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The comparatively positive nature of the 2009 US State Department Report

Late in 2009 the US Department of State produced a ‘Report to Congress on Incidents during the Recent Conflicts in Sri Lanka’. The Report was shared in a very positive manner with the Sri Lankan government, and I regret very much that we did not immediately look into the matters it mentioned and produce a response to the US.

This was planned, and a Committee for the purpose was in fact appointed. I have no idea whether the general lack of urgency delayed things, but soon enough there were good reasons to feel suspicions about at least some Americans. The shenanigans with regard to General Fonseka were worrying, though I suspect we should realize that individual Americans may have exceeded their briefs in this regard. As with Sri Lankans, we cannot assume concerted policy in all cases where individuals go out on a limb, though again, as with Sri Lankans, the tendency to stand together leads to misunderstanding.

Still, we should understand that, at least in the American Defence establishment, there is a positive attitude to what we achieved. Indeed there is also awareness that excessive hypocrisy can be self-defeating, if ever international instruments subject America to the same relentless criticism some individuals apply to us, whether through self-righteousness or other more sinister motives.

Joanna van Gerpen meeting with S. P. Tamilselvan, the political leader of the LTTE, in Kilinochchi.

Joanna van Gerpen meeting with S. P. Tamilselvan, the political leader of the LTTE, in Kilinochchi.

What was interesting about the State Department Report was that it was balanced and indeed made clear the contribution of the LTTE to any abuses that might have occurred. Whereas some of those working for the UN took pains to suggest that government also bore some culpability with regard to child soldiers, the Report records 18 allegations about this appalling practice of the LTTE. Indeed if any blame should attach to the UN for its activities in Sri Lanka, it is with regard to the condoning of this practice by the UN in the years after the Ceasefire Agreement. The conduct of Joanna van Gerpen, who connived at the continuing recruitment of children over 17, with her failure to ensure proper use of the 1 million dollars that were given to the LTTE for rehabilitation, seems to me deplorable, and she should be deemed guilty by association at least of War Crimes, with appropriate recompense paid to those who suffered.

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1. During your  BBC HARDtalk interview with Stephen Sackur, you said, referring to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), that “things could have moved more quickly”. Don’t your remarks  vindicate concerns earlier raised by many others, including the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General that the LLRC was deeply flawed due to  the limited mandate of the commission and partisan nature of the panelists?

Not at all. My remarks concerned speed of action, as to which I have always believed that one must work quickly in anything one does. Sadly this is not a principle that is followed by many, and rarely by bureaucrats or commissions, in other countries as well as in Sri Lanka. The concerns you refer to seemed to deal with possible findings, and seemed to me prejudiced, as I shall make clear later in discussing your concerns about the panelists.

I should add that, while I continue to believe one must act speedily, I have often been criticized for this, on the grounds that my good ideas – about which criticism is rare – should have been implemented slowly.

2. According to your observations, what is causing the delay in the expected outcome of the LLRC?

A large number of persons have wanted to make representations, and these need to be heard. Incidentally this refutes the claim of the ICG which attributes to Sri Lankans its own prejudices in asserting contrary to evidence that ‘Sri Lankans know better than anyone that such a commission is ultimately powerless’. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2011
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