Supplementing the previous presentations (see Bibliography at end) and presenting textual versions of speeches also available on YouTube…. Emphasis has been tacked on by the Editor via highlighting.
ONE: Fr. Vimal Tirimanne
“There is neither legal nor moral justification for ‘War Crime’ probes in Sri Lanka” In this presentation, I wish to point out that the so-called “international” probe on the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, namely, the defeating militarily of what the FBI called “the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world” has neither legal nor moral justification. Thereafter, a word about the need to be doubly cautious when we use negatively loaded terms such as “genocide”, “war crimes”. Finally, I would point out that the enigmatic role played by the present Sri Lankan government at the UNHRC with regard to the “war crimes” episode is bound to boomerang on Sri Lanka as a nation, sooner or later.
Two Preliminary Remarks: 1. The term “the international community” is in vogue today whevever we discuss international matters. I would like to clarify at the very outset that this term is nothing but a dignified term coined by the Western nations led by the USA to refer to themselves and thus camouflage their activities of hegemony all over the post-cold war world. This perception/clarification of what “international community” means in reality is substantiated by the very fact that those who call the shots in this so-called “international community” are exclusively the Western nations. Never have we heard Russia or China, or a country such as Nigeria or India playing any decisive role in this “community”, but it is always the commands of the US-led Western nations that dictate its agenda. Interestingly, the question that is never asked or answered by those who gleefully invoke this term is: “why do we need another so-called ‘international community’ when we have a universally accepted and a legitimately established world community in the United Nations Organization?”
2. To my knowledge, no legitimately elected government that fought (or is fighting) terrorism within their own territory is called to accountability by the UNHRC, nor being accused of “war crimes”. Even if there really were such cases, why not such alleged “war crimes” be probed by those very nations and their own judges? Why is this need for “international” judges? The John Chilcott investigation into Britain’s involvement in Iraq was purely a domestic inquiry. If at all, it is such aggressions in other peoples’ territories, that calls for “international” probes, instead of “domestic” inquiries, because it is a clear violation of existing international law. But, no UNHRC session ever demanded that some judges from outside, say from China, Russia, Nigeria or India, be sent there to investigate Britain’s role in the “war crimes” they allegedly committed in another nation’ territory! In fact, the present British Prime Minister Theresa May and her predecessor David Cameroon have flatly refused to have any inquiry whatsoever over the alleged “war crimes” they had committed in other people’s territories. Apparently, it is only the still prevalent prejudices against the competence of the judiciary in the poor third world countries that make the difference. [It seems to be a camouflaged attempt to impose a form of neo-colonialism wherein some nations are considered more equal than others, more competent in democratic and justice matters than others!]
1. No Legal Justification. Terrorism as we witness it today is a relatively new phenomenon, which keeps on evolving, as we witnessed in the recent tragedies in the Middle East, Europe and closer to us, in Dacca, Bangladesh. As such, there are no universally accepted, properly formed laws or rules as to how to fight terrorism by legitimately elected governments. To apply the laws and rules of conventional warfare to the wars against terrorism, and that too selectively, is not acceptable nor practical in the legal sphere. However, it is obvious that the supreme moral norm that noncombatant immunity of civilians be safeguarded as much as possible, is a given even in the fight against terrorism.
With regard to the war against the LTTE in Sri Lanka, we are dealing exclusively with an internal affair of a country, namely, a legitimately elected government trying to save its citizens from “the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world”. Let’s also keep in mind that a long line of legitimately elected Sri Lankan governments since 1983 had been doing their very best to get the LTTE engaged in a negotiated settlement for some 26 long years. As a matter of fact, one government in 2002 even entered into a very controversial ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. Even such a risky decision taken by that government did not succeed in cajoling the LTTE to enter into a negotiated settlement as the latter kept on brutally violating the said ceasefire, and demanding that the ceasefire be implemented in a unilateral way that was exclusively favourable to them. It is well-known that the LTTE terrorism did not spare any part of this small island in its intimidations and ruthless killings of innocent Sri Lankan civilians, and in the destruction of public and private property.
