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While suppressing the evidence it had commissioned from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Amnesty produced yet another report to denigrate Sri Lanka during the sessions of the Human Rights Council, and has been actively canvassing against us in Geneva. Its normally urbane representative, Peter Splinter, has been scurrying around like a headless chicken, and using language that he would not normally stoop to.

I met him as I went to the Palais on the 14th, and he did not stop to speak, understandably so for he had a meeting with the Sri Lankan delegates led by Dr Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives who have been in the forefront of the campaign against Sri Lanka. Interestingly, when most people in Sri Lanka were positive about the LLRC report, it was CPA which followed the American line of criticism, which sadly the TNA also took up. While Peter was deeply upset about what he claimed was characterization of his friends as terrorists, and this of course is nonsense, the congruence of their agenda with that of the LTTE rump that has now come to the Palais in increasing numbers is truly worrying.

Peter engaged in his own insults when he described the session at which Jeevan Thiagarajah and Javid Yusuf and I spoke about taking Reconciliation forward as a Dog and Pony show. I do not think he intended any particular insult to Mr Yusuf, but it is this type of cultural insensitivity that Amnesty would have been careful about in the old days when people committed to Human Rights without a political agenda, such as Anne Ranasinghe and Javid himself worked for it.

The political agenda is clear in the latest report issued by Amnesty, with its claim that unlawful detention practices continue. In the past I used to think Amnesty was genuine in its commitment to human rights, and I have no objection to it drawing attention to practices it sees as illegal or improper. What I object to is its use of particular instances to engage in generalizations that shore up the impression it seeks to propagate, of Sri Lanka being a militarized state where abuses are the norm. I am sure Amnesty is aware of the vast number of deaths in police custody in Britain in recent years, and I am sure that it will draw attention to these, albeit less dramatically than it does to problems in countries it dislikes – but I do not see it claiming that such abuses in Britain are endemic and indicative of state policy.

The particular instances Amnesty draws attention to in its current assault are largely taken from the past. All case studies as far as I could see were of people arrested in 2009 or earlier, and several of them had been released. While I have no doubt that, like any country under threat from terrorism, arrests sometimes erred on the side of caution, several of the studies indicate that there was good reason for the arrest, ranging from the foreign national who came out to work in an orphanage, as he claimed, and was then recruited by the LTTE (whether forcibly or not is not indicated) to the cadre who had lied under interrogation about his work for the LTTE though he has readily admitted it to whoever interviewed him for Amnesty.

Amnesty also ignores the fact that, whereas we did have large numbers in detention in 2009, those have been significantly reduced. While at the Ministry of Human Rights we would urge that cases be expedited, we could understand that while LTTE terrorism was still an active threat in Sri Lanka, we had to be cautious. Shortly after the war ended however the President appointed a Committee which I chaired to ensure that cases were dealt with, and I had complete cooperation from the prison authorities, the police and the Attorney General’s Department. Though we would complain that this last was slow in dealing with files entrusted to it, the number was halved by the time the Committee ceased to function with the election of 2010.

Since then the Attorney General worked expeditiously to reduce the numbers, and the figure of 2000 cited by Ambassador Godage, cited in the Amnesty Report from the LLRC hearings, is now down to a few hundreds. It should be noted too that ICRC has been visiting such detainees since 2007. I remembered that we used to get reports when I was at the Ministry, but I checked again and ICRC has confirmed that its visits have continued throughout.
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Let me deal first with what they have presented as their most damning evidence, the pictures of the dead body of Prabhakaran’s son. The killing of a child is always shocking and, unlike the celebrated Elie Wiesel, who excused the killing of members of Osama bin Laden’s family on the grounds that ‘it was bin Laden himself who placed them in harm’s way’, I do not think that is in any sense an excuse. We must investigate what happened, and take action if this was execution.

However the manner in which Channel 4 drums up evidence suggests that they are more concerned with vindictiveness towards their enemies than justice. In their anxiety to declare that the boy was tortured, they claim that they have been told this by a Sri Lankan army officer. However, in the transcript they show, it appears that, when they asked this officer how the boy had been treated, he simply responded ‘I got to know at the latter stages that they found out where Prabhakaran is through his son’.

Then there is a description from a pathologist about how he had been killed, a description that uses the word ‘likely’ three times. This uncertainty is compounded in the response to the question Channel 4 posed about torture, having declared that ‘clearly’ whoever killed him was trying to get information.

On January 15th, 2010, U.S. soldiers in Bravo Company stationed near Kandahar executed an unarmed Afghan boy named Gul Mudin in the village of La Mohammad Kalay. He was 15 yrs old.

The answer is categorical that ‘There is no evidence on the body of physical torture’. However, the obliging expert then claims that ‘if we can imagine the situation he was in’, since there were five others ‘who may well have been killed before he was killed’, and (this is now definite in what we can imagine), he was shot ‘by someone standing in front of him with the end of the gun within a few feet of his body, that would be a psychological torture in itself’. In this extraordinarily tentative world in which the Channel 4 expert lives, the alleged torture being characterized by a bizarre indefinite article too, this is enough to claim that President Rajapaksa is guilty. The sequence ends with the claim that, after several hypothetical steps, ‘the legal difficulties of linking the top to the bottom are largely eliminated’.

I should add that this video does not seem, at first sight, to contain many of the flaws of the previous video Channel 4 showed, which was initially dated wrongly (with no explanation given when we showed that the metadata indicated something else), with no editing of fragments in the wrong order with the inclusion of one fragment filmed at a different time and perhaps even a different place according to the reports the UN commissioned, with no purportedly dead figure putting down his legs which led one apparently eccentric expert to declare that is was possible he was drunk or sleeping or playing dead while others were being shot through the head around him. The video of Balachandran’s body – not  actual killing which was shown in the other video, which is bizarrely now connected to this through claims of a pattern – does not seem tampered with, which is why I believe the incident should be investigated. In the other case, it is obviously the video that should be investigated first, and for this we or the UN needs to have the original videos Channel 4 showed, not a copy as happened with the first video, when Channel 4 refused to give what they showed to us or to the UN.

Channel 4 claimed to have received the initial video from a body called Journalists for Democracy, which is the same body that supplied the UN with another copy of that video, but one that differed in salient particulars that we had pointed out. And this time round, to strengthen their case against the Sri Lankan government, it is of course a representative of Journalists for Democracy who is trotted out. Those who do not know the involvement of this group in making the film in the first place would naturally be fooled, but it is sad that governments also refer to Channel 4 approvingly, without bothering to study the sleight of hand that is used. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2012
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