Michael Roberts, an original article drafted initially on 16 October 2011… and thereby hangs a tale**
On the 30th September 2011 a grandiose function at the presidential residence in Colombo displayed to the world one step in the Sri Lankan government’s programme towards the rehabilitation of former LTTE personnel captured and/or arrested during the last stages of Eelam War IV and its immediate aftermath. On this occasion 1800 were released in the presence of foreign dignitaries, while some ambassadors handed out certificates to some “rehabilitees’ as the government calls them.
Kathy Klugman, the High Commissioner for Australia, was among those who presented certificates documenting skills training in such fields as carpentry and agriculture. As reported in major Australian newspapers Klugman was promptly hauled over the coals by John Dowd on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia (ICJ). He disparaged the programme as one of “re-education not rehabilitation;” and insisted that “Australia[should not lend] legitimacy to a regime that refuses to allow an investigation of alleged war crimes during the country’s vicious civil war.”
The ICJ, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are among the agencies in the West that can be depicted as “watch dog organizations” devoted to civil liberties. In recent years virtually all these agencies have blacklisted Sri Lanka as an incorrigible offender of the same order as Burma. They are fixated on the ethical path of truth and justice within Sri Lanka. This lobby draws some of its information from a Tamil nationalist network that is motivated by vengeance (a motivational force with a potential for dubious ethics).
It is this perspective on Sri Lanka that promoted Dowd’s knee-jerk reaction, one that seems to have been fired off without much homework. My preliminary investigation from a distance indicates that the Sri Lankan government’s policy towards the former LTTE personnel has been fairly enlightened (Roberts, “Turning Tiger Personnel into Lankan Citizens?” in process of publication). The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation was established in October 2009 to oversee a programme of rehabilitation for the 12,000 or so POWS (who were called “rehabilitees”). These ex-Tigers were housed in 24 secured centres and provided with vocational and other training in batches with the aid of both private firms and government departments and teachers from the National Cadet Corps.
From mid-2010 these ex-Tigers have been released in batches at what can regard in analytical terms as “passing out ceremonies,” functions which enhance their meaning for the “rehabilitees” though also serving as government propaganda. In the result there are only about 1000 still in custody in a handful of centres.
The release is augmented by what the BCGR calls a process of “reintegration”. In this part of the programme the BCGR has the support of the International Organization for Migration and the rehabilitees are provided with basic tool kits and have access to micro-loans.
This is the official tale. Other reports however indicate that the training programmes have been partial and patchy in their impact. Moreover, the government’s paranoid concern with security means that some personnel have been subject to harassment in their home localities by the machinery of surveillance through policemen or military intelligence. In brief, the left hand is nullifying the work of the right hand (Roberts, 2011). The position adopted by Dowd and the ICJ argues against any policies to alleviate the status of ex-combatants as part of a broader reconciliation process. This is nonsensical extremism.
The fact is that the government of Sri Lanka has recently displayed a right-hand pursuing a liberal policy. The ambassadors from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have been among those who have visited the rehab-centres for ex-Tiger personnel. The participation of foreign dignitaries at the 30th September graduation ceremony was presumably guided by this contextual knowledge.
In refusing to seek out such facts Dowd and the watch-dog agencies display their own incorrigibility. There is a dogmatic mindset in force here that is as puzzling as it is worrying. It would seem that we need to have watchdogs to watch the watchdogs. It raises that spectre in a famous limerick where we promote “a spider to catch the fly,” and then …
** As the content makes clear, this essay was designed for an Australian constituency and was kept short to cater to news media preferences. It did not pass muster. In brief, it received a FAILED assessment mark. However, its companion piece, entitled “Addressing Greg Sheridan’s Review of the Tamil Lobby and Australia,” passed the tests utilized by the Groundviews Editor and appeared within that site on 19 November 2011. So, too, did the related article on “Turning Tiger Personnel into Lankan Citizens?”
I reproduce this short excursion here – a site where I conduct the tests in my biased manner – so as to educate readers on how to fail tests in Australia. However, that is only a subsidiary objective. Its main purpose is to introduce Sri Lankans and others to the Australian arena where n quite a few Australians of European descent are strong supporters of the Tamil cause for a variety of reasons and where several are easy marks for any which Tamil tale of sorrow, even those spun from nought. The conditions of possibility for such spin-work, however, were laid by the many stories of discrimination, assault and killing emanating from the pogroms of the past as well as those arising from reprisals during the Eelam Wars [without forgetting the “input” of fratricidal killing work amongst the Tamil militant organisations].