Sri Lanka has to face up to an uncomfortable truth: Factual reliability of the UN Report

Kumar David, from The Sunday Island, 8 May 2011

The core issue I will address in this article is this: By and large can we accept as true the description of events in the UN Report? A corollary issue that I will not touch on is: If the facts as described are truthful do they add up to a prima face case of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE? Other related or interesting issues have surfaced, but are logically subordinate and separate from my scene-setting question. However I will enumerate these first before laying them to one side. The three that surface most often are:-.

(a) Yes, what the Panel says is factually true but the Lankan state had no choice but to resort to measures that violated international law so as to root out a ruthless enemy.

(b) Yes, what the Panel says is factually true but theUS, the British and the French have committed worse atrocities, so why blame the protagonists in Lanka’s civil war when these nations have done worse.

(c) Yes, the LTTE did behave as described in the report but an oppressed minority nation, in the course of a national liberation war, is pushed to regrettable extremes.Explanation (a) and (b) emanate from GoSL’s apologists, while (c) is heard in the Tamil diaspora. GoSL itself cannot, of course, admit the Panel’s version of the facts, so neither (a) nor (b) can constitute its core formal defence. In an indirect sense this is my point as well; that is, (a) to (c) are irrelevant, beside the point and of no significance, until the primary issue of factual veracity is settled. Logically, there can be grounds for bothering about (a) to (c) if, and only if the facts as described by the Panel, that is the events from which it draws a prima face case of war crimes, are true. The thesis: “These ‘facts’ are false, nevertheless even if true, (a) or (b) or (c) is legitimate” is a nonsensical waste of time. Are the ‘facts’ really facts, or false? If the factual claims in the Report are false, as asserted by some, why bother with (a) to (c)!

If the report is factually flawed a credible item by item rebuttal has to be produced by GoSL (or the LTTE-remnant if it rebuts anything). This was a “war without witnesses” at the government’s insistence; hence the onus of overcoming deeply disturbing suspicions and disproving the mass of the evidence falls squarely on the shoulders of the government.

Veracity, bias, conspiracy

The government says that the Panel’s findings of bombing and shelling civilian encampments, so-called safe zones and hospitals are false. It also dismisses charges of denial of humanitarian assistance after the war ended. But the sheer volume of material that the Panel has had access to is staggering. The technical content demonstrates the prowess of modern analytical methods and image processing. The submissions are, at least in part, an outcome of the exertions of the Tamil diaspora. Well, it’s up to the diaspora to prove its case with an information overkill if it so wishes, that’s its entitlement. The only thing that should matter to the Panel is this: “Are the submissions true or false?”

The Panel also accessed other sources including UN ground teams, NGOs, medical personnel in the Vanni, and satellite images from UNOSAT and other satellite services. The Chanel-4 videos had previously been authenticated by two technical laboratories in theUS. A reading of the full report engenders confidence that the panellists have not been taken for a ride. A striking feature of the report is its absolute clarity of content and unambiguous confidence of tenor. GoSL has not produced any detailed refutation, supported by evidence, of the report’s principal assertions. A rebuttal that is subsequently falsified is risky; it will be more problematic, so any rebuttal had better be watertight.

Videos, photographs and aerial reconnaissance images were used as supports. Satellite imagery was reviewed with the assistance of the UN Office for Military Affairs and the UN Institute for Training and Research. In respect of video and photographic evidence the Panel states that it relied on “authenticated” evidence. Presumably it had access to UN funds to purchase expertise and scientific services, so the use of the word ‘authenticated’ is significant. Authentication is also important since some written and oral evidence, for understandable reasons, was made available under conditions of strict confidentiality and therefore warranted cross-checking. Sections 49 to 52 explain the methodology of verification and I accept due diligence. It seems implausible, even asinine, to suggest the panellists were tricked or arrived at conclusions without attention to detail and method. The report makes 196 pages of dense reading and I am satisfied the panellists approached their task conscientiously.

Another consideration is the international standing of the Panel members as it is an additional safeguard. The call by the Global Elders – Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi – for follow up action on the report is a vote of confidence in the personal integrity of Darusman, Ratner and Sooka. One feature (obscured by universally hostile comment in Sri Lanka) is that the report includes detailed, and what I accept as credible accounts of the war crimes of the LTTE, in addition to its findings against GoSL. These accounts can be found in paragraphs 97 to 99 and 112 to 114 as well as elsewhere. The LTTE is found to have engaged in enforced movement of civilians, used civilians as human shields, recruited children and unwilling adults, and cold bloodedly murder of Tamil civilians attempting to flee captivity. The criticisms of the LTTE for war crimes and crimes against humanity are so devastating that the charge made in some quarters inSri Lankaand the Sinhalese diaspora that the Panel was bribed and worked in cahoots with residual LTTE entities has to be dismissed as cranky.

