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Reconciliation and the role of India
Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
At the Observatory Research Foundation
Delhi, December 13th 2013
I must admit to being deeply worried about the current state of relations between India and Sri Lanka. I contrast this with the excellent situation that obtained in 2009, when India was the chief component of the protective barrier against efforts to stop us eradicating terrorism from our shores. One might have thought that this was a goal the whole world would have supported, but sadly this is not an ideal world and countries will naturally put their own self interest first. Fortunately, not only did India’s interests coincide with our own at that stage, but given the terrible toll terrorism funded by external sources was taking on both our countries, I think it is also true to say that we worked in accordance with the highest moral perspectives.
But the aim we shared then, of eradicating terrorism on our shores, went hand in hand with another commitment, which was the promotion of pluralism in Sri Lanka. This again is a moral goal, but it also has a practical dimension, in that the full incorporation of the Tamil people in the body politic in Sri Lanka would have reduced the potential for future terrorism.
Sadly Sri Lanka has not pursued the Reconciliation process with the commitment it requires. Given its urgency I believe we should try to understand the reasons for this, and try to overcome them. In this process India has a significant role to play.
At the recent discussion held at the Marga Institute on accountability and reconciliation, I was confronted with an accusation I found interesting, and not entirely groundless. One of the brighter individuals earlier involved in advocacy NGO work suggested that my explanations for some responses of government were similar to what was claimed in mitigation by those who refused to criticize the LTTE when it was intransigent in discussion and continued to engage in terrorist activity.
I think there are differences, not least because I have drawn attention to governmental lapses in various areas, while also arguing that, while one should understand why government hesitates to move forward on issues that would contribute to reconciliation, one should nevertheless point out the need to move. As a distinguished Indian diplomat put it when talking about his government’s support for terrorist groups in the eighties, one can understand why this was forthcoming, but that does not justify it. That is why I will continue to point out the need for government to develop better mechanisms of consultation of the people in the North, as well as sensitivity to their concerns.
But it is true that I can understand why government feels so diffident, and that is why I believe it is necessary for those who are contributing to the insecurity government feels to also mend their ways. The apologists for the LTTE would point out how Tamils had suffered in the past not only because of majoritarian political decisions but also because of waves of violence that government had unleashed, or at least not actively discouraged. Their argument was that one had to indulge the LTTE because of the distrust they felt.
I seem to have struck a raw nerve in making public my account of what Siobhain McDonagh’s researcher was up to, in publishing false stories and possibly making up false videos too. He finally got in touch with me again, not to send me the clips he had promised of attacks on hospitals, the evidence he had second thoughts about sharing, but rather to upbraid me and tell me about his prominent friends.
Amongst them it seems it the British Defence Secretary. This seems to me highly unlikely, since Philip Hammond is not the sort to consort with terrorists, even if they might bring him a few extra votes. Perhaps Daran is counting on those who have recently, ever since they realized David Miliband was not going to bring home the bacon, been contributing massive amounts to Conservative Party coffers. But I cannot see Hammond succumbing to such blandishments.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in speaking on this Motion I should perhaps start by saying that I do not think the way it has been put quite expresses the enormous relief in this country at having got rid of the need for Emergency Regulations, in fact at the removal of an Emergency situation in Sri Lanka. This has happened after a very long time. Even though in the past forty years we have sometimes had brief alleviation of the Emergency Regulations, we knew that the Emergency situation still continued, and very soon the Regulations were reintroduced.
So the fact that this Emergency is now lifted for good is a most welcome. But I also think it is important for us to remember the need to make sure that terrorism does not arise again. It is for that reason that, unfortunately or otherwise, certain regulations have been reintroduced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. However, I agree with the last speaker from Jaffna who mentioned that we all hope the Prevention of Terrorism Act will also be lifted soon. We cannot forget the genesis of that Act in 1979, which was unfortunate. It was accompanied by excesses of the part of the then Government, which led to an increase of terrorism rather than a reduction. I think it is important therefore that, in our usage of the Act, we make sure that it prevents and does not exacerbate tensions, it prevents terrorism and does not allow it to expand
However, having said that, I think we need to remember that for the future there is a need for greater regulations, given the rise of terrorism worldwide. In the West you have things like the Homeland Security Act. We need to rethink our whole security situation and make sure that laws are introduced that are justiciable but that still make very clear the need to guard against modern methods of terrorism.
I have written at length about the strange business of Convoy 11, which took in the last supplies of food sent to the Wanni by land in 2009. The adventures of this convoy have formed the backbone of criticism of the Sri Lankan government, beginning with a diatribe by Human Rights Watch a couple of years ago. I responded to this at the time, but the matter was not taken up by the then Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to check on what sources within the UN had claimed. These sources were doubly culpabale for the official position of the UN, and the letters we had from them, indicated that there had been hardly any problems for which government was thought responsible.
I continue to believe that more active engagement with the UN, the senior leadership of which was well aware of the true reasons for problems, would have been helpful at the time. It is still not too late, as I have advocated, in writing as well as orally, to discuss more fully with responsible people in the UN the strange allegations that have emerged in the Darusman Panel report as well as the book written by Gordon Weiss, who should still be held accountable by the UN in terms of his contract – but they will not act on this unless we request them to formally.