Not only the Sinhalese, but also many peace-loving Muslims and Tamils themselves (especially those who took courageous stands against the LTTE) were ruthlessly bumped off by this group of terrorists. Yes, this, to me, is the most serious issue at stake. Not only did the LTTE assassinate the political leaders and the members of Tamil rival groups, but also helpless innocent Sri Lankan civilians, belonging to Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil communities, all in the name of their so-called “liberation”. In the face of such atrocities, no legitimate government could forfeit their undeniable duty to protect all citizens entrusted to their care, particularly the duty to safeguard the non-combatant civilians.
In the war that ensued from 2006, this is precisely what the Sri Lankan government did, namely, to fight militarily against the LTTE as a last resort, in order to protect the common good of the nation that certainly includes the precious lives of non-combatant Sri Lankan citizens. As such, it has to be recognized first of all, as a legitimate self-defence of Sri Lankan citizenry as a whole by a legitimately elected government, and that too within its own sovereign territory. This certainly is a legitimate right and a duty of a government of any sovereign nation, as guaranteed by international law itself. We also need to keep in mind that that victory over the LTTE stopped the large-scale daily loss of human life for good, unlike in Iraq and elsewhere where the so-called “international community” illegally intervened, and the trail of daily killings still continues!
As such, it is not only strange but bizarre to single out the then Sri Lankan government and its troops as a target by the so-called “international community”, namely, the Western nations, for accountability on their own allegations of “war crimes”. Is such a defence of non-combatant civilians an offence, and that too, to be called “a war crime”?! Did such self-defence in the form of protecting ordinary citizens take place only in Sri Lanka? Do not the same Western government zealots claim to defend their own citizens from terrorist attacks not only by targeting terrorists within their own territories (as it is happening right now in the USA, France, Italy, Belgium and other member countries of the European Union), but also in territories well outside their boundaries (in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.)?
What about the non-combatant civilians killed in such countries? What about the many civilians killed in the many Drone attacks of the Western nations which kill so many innocent civilians? So why a special “international” inquiry for Sri Lanka? Or is Sri Lanka targeted simply because the government in office at the time, namely, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government was considered an “anti-Western government”? Could there be “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists” depending on the loyalty or the allegiance (to the US-led Western nations) of the government in office which is fighting terrorism? [cfr., Noam Chomsky’s writings: “ally states” and “enemy states”].
One needs to give straight-forward answers to these crucial questions instead of hiding behind certain concepts created in recent times by the same Western nations such as “the right to protect or R2P” (meaning the right of the Western nations to interfere in the internal affairs of selectively chosen sovereign nations’ whenever they, the so-called “international community”, deems fit, especially if such governments are toeing an anti-Western stand), “humanitarian interventions” and even “human rights” to justify their own illegitimate and immoral violent acts against humanity. Their illegal military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and now in Syria, are clear examples of such naked aggressions done in broad daylight, so to say.
The daily human tragedies which still continue unabated in those countries were in fact triggered off by such illegitimate interventions or naked aggressions of the so-called “international community” which destabilized those countries politically and socially. Who is held responsible or accountable for such “crimes”? And by whom? What is the UNHRC saying about them? One needs to note that all such military activities are performed in other people’s territories, simply by inventing terms such as “Responsibility to Protect”. Needless to say that such Western military actions in others’ territories are blatant violations of international law, amounting to unjust aggression, as stipulated in the United Nations Charter itself. But the irony is when a legitimately elected government, in our case, the then government of Sri Lanka, legitimately uses military power, within its own territory, to combat ruthless terrorism and defend common good, the same selfappointed “international policemen”, namely, the Western nations have the audacity to unilaterally call such acts as “war crimes” and then, call for accountability!
