Introductory Note from Michael Roberts
The public event organised by Chatham House to discuss recent events in Sri Lanka on 17th January was chaired by a University Lecturer at University College London whose specialty is “human rights,” rather than any one of the Sri Lankan specialists teaching at British Universities (for e.g. Rajesh Venugopal, Asanga Welikala, Sujit Suvisundaram, Zoltan Beidermann and Alan Strathern). The combination of ignorance, distortion and prejudice that guided the organisation and direction of the debate was exposed in the opening lines of this Chairperson, one Kate Cronin-Furman. “[We are meeting today some ten years after the “final push” of the Sri Lankan Army in a war that ended in May 2009 – “a final phase where the UN estimates said that more than 40,000 civilians were killed by that military [action].”
The reference here is to the “UN Panel of Experts” (PoE) appointed by Ban Ki-Moon whose investigation was conducted without a visit to the island and who presented the figure of 40,000 civilian dead as a “credible allegation.” This tentative claim was promptly converted into a definitive figure of 40,000 dead in media reportage as well as official statements and the campaigns mounted by Amnesty International and other HR activists. Here, then, we see duplicity that is then compounded by reiterations down the line and over the years.
The PoE’s review was also grounded in colossal ignorance – ignorance rooted in their armchair positions and lack of battlefield experience. Though informed that the LTTE fighters were mostly fighting in civilian clothes, their appraisal of the death toll seems to have by-passed the implications of this pertinent fact. But what is mind-boggling is their failure to attend to the fact that in virtually all wars with (mostly) delimited battlefields the number of wounded soldiers out number the soldiers killed – sometimes by much as ten- to-one. During the Korean War the ratio for USA was over three: 103,284 WIA against 33,651 KIA (Killed-In-Action). Thus, during the Gallipoli campaign in 2015 the Australian dead amounted to 8,709 Australians, while 19,441 were wounded, so that the ratio of WIA to KIA was 2.23.
Kate Cronin-Furman, it seems, does not have the nous to take note of her shortcomings in this arena. We can conjecture that her moral fervour superseded any such self-examination of herself and the complex issues she was tackling.
My note, here, is a preliminary one without further study of the panel discussion at Chatham House because this item must go to press. But I do have a report from a Sinhalese friend who brought the event to my attention – a friend whose education has been wholly British. He must remain anonymous for reasons of familial safety
VIDEO LINK = https://vimeo.com/312246443
Report from a Sri Lankan Briton present at the Meeting
I attended the Sri Lanka event at Chatham House on Thursday. it was extremely unbalanced, I managed to record the discussion and you should be able to hear & view the whole event here: https://vimeo.com/312246443
The event’s title, “A Divided Island: Sri Lanka’s Constitutional Crisis” tended to suggest that the audience would hear a discussion about the developments following Pres Sirisena’s decision to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM on Oct 26th, and an analysis of the subsequent events that finally led to Ranil Wickremesinghe being re-appointed PM in mid-December. However, the main focus was on Sri Lanka’s progress towards its commitments towards its own UNHRC Resolution. Sri Lanka was particularly criticised about the recent appointment of Shavendra De Silva as new Chief Of Staff of SL’s Army against the backdrop of war time allegations of human rights violations in the international media.
The 3 people on the panel were:
Stephen Rapp, Former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Office of Global Criminal Justice
Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, Research Director, Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research
Chair: Dr Kate Cronin-Furman, Lecturer in Human Rights, Department of Political Science, UCL (see https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/kate-cronin-furman-holding-mass-atrocity-offenders-accountable) ….
All three are North Americans (Cronin-Furman is from Somerville, Massachusetts & Jegatheeswaran is from Toronto) and it showed, not only in their accents, but in the context with which they spoke about events in Sri Lanka. Jegatheeswaran was the only one who has recently spent some time in SL and is part of a Tamil think-tank, Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, that is purportedly based in Jaffna.
The only person of some gravitas on the panel was Stephen Rapp, but since Obama left office and he lost his position as US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Rapp seems not to be directly involved in SL developments.Rapp did seem to indicate that one of the consequences of Sri Lanka’s slow progress towards its UNHRC Resolution commitments is that the Human Rights Council may consider it necessary to appoint a Special Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, with some domestic role, to further monitor the country’s progress towards its Resolution commitments.
The others in the audience who raised questions included Frances Harrison (from the ITJP-SL, Yasmin Sooka’s International Truth & Justice Project – SL) and an official from Freedom FromTorture, which has been consistently claiming that even since 2015, SL’s Security Forces have been targeting Tamils with torture.
A brown-skinned gentleman with a British accent raised a question at the end & stated that the discussion was unbalanced & that they hardly mentioned the positive developments in recent years such as the strengthening of media freedoms, the rolling back of the authoritarian powers of the presidency & the robustness of independent institutions which was shown by how the “constitutional crisis” was brought to an end because of the independence of SL’s Judiciary. He also wanted to know why Rapp didn’t mention the work of Sir Desmond de Silva (and also Prof Crane, Sir Geoffrey Nice and others) who were part of the Paranagama Commission and why that Commission’s report could not be tabled before the UN as a possible framework through which SL and the international community can address justice and reconciliation issues in future? Rapp was very vague in his response, giving the impression that he was not familiar with the Paranagama Commission report, although he admitted that he knew Desmond well & that he felt that Desmond’s work may serve as a legal defence for the Rajapaksas.
NB: Brett Hauff —“Kate Cronin-Furman: Holding Mass Atrocity Offenders Accountable,” Spring 2017, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/kate-cronin-furman-holding-mass-atrocity-offenders-accountable
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