Padraigcolman inserted an extensive review of the Channel Four and Darusman Panel’s review of the final stages of Eelam War IV and its accusations against the government in a long essay (see http://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/channel-4-news-and-sri-lankan-war-crimes/ ). Extracts from this essay were subsequently presented in this site because it was felt that an abbreviated version would attract more readers. This shortened version was also circulated along some of my email networks, including one organised around the motif of “sacrificial devotion” arising from a Workshop in Adelaide which I organised.
It attracted a critical note from Swati Parishar of Wollongong University. I submitted it to Padraig for comment and also brought the exchange to the attention of Godfrey Gunatilleke because he happened to ‘drop in’ so to speak. I have received permission from both Swati and Padraig to make the debate available to the public. It is more convenient to initiate this discussion under a separate title so that it will draw greater attention. Michael Roberts.
Comment from Swati Parishar at an University in Australia, Sat, Aug 20,
Hi Michael. Thanks for sending this. I cannot agree with this analysis nor the way it sets about arguing its case. I would have appreciated the need to review a documentary such as this. However, after reading the review I am disappointed because the only agenda seems to be to disprove everything in the documentary. The section on ‘rape’ is simply appalling and as a feminist teaching war crimes (and as a woman from south Asia who knows what everyday lived experiences of women are in war zones) the lack of insensitivity that the reviewer shows is shocking. Rape is not easy to report anyways and to debate its evidence in a war situation where you have people’s testimonies available is quite alarming. We are expected to doubt the documentary and take the author’s (biased) view that the SLA is all full of gentlemen? Why does it surprise the author that the raped women’s testimonies are recorded in the dark and that their names are not given? Given the author’s views should we then expect all raped women to openly declare their names and announce that they were raped?States have more responsibility and accountability on issues of human rights and the Sri Lankan state cannot be an exception. It continues to defend itself on the argument that the LTTE committed more war crimes (of which most of us are aware). The state needs to demonstrate some degree of courtesy to international agencies and allow for a free and fair investigation.
Thanks n regards
Comment from Padraigcolman, freelance writer, Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 3:50 PM
Michael, Herewith my response to Swati
Your comments are strong but I think you are misreading my words.
- You say: “The section on ‘rape’ is simply appalling… the lack of
insensitivity that the reviewer shows is shocking.” I assume that you meant “lack of sensitivity.”
- “We are expected to doubt the documentary and take the author’s (biased) view thatSLAis all full of gentlemen?” I nowhere express as my own view “thatSLAis all full of gentlemen”.
- Let us analyse what actually wrote rather than what your own preconceptions lead you to assume that I have written. I wrote :“Rape is a terrible crime. Rape as a systematic policy and weapon of war is even more appalling.” Why are you appalled by what I wrote? I wrote: “If rapes did take place they should be investigated
and the culprits severely punished.” Why are you appalled by that?
- I wrote: “The Ministry of Defence has issued its own report on the conduct of the war. It includes a section on the institutional structures designed to deal with infringements of discipline. There is a summary of major offenses committed by Sri Lanka Army personnel between 2005 and 2010 in the north and east and the resultant actions aken by the Army and the civil courts. There are only five cases of
sexual abuse.” I am not saying that this proves “the SLA is all full of gentlemen,”
but merely stating the official point of view. It is for my readers to decide what to believe. I wrote: “Even former LTTE female combatants praise theSLA for always behaving like gentlemen”. It is for readers to decide whether to believe those witnesses or the Channel 4 witnesses. I have no way of knowing who is telling the truth.
- Tisaranee Gunasekera of the Sunday Leader is a tireless, impassioned and trenchant critic of the Rajapaksas. In order to show that therehad been criticism of the government’s case on the Channel 4 allegations. I quoted her in my article. Perhaps I should have quoted the following from her recent article: “A point repeatedly made by the UTHR is that most Lankan soldiers treated the fleeing civilian Tamils with kindness. Though there are allegations of rape and torture, these are being made not against a majority of the soldiers but against a very small minority. Therefore, carrying out a credible investigation of these charges is important not only in the name of justice but also to save the honour of the Lankan army. A few murderous sociopaths should not be allowed todishonour an entire force.”
- Let me address your totally unwarranted accusation of bias. Those who
are more familiar with my work than you are praise me for my impartiality and many have noted that I rarely express my own opinion. My modus operandi is to say “some people say this, other people say that” and leave the reader to draw conclusions. Enlightened readers recognise that I have no axe to grind. I am certainly not in the pay of the government and have no interest in being biased in
favour of the government. What motivation would there be for me to be biased in favour of theSLA? I am a detached foreigner more familiar than most foreign commentators with what is actually going on inSri Lanka. I view an enormous amount of material from a wide spectrum of opinion before writing my articles. I am always willing to be corrected or persuaded by sensible criticism of what I write.
- Unfortunately, some readers confuse explanation with justification. When I tried to explain Tamil grievances and how they had arisen I was accused of “regurgitating terrorist propaganda”. I received a charming e-mail which said “you crazed Irish monkey, you IRA fugitive. You should be in a zoo or an asylum. No wonder the LTTE are strong in your area. I am going to report you to the authorities”.
- I employ the tools of critical thinking and linguistic analysis to try to unpick what is actually being said. That was my main purpose in this article. I recommend a similar approach to you. Do not criticise me for positions I do not hold. Do not make uninformed assumptions about my motivation or character.
- When stepping out into the professional field of journalism I profited considerably from a reading of the following books and therefore recommend them to all readers:Thinking from A to Z by Nigel Warburton
Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking by Jamie Whyte
A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston
Critical Thinking: An Introduction by Alec Fisher
Comment from Godfrey Gunatilleke of Marga, Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 2:47 pm
Thank you for sending me Padraig Colnan’s e-mail and site details. I shall get in touch with him. I thought his review was impartial and very good. I read Swati’s comments. I think we need to engage constructively with the disbelief of those who are predisposed to fault the government. Every state has to be vigilant about the HR violations of its own agents and where it does not do so with adequate transparency it is regarded as a government that violates human rights with impunity. The Sri Lankan state has unfortunately put itself in that category. (See for example the way it has dealt with the reports of Presidential Commissions) It must move quickly to correct that situation. I think Padraig is right in his criticism of the rape allegations.
If we generalise from our own strong human rights positions and say in these situations rape could have occurred and conclude from there rape did occur we may have erred on the side of supporting false allegations – a situation to which the human rights culture has contributed. We must avoid the opposites of “every soldier is a gentleman” and “every soldier is a potential rapist”.
The answer I hope will be given by the LLRC who are investigating into the Channel 4 videos and the evidence it presents. Evidently the LLRC has too objectives one of ascertaining the truth and recommending action if there is any credible evidence of crimes, the other of examining what action can be taken to hold Channel 4 and those who abetted accountable if the video is a malicious fabrication. Reviewing all the reviews, I am inclined to the view that the video is not an authentic record of what happened on the ground but has been fabricated to assist the pro-LTTE led campaign for an international investigation. But I am open to evidence which can prove me wrong.