The vivid descriptions by the Darusman panel and Gordon Weiss of the last month of the conflict are designed to present government as outrageously wicked. Any relief that was provided is attributed to foreigners. Thus the panel brazenly claims that ‘The ICRC’s ships were also the only means for delivering food’. This is nonsense. The ICRC used ships provided by the government, as is clear from the letter of the Commissioner General of Essential Services, one of the unsung heroes of the period. He wrote on May 4th to Paul Castella, the Head of the ICRC Delegation in Colombo –

As you are aware, we have taken action with your cooperation to transport essential food items to Puthumattalan since March up to 5th April 2009. The ICRC has accompanied two cargo vessels arranged by me, that is MV Bin Tan and MV City of Dublin…each carrying more than 1,000 MT of food items. In addition, Green Ocean also carried nearly 40 MT almost in 09 voyages. Further, another consignment of 1,300 MT of essential food items was loaded into MV Thirupathi, but it could not carry its mission since ICRC was not in favour of sailing the ship due to security reasons. However, we managed to send small consignments in Green Ocean on 27 and 30 April 2009 carrying 30 MT each…..

I wish to inform you that a vessel is stationed in Trincomalee anticipating your concurrence to saidl cargo to this area at any given time. You will understand that the ship could said only with your concurrence under ICRC flag. Under these circumstances, I shall be grateful for you to make arrangements to dispatch the essential food items in a bigger vessel which could carry more than 1,300 MT without any further delay. Until the arrangement is made, the Government will take action to deliver the maximum capacity of cargo which could carry under the passenger vessel Green Ocean.’

Darusman on the contrary seeks to suggest that the ICRC’s work was in spite of ‘Hindrance of humanitarian assistance via the ICRC ships’. This damning heading to a whole section carries as substantiation only the sentences ‘Shells fired by the SLA sometimes fell in the sea near the ICRC ships. Around 22 April, shelling near a ship forced the captain to return to deeper waters’. Tamilnet makes a similar accusation, claiming that the army started cannon fire when local ICRC workers were providing coordinates to the ICRC ship to come close to the shore’. The only other record in the entire period of danger to a ship occurred on March 28th, when it was claimed that a foreign staff of the ICRC who came in the ship on Saturday to transport the wounded civilian had a narrow escape when the ship was hit by long distance gunfire by the SLA damaging a window of the ship’. On April 10th bad weather prevent the ship from fulfilling its mission. Given that the ICRC fulfilled its aims on 16 occasions, with just two minor incidents that Tamilnet claimed were restrictions imposed by the government, the headline Darusman uses is particularly revealing.

With regard hospitals, Darusman declares, with the usual protestation, that ‘After the SLA captured the north of the NFZ, Mullivaikkal Hospital was the only remaining hospital in the conflict zone. There were no LTTE cadre in uniform in the hospital’. It then adds that ‘Due to the heavy shelling that hit the hospital on numerous occasions, the RDHS moved to a second location at Vellamullivaikkal. On 11 or 12 May, the second hospital was also hit by SLA shells, killing many people, although it, too, was prominently marked’. The first hospital becomes prominent on 20th April, when it was claimed that ‘600 seriously wounded’ were brought there. On 28th April it is claimed that ‘three medical centres treated hundreds of wounded civilians throughout the day’, which suggests Darusman may have erred. It should also be noted that the repeated claims during this period of civilian casualties coincided with the visit of David Miliband, who sedulously refused to advise the Tigers to surrender, contrary to what had been advocated by his other Western friends.

Tamil Net - 2 May 2009: the picture of what is supposed to be a scene of carnage, when bottles are still standing on the shelves of a building that was supposed to have been shelled

There was no mention of the hospital being attacked in April, but on May 1st it was claimed that the hospital ‘came under attack on previous two days’, while it was also allegedly attacked again on May 2nd. The claim then was that the coordinates of the hospital had only been provided to the Sri Lankan forces three days earlier. There seem to be no further attacks on that hospital, Tamilnet claiming on May 9th that the makeshift hospital was now functioning at a junior school’. Then, three days later, it is alleged that that hospital was again attacked, with a similar accusation on the 13th too, alleging that more than 100 civilians were killed, including an ‘ICRC worker’.

There is an addendum to the effect that this attack was ‘for the 3rd time within 5 days.’ Another report of the same day declares not only that shells were fired at ‘the makeshift hospital in Mu’l’livaaykkaal East, killing at least 38 patients’, but also that ‘Many shells have hit the makeshift hospital premises across the road’. It is not clear whether the suggestion is that there were two hospitals still functioning, nor indeed whether this is a repetition of the other claim, with different figures, because here too the death of the ICRC worker is mentioned.

On the next day an LTTE statement said that ‘Local doctors who are trying to work in these hospitals have decided to hand the hospitals over to the ICRC in the hope that under ICRC management the hospitals may be spared from bombardment’. This suggests that there were indeed two hospitals still functioning, despite the claims of sustained bombardment. Given that these were fairly flimsy structures, it would be astonishing if they had indeed been bombarded as often as claimed, but still continued to stand. And of course we have the pictorial evidence that the claims were exaggerated, not only the picture of what is supposed to be a scene of carnage, when bottles are still standing on the shelves of a building that was supposed to have been shelled, but also the picture of a well preserved building taken by an Indian journalist after the battles were over.

Picture of a well preserved building taken by an Indian journalist after the battles were over.

Of course it is possible that the Indian journalist was shown not the hospital but another building, and she was gullible enough to swallow this. It is also possible that she was not impartial, at least in the eyes of characters like Weiss who seem to equate objectivity with the West – ‘A few Indian journalists had privileged access close to the front, but their reports suggested no evidence of government wrongdoing. Other international journalists, who unquestionably would have been far more impartial, were kept firmly away’.

The West has only just woken up to the sordid nature of its media. We knew this long ago, with the colossal lie by the Guardian correspondent about 11 women with their throats cut, with the three different reasons advanced by the Times for its arbitrary claim of 40,000 dead civilians, with the sleights of hand practiced by Channel 4 over a video supposedly shot on a mobile phone that turns out to have been edited upside down, with scenes splices from other times or other places.

But India too has to be denigrated when it supports Sri Lanka. The level of Weiss’s prejudice is apparent when he criticizes the forthright criticism of Navanethem Pillay by the Indian ambassador in Geneva on the grounds that it was ‘an effort by India to gain favour with the Rajapaksa regime in the face of the considerable political leverage that India had already lost to China’.

Such a combination of orientalism, falsehood and melodrama seems sick. But it will continue to have credence in a world dominated, not by the West – which does have some decent people in it, such as the senior members of the UN who worked so hard to help our people – but by those in the West who play to Western galleries, for votes, for money, for renown.

Daily News 20 July 2011