One of the most significant omissions on the part of those bearing witness against the Sri Lankan government is detail about the manner in which the LTTE used the No Fire Zones. Though both the Darusman Report and the book by Gordon Weiss mention that the LTTE used military equipment ‘in the proximity of civilians’, they treat this as a distinct issue from the allegations they make against the Sri Lankan government. Given that returning hostile fire is not a war crime, they should have discussed the actual actions taken by the government in the context of proportionality, but this is avoided. The impression they seek to create is that the government attacked hospitals and civilians systematically, whereas the evidence, when it can be quantified – as with actual hits on hospitals, including within hospital premises – suggests that such incidents were extremely rare. Given the systematic manner in which the LTTE used civilians and places of civilian gathering, including hospitals, the record shows remarkable care on the part of the government.
Damilvany of course never mentions the systematic use the LTTE made of hospitals and such areas. The Sri Lankan government did try at one time to draw attention to what was going on, but it received no support whatsoever. The answer the ICRC sent in response, one letter to four urgent appeals, suggests how the international community as it is termed continued formulaic in its responses –
‘Re: Complaints about LTTE firing from the no fire zone
In reference to your different letters on the above mentioned matter (dated 16.02,. 17.02, 18.02 and 19.02 2009) the International Committee of the Red Cross wishes to inform you of the following.
The ICRC is aware the Sri Lankan authorities have announced the demarcation of a new “safe zone” along the Mullaitivu lagoon, and welcomes this development as it may help to find practical humanitarian solutions that may enhance the protection of civilians and those no longer directly taking part in the hostilities in the Wanni.
However, the ICRC would like to point out that not having been agreed upon by both parties to the conflict with the aim to shelter the wounded, sick and civilians from the effects of hostilities or with the aim to demilitarize it, the zone as such is not specifically protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). This being said, the civilians and those no longer taking a direct part in the hostilities who have taken in the ‘no fire zone’ remain of course protected persons under IHL.
The ICRC has in the past not missed any opportunity, and will continue to do so, to remind both parties to the conflict to respect in all circumstances their obligations under IHL, in particular the principles of precautions, distinction and proportionality, in order to spare all protected persons from the effects of hostilities.
We stay at your disposal, should you have any query on the above.’
That last line seems typical of the ICRC, and one wonders whether it was as helpful to the LTTE. Of course one has to recognize that the ICRC worked on the basis of confidentiality, and they could not be expected to make public what advice they gave to the LTTE. Still, one can understand, particularly in the context of the deceit practiced by Jacques de Maio, who headed the Sri Lanka desk in Geneva, the anger of the Sri Lankan government at what seemed deliberately aggressive critical statements of the ICRC during the first couple of months of 2009, with specifics that seemed designed to present the Sri Lankan government in the worst possible light, with no matching criticism of the LTTE. The fact that the LTTE was deploying its weapons in close proximity to hospitals was never mentioned.
When I wrote last week about the two terrorist attacks that had taken place in Norway, I was also making the point that these were not especially significant in terms of the Norwegian relationship with Sri Lanka. I was indeed worried that some Sri Lankans might see this as an opportunity to vent their resentment at Norway for the encouragement it was thought to have extended to terrorists, and I wanted to make it clear that I felt this would be inappropriate. In fact, though there have been one or two regrettable pronouncements, by and large the reaction has been suitably sympathetic.
Obviously there was some sort of link, in that Sri Lanka had suffered appallingly for terrorism for a long time, and Norway had been involved in trying to help us to overcome this, though as I have noted, their involvement was not always of the wisest. That however was in line with the attitude of some Sri Lankans too, so we should not blame them. On the other hand, a few recent pronouncements, after the LTTE was destroyed in Sri Lanka, seemed unnecessarily provocative, and I believe Erik Solheim in particular spoke out of turn some months back. However he too has been more sensible recently, while the Norwegian Foreign Ministry has by and large behaved circumspectly, in a manner I had thought indicated its comparative professionalism, as opposed to the ambitious Mr Solheim.
So, despite the occasional continuing dissonant voice from Norway, balanced by the recent arrest of one of the more extreme characters trying to revive the LTTE, I thought it necessary to preserve a distinction between our own victimization by terrorists and what Norway suffered last week. But I was shocked out of this position when I saw an aerial view of Utøya Island, where the main tragedy happened. It is shaped exactly like Sri Lanka, even down to a small peninsula at the top and an indentation on the East Coast which looks like Trincomalee Harbour.
And then I read, in the article to which the picture was attached, the last quotation, of a Norwegian girl who said, ‘It is unbelievable that a Norwegian guy could do this to his own country.’ That phrase struck me then as symptomatic of a whole mindset about terrorism, which needs to be adjusted, if we are to get rid of terrorism worldwide, or at least reduce its impact.
First is the assumption that terrorists are alien, not like us, and they harm others, not people like themselves. This is obviously a part of the truth, because terrorism thrives on othering, on hardening distinctions between those who act and those against whom they act. This has been encouraged by the dichotomizing the West engages in as a matter of course, in terms of its own dialectics, and I suspect we would all be much better off if we had a more oriental view of our relations, in which we thought in circles rather than straight lines, in terms of overlapping inclusivities rather than oppositional compartments. Read the rest of this entry »
THE DARUSMAN PANEL
A review of the evidence
in the context of past realities and future plans
This collection of essays has been prepared to shed light on the Report of the Panel appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations.
It is divided into several sections. The first looks into the manner in which the Panel was set up and what it says. The critique both of purported facts and modalities adopted is followed by analysis of some of the personalities involved in what seems a well targeted plan. This is followed by letters that respond to questions as well as particular allegations.
6. Bad Faith
The Reporters and Other Actors