Frances Harrison

The following was sent to the Dawn Newspaper in Pakistan in response to a mendacious article by Frances Harrison, former BBC correspondent, but they have not been able to print it.

Frances Harrison has written a book. In her determination to sell it, she will leave no stone unturned. Her latest effusion has appeared in the Dawn in Pakistan, apparently to denigrate the Sri Lankan President as he visits that country.

She sells herself as a former BBC correspondent based in Sri Lanka and Iran. Unfortunately she seems to have no regard for truth whatsoever, and cares little for consistency either. One of her more melodramatic statements is that ‘Unable to dig bunkers because the dry sand just collapsed, women chopped up their best silk wedding saris to stitch sandbags’, despite which she later talks of .grenades being thrown into bunkers ‘where injured rebels lay, unable to flee.’ She talks of a priest whose leg was amputated, without noting that most witnesses (as cited in the US State Department Report) thought that attack was by the Tigers, angry that the priest was trying to limit their conscription.

Frances is perhaps the most hysterical of those currently on the warpath against Sri Lanka, as I noted when she twittered madly to object to my being interviewed by the BBC on Hard Talk. But the general level of honesty of those attacking Sri Lanka is indeed shocking.

Most recently I was reading through a report produced, at the request of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in May 2009, by the American Associagtion for the Advancement of Science on  satellite imagery in the Civilian Safety Zone (CSZ) in northeastern Sri Lanka.’ This was announced with much hype by those two agencies, which are part of the witch hunt, but then suddenly it was forgotten.

.. the millions of Palestinian refugees, driven from their homes to satisfy European guilt ..

The reason is that it makes clear that much of what is alleged is nonsense. For instance, the figure now cited as to possible civilian deaths, shamefully also by individuals asked by the Secretary General to advise him on accountability issues, is 40,000, used also by Ms Harrison. This sort of inflation began with the Times of London which spoke only of 20,000, and gave three different sets of reasons for this, the first two of which I was able conclusively to demolish. The final reason given was that the claim was based on satellite imagery of war graves.

The AAAS however notes that ‘In all three gravesites reviewed, a total of 1,346 likely graves are estimated to be in the imagery by May 24, 2009. The majority of the graves were present by May 6, with little change after that except in the southernmost graveyard. The southernmost site grew an estimated 28% between May 6 and May 10, and grew another 20% between May 10 and May 24’. Incidentally the report also notes that it was what were reported as LTTE gravesites that showed increase, whereas in the ‘burial ground for civilians’, ‘In total, 44 burials were identified at this site on May 6, with no changes observed between May 6, May 10, and May 24’.

There are several such details, which Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have ignored. For instance, whereas Ms Harrison declares that ‘the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately shelled and bombed hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in a small rebel enclave in the north of the island’, AAAS notes with regard to one source of this canard that ‘These roofless buildings were initially interpreted as possible evidence of shelling or burning. However, on-the-ground photos taken immediately after the conflict instead indicate widespread removal of rooftops, which were composed of sheet metal, for use in constructing shelters throughout the area.’

What is the reason for this deceit? I used to think that much of the nonsense came from misplaced idealism, but actual concealment of facts cannot be explained away in that fashion. Rather, I suspect the concerted efforts of these groups springs from a determination to muddy the waters, to divert attention from the horrors that are being perpetrated elsewhere, in theory for idealistic motives.

protracted detention ... secret renditions ... are deemed totally acceptable when Western lives are in danger

Ms Harrison declares that ‘280,000 exhausted crushed survivors were then detained against their will in a giant refugee camp, guarded by armed soldiers and surrounded by barbed wire. Thousands escaped, bribing their way out. Eleven thousand suspected rebels were locked up in the world’s largest mass detention without trial. Tamils describe summary executions, gang rape and torture even a year after the end of the war.’ She ignores the fact that almost all those 280,000 have now been resettled in their original homes, and that nine thousand of the rebels (most of whom had in fact confessed to fighting for the LTTE, albeit after conscription, which is why there were separated from the rest in the first place) have gone home after rehabilitation. As a Member of Parliament I have used part of my decentralized budget to arrange workshops for some of them in entrepreneurship, and the picture these youngsters present is very different from that of the melodramatic Ms Harrison. She failed too to note that when, after initial security checks, those of the 280,000 who could not be resettled immediately because demining had to be done and basic infrastructure restored, most chose to stay in the camp.

Contrast this with the protracted detention elsewhere in what is described as the War against Terrorism, or the secret renditions that are deemed totally acceptable when Western lives are in danger. Even more horrifying – and having just visited Lebanon, I am the more conscious of something that journalists such as Ms Harrison should keep at the top of their minds all the time – is the contrast with the millions of Palestinian refugees, driven from their homes to satisfy European guilt about what they did to the Jews. Instead of compensating them with land in Europe, they drove away peoples en masse. Lebanon alone has nearly half a million, and the West does not care.

There are many terrible things in the world. But to ignore protracted suffering, and instead propagate lies and suppress evidence to the contrary, seems to me utterly evil.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

Daily News 20 February 2012 –