No Moral Justification It was just a few weeks ago that the Chilcott report in the UK insisted that the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair using false pretexts, dragged his country unnecessarily, into the legally questionable war in Iraq in 2003 without any valid reason to justify a war. At the time of the British withdrawal of their troops in 2009, some 150,000 Iraqi civilians had died due to violence unleashed by that war, according to the same Western estimates. Interestingly, the Lancet Survey (conducted by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) suggested in October 2006 that 654,965 deaths occurred in Iraq. The long term consequences of destabilizing Iraq in the form of death and destruction through car bombs, suicide bombing, sectarian clashes, trade embargoes., etc. unleashed by that aggressive act of the Western nations, still continue in that unfortunate country, and have so continued to claim further human lives, daily ever since. But who is held responsible or accountable for such deaths? Neither the USA nor her allies, such as Britain, who waged that war! Neither George W. Bush nor Tony Blair! What will the UNHRC say to such atrocities? Why are they silent about them?
But the irony is that it is precisely they (the US-led Western nations) who committed and continue to commit such atrocities in other people’s territories, who have the audacity now to call Sri Lanka to accountability for a war her government waged within her own territory to liberate the nation from the “most ruthless terrorist group in the world”! What moral right have they to do so? As already mentioned above, the present British Prime Minister Theresa May and her predecessor, David Cameroon, have flatly refused to have any inquiry into the alleged “war crimes” done by Britain in Iraq and elsewhere. But Britain is ironically the most vociferous parties at the UNHRC calling for a “war crime” investigation in Sri Lanka! [One can build similar cases with regard to the role played by the so-called “international community” in places like Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East]
The contents of the accusations Terms like “war crimes” and “genocide” are quite negatively loaded terms and so, when one hurls them against others, one needs to realize their seriousness, and be careful. No lesser person than the UN Secretary General comparing our war against terrorists to the events in Rwanda and Bosnia is not only irrational but bizarre. In both those countries the violence unleashed amounted to “ethnic cleansing”, and hence serious war crimes. The Tutsis were targeted by the Hutus in Rwanda while Muslim Bosnians were targeted by the Bosnian Serb army. But in Sri Lanka was there any particular ethnic group that was targeted by the Sri Lankan military? Did not the armed forces rather try their best to protect the civilians who were taken ransom as a human shield by the LTTE in the last stages of the war? [Cfr., Dr.Rajan Hoole’s speech on “Celebrating the life of Alvapillai Rajasingham” on 22nd Sept. 2016 in Jaffna].
What about the re-habilitation programs (to rehabilitate former LTTE cadres surrendered to or captured by the Sri Lankan military) launched by the previous government? What about the many social projects initiated by the same Sri Lankan military forces in the war-ravaged areas? If they wanted ethnic cleansing, would they do that?
The enigmatic role of the Sri Lankan Government: Hence it should be clear that there are no legal or moral justifications of the accusations by the so-called “international community” of “war crimes”. Neither is there any objective content in the accusations against Sri Lanka. As such, there is no reason for the Sri Lankan government to bend backwards and get cowed into their pressure. But right now what embarrasses any patriotic Sri Lankan citizen is the fact that the “new” government that came into office in January 2015, instead of taking a firm stand that respects our sovereignty, independence and dignity as a nation while resorting to restorative justice through a local judicial mechanism, slavishly toeing the line unilaterally dictated to them by the Western-nation-led UNHRC. It surely must be the first time in history that a country proposing at an international forum (UNHRC) that an investigation be held with regard to its own alleged “war crimes”! This surely would imply that the government has no confidence in our own judiciary system which in the long run can erode our integrity and independence as a nation.