Having dismissed the risible allegation of conspiracy against the Panel, what about the possibility of systematic bias? The underlying reason for suspecting bias is that most LTTE leaders are dead while those who may now be held to account or prosecuted are leaders of the Sri Lankan state and surviving LTTE leaders now aligned with it. Therefore the prima face finding of violations against the LTTE will have little practical consequence while holding the government responsible for war crimes creates panic in the minds of its leaders. I have mulled the possibility of bias and dropped it because of the weight and volume of evidence. Given the mass of written, oral, electronic and satellite data it would not have been possible to reject it all and arrive at a different set of conclusions.

The LSSP’s telling slip

The statement of the Communist Party comes as no surprise; it is a rehash of GoSL statements. ‘The Report is false; it is a fabrication; the Panel is working with an LTTE rump and global imperialism to scuttle the anti-imperialist policies of the brave Mahinda Rajapaksa government’, etc. Occasionally the wording may not be so crude but you can read the entire CP statement like this without injustice. DEW after all has to sing for his supper. Mercifully, the Indian Communists have taken a completely opposite position. CPI(M) State Secretary G. Ramakrishanan issued a statement demanding action and stating that: “The party would hold demonstrations in the first week of May demanding a detailed enquiry into such human rights violations, punishment to war criminals, rehabilitation of those affected and provincial autonomy for the Tamils in the island nation”.

Still, the climax comes when Tissa sings for his supper and then the tune is fascinating. I don’t know why this had to be so, maybe the presence of a left-tendency within the LSSP made the leadership wary of a dispute if it made itself grotesquely silly; but the slip under the hemline clearly shows.

The only significant bit of the LSSP statement are a few lines buried in rehashes of GoSL utterances. Nevertheless, that the leaders had to include these remarks to avoid making themselves ridiculous is a vital clue.

QUOTE: “The Panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been presented with a large body of information, some of which may be accurate. However much of what has been included are clearly exaggerations, distortions or even complete fabrications by those wishing to discredit the Government. Unfortunately the sources include people who are expected to be neutral, such as members of United Nations and other international organizations, but over the years it has become evident that many of them are blatantly biased. Even if the three members preparing this report had been neutral, they were probably unaware of this and have taken the statements given to them to be factual.” END QUOTE. (Emphasis added by KD).

I don’t need to labour the point; we can magnify this reluctant confession several fold to appreciate that the LSSP could not with impunity rubbish the force of evidence. Forget the “may be”, it reluctantly concedes that the material is accurate. If only “much” is exaggeration, distortion and fabrication, then much else is truthful and accurate. It even concedes that the panel members are upright in their intentions; just taken for a ride! The panellists have somewhat higher IQs than this LSSP-PB and to say “they were probably unaware” of the importance of factual veracity, their primary responsibility, is gratuitous in the extreme. Grudgingly and apparently kicking and screaming (or singing for its supper), the LSSP has endorsed what I have said all along; the report is reliable.

The JVP for its part is unable to define its stand and waffles between charging the Rajapaksa regime with human rights violations and JVP trademark anti-imperialist paranoia. It has not rejected the findings of the Panel but it has not explicitly endorsed them either – its discomfiture is that it was the principal cheer leader for war. But it also calculates correctly that the government is in hot water and relishes the prospect. A few others on the left trashed the report and linked it to an IMF plot to propagate the latter’s economic agenda. This is a misunderstanding of how both global capitalism and bourgeois liberal-democracy work. It’s seeing the world “through a glass darkly”; the confusion, thankfully, has now been cleared up.

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Filed under Left politics, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, terrorism, world events & processes

One response to “Sri Lanka has to face up to an uncomfortable truth: Factual reliability of the UN Report

  1. The witnesses were all Tamils or Tamil oriented Non Governmental Organisations. No real independent witnesses have been called. Some of the “postmortems” were concluded by journalists flying in helicopters after diaspora Tamils had coached them. Does Samuel deny this?
    How does he justify that the LTTE could go to regrettable (despicable) extremes. This was self defence as far as the GoSL was concerned. Although Samuel supports and justifies the LTTE’s stance he has not accpeted that the civilains were cordoned off and surrounded and then used as human shields. The civilians death had roots in this tactic.
    One is on a video where a young boy had his leg chopped off with an axe. I know that Tamils who supported the LTTE forever now disassociate themselves from the terrorist group because of the implications.
    I will challenge Samuel to a debate when I am in Sri Lanka.

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