Having looked critically at the negative impact on the Sri Lankan government of pressures that seem both unfair, and tangential to the progress on pluralism that the country needs, I must nevertheless admit that the government is not doing enough to counter those pressures. While the main focus of reform must be the pursuit of pluralism and equitable prosperity, it is also desirable I feel to point out what more could be done to dismiss the absurd charges against us.
We should not after all feel that all those who launch what seem hypocritical and unfair attacks on our conduct of the war are engaging in cynical bullying, either to win votes or to bring us into line with their own agendas. We must recognize that there are those who genuinely think we were guilty of excesses and, while many of those who attack us will not listen to reason or evidence, a few might.
It is for this reason that government should make much more of the extraordinary efforts made by a few expatriates to look carefully at all available evidence in order to arrive at a reasonable assessment of the number of civilian casualties during the war. I felt tremendous relief when I saw their report, now presented twice at the Marga Institute, with thoughtful and convincing introductions by Godfrey Gunatilleke and Michael Roberts. Before that I had felt I was working in a vacuum, since no one else seemed inclined to challenge through facts and figures the outrageous claims of the Darusman Report.
My anxiety I found was shared by army personnel on the ground. My initial refutations were based on what I remembered, but after that initial publication, I thought I should do some more research. The army kindly gave me access to their records, and I was taken round some of the areas that figure in the Darusman Report, and was able to see that much of it was false.
The officer who took me round was much relieved to see me, for he was convinced that, after he moved to another job, a transfer that he thought was imminent, the records he guarded would be forgotten. Given that we have no institutional memory, that would have been the end of a trove of invaluable evidence, including the communications from the UN relating to Convoy 11, of which so much is made in the Darusman Report. These include a letter of thanks from the Head of UN Security for the excellent cooperation extended by the forces to the Convoy, a letter sent several days after the attacks by the army that Darusman alleges.
It transpired that all government had done after the publication of the Darusman Report was to send Gomin Dayasiri to tour the area. He had not produced any report on the visit, and I rather fear that, forceful opponent of LTTE terrorism as he is, he would not have been relieved to find, as I was, that the hospitals we were supposed to have deliberately shelled were largely undamaged, and indeed one of them had no signs of the shells that were supposed to have inflicted casualties within the hospital. On the contrary, Gomin would doubtless have wondered why our army had not been more aggressive in its approach.
I wrote in detail about the exculpatory evidence I had found, but it was only the Central Bank, which is doubtless more aware than most of the need to put our own case forward, that took multiple copies of the book for distribution. The Ministry of External Affairs was not interested, though the books proved most useful when I was asked by our mission in London to respond to Callum McRae of Channel 4 in a discussion at the Frontline Club. Fortunately the President also asked Arun Thambimuttu to attend, and despite a largely hostile audience, we got our message across.
But both of us are associated with government, so it is heartening that those with no such affiliations have also spent much time and effort in finding out the truth. The conclusions of the team that studied the evidence can be read in The Numbers Game, a detailed document that can be accessed on the Marga Website as well as through the writings of Michael Roberts, one of our first Rhodes Scholars who is now resident in Australia but maintains a keen interest in all things Sri Lankan. I gathered also from Michael’s introduction at the last discussion at Marga that the leading light on the team is planning another report, dealing with Convoy 11.
I fear however that government is not interested in these efforts. Representatives of the armed forces were asked to the last presentation, but none appeared. Nor did the Sri Lankan journalists who had been asked, though Kath Noble, who writes more perceptively about Sri Lankan issues than many local writers, was present. So were many ambassadors and other diplomats, who seemed to appreciate the effort, though understandably enough none contributed to the discussion that took place.
The focus of the discussion was as to how these efforts could be used to promote Reconciliation. It was in this context that I explained why government might think it useless to engage in detailed refutation, since there is a pervasive belief that, whatever we do, we will still be attacked. However, as was pointed out by the critic who likened my defence of government to the excuses offered in the nineties for the intransigence of the LTTE, this is similar to the indulgence one shows to a spoilt child.
We cannot ignore allegations simply because those who make them are fraudulent. We must help our own people get over any uncertainties they have, and we owe it to them, if to no one else, to clarify matters and show that the basis of our actions was our own laws as well as international norms.