Secondly, since the so-called “international community” has been biased against the Sri Lankan military forces right from the beginning, one cannot sensibly expect an impartial judgment. Thirdly, this co-sponsoring of the Geneva resolution is a voluntary submission of ourselves to be a ‘colony’ in the “new world order” of Neo-colonialism. Fourthly, we need to ask a serious question: will this UNHRC resolution promote peace or divide our nation further, because what we need at this stage of our history is not retributive justice but restorative justice. Fifthly, this decision, to co-sponsor may have one beneficiary, namely, the present rulers, who are not only carried on the shoulders of the so-called “international community” right now, but in the long-run, they are also assured of political stability in the form of the sustenance and help of the same “international community”! Interestingly, the Western nations, those who come under the self-created term “international community” are heaping praises on the present government and its leaders for their role in reconciliation and justice in Sri Lanka, as is evident from very recent happenings, such as the visit of the UN Secretary General (who is a lame duck in the hands of the so-called “international community”), the lavish praises heaped on our President in New York last week, etc.
But what exactly are the great things done by this government except to co-sponsor the UNHRC resolution and be servile on bended knees to all the dictates of the so-called “international community”, thus, gaining credentials as an “ally” state which was not the case with the previous government. Is this the single criteria to be recognized and approved by the “international community”? i.e., to be slavishly accepting the dictates of the UNHRC? So, the lone beneficiary of this co-sponsoring, seems to be the present Sirisena-Wickremasinghe government. But then, what a price have we got to pay as a nation! It is like giving your daughter to prostitution to gain some favour!
TWO: Palitha Kohona: “Implications of the UNHRC resolution and Has Sri Lanka responded appropriately?”
The UN Human Rights Council adopted the resolution entitled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” on 1 October 2015. Prior to this, the Human Rights Council had adopted three resolutions on Sri Lanka since 2012 with every year witnessing a diminishing number votes in support of Sri Lanka.
Interestingly, with the change of government, Sri Lanka decided to cosponsor the 2015 resolution. The key objective of the new government in cosponsoring the resolution appears to be to accommodate the wishes of its main sponsors and appease them with a view to ending the increasingly bitter confrontation that was developing between them on the one side and Sri Lanka on the other.
Earlier with the gradual deterioration of the bilateral relationship, and the slow motion drift away from each other, the US began to take the lead in driving the resolution critical of Sri Lanka in 2012 at the UN Human Rights Council. A country that was once considered a warm friend of Sri
Lanka was now acting in an outright hostile manner. Its lead was followed by the UK and Canada. The result was inevitable. The US, with diplomatic missions in a majority of countries of the world and extensive economic and military clout, had the type of diplomatic influence that could overpower many challengers. Sri Lanka decided to confront the US at the Human Rights Council and the oppose the resolution. Sri Lanka just did not have the diplomatic and financial muscle to take on the US head on. The US was able to ensure that India, despite its long standing proximity to Sri Lanka, joined those who would vote against us.
And Sri Lanka, by far, was not even the worst offender to incur the wrath of the international human rights lobby groups and the leading Western countries. However, once the decision was made in Colombo to confront the US, the diplomats gamely spear headed Sri Lanka’s campaign. Unfortunately, the US position continued to harden and Sri Lanka was getting pushed in to the same basket of usual suspects reserved for the states regularly black listed by Washington. E.g. North Korea, Burma, Iran, Belarus and Cuba. This was an unfortunate development in the bilateral relationship.
Could this change in the relationship be explained in a simple manner. Much more research will need to be done. In my mind one thing was clear. It was not only the possibility that the Sri Lankan forces may have committed human rights violations that drove Washington to spearhead a campaign to demonise Sri Lanka and its leadership. There were other more likely candidates for this demonic label of really nasty state. In my view there were political and personal goals and prejudices at play as well. The three human rights champions of Washington may have decided to pick on Sri Lanka for their own reasons. Iraq, Afghanistan and, definitely, Israel were “No Go” areas for any American official with ambition. Iran and Syria were a waste of time because the countries concerned were in the habit of ignoring Washington’s agonised complaints about human rights violations. Sri Lanka was always in the lime light, thanks to an array of human rights organisations that targeted the country regularly and a good candidate to be targeted. The media could not get enough of the bad side of Sri Lanka. Ch 4 made it a habit of producing a heart wrenching documentary on Sri Lanka annually and, intriguingly, prior to the Human Rights Council sessions. Ch 4 seemed to popularise the view that Sri Lanka was the nastiest of them all. Most importantly, Sri Lanka seemed to take the bait and respond as expected. Was it a game?
