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Sri Lanka May Request UNHRC To Set Up Data Base On War Time Dead

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Accountability cannot be established in the absence of credible and verifiable data says security expert Prof.Rohan Gunaratna

The Sri Lankan government is discussing the possibility of asking the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to set up a data base on those who were killed, or were injured or had gone missing in the last phase of Eelam War IV, according to Dr.Rohan Gunaratna, Honorary Professor at the Sir John Kotelawala Defense University and Senior Advisor to its Department of Defense and Strategic Studies.

Dr.Gunaratna said that the UN’s unsubstantiated and oft-repeated allegation that 40,000 civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the last phase of the war continues to be made even twelve years after the end of the war in May 2009. The baseless figure of 40,000 and other charges of war crimes are based on dubious, anonymous and unidentified sources, and blithely passed off as “credible evidence” to provide a basis for accusing the Lankan armed forces of committing “war crimes” and demanding that its personnel be dragged before the International Criminal Court (ICC) he said.  

Since there could not be “accountability” in the true sense of the term without credible evidence of culpability, data will first have to be collected scientifically and transparently, Dr.Gunaratna argued. The data should be on the dead, injured and missing. The best and the most suitable institution to undertake this task will be the UNHRC itself, Dr.Gunaratna said.

“Estimates of the number of dead range widely from 7,000 to 40,000. There is therefore a crying need for authentic figures. The UNHRC should take up the responsibility to create a data base on this matter. It has the wherewithal to undertake the task as it has an annual budget of US$ 200 million and a staff of 1400,” Dr.Gunaratna pointed out.

Conjecture

On why he thinks that the death toll of 40,000 is pure conjecture, he pointed out that the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka had estimated the figure of the dead in the last phase of Eelam War IV as 7,721. And the number of injured was 18,479. “These figures pertain to the period between August 2008 and May 13, 2009.”  

Accountability can be established only when the data is based on proper scientific collection. Justice cannot be rendered if the background information is flawed, he said. Further, if accountability is to be established, and LTTE cadres who had committed acts of terrorism will also have to be punished. If this is so, then, many of the 12, 847 cadres who had been given amnesty and rehabilitated by the Sri Lankan government would have to be arrested again and proceeded against, he said.

“But I would not like them to be arrested. I have interviewed them and found them to have changed completely. They are now living normally in society and happily too,” Dr.Gunaratna said.

The UNHRC and OHCHR should also realize that the LTTE had kept lakhs of civilians hostage in Mulliwaikkal and using them as a human shield in the last days of the war, he said.  He then referred to a letter dated February 16, 2009 written by Tore Hattrem, the Norwegian Ambassador, to Basil Rajapaksa a Minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, in which Hattrem said that when the LTTE was asked by the Norwegians to release those held hostage in Mullivaikkal, the militant outfit flatly refused.

“Both Norway and the Sri Lankan government wanted the LTTE to release the civilians, but the terrorist group seemed hell bent on using them as a human shield,” Dr.Gunaratna said.

The total population in the battle zone (Mulliwaikkal area) during the last phase of the war, who were being used as a human shield, was 399,785 as per figures given by the District Government Agents at that time.

Alluding to the allegations made in the latest report submitted by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  Dr.Gunaratna said that it contained allegations based on the geopolitical needs of some powers and information provided by the lobbyists of the LTTE in Western countries.   

He maintained that the huge amount of money collected by the LTTE from the Tamil Diaspora for its war chest, still exists and is being used to lobby human rights groups, politicians and governments.  Dr.Gunaratna urged governments which level charges against Sri Lanka to go after those in the Diaspora who were involved in funding, shipping, arms smuggling and other activities for the LTTE to enable its cardes back home in Sri Lanka to perpetrate atrocities against its opponents and innocent civilians of all ethnic groups, Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils.   

In this context, Dr. Gunaratna referred to a report of UNICEF’s Family Tracing and Reintegration Unit which said that, as of June 2011, 2,564 tracing applications had been received from families, out of which, 676 related to children and 1888 to adults. The tracing unit’s report further said that 64% of the applications mentioned that the LTTE had abducted their children (to serve as child soldiers). The UNHRC should extend accountability to such crimes committed by the LTTE, Dr.Gunaratna urged.  

The Sri Lankan government had rejected the Human Rights High Commissioner’s report and would be rebutting it point by point. But this does not mean that the government will not pursue justice and cease to cooperate with the UN, Dr.Gunaratna maintained.   

The government is pursuing accountability in its own way. It has appointed a Commission of Inquiry chaired by a Supreme Court judge to examine whether human rights violations had actually occurred (other than collateral damage which is common in war).  The Prevention of Terrorism Act is being reviewed.

The government has strongly objected to the UNHRC chief’s intrusions into areas which are the exclusive domain of a sovereign, elected government. These areas do not fall into the ambit of Resolution 30/1 and goes beyond the mandate granted by Resolution 40/1. The UN Secretary General’s Report A/59/2005 had said that UN bodies must conduct themselves in a way which would not lead to loss of credibility and professionalism.

On the withdrawal of the co-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka, the government pointed out that co-sponsorship was done behind the back of the then Executive President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, the cabinet and parliament. The co-sponsored resolution also “contained commitments that are constitutionally undeliverable.”  The co-sponsorship as well as the resolution itself “had no public endorsement,” the government maintains.

The government regrets that the OHCHR has failed to realize the basic fact that the conflict in Sri Lanka “was between the government forces and a ruthless terrorist outfit which committed heinous atrocities against not only the armed forces and the Sinhala and Muslim populations, but also against the very community of which it claimed to be the sole representative.”

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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