speech in which Gareth Evans had to confess he did not know the reasons for the generalizations he made, has no idea as to what totalitarian brutality means.

BBC  –  The report accuses the govt of making reconciliation more difficult by manipulating elections and silencing civil society.  Please comment.

Progress toward reconciliation in this environment was always going to be difficult. It has been made much more so by the post-war policies of President Rajapaksa and his powerful brothers. With emergency and anti-terrorism laws still in place, they continue to violently repress the media and political opponents, while manipulating elections and silencing civil society.’

The last several elections have been largely seen as fair, with the results reflecting the will of the people. The TNA did substantially better than the government in the North. It did not of course do as well as it did when the LTTE controlled the area, and indeed the candidats’ lists, forcing those it did not like who did well to resign, and indeed then killing them (see the EU monitors’ report on the 2004 election). In the East the government did better, for which there are several reasons which no one contests, the involvement of former LTTE supporters who abandoned terrorism, the massive infrastructural development and increased economic prosperity. Some of these factors are now in operation in the North, though on a lesser scale.

Civil society is certainly not silent, as you should know only too well as a BBC reporter on the ground, reading the newspapers daily, reading civil society pronouncements and registering the large amounts of funding they receive.

BBC – The report says the LLRC is, clearly, “ultimately powerless” and cannot produce accountability and reconciliation despite being promoted as a mechanism for those two things.  It says an “independent, inclusive truth commission” instead.  Please comment.

Promoted as a mechanism for both accountability and reconciliation, it will produce neither. In April 2011, a UN panel of experts found that the LLRC lacks the independence, mandate and witness protection capacity to serve as an accountability process for the many credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides and recommended an international investigation. Correcting the LLRC’s flaws would require not only a new commission or other mechanism but also a reversal of the Rajapaksas’ core post-war policies. While the LLRC has served as a platform for airing some grievances, it has failed to win confidence domestically and can do little to aid reconciliation. Sri Lankans know better than anyone that such a commission is ultimately powerless.’

Keenan’s arrogance in assuming he knows what Sri Lankans know is exceeded only by his racism. He grants that Sri Lankans did appear before the LLRC but fails to mention that it was only foreigners like him who refused to do so, having pre-judged the situation. He seems to equate international with independent, forgetting that the ostensibly independent UN panel had equated Sri Lanka with an apartheid regime, indicating no idea of what apartheid was (a bit like Keenan on LTTE brutality).

He ignores the fact that the LLRC, as its name makes clear, has a broader mandatethan the Keenans and Darusmans of this world want with their emphasis on Old Testament retribution. A government that represents the people must decide what the country needs, not individuals who claim expertise on Sri Lanka chosen for lucratve positions without transparency.

The interim report of the LLRC made some very important recommendations, which if fulfilled thoroughly will contribute to reconciliation in a manner that the Keenan agenda cannot do.

Finally, let me comment on the following sentences, which exemplify the deceitful methodology of the ICG –

Over two thirds of the nearly 300,000 displaced civilians interned in the north at the end of the war have been sent home, but mostly to areas devoid of the most basic amenities. Another 180,000 of those and others displaced in prior stages of the war are still in camps or other temporary settings.’

All but about 10,000 of the near 300,000 rescued from the LTTE (not interned as I pointed out at the time, given the actual meaning of internment as used for instance of the Japanese taken from their homes and confined) have returned home, with basic social services such as most countries do not have (free education etc) in place from the start. The figure of 180,000 (many of whom are with host families rather than camps) includes those displaced for a decade and more (including the Muslims the LTTE had ethnically cleansed) about whom the so called international community did not care (I had to berate UNHCR about this, to be told apologetically that they had tried but failed).

Island 21 July 2011