Personal confrontations and prejudices most certainly encouraged powerful individuals in the West to strive for the kill in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, for its part, may not have adequately addressed some of the allegations or orchestrated its message contradicting the Ch 4 documentaries, the media stories and the perceptions that were mounting. There was considerable opportunity to do so. Significantly, well resourced LTTE support groups kept up the anti Sri Lanka campaign using influential members of the Western
political establishment and the media. The possibility of orchestrating a regime change may have entered the minds of the powerful in the West.
What are the consequences of cosponsoring the resolution for Sri Lanka. First, it must be remembered that a resolution of the Human Rights Council is not binding. There is no obligation on the part of the target country to give effect to such a resolution. A Human Rights Council resolution is binding on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Secretariat but not on Member States of the UN. One must remember that even a resolution of the UN is not binding. The freedom of action of the High Commissioner pursuant to a Council resolution is limited by what the target country would allow him to do within its jurisdiction. The impotence of the High Commissioner has been demonstrated, in a practical sense, time and time again, by countries which were targets of Council resolutions. There are many such resolutions and reports produced by the High Commissioner which are gathering dust in the Secretariat simply because the target countries have refused to cooperate.
Are there possible consequences for non compliance with a Council resolution? The Council is not empowered to impose penalties on a recalcitrant state, but the matter of a serious violator of human rights could be raised at an appropriate UN agency with punitive powers, such as the UN Security Council. Given the political nature of the Security Council, it takes considerable effort to get approval for any sanctions initiative, even if the other requirements of the Charter are satisfied. Those with powerful friends are always shielded at the Security Council. It will also not set a precedent that could make lives difficult for its members. It was not without reason that the West did not bring the matter of alleged Sri Lankan violations of global human rights standards before the UN Security Council.
Sri Lanka opted to cosponsor the 2015 resolution. This, while not creating a legal obligation, certainly creates at least a powerful moral obligation to implement its provisions. But moral obligations in the international arena belong to a grey area. Many states would interpret moral obligations to suit their own circumstances. Others would give effect to them in bits and pieces. Yet others would simply let them drift into history. Having said that, one could argue that a country’s credibility would depend on complying with obligations it has voluntarily undertaken. In the international arena, it is not advisable to walk away from voluntarily adopted obligations.
It is possible that a country which is not obliged to comply with a resolution, to be talked in to complying. Or it could convince itself in to complying. This may be happening in Sri Lanka today. A stream of Western dignitaries and the UN Secretary-General have visited the country and given copious advice on the value of complying with the Human Rights Council resolution. Some would say that considerable pressure has been applied on Sri Lanka. They have included the Secretary of State, John Kerry.
The UN Secretary-General, having resisted visiting Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict during the Rajapaksa presidency, decided to drop in with only four months left of his tenure of office, perhaps to add weight to the efforts of those trying to convince Sri Lanka to comply with the resolution. It is more than likely that he received a nod and a wink from Washington before he undertook this journey. Intriguingly, the Secretary-General apparently has given an assurance that he will have the resolution implemented. Is this another occasion that he has simply shot off his mouth without appreciating the gravity of what he was saying? His powers of implementation are only illusory. As Foreign Minister Lavrov once observed, when he was the ambassador in NY and was requested not to smoke in the building on orders of the SG, “The Secretary-General is no General. Just a Secretary”. He continued to smoke.
Compliance with the resolution, we are told, is the passport to enter the heaven of acceptance provided by the international community. (In reality, a small group of Western countries whose economic and military clout in the world may not be as significant as it used to be). In parallel, elements of the opposition continue to harp on the dangers of the UN Human Rights Council resolution forcing the government to defend itself ever so vigorously and its efforts to comply with it. Thus we have the ideal combination of circumstances, both external and internal, conducive to giving effect to the resolution.
It is noted that many of the UN Human Rights Council country specific resolutions adopted by majority vote remain unimplemented. Many resolutions targeting the bad apples, as identified by the so called “international community”, have been regularly adopted by the UN HRC and as regularly ignored. We have the usual targets such as North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Belarus in this category. Israel gets targeted regularly by the majority of the membership of the Council while some members of the “international community” abstain or vote against the resolutions on Israel. Myanmar has escaped the basket of bad apples and has been asked to pay a relatively small price for its newly acquired status. The real question is whether much has changed in the behaviour of the bad apples as a consequence of the adoption of UNHCR resolutions and increasingly shrill cries of the human rights community. The answer has to be a resounding NO.
The extreme selectivity of UN Human Rights Council resolutions, and the avoidance of the rich and the powerful in its exhortations, has made these resolution’s all but meaningless. Serious and repeated violations of internationally agreed human rights standards by certain countries tend to escape the attention of the Council. While others get targeted regularly. No country quakes in its boots at the prospect of a Council resolution being adopted against it. Many members of the HRC could not understand why Sri Lanka spent so much time, energy and resources fighting the adoption of resolutions in the past when the outcome seemed to be obvious and the willingness with which it cosponsored the resolution in 2015 with such objectionable provisions.
Many provisions of the 2015 resolution have gone way beyond the mandate of the Council. For example it welcomes the government’s commitment to devolve political authority by taking necessary constitutional measures, affirms the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors and investigators, encourages the government to accelerate the return of land to civilians and end the involvement of the military in civilian activity, etc. It could be argued that the Council, established with a mandate to advance the adherence to global human rights standards, not just standards favoured by a group of western countries, had no business calling on a sovereign state which had only recently emerged from a devastating terrorist challenge to its territorial integrity, to leave all else aside and proceed to reduce its security forces from a part of the country, return land acquired for security reasons or introduce constitutional amendments. And now there is pressure to do these things post haste, fueling the goals of extremist elements.
Sri Lanka’s enthusiasm for cosponsoring the resolution of 2015, may not have gone down too well with its traditional supporters. The precedent it set could be unhelpful to many. It is doubtful if Sri Lanka did itself any substantive favours either. If Sri Lanka were to renege on the commitments, that it so readily undertook, it may be confronted with the wrath of the so called “international community” and it would not be surprising if the traditional supporters just turned the other way.
Another issue that is pertinent is the enthusiasm with which Sri Lanka agreed to comply with prescriptions for reconciliation recommended by external entities. As to whether these external entities, essentially the so called “international community”, took the trouble to take in to account the views of the entire Sri Lankan community or only the concerns of the pressure groups operating in their own countries is a valid question to ask. Judging by the reactions of a vocal part of the Sri Lankan community, it is doubtful that they took much pains to reflect the concerns of the majority of the people. Unfortunately, this could be a recipe for generating serious disenchantment and the releasing of uncontrollable forces as has happened in the past. One recalls the situation resulting from the Indo-Lanka accord.
External prescriptions have hardly ever assisted a country to resolve its internal problems. Usually, a country’s problems are exacerbated by blind adherence to externally prescribed cures.
- “The Geneva Juggernaut and the Yahapalanaya Complicity,” 4 October 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/10/04/the-geneva-juggernaut-and-the-yahapalanaya-complicity/#more-22732
- Dayan Jayatilleka: “The Geneva Resolution: The Real Reasons & The Real Target,” Colombo Telegraph, 2 October 2016, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-geneva-resolution-the-real-reasons-the-real-target/
- Natasha Maurice nee Gooneratne … questions the Bona Fides of the Geneva Campaign Mounted by USA,” 4 October 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/10/04/natasha-maurice-questions-the-bona-fides-of-the-geneva-campaign-mounted-by-usa/#